Equilibrium/Sustainability — Fish leather made from a predator

A group of scuba divers are selling thin, strong and sustainable leather goods made from an invasive and insatiable predator: Lionfish.

“We know there are solutions for some of the problems — such as coral-friendly sunscreens to help protect the reefs — but nobody’s been able to do anything about the lionfish,” Aarav Chavda, CEO of “eco-positive” leather startup Inversa, told The Guardian.

Lionfish, a species with origins in the Indian Ocean, have been eating their way across Atlantic and Mediterranean reefs since the 1980s.

Every lionfish killed saves up to 70,000 reef fish, and unlike cattle leather, there’s no risk of deforestation, Chavda told The Guardian.

Inversa’s goal is to finance fishing cooperatives in the Caribbean, underwriting their purchase of hunting and tanning equipment that can help them transform the predators from game-devouring threat to a revenue source.

Otherwise, Chavda said, the fishing communities face a no-win choice: If they hunt the lionfish eating their way through the reefs — for which there is currently no market in the Caribbean — then “they’re not hunting other things.”

“They’d be spending their precious time not on lobster, not on grouper — so it’s very unfortunate,” he told the newspaper.

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 the war in Ukraine is taking a toxic toll on the country’s environment. Then we’ll explore the latest effects of California’s drought as well as a study linking “forever chemicals” to high blood pressure in middle-aged women.

War in eastern Ukraine unearths toxic legacy

A Russian artillery strike on a chemical plant in eastern Ukraine sent smoke billowing into the air on Sunday, highlighting yet another danger posed by war in one of Europe’s most polluted areas.

Fire and smoke: Russian shelling set fire to the Azot chemical plant in the town of Sievierodonetsk, where dozens of civilians were sheltering, The Guardian reported.

Sievierodonetsk is part of Luhansk, one of the breakaway provinces whose independence Russia recognized just before its February invasion of the country

Toxic legacy: Luhansk — like the neighboring province Donetsk — has a long history of severe pollution from mining and heavy industry dating back to the Soviet era, Olya Melen-Zabramna of the Ukrainian nonprofit Environment People Law told Equilibrium.

“This territory is huge — and the level of pollution is also huge,” she said.

  • While the Ukrainian government had attempted to clean up some of this damage over the past decade, the outbreak of hostilities between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists in 2014 interrupted that process, she said.
  • “Part of the problem is direct damage,” Melen-Zabramna added. “But part of the problem is that [the war] interrupted activates protection, monitoring and remediation.”

Amid today’s active combat, she stressed that “there is nobody who is taking measurements.”

“No one is performing monitoring of water quality,” Melen-Zabramna said, noting that doing so is particularly important due to the number of highly polluted mining sites.

MORE PRICE SPIKES

Rice could be the next key grain to see a dramatic surge in price as a result of the ongoing war — with potential consequences as severe as export bans or political unrest.

International rice prices are at a 12-month high after five months of straight increase, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

Export ban? If rice gets sufficiently expensive, it could lead countries like India that produce and depend on the commodity to restrict or even ban exports, CNBC noted.

  • India banned wheat exports in May, citing food security risks after a spring heat wave slashed rice production, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

Impacts of a rice export ban? Such a ban would lower prices for farmers in the export-banning country while raising them around the world, David Laborde of the International Food Policy Research Institute told CNBC.

That’s distinct from “a price rise that compensates for higher costs and will benefit farmers (and help them produce),” according to Laborde.

Food versus fuel: The growing global grain crisis should throw cold water on the US embrace of biofuels, experts from the International Food Policy Research Institute told the Financial Times.

Cutting the amount of grains in biofuels by 50 percent globally would compensate for all the grain held up by the Ukraine war, the Times reported.

The US uses up to 40 percent of its corn production to make ethanol, according to the World Resource Institute.

Global shortages will get worse: As a result of the war and Russian blockade, “the world will face an acute and severe food crisis and famine,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said at a conference in Asia this weekend, cited by CNBC.

The crisis “touches Asia, Europe and Africa,” he added.

Southern California golf greens go brown

Golf courses across Southern California are bracing for the impacts of new drought restrictions in the region, which have led operators to “dial back their sprinklers and let some green grassy areas turn brown,” The Los Angeles Times reported.

