Philippine flies turn trash into beef
Happy Fly-day. Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability.
The Philippine city of Davao has faced an inundation of trash, due to a population boom of 60 percent over the past 20 years. So much trash, in fact, that it has considered burning it for energy, Bong S. Sarmiento reported for Mongabay.
But startup FiveDOL Upcycling Corp. had a better idea: enlisting black soldier flies to ravage kitchen waste — effectively burning the trash as calories to grow their bodies. But that’s not all. As the flies consume copious amounts of food scraps during their larval stage, they also grow rich in protein that could serve as a more sustainable substitute for today’s livestock feeds, Mongabay reported.
This plan, however, could go one step further: Since 90 percent of energy is lost between every step in the food chain, an efficient next step could involve the human consumption of maggots — which, as Phys.org reported in 2019, some scientists think we are ultimately going to have to begin doing.
In terms of difficult things to swallow, we look at President BidenJoe Biden Pence said he’s ‘proud’ Congress certified Biden’s win on Jan. 6 Americans put the most trust in their doctor for COVID-19 information: poll US to give Afghanistan 3M doses of J&J vaccine MORE’s infrastructure deal, a compromise package that now faces a tough road. And Rep. Joe NeguseJoseph (Joe) NeguseHeat wave sparks historically unseasonable wildfires in West Wyden warns: ‘Today’s fires are not your grandfather’s wildfires’ GOP divided over bills targeting tech giants MORE (D-Colo.) lays out his case for why Congress must pass a swath of wildfire legislation — and do so fast.
For Equilibrium, we are Saul Elbein, operating out of Washington, D.C., and Sharon Udasin, based in Boulder, Colo. Please send tips or comments to Saul at firstname.lastname@example.org or Sharon at email@example.com. Follow us on Twitter: @saul_elbein and @sharonudasin.
Let’s get to it.
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Biden infrastructure bill hides covert climate compromise; leading Democrats say they’ll push for more
A bipartisan deal that Biden reached with senators yesterday afternoon will be the biggest infrastructure package in a century — if it makes its tricky way through the trials to come. From now until around 2030, the plan would pour more than a half-trillion dollars in new spending into infrastructure, according to a White House Fact Sheet.
The infrastructure ranges from roads and bridges ($109 billion); railways and mass transit ($66 billion and $49 billion, respectively); sewers and water infrastructure ($55 billion); enough broadband cable to give “universal access” ($65 billion) and high-tension power lines ($73 billion); ports and waterways ($16 billion).
Climate win or climate loss? “The deal represents a huge win for Biden’s climate proposals,” Paul Bledsoe, a strategic adviser at the Progressive Policy Institute, wrote in The Hill on Friday morning, challenging those “far left environmental activists” who are unhappy with it.
But progressive Democrats are far from satisfied. “While the nods to climate that are in the bipartisan bill are appreciated, they don’t even come close to putting us on a 1.5 [Celsius] degrees trajectory,” Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseWhitehouse says family won’t resign from beach club Beach club linked to Sheldon Whitehouse denies reports that it’s all-white Progressive groups ramp up pressure on Feinstein MORE (D-R.I.) told Vox’s Ella Nilsen.
And climate activists said they will oppose the deal unless Democrats pass a bigger “climate, jobs and justice” package through a separate legislative process called reconciliation, according to the Washington Examiner.
Broad sustainability implications: First, it’s important to note the climate provisions that are included in the bill. Aside from direct climate measures — say, $15 billion for electric vehicle charging points and electrified mass transit, $47 billion to promote “coastal resiliency,” $16 billion to plug methane-leaking abandoned gas wells — Bledsoe argued that the other infrastructure upgrades were necessary for climate adaptation as well.
A lot of the non-climate measures, after all, have broad climate and resiliency impacts. The roads the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will rebuild transport emergency vehicles and solar work crews. The renovated grid they build can move clean energy across vast distances — as the Norwegians and British are doing now beneath the North Sea. And, Bledsoe noted, universal broadband means “access to jobs for millions of Americans while reducing emissions from commuting.”
PROGRESSIVES: ‘BILL NECESSARY, BUT NOT SUFFICIENT’
Climate measures get cut: And yet, as The New York Times noted Friday, a lot of things fell out of the deal: most notably Biden’s proposal for 100 percent clean power by 2035, as well as $300 billion for clean energy tax credits, a number the Washington Examiner said comes from his fiscal 2022 budget request.
