Equilibrium/Sustainability — Wolf relatives breeding themselves into climate ‘trap’

·9 min read

Scientists have identified the first predators ever seen changing their reproductive strategy due to climate change: Distant relatives of the wolf, called African wild dogs. 

But their shift in reproduction — giving birth in cooler, winter temperatures — may actually be backfiring, as their young pups struggle to contend with the heat of worsening summers, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“It is an unfortunate ‘out of the frying pan, into the fire’ situation,” Briana Abrahms of University of Washington said in a statement.

“African wild dogs shifted birthing dates later in order to keep pace with optimal cool temperatures,” Abrahms said, adding this adaptation forced newborn pups to spend their first weeks in burrows rendered ever warmer by climate change.

This “ultimately lowered survival,” Abrahms added.

In attempting to adapt to climate change, top predators like African wild dogs might “trap” themselves in a behavioral dead end, according to the study.

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability.

Today we’ll start with a series of floods that ravaged the Southwest this weekend and find out what American physicians are describing as an emerging public health threat.

We’ll also see why the EU is expediting a switch to Ukrainian gas and why Ecuador is shaking up the finance world.

Floods follow fires in Southwest

Monsoon rains in northern New Mexico and Arizona over the weekend triggered floods and landslides on steep fire-scarred slopes, leading to wrecked houses, totaled cars and disrupted infrastructure.

And with monsoons expected for much of the summer, more damage is coming, Phoenix-based ABC 15 reported.

Tallying the damage: The weekend storms hit particularly hard in cities like Flagstaff in northern Arizona, Phoenix-based television station KPNX reported.

Water risk: Heavy rains also put heavy strain on the region’s water supplies, Todd Gartner of the World Resources Institute told Equilibrium.

  • “A lot of that soil ends up in our creeks, rivers, streams — where it can dramatically increase the costs of treatment for the municipal water utilities,” Gartner said.

  • He noted that the added strain from the higher levels of sediment would wear out equipment faster than usual.

A LONG WAR AGAINST LANDSLIDES

The flood damage comes as the flip side of years of destructive fires have scourged the region’s mountain forests.

  • The region has faced nearly a decade of severe wildfires — most recently in June’s Pipeline and Hayward fires, CNN reported.

  • Recent fires have destroyed trees whose roots would otherwise keep hillsides stable, according to an information sheet from the National Weather Service.

  • One Flagstaff resident ended up with a driveway, first floor and backyard full of “liquified mud and ash,” KPNX reported.

The man, who lives between three burn scars, said he has no flood insurance because providers “didn’t really think that this is a flood zone,” he told KPNX.

Bracing for impact: The constant threat of landslides has forced many in Flagstaff to live with permanent fortifications against mud and flood, according to KPNX.

  • These include the sandbags and trenches that have protected some neighborhoods for years, according to KPNX.

  • “It absolutely sucks, and the only thing we can do is help each other,” another resident told the outlet.

Physicians: Food insecurity a threat to public health

Insufficient access to nutrition is threatening American public health and exacerbating food insecurity and social issues, the American College of Physicians declared on Monday.

More needs to be done: With about 10 percent of the U.S. population suffering from food insecurity, more needs to be done to address the source of the problem and prioritize resources for public health, the organization argued in a new position paper.

Public health imperative: Achieving these goals requires training medical professionals to better account for social drivers of health — such as access to food — that are happening beyond their office doors, according to the paper, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

“Strengthening access to good nutrition is a public health imperative,” Ryan Mire, president of the American College of Physicians, said in a video statement accompanying the paper.

“We know that food insecurity is associated with worse mental and physical health,” added Mire, whose organization, which represents U.S. internists, is the largest medical-specialty group in the country.

What can be done? The position paper provided several specific recommendations:

  • Officials must make food insecurity a policy and funding priority.  

  • Lawmakers must improve the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) to better serve the needs of food insecure individuals. 

  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services must develop, test and support innovative models that incorporate benefits related to food insecurity.  

  • Medical professionals should initiate plans to help mitigate food insecurity issues experienced by their patients.

What types of plans? In addition to screening patients for food insecurity, some such efforts could include incorporating the concept into medical education curricula, as well as establishing tools for referring patients to public resources, the authors explained.

But this can’t be a solo effort. “Physicians cannot do this alone. These efforts need to be supported by governments, payers and other stakeholders,” Mire said.

