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Since this past summer, saltwater has been slowly moving up the Mississippi River from the ocean in a natural process known as saltwater intrusion, appearing in drinking water of local residents. With a major city, New Orleans, just miles upstream, officials are racing to avert a large-scale water crisis, though progress has been slow. In this article, we take a look at how this crisis arose and what can be done to contain it as well as avoid similar events from happening in the future.

Saltwater has been invading the Mississippi River from the Gulf of Mexico over recent months, posing a major threat to public health in the New Orleans area. This summer, residents in the river delta basin region south of New Orleans began to notice saltwater in their tap water and pipes. The issue persisted for months, making national headlines and prompting state and federal declarations of emergency.

The Mississippi River – the second-longest river in the United States – runs across nearly the entire north-to-south length of the country, passing through ten states before flowing into the Gulf of Mexico through Southeast Louisiana. The river’s massive size is typically sustained by substantial yearly rainfall across the middle of the country, as well as waters from its tributary rivers like the Ohio and Missouri rivers. When at its normal levels, the river water can pass undeterred all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Yet raging droughts over the last year have seen water levels fall drastically (in fact they fell so much that a 1915 shipwreck of a trade vessel was discovered in shallow waters last year). 

Without the river sustaining its high mass and velocity, saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico has been able to start pushing upstream in a process known as saltwater intrusion.

What Is Saltwater Intrusion?

Far underground, water permeates the ground beneath an invisible line called the water table. At levels this deep, the water saturation is dense enough that water can easily be drawn from the ground via springs or wells. These regions of the underground are called aquifers, and they make up the vast majority of the global freshwater supply.

More on the topic: Depleted Aquifers: Causes, Effects, and Solutions

Saltwater intrusion occurs when saltwater from the ocean slowly moves into and occupies space in freshwater systems like rivers and aquifers. While the ground layers beneath the land are usually full of fresh water, the ground beneath the oceans is salty. When these underground freshwater and saltwater layers meet, they push against each other, and this is where saltwater intrusion can occur. 

Since saltwater is far denser than freshwater, it usually exerts greater pressure and naturally encroaches inland. This process can be further accelerated when the freshwater levels in the ground deplete, often a consequence of aquifer over-pumping or river dredging, as well as climate-caused factors like droughts and sea level rise.

Graphic of coastal saltwater intrusion. Image: California Water Science Center.
Graphic of coastal saltwater intrusion. Image: California Water Science Center.

Rivers pose a unique risk as they allow a way for saltwater to reach areas further inland, which is what is happening in the Mississippi River. 

Because of an extreme lack of rainfall in the midwestern and southern US, the Mississippi River’s volume has dropped significantly. In fact, the river reached record low levels just last year. In addition, sea levels around Louisiana have been steadily rising at a rate of one inch (2.54 cm) every two years since 1950. These two factors craft the perfect setting for saltwater intrusion, as the river no longer has its usual mass to force the saltwater back as it empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

Saltwater wedge moving in a river. Image: Yale Environment 360.
Saltwater wedge moving in a river. Image: Yale Environment 360.

Saltwater is then slowly able to force its way upstream along the very bottom of the river in what is known as a saltwater “wedge.” As it travels up the river, it acquires ready access to infiltrate inland aquifers and seep into community water systems.

What Are the Dangers of Saltwater Intrusion?

When consumed, saltwater can have serious adverse effects on the body. The system is put at major risk, and resulting complications (like hypertension) can lead to more critical issues like heart attacks and strokes. Other bodily systems are at risk too, such as the kidneys, digestive system, and even skin defects, which can arise from washing clothes or showering with salt-contaminated water. 

Saltwater intrusion also has a negative impact on local biodiversity and the environment. As saltwater penetrates rivers and aquifers, it introduces salinity levels far too high for many plant and animal species to survive in. Vegetation is crippled and many animal habitats are disturbed, leading to the displacement and disruption of balanced food chains.

It is not just the local area of the intrusion that is affected. Saltwater can significantly contribute to greenhouse gas emissions through its accelerated decomposition of peat, a natural material that sequesters carbon in high concentrations. As peat decomposes, carbon is released into the atmosphere. This contributes to rising temperatures and climate events like droughts and sea level increases, which are the prime conditions for more saltwater intrusion to occur.

The situation in Louisiana has also exposed another major issue plaguing New Orleans and much of the rest of the US: lead pipe infrastructure. 

Lead pipes were frequently used in the first of the 20th century to build up public and private water systems, though they are now of course widely known to pose a major risk to public health. Saltwater is much more corrosive than freshwater and, when it gets into water systems, it can easily corrode lead pipes, which leeches toxic substances into drinking water. New Orleans, like many other cities, does not even know exactly where all of its lead pipe infrastructure is located across the city.

