Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Second glacier collapse shows high-altitude danger

Twin glacier collapses — this week’s in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan Mountains and last week’s in Italy — suggest the danger for high-altitude landscapes is only rising.

“There’s no other directions glaciers are going other than retreating,” University of Minnesota glaciologist Peter Neff told The Washington Post.

Neff said that both avalanches were caused by collapsing ice, which carries far more weight and force than a conventional snow avalanche.

“The feeling from the event in Italy and [Kyrgyzstan] is this is coming more often,” he added. 

The disintegrating ice wall was captured by British trekker Harry Shimmin in an arresting minute-long video on Instagram.

“The whole group was laughing and crying, happy to be alive,” Shimmin wrote. “It was only later we realized just how lucky we’d been. If we had walked 5 minutes further on our trek, we would all be dead.” 

The avalanche followed last week’s glacier collapse in Italy’s Dolomite range, which killed nearly a dozen hikers.

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. We’re Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Send us tips and feedback. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.

Today we’ll look at why a conservation group is suing the Environmental Protection Agency over Colorado’s fracking pollution, followed by demands from activists that the Senate confirm the agency’s new top cop. Then we’ll examine how federal agencies are cutting hundreds of thousands of acres of old growth and mature forest.

Green group sues EPA over smog in Colorado

The Center for Biological Diversity demanded that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) take action to mitigate the air pollution emitted by Colorado’s oil and gas sector, in a lawsuit filed on Tuesday.  

If successful, the lawsuit would force the EPA to order the State of Colorado to limit the pollution coming from both drilling and hydraulic fracturing activities in both the Denver metro area and the Denver-Julesburg Basin, according to the petition.  

Where’s that? The Denver-Julesburg Basin is a geological rock formation that stretches from southern Colorado into Wyoming along the east side of Colorado’s “Front Range.”

“We’re never going to solve our smog problem until the EPA cracks down on Colorado allowing unlimited air pollution from drilling and fracking,” Robert Ukeiley, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.  

The problem with smog: Both the Denver metro area and North Front Range region have concentrations of ozone — also known as “smog” — that far exceed EPA standards, which were designed to protect both public health and Colorado’s “natural beauty,” according to the environmental group.

  • The state’s Air Pollution Control Division submitted plans to the EPA detailing smog cleanup strategies, which recently received the agency’s approval. 
     
  • But the center argued that a potential loophole could allow for unlimited pollution from drilling and fracking.  

Families at risk: Oil and gas production in Colorado remains one of the biggest contributors to smog, which is linked to a variety of health problems like asthma and other respiratory issues, the center noted.

“Every additional day of delay in reducing smog puts more children and families at risk for potentially deadly diseases,” Ukeiley said. 

And the agency response? The EPA said that “because this is pending litigation EPA has no further information to add.” 

Equilibrium has also reached out to the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment for comment.  

To read the full story, please click here.

EPA MUST CONFIRM TOP REGULATOR: GREEN GROUPS

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) needs to finish the process of hiring its chief enforcement officer before America’s people, waters and landscapes pay the price, environmental groups said this week.

Behind the news: David Uhlmann, a former federal prosecutor that Biden nominated more than a year ago, is still in limbo, leaving the crucial top role at the agency’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance empty.

Why does it matter? “Every day of delay hurts the American people,” Vickie Patton of the Environmental Defense Fund told The Washington Post.

Bipartisan push: Last month, a bipartisan group of 67 former U.S. attorneys charged that leaving such an important position vacant “deep into the second year of the Biden Administration undermines the rule of law, public health, and environmental protection.” 

Tough timing: The controversy comes as the EPA — and the broader Biden administration and Democratic caucus — struggle to determine their next moves in achieving federal climate goals. 

Those plans were undermined by last month’s landmark Supreme Court decision, which limited the EPA’s ability to call for broad changes to the nation’s power plants and cast doubt on the government’s ability to effectively oversee the transition off fossil fuels, our colleagues Zack Budryk and Morgan Chalfant wrote in The Hill.

Federal logging threatens climate-preserving trees

Federal plans to clear 10 old-growth forests are threatening the country’s climate and forestry goals, environmental groups charged on Tuesday.

  • More than 240,000 acres of big, carbon-trapping trees are scheduled to be clearcut, according to a report issued by a coalition of nonprofits that includes Earthjustice, the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity.
  • A clearcut signifies when an entire landscape is logged, as distinguished from a partial cut, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).   
  • The groups called on the Biden administration to halt the logging of mature and old-growth forests that they say are essential to slowing climate change.

“The best way to protect these carbon-storing giants is to let them grow, but our federal agencies keep turning them into lumber,” Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. 

Forest Service pushes back: The U.S. Forest Service argues that the distinction of old growth versus new growth is obsolete in the age of climate change.

