Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — To preserve wildlife, share land

Making space for wildlife in human fields and communities could help stave off the worst effects of the ongoing mass extinction crisis, a new study has found.

That crisis is significantly broader than previously thought, according to the global study published on Monday in Frontiers in Ecology.

As many as 37 percent of all species on Earth could be threatened with — or driven to — the point of extinction by the end of the century, the study found.

But those numbers could be cut to 25 percent with rapid global action, the international team found.

One important strategy the 60 authors identified was a stronger focus on “land sharing,” or designing agriculture and cities to coexist with biodiversity — a model popular in China, South America and Africa.

That approach differs from the dominant North American tactic of “land sparing” — a strategy marked by a clear division between protected natural areas and ecologically inhospitable zones of intense agriculture.

This “sparing” approach risks creating islands of unconnected habitat that are far less effective in protecting mammals than connected habitat corridors, as we’ve reported.

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 how climate change is making water supplies unpredictable in snow-capped areas of North America. Then we’ll look at extreme heat hitting Europe during tourist season and acute hunger issues plaguing parts of Africa. Let’s jump in.

Rockies face water volatility as climate warms: study

Water resources will become harder to predict in the Northern Hemisphere’s snow-dominated regions later this century due to the warming effects of climate change, a study released Monday found.

  • The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found regions likely facing the greatest loss in predictability are the Rocky Mountains, the Canadian Arctic, Eastern North America and Eastern Europe.
  • As snow accumulation recedes — taking with it a reliable source of runoff — the amount and timing of water resources will increasingly depend on rainfall, the researchers stated.

“Water management systems in snow-dominated regions are based on the predictability of snowpack and runoff,” lead author Will Wieder, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), said in a statement.

“Much of that predictability could go away with climate change,” Wieder added.

What’s snowpack? Snowpack refers to the layers of packed snow, typically found on mountains, that melt during warmer months.

  • Those layers are already melting earlier than usual in some regions, the authors noted.
  • Toward the end of the century, the amount of water contained in parts of the Rocky Mountain snowpack could plunge by almost 80 percent.

Impacts could be widespread: Changes in runoff and streamflow will also have knock-on effects on ecosystems, the authors warned.

The rise in snow-free days will put stress on water resources — drying out soil and increasing fire risk, they added.

Huge jumps in snow-free days: Scientists used computer simulations to demonstrate the extent to which changes in temperature and precipitation might alter snow accumulation and runoff patterns.

  • By the end of the century, there will be about 45 more snow-free days annually in the Northern Hemisphere, if greenhouse gas emissions remain high.
  • The biggest increases in snow-free days are likely to occur in warm midlatitude regions and in high-latitude maritime regions that are affected by changes in sea ice.  

An uncertain race: Co-author Flavio Lehner, of Cornell University, described “a race with predictability,” which is pitting scientists against the disappearance of the “best predictor: snow.”

“It might be a race we’ll lose, but we’re trying to win it, and that is why we need to study these topics,” Lehner said.  

To read the full story, please click here.

Heat and fire disrupt Europe’s tourist revival 

Americans taking advantage of comparatively cheap Western European vacations this weekend found themselves in the midst of a record, dangerous heat wave.

From the U.K. to Turkey, more than 1,000 people have died from lethal heat, which has also driven a wave of wildfires that threatens many European tourist meccas.

Deadly heat: Much of Western Europe is sizzling in the face of a “heat apocalypse”  

as triple-digit temperatures disrupt life across the continent, our colleague Rachel Scully reported.

Price push: The heat wave coincides with a rush of American tourists flocking to Europe this summer after largely staying home amid the coronavirus pandemic.

American tourists have been pulled in part by the strength of the dollar against the euro, The Wall Street Journal reported.

  • The U.S. dollar is currently trading at parity with the euro — its strongest position since 2002, according to the Journal.
  • It’s also at its strongest position against the pound since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. travelers spent 56 percent more money this June than in June 2019, the Journal reported. 


The heat has hit hard across a continent where air conditioning is often a luxury — and where energy prices are soaring due to continuing disruptions from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

  • In Britain, sales of air conditioners are up 525 percent and sales of fans up 250 percent, the Times reported.
  • “We have been turning on the A.C. every day and every night for almost two months now,” Italian hairdresser Serena Vendoni told the Times, adding that the price was prohibitive.
  • European health officials stressed that a major component of danger was that people were largely unprepared for to the risk posed by heat, Germany broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) reported. 

Caught unaware: “There’s sort of a lack of awareness amongst frontline staff, nurses and doctors,” Sari Kovats of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine told DW. 

“And there’s also a lack of awareness in the general public, so people often don’t perceive themselves at risk,” Kovats added.

A clear solution: With the U.K.’s 10 hottest years in the past century occurring since 2002, “heatwaves are becoming more common and lasting longer,” Eunice Lo, a climate scientist at Bristol University, told the BBC.  