This would have involved extending by 10 years tax incentives for renewable energy as well as additional spending for tax incentives to existing nuclear power plants, for zero-emissions trucks, for hydrogen and for carbon capture.
Also, climate activist group Evergreen Action noted that Biden had previously promised to direct “40 percent of the benefits from his administration’s climate spending to ‘frontline’ areas exposed to fossil fuel plant pollution,” the Examiner reported; the existing compromise, they said, “is nowhere near sufficient.”
Many line items left in the bill — like the $15 billion for electric vehicles — are only a fraction of what the Biden administration originally asked for.
Democrats reconciled to “reconciliation”: On this, the president seems to agree. “If this is the only thing that comes to me, I’m not signing it,” Biden said Friday. “It’s in tandem.”
The only way he’ll agree to it, he said, was in conjunction with a parallel, much larger “reconciliation” package, which, the New York Times noted, “Democrats are planning to try to push through Congress unilaterally, over the opposition of Republicans.”
Reconciliation is what NBC described as “an arcane process” that would allow Democratic senators to circumvent the customary 60-vote threshold that would require Republican support. The process, established in a 1974 congressional act, enables a simple majority to pass certain types of legislation, the NBC report said. Senators can use the process only once per fiscal year, for the sole purpose of changing — or “reconciling” — laws connected to taxation and spending.
What we’re watching: There are a number of roadblocks along that path — for example, the Senate parliamentarian could decide that clean energy spending, for example, has nothing to do with the budget.
Next week, we’ll get deeper into what reconciliation is and what that process looks like; for now, just know that Republicans like Rep. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanOcasio-Cortez criticizes bipartisan infrastructure deal for lack of diversity among negotiators Biden announces bipartisan deal on infrastructure Senators say White House aides agreed to infrastructure ‘framework’ MORE (Ohio) are “pissed and disappointed” by Biden’s decision to link the smaller compromise deal to a reconciliation package that Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden announces bipartisan infrastructure deal | DOJ backs Trump-era approval of Line 3 permit | Biden hits China on solar panels Biden says he won’t sign bipartisan bill without reconciliation bill Business groups applaud bipartisan infrastructure deal MORE (I-Vt.) has signaled could be as high as $6 trillion, Politico reported
Takeaway. Behind the debate over explicit climate measures lies the unavoidable fact that anything new built in the next eight years, just like anything old that is repaired, will have to bear the onslaught of climate change.
To that end, Biden’s compromise suggests progressives can get Republican support for climate measures as long as they’re camouflaged as “resiliency” or “grid improvements.”
But it also shows the limits of that support. That’s why reconciliation, Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinRevs. Jesse Jackson, William Barber arrested in protest urging Manchin to nix filibuster Democrats introduce equal pay legislation for US national team athletes Democrats seek to calm nervous left MORE (D-W.Va.) told reporters on Thursday, is now “inevitable,” Jordain Carney reported for The Hill.
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Climate action necessary to fight ‘Herculean challenges’
No matter what pans out with the bipartisan infrastructure scuffle, progressives are continuing to push for the inclusion of green infrastructure in the upcoming legislation — whether that comes from within the traditional infrastructure umbrella or by way of the reconciliation package.
“It has to include significant investments and advancements in climate action,” Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), told Equilibrium in a Thursday interview. “And absent that, I don’t think you will have a bill that ultimately will generate a sufficient majority to get to the president’s desk.”
Neguse’s thoughts on green infrastructure were just a small slice of a lengthy conversation with Equilibrium about the urgency of advancing climate action, as an overheated West wrestles with what Neguse described as “Herculean challenges.”
“We have transitioned from having fire seasons to now having fire years,” Neguse said. “There are fires raging almost year-round.”
Flames a mile high: While much of the West set wildfire records in 2020 — with devastating blazes scorching California and Oregon in the fall — Colorado experienced its most destructive wildfire season in the state’s history.
The fires have already returned to Colorado this year, prompting the Bureau of Land Management to increase restrictions on federal land, starting this weekend. Meanwhile, Neguse and other lawmakers from the region are scrambling to push a slate of wildfire bills through Congress, to bolster the firefighting workforce and strengthen mitigation and recovery efforts throughout the West.
“When your community is the home to the largest and second largest wildfires in the history of Colorado, it is a wake-up call to our communities, to our state and certainly for policymakers,” Neguse said.
A laundry list of wildfire legislation: Neguse is a co-sponsor on several recent bills and initiatives that he is confident could help alleviate some of the challenges that the West is facing. These bills, he explained, are not mutually exclusive and serve different policy purposes.