In 2021, the Biden administration pushed congress to pass the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and a major portion of that law aims to replace all lead pipes in the country within the next decade. Billions of dollars are packed into the law in hopes to revitalize and modernize the country’ infrastructure. However, it is a race against the clock, as saltwater waits for no one and the public’s health is at stake.

You might also like: US Sets Record For the Most Billion-Dollar Natural Disasters In Single Year

How Are Officials Addressing the Situation?

The US Army Corps has carried millions of gallons of fresh water to affected communities via barge, blending it with the river to reduce the salt content and freshen the water in treatment plants. Plans have also been put in place by a few municipal areas to construct pipelines to import freshwater from sources further inland. 

New Orleans had a $200 million pipeline planned for construction, but these plans have been tabled for now as the saltwater’s progress has significantly slowed in recent weeks. Efforts like these provide immediate relief to affected areas but they are quite expensive and only temporary solutions, and can contribute to the problem in the long run by over-pumping water in other areas.

A major construction technique employed by the US Army Corps of Engineers is to prevent (or at least slow down) saltwater intrusion by constructing water sills on the river floor. These are ground barriers (think underwater levees), designed to impede the saltwater wedge progressing upstream along the bottom of the river. 

Before this year, sills had been built four other times in the Mississippi River, in 1988, 1999, 2012, and 2022. However, this year the saltwater progression has been so strong that it overtopped last year’s sill construction. Alterations have since been made to strengthen them against the progression of the salt, a move that has, so far, been successful in keeping the saltwater from reaching New Orleans. 

Underwater sill. Image: US Army Corps of Engineer
Underwater sill. Image: US Army Corps of Engineer

Also helping slow the progression are large natural holes along the bottom of the river, for the extremely dense saltwater must fill these holes before progressing further upstream.

Map of sill location in the Mississippi River. Image: US Army Corps of Engineer
Map of sill location in the Mississippi River. Image: US Army Corps of Engineer

Is it Possible to Remove the Salt From Saltwater?

Desalination is another possible, yet controversial, solution to saltwater crises. There are a variety of methods that remove salt from water, the most common form being solar desalination, where saltwater evaporates and then later falls back to the earth as rain. 

Apart from this natural process, humans have developed a few mechanistic techniques to generate freshwater from saltwater. The first large-scale evaporator was built in Kuwait in 1951, and since then, the technology has advanced, resulting in the increased construction of desalination plants all over the world, especially over the last two decades. 

Desalination is most commonly used in the Arabian Peninsula, nearly 6 billion gallons of saltwater are pumped from the ocean each day to meet a majority of the countries’ freshwater demand. The US is in the process of constructing more and more desalination plants, though often to significant public backlash

Carlsbad Desalination Plant in San Diego, the largest in the USA. Image: WCP.
Carlsbad Desalination Plant in San Diego, the largest in the USA. Image: WCP.

Desalination plants are expensive and energy intensive, consuming vast amounts of electricity and emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at rates at the level of tens of thousands of cars. These plants also disturb local habitats and biodiversity, not just because their construction disrupts local species, but also because of their waste discharge. 

The recovery ratio for desalinated water is inefficient, with only one liter of water produced for every 1.5 liters of its waste, a briny discharge. This discharge is not only extremely high in salt content, but it also contains chemicals like chlorine, copper, and other potentially toxic agents used in the desalination process.

There are a few different procedures to conduct desalination; some common forms are electrodialysis, evaporation, and reverse osmosis. Reverse osmosis filters are currently being deployed in water treatment plants in the affected Louisiana communities, and it appears desalination will continue to grow as a popular global freshwater solution. It is critical for governments and corporations to put more effort into regulating the technology so that it is deployed in the most clean, equitable, and efficient way possible.

What Is the Outlook on the Situation?

Officials no longer expect New Orleans to be significantly impacted by the saltwater intrusion, however, a few more nearby parishes downstream do expect saltwater to penetrate their water supply by late November. While it looks like drastic consequences will be avoided in the large metropolitan area of New Orleans, thousands of people have been and will continue to be impacted.

Questions have been raised regarding the amount of dredging that the Army Corps of Engineers has conducted in the Mississippi River over the last century. Over-pumping and dredging are known to create unstable conditions that lead to aquifer depletion and contamination, but economic priorities have seen public health risks ignored in the service of other goals. These ongoing events act as a forewarning to other coastal regions on the dangers of saltwater intrusion, which is far reaching throughout the country, but are also a reflection of the overall groundwater crisis impacting much of the world today. Responsible management of the nation’s water systems is critical moving forward, if crises like that in the Mississippi River are to be mitigated in the future.