  • Many residents of Southern California already see golf courses as what the Times described as “a detested symbol of social privilege and water profligacy — a lush playground for the wealthy that can drink more than 100 million gallons a year.”
  • Despite such resentment, some of the region’s courses are public facilities visited by residents of various income levels, the newspaper noted.

Some alternatives available: Los Angeles water customers are only allowed to irrigate two days a week, although an emergency conservation ordinance enables large landscape areas — including golf courses — to request an “alternative means of compliance,” the Times reported.

That alternative involves cutting consumption by a fixed amount mandated by the city, plus an added reduction of 5 percent below each site’s historical usage, according to the outlet.

Perks of using wastewater: Thirty-seven golf courses fall under the jurisdiction of Los Angeles’s Department of Water Resources, including 20 private and 17 public municipal courses.

While the restrictions apply to courses that use drinking water, they do not apply to the 11 courses that irrigate with recycled wastewater, the Times reported.

DIFFICULT DECISIONS

California’s ongoing drought has been particularly damaging to farmers in the state’s Central Valley, whose irrigation supplies underwent significant cuts earlier this year, CNN reported.

The limits this year have pushed many farmers to leave greater portions of their idle land, according to CNN.

“I got the land, I got the people. I have everything but no water. I can’t do it,” Joe Del Bosque, one of many Latino farmers in the region who rely on California’s agriculture, told CNN.

Fallowed fields, hazy skies: As these farmers decide to fallow their fields and uproot their orchards and vineyards, they are often amassing the vegetation “into towering pyres” and setting them ablaze, the Times reported.

These circumstances are also creating a surge in air pollution, which the newspaper described as a “lung- and heart-aggravating haze across the valley.”

Burning in wildfire season: “Increased removal of orchards and vineyards will add strain to already existing difficulties faced in implementing this aggressive open burning phase-out strategy,” Jaime Holt, spokesperson for the San Joaquin Valley air district, told the Times.

“And of course all of this is happening at the same time the region is experiencing worsening air quality impacts due to increasingly severe wildfires,” Holt added.

‘Forever chemicals’ up hypertension risk in women

Middle-aged women who have greater blood concentrations of toxic “forever chemicals” may be at greater risk of developing high blood pressure, a new study has found.

These women were more likely to become hypertensive than those who had lower levels of the compounds, also called per- and polyfluroalkyl substances (PFAS), according to a study in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension.

Routine exposure: “PFAS are known as ‘forever chemicals’ because they never degrade in the environment and contaminate drinking water, soil, air, food and numerous products we consume or encounter routinely,” lead author Ning Ding, of the University of Michigan, said in a statement.

Increased vulnerability: Thus far, scientists have demonstrated a “probable link” between PFAS and diagnosed high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer and pregnancy-induced hypertension. This latest study extends that last category to another subset of women.

  • “Women seem to be particularly vulnerable when exposed to these chemicals,” Ding said.
  • Of more than 1,000 women tracked from 1999 to 2017, the scientists found that 470 developed high blood pressure.

Specific risk: Women who fell in the highest one-third for levels of three PFAS subtypes incurred between 42 percent and 47 percent greater risk of developing high blood pressure, compared to women in the lowest one-third, according to the study.

To read the full story, please click here.

Monday Miscellanies

SEC investigating Goldman Sachs ESG funds

  • The Securities and Exchange Commission is scrutinizing whether Goldman Sachs’s environment, social and governance (ESG) funds are misleading — likely the result of new enforcement aimed at minimizing deceptive labeling of funds as environmentally friendly, The New York Times reported.

MIT engineers build LEGO-like artificial intelligence chip

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineers have designed a “LEGO-like” artificial intelligence chip that is stackable, reconfigurable and uses light instead of wires to transmit data in the hopes that mobile device upgrades will one day occur by snapping new sensors onto old internal chips — minimizing the need to shelve obsolete gadgets.

Latino activism leading on efforts to combat climate change

  • With US Latinos often living in lower income neighborhoods that lack tree canopies and “are degrees hotter than nearby areas,” Latino activists are sounding the alarm about the dangers of global warming, The Associated Press reported.

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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