To read the full story, please click here.

EU may swap Russian for Ukrainian gas

As the European Union scrambles to ensure a stable electricity supply this winter, the bloc is turning to what The Wall Street Journal described as “an unlikely source for help” — the war-torn nation of Ukraine.

Significant reductions in Russian gas supplies following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year have left EU nations seeking alternative resources to heat their buildings and generate electricity.

What’s the status now? At the moment, Ukraine’s electricity sales to Europe are limited to only to Poland and Moldova, but the country is expected to begin selling to Slovakia and Hungary soon, Reuters reported.

Ukraine generates its electricity from a mix of coal, natural gas, petroleum, nuclear and renewable sources, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The EU and Ukraine linked their electricity grids in mid-March in response to Russia’s invasion, which enabled Ukraine to receive emergency power if necessary, Reuters reported.

Pushing plans forward: Europe’s ongoing electricity struggle has prompted the bloc, together with Kyiv and American diplomats, to accelerate plans to fully connect to Ukraine’s electricity grid, according to the Journal.

Electricity to spare: While Ukraine experienced widespread blackouts as Russia attacked its infrastructure in earlier days of the war, now the country has electricity to spare after millions of its residents left, the Journal reported.

“We have a surplus of power, and neighboring countries—they all have deficits,” Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, of electricity transmission operator NPC Ukrenergo, told the Journal.

Years in the making: Ukrenergo had long been trying to unplug from the Belarusian and Russian power grids and connect to the EU’s system — ultimately signing a deal in 2017 that positioned them to do so by 2023, according to the Journal.

But now, Ukrenergo and its Polish counterpart are aiming to finish the work in months — with U.S. diplomats facilitating talks between EU officials and power companies, the Journal reported.

Conflict heats up over drilling in Amazon rain forest

Ecuador’s plans to finance its economy with a flush of oil revenues from new petroleum exploration in the Amazon has capsized against a wave of indigenous protests — threatening more disruption to world oil markets.

  • The U.S. imported about 4.5 million barrels of crude oil from Ecuador in March 2022, the last month for which the U.S. Energy Information Agency has data. 

  • The crisis has put the South American country at the center of a growing fight in the global finance community over whether to finance extraction of the considerable oil reserves beneath the world’s largest rainforest

Opposition shuts oil down: Two weeks of strikes, roadblocks, protests and destruction of oil equipment by a coalition of Indigenous nations from across the Amazon have brought Ecuador’s oil industry to its knees, Bloomberg reported.

  • Production will halt completely by Tuesday if the protests continue, the country’s energy ministry announced Sunday on Twitter. 

  • Ecuador’s Amazon wells have historically produced about 500,000 barrels per day, according to Reuters.  

  • That’s about as much as Alaska produces, according to a forecast from
    Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R-Alaska).

Provoking a reaction: The protests began after Ecuador’s embattled President Guillermo Lasso pledged to double the country’s oil production to meet high prices, Reuters reported.

The country planned to meet these production targets by selling off 3 million hectares (11,500 square miles) of oil leases in largely pristine rainforest, according to Reuters.

Should the Amazon be off-limits to oil? The protests have heightened calls for an “Amazon exclusion policy” by some in the finance industry and among activist groups, Reuters reported.

Motor Monday

Exxon CEO sees future for fossil fuels into the 2040s. Also, rising gas prices lead to electric vehicle price hikes, but iron-based batteries may help lower those costs. 

Every passenger car will be electric by 2040: ExxonMobil CEO

  • ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods predicted that by 2040, every new passenger car sold worldwide will be electric, CNBC reported. Last year, just 9 percent of cars sold were electric, including plug-in hybrids — up 109 percent from 2020, according to CNBC.

Tesla, Ford, GM raise electric vehicle prices

  • As escalating gasoline prices prompt people to choose EVs, companies have begun to increase car prices, The Wall Street Journal reported. Tesla, Ford, GM, Rivian and Lucid have all raised prices on select models — a move that the Journal described as “capitalizing on strong consumer interest in EVs.”

New battery relies on iron

  • Cheaper forms of batteries made from lithium-iron-phosphate have taken over in China’s car market and could open up new opportunities for inexpensive electric vehicles in the U.S., TechCrunch reported. The batteries come with longer ranges, a cheaper price tag — thanks to their simpler supply chain — and less risk of catching fire, according to the tech news site.

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