“We need to stop burning fossil fuels, and act now and quickly,” Lo added. 


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US investing $1.2B to address food crisis in Africa

The U.S. is investing $1.2 billion to address immediate hunger needs in the Horn of Africa, Samantha Power, the administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), announced Monday.

  • The funding surge was part of a series of global food security initiatives that Power announced while speaking at an event hosted by Center for Strategic and International Studies.
  • The USAID administrator sounded the alarm that an estimated 233 million people are facing a food crisis.

“It’s at this stage that the world’s humanitarian relief organizations kick into overdrive, providing the kind of assistance that for most is the difference quite simply between life and death,” Power said. 

Meeting an acute need: The billion-dollar announcement will help meet the immediate hunger needs of the people of Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, Power said.  

This investment comes on top of $507 million already provided by the U.S. toward this goal, she added.

“Hunger prevails so intensely that lives and livelihoods are at risk”

– USAID administrator Samantha Power at an event on Monday

A crisis exacerbated by conflict: The U.S. and global partners are working to rally the world to address an acute food crisis made worse by Russia’s war in Ukraine.  

  • The conflict has prohibited tens of millions of tons of grain from being exported through the Black Sea. 
  • Reports also accuse Russia of burning wheat fields, stealing grain and restricting its own export of fertilizer, a move that has contributed to inflated prices.

“The U.N. Secretary General has said multiple famines may be declared this year and 2023 may be even worse,” Power said in her remarks.  

Holding food hostage: While citing climate change as the most “existential” crisis threatening global food security, Power said that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion and sustained war against Ukraine has held “food hostage.” 

“Trillions of calories are literally sitting in storage while people go without food,” she said.  

Moving grain: The United Nations and Turkey are negotiating with Russia to open a sea lane to export grain from Ukraine’s Odesa port, according to Power.  

Meanwhile, Ukraine and the EU are moving about 2 million tons of grain per month through a “patchwork of routes,” she said.  

Farmers need fertilizer: The administrator also called out Putin’s bans on fertilizer exports, which have been driving up prices since November.

  • Farmers in Africa are facing particularly negative impacts, likely leading to a 20 percent shortfall in their harvests, worth about $11 billion, she explained.
  • Fertilizer giant Yara has offered to provide $20 million of free fertilizer to USAID, which will be distributed to support 100,000 farmers, Powers added.  

Grassroots effort: Power also announced that GoFundMe has launched a grassroots Global Food Fund so that anyone can donate to help support nonprofit groups working on the ground to combat and address hunger and malnutrition. 

— Laura Kelly, foreign policy reporter at The Hill 

Why snakebites are so hard to treat 

Two bites from the same species of rattlesnake may contain very different toxic compounds, a new study has found.

  • The discovery could help scientists develop more effective treatments for rattlesnake bites, according to the study published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.
  • Authors attribute the different compounds to an evolutionary “arms race” between snakes and their prey that has left the scaly predators with an ever-shifting arsenal of venom varieties

Timely news: The presence of rattlesnakes is likely to increase with the shorter winters caused by climate change, though the shy animals do their best to avoid people, USA Today reported.

That said, suburban expansion across the Southeast and Sunbelt is pushing ever further into venomous snake habitat, leading to a rise in bites, The Wall Street Journal reported.

To read more on the study published Monday, please click here

Monday Miscellanies 

California’s gold towns rally against gold, Prince Harry calls for climate action and a few U.S. regions beat the heat. 

Residents of California’s old gold towns now stand against mining

  • Soaring gold prices are driving a wave of corporate prospectors to explore a mining revival in the mineral-rich hills of California’s Sierra Nevada — against the opposition of locals dependent on tourism and worried about water, The Wall Street Journal reported. “There is no industrial need for gold — it is just a luxury,” one local anti-mining advocate told the Journal. 

Prince Harry calls for ‘transformative decisions’ on climate in UN address 

  • The climate change crisis will grow worse unless leaders “make the decisions — the daring, transformative decisions — that our world needs to save humanity,” Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, told the United Nations General Assembly on Monday. Harry stressed that “the right thing to do is not up for debate, and neither is the science,” Judy Kurtz reported for The Hill.

Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Pacific Northwest enjoy mild summer

  • As heat waves scorch the western, central and southern U.S., residents of the Northeast, the Mid-Atlantic and the Pacific Northwest “have avoided much need for air conditioning in recent weeks,” The Washington Post reported. The notoriously muggy Richmond, Va., saw its least humid June in a decade, while temperatures have remained “remarkably normal” from Virginia to Maine, according to the Post.

ICYMI: Our colleagues Rachel Frazin and Zack Budryk this weekend delved into Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) decision to advance a reconciliation package that doesn’t address climate change — a move that Democrats and advocates said risks consigning the world to a warmer future.

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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