DEAR GOD, CAN IT BE RAIN?
A short reprieve: Colorado and the surrounding Intermountain West states will be getting a much-needed reprieve from the heat — and possibly even some rain — this weekend.
Thursday showers helped curb the growth of one fire already, The Aspen Times reported. Rains slowed the major blazes that were roasting the Western Slope, although the Colorado Springs Gazette warned that hot, dry conditions next week could fuel the fire yet again. In a bizarre contrast, CBS Denver reported, that weekend hikes to Pikes Peak or Mount Evans could be interrupted by several inches of heavy, wet snow.
While conditions in Colorado are calming down this weekend, unprecedented heat is expected to weigh down the Pacific Northwest — a region where a significant portion of the population lacks air conditioning.
As such, The Washington Post reported, Seattle, Portland, Spokane and Medford are planning to open additional cooling centers for residents. Washington, Oregon and Idaho could all experience their hottest June weather on record, with temperatures rising to at least 113 degrees, the Post said, citing the National Weather Service.
Takeaway: Such extreme heat conditions have sent lawmakers from the West scrambling to push a slew of wildfire bills through Congress. With so many public and private spaces in the West at risk this summer, Neguse emphasized that the government must “act urgently and quickly.”
“Time is of the essence. It’s important for us to get this done now,” he said. “But we still do have time to do it, to get it done.”
To read Equilibrium’s full interview with Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), click here.
In which we check back in on some of our stories from throughout the week.
As marine animal death toll worsens in X-Press Pearl disaster, another ship catches fire
- On Tuesday, we wrote about the X-Press Pearl, the Singapore-registered ship that burned, sank and is now releasing oil and caustic chemicals into the rich coastal ecosystems and fishing grounds off Sri Lanka.
- Beneath the waves, the maritime disaster continues to worsen: Channel News Asia reported the confirmed death toll is up to 115 turtles, 15 dolphins and five whales. This, of course, is just those that have washed up onshore.
- Some limited help is coming: The EU is sending 200 million euros ($240 million) to 15,000 residents of fishing villages, Lankaxpress reported; Sri Lankan local officials are looking at criminal charges; and the national government is demanding $40 million in damages from the Pearl’s parent company.
- Even if this money is paid, though, and even if they reach fishers, there remains the haunting possibility that money cannot fix the damage. At best, fishermen are left with money to buy food that they once could have caught for themselves.
- It also does little to prevent future disasters from the 200 container ships and tankers that pass Sri Lanka each day, as Channel News Asia reported. On Friday, another container ship caught fire off the island’s coast.
China slams US move to curb solar materials imports from Xinjiang
- On Thursday, we reported on the Biden administration’s plan to restrict imports of solar panel raw materials produced at the Hoshine Silicon Industry Co. — which the Biden administration called out on Thursday for use of forced labor and human rights abuses.
- On Friday, the Chinese government criticized the U.S. decision.
- “Washington is using “human rights as a disguise” to “suppress the industrial development of Xinjiang,” a Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, told the AP. “The United States doesn’t care at all about the Xinjiang people,” Zhao said. “Their real plots and sinister intentions are to mess up Xinjiang to contain China.”
- Chinese officials reject accusations that the Uyghur Muslim population of Xinjiang is subjected to forced labor, according to the AP.
- While Zhao said that Beijing will “take all necessary measures” to protect its companies, the U.S. customs agency said an investigation showed that workers in the Xinjiang polysilicon industry were threatened and their movement restricted, the AP reported.
Banks pass stress tests; should climate be next?
- We also reported on efforts by Democrats in Congress to make companies and banks determine and disclose their climate risk.
- On Thursday, Joshua Franklin and Imani Moise of the Financial Times reported that two dozen key U.S. banks were getting ready for a “buyback bonanza” after proving they would remain solvent in “apocalyptic scenarios” proposed by the Federal Reserve.
- According to the Fed, even if the stock market collapsed, banks would lose $500 billion, but still be solvent — meaning the regulator will let them issue more dividends.
- But there’s one crisis they may not be ready for: climate change. While the Bank of England is requiring British banks to perform a stress test focused on climate risk, “helping them to understand better how they are exposed under different potential climate pathways,” as Huw Jones of Reuters reported, the U.S. still does not.
- A Senate bill that would require them to do that, the Climate Change Financial Risk Act, remains stuck in committee.
That’s Equilibrium, folks. We’ll see you next week.