You might also like: Marine Dredging Industry Digs Up Sand at ‘Alarming’ Rate, Threatening Biodiversity and Coastal Communities: UN Report

The plaintiff argues that PepsiCo – the world’s second-largest food company and among the biggest plastic polluters – has failed to warn its consumers about the dangers of single-use plastic.

New York state is suing food and drinks giant PepsiCo and its subsidiary Frito-Lay over plastic pollution in a first-of-its-kind lawsuit that could set a precedent for other cities and states to follow and hold companies accountable for the amount of single-use plastic they produce.

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced the lawsuit on Wednesday in Buffalo, arguing that the company had failed to warn its consumers over the dangers of plastic waste on the environment, freshwater species, and human health. Plastic that enters the river breaks down into smaller pieces known as microplastics or nanoplastics that contaminate not only the river but also public drinking water supplies.

More on the topic: Are Microplastics Harmful And How Can We Avoid Them?

James also accused PepsiCo of misleading its consumers  by claiming that it is working on addressing its plastic pollution problem.

A survey of plastic pollution in the Buffalo River conducted by the attorney general’s office in 2022 found the company to be the “single largest identifiable contributor” of plastic packaging that amassed on the river’s shores every year, with more than 17% share of the waste. The amount of plastic waste traced back to PepsiCo was about three times that of the second-largest contributor, American fast food giant McDonald’s.

According to data published on the company’s website, in 2022 alone, PepsiCo produced approximately 2.6 million metric tons of plastic packaging. Though despite having targets in place to minimise its plastic footprint – such as making 100% of their packaging recyclable, compostable, biodegradable, or reusable by 2025 as well as cutting the use of virgin plastic from non-renewable sources by half by 2030 – the lawsuit argues that the solutions proposed to achieve these goals are “ineffective” and “unattainable” and have “repeatedly failed to materialize.”

Indeed, the plaintiff found that over the last four years, the quantity of virgin plastic used by PepsiCo for its packaging has increased – from 2.2 million metric tons in 2019 to 2.4 million metric tons in 2022.

The suit demands that PepsiCo formulate a plan to clean the Buffalo River and warn its customers about the health and environmental implications associated with its plastic packaging by placing an “adequate warning” on its single-use plastic bottles and food wrappers sold in the Buffalo region.

“No company is too big to ensure that their products do not damage our environment and public health,” James said in a statement. “All New Yorkers have a basic right to clean water, yet PepsiCo’s irresponsible packaging and marketing endanger Buffalo’s water supply, environment, and public health.”

Featured image: Flickr/Mike Mozart

You might also like: 10 Companies Called Out For Greenwashing

The joint statement was released after a four-day meeting in California between the US and China, the world’s two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, to discuss cooperation to tackle climate change. It comes ahead of the UN climate summit, which is set to begin in two weeks in Dubai. 

The US and China have renewed their commitment to work together to address climate change, pledging to collaborate on issues including the energy transition, methane, the circular economy, low-carbon urban development, and deforestation.

According to a joint statement released Tuesday following a four-day meeting in California, the world’s two largest polluting countries will work together to achieve the Paris Agreement target of limiting global warming below 1.5C compared to pre-industrial levels.

US Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry and his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua, who had already met last July, said both the US and China recognise the urgency of addressing the climate crisis as highlighted in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report. Both countries have been hit by unprecedented extreme weather events in recent months, with the US recently setting a new record for the most billion-dollar natural disasters in a single year. 

You might also like: 8 Key Findings from the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report

Beijing and Washington said they would “pursue efforts” to triple renewable capacity by the end of the current decade. 

According to a study published in July, China, already the global leader in renewable energy, is on track to double its wind and solar capacity by 2025 and reach its clean energy target five years ahead of schedule. The US has also made some progress in recent years in terms of clean energy following the enactment of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the biggest climate bill in the country’s history, which includes significant investments in renewables, particularly solar and offshore wind, as well as new credits for nuclear power production and clean hydrogen and incentives to develop more facilities that produce clean energy inputs, components, and finished products. Nevertheless, as of April 2023, renewable energy represented just 13% of the country’s energy mix, while oil and natural gas made up more than 60%.

Share of primary energy from renewable sources. Image: Our World in Data
China has emerged as a global leader in renewable energy in recent years. Image: Our World in Data.

The statement includes a pledge to cut emissions of methane – a potent greenhouse gas with 84-86 times higher in global warming potential than carbon dioxide across a 20-year period – and other greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide. In a document released last week, China, the world’s largest emitter of methane, said it will boost monitoring, reporting, and data transparency to reduce methane pollution.

The two superpowers also said they are “determined to end plastic pollution” and will cooperate “to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including the marine environment.”

They pledged to also support subnational climate cooperation. Last month, California governor Gavin Newsom made a weeklong trip to China to promote joint efforts in several Chinese cities and provinces and strengthen collaboration in sectors including electric vehicles and renewable energy.