  • “No longer is it enough to draw a line on a map around our old growth stands and think they will be protected against drought, wildfire, insect and disease,” USDA spokesperson Larry Moore told Equilibrium.
  • Moore said that the Administration is launching a public comment process later this week “to ensure we are appropriately defining old growth and mature trees.”

Contradiction in policy?: Outside groups say the planned cuts contradict an April executive order by the administration to restore and conserve the nation’s mature and old-growth forests.

The groups argue the administration’s climate goals are being set aside in favor of the historic mission of federal agencies like the U.S. Forest Service to produce timber and other forest commodities.

Threatened lands: For example, in the Black Hills National Forest of South Dakota — which at 180,000 acres holds the largest targeted tract — most mature ponderosa pine trees are targeted for removal. 

Another clearcut scheduled for Oregon’s Willamette National Forest would remove 1,000 acres of mature and old-growth trees, while another planned clearcut on state forest administered by the Bureau of Land Management would cut down 4,573 acres.

Time running out: Spivak argued that the administration could slow climate change by “permanently protecting mature and old-growth trees,” noting that it would take centuries to re-capture the carbon lost when those trees were cut down. 

“We don’t have that kind of time,” he added.

IS THIS LOGGING NECESSARY?

Environmental groups argue that it is not.  

More than 95 percent of the nation’s tree products come from relatively small, young conifers grown on privately owned plantations, according to data from the for-profit environmental organization The Larch Company.  

Comparative advantage: Unlike the mature trees scheduled to be cut, these plantations store little carbon, meaning there is far less climate cost to cutting them in comparison to large trees on federal land. 

Fire-resistant giants: The organizations warned that without specific guidelines to protect mature trees, these largest fire-resistant trees risk being cut down. 

These cuts often happen in the name of fire-reducing forest-thinning campaigns aimed at protecting forest stands. 

Young trees are also far more vulnerable to fire than large old trees, according to a study by the U.S. Forest Service. 

To read the full story, please click here.

Foundations fail to act on climate change: report

Philanthropic leaders overwhelmingly perceive climate change as an urgent problem, but their foundations are only taking minimal steps to address the issue on the ground, a new report has found. 

Urgent, but not the top priority: About 60 percent of foundation and nonprofit administrators surveyed said they believe climate change is an “extremely urgent problem,” according to a survey conducted by the Massachusetts-based Center for Effective Philanthropy.   

But only about 10 percent considered this the most important problem to address right now and just 11 percent rated their own foundation’s approach to combatting climate change as “very effective,” the report found.

Gaps between beliefs and actions: The Center for Effective Philanthropy identified this stark gap between beliefs and actions on climate change by surveying CEOs and administrators of U.S.-based foundations and nonprofits between January and March of 2022.

Foundation executives: Among the 188 foundation leaders that responded to the survey, 61 percent said that their organizations help finance efforts to address climate change.  

Of those foundations funding climate change initiatives:  

  • 22 percent said they were “explicitly” funding initiatives to combat climate change. 
  • 45 percent fund “environmental efforts” that address climate change. 
  • 33 percent said they fund both climate and environmental initiatives.  

Thirty-six percent of the foundation leaders said that their organizations do not finance efforts to address climate change, according to the report. 

Nonprofit leaders: Among the 120 nonprofit leaders that responded to the survey, 25 percent affirmed that climate change is “a core focus” of their operations.  

Of the nonprofits for which climate change is a core focus: 

  • 20 percent said their organizations explicitly focus on addressing climate change. 
  • 57 percent said they focus on environmental efforts that address climate change. 
  • 23 percent said they concentrate on both climate and environmental initiatives.  

Seventy-three percent of nonprofit leaders responded that climate change is not a central concern of their work, according to the survey.  

Out of scope: “Despite their concerns about climate change, most non-climate funders tend to see this issue as outside the scope of their mission,” the report authors stated. 

To read the full story, please click here.

Tuesday Troubles

Climate change threatens Turkey’s wine industry, Norse descendants hunt dolphins in the North Atlantic and unexpected winds pull a fighter jet off an aircraft carrier. 

Climate change endangering Turkish winemaking 

  • Climate change is threatening Turkey’s ancient winemaking sector, leading vintners to wonder how their grapes will survive amid rising temperatures, NPR reported. One winery owner, who depends on cool evenings to grow cabernet sauvignon grapes, said she hopes that the industry can persist by switching to more heat-resistant varieties.

Faroe Islands restricting dolphin killing during disputed whale hunt 

  • The government of the Faroe Islands — a self-governing Danish territory in between Iceland and Scotland — is setting a catch limit of 500 dolphins during its annual whale hunt this year, CNN reported. The hunt, which also includes the killing of dolphins, dates back to 800 CE and claims to provide food to local communities, according to CNN. 

Mediterranean winds sweep fighter jet off US aircraft carrier 

Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online for the web version of this newsletter and more stories. We’ll see you tomorrow.

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