The relaunch of the Working Group comes at a crucial time, as world leaders prepare to convene in Dubai for the UN climate summit, COP28. Both superpowers emphasised the significance of the summit in effectively addressing the climate crisis and their responsibility in terms of national actions and collaborative efforts to fulfil the objectives of the Paris Agreement and uphold multilateralism. 

“The United States and China are committed to further their dialogues, efforts, and collaboration to support the UAE Presidency for the success of COP28,” the statement reads.

Featured image: Rawpixel

You might also like: What Can We Expect From COP28, And What Must Happen?

A federal Right to Repair Act could help the US avoid generating millions of tons of e-waste every year. By allowing consumers to repair their electronics, the Right to Repair Movement will directly contribute to sustainability efforts and reduce the amount of e-waste we produce, benefitting not only the environment but also consumers’ finances.

California Paves the Way

When your electronics break, your only viable option is to send the device to one of the repair shops licensed by the manufacturer, mainly because opening the device or purchasing spare parts and installing them at home has become nearly impossible.

All this is about to change. In October 2023, California – the most populous state in the US and the world’s fifth-largest economy – passed the landmark Right to Repair Act. This, many hope, will pave the way for other states to follow suit.

The new bill requires manufacturers to provide anyone with access to parts, documentation, and tools to repair their electronic devices. The law applies to electronic devices manufactured on and after July 1, 2021, and will take effect on July 1, 2024.

A recent consumer survey by Windows Report shows that 57% of respondents want the freedom to repair their devices at home, and 89% of consumers are concerned about discarded electronics or see it as a top priority.

The most interested in repairing their devices are laptop users (53%), followed by desktop PC users (41%). At the same time, 67% of respondents said they do not know that repairing their electronics is even a possibility. That translates directly into the same percentage of potential e-waste added to an already huge pile. The US alone generates 6.9 tonnes of e-waste annually

You might also like: The Environmental Impact of Broken Technology and the Right to Repair Movement

The Problem of E-Waste

The problem of e-waste has become much more severe in recent years because of the ever-growing amount of electronic devices ending up in landfills.

Batteries of portable electronics contain highly toxic and harmful chemicals, and improper handling may have hazardous consequences. Nevertheless, manufacturers made it almost impossible for consumers to detach batteries from portable devices such as mobile phones, laptops, and portable consoles.

According to 83% of people polled in the aforementioned survey, there should be a legal regulation to enforce the right to repair computers. 

“Either vote for a law or impose taxes on computers that are not easily repaired,” an anonymous responder said.

In the race to release newer and better devices, companies are far likelier to design their products with planned obsolescence in mind to stimulate sales rather than encouraging consumers to upgrade or repair old devices. 

More compact electronics translate into costly and lengthy repairs, so it comes as no surprise that most individuals discard their broken devices, contributing to a larger and larger pile of e-waste.

According to WEEE Forum, pro-capita e-waste this year is around 8 kilogrammes, totaling 61.3 million tonnes globally, and it is estimated to grow to up to 9 kilogrammes per capita by 2030. The tragic part is that only 17.4% of this waste is collected and recycled correctly.

E-waste accounts for 2-3% of annual global waste, but its composition is a lot more harmful than many other types. Mercury, cadmium, beryllium, and lead are just some of the toxic elements that contaminate the soil, water, and air, exposing us to serious health risks. Brominated flame retardants and synthetic ‘forever chemicals’ used in circuit boards and display screens persist in the environment and accumulate in the organisms of all living creatures, causing long-term effects.

More on the topic: ‘Forever Chemicals’ Contaminate Half of US Drinking Water

A large quantity of e-waste produced in the US is shipped overseas, mainly to developing Asian countries. While we tend to think that the problem goes away, harmful chemicals are released into the air we breathe, leading to respiratory diseases and other health issues among workers and nearby communities.

Creating more and more compact devices has become a problem not only for consumers but also for the small businesses that provide more affordable repair services. Newer and slimmer models include more and more glued or soldered components into more expensive ensembles that make it increasingly challenging to take products apart and replace them.

The Right to Repair Movement in the US

Within this grim landscape, it is not surprising that we have witnessed an increased dissatisfaction with such questionable practices in recent years. The Right to Repair movement is gaining traction, and Fair Repair bills promise to change how the industry operates. 

As of today, Fair Repair bills are in place in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Colorado, New York, and California, while 20 other states are working on the Right to Repair legislation. However, the laws have different focuses. 

California’s law, for example, includes all consumer electronics but excludes gaming consoles. In Colorado, the bill is focused on farming equipment, while the Massachusetts bill targets mobile electronics such as cell phones and tablets. 

In Washington, 30 repair shops sent an action letter to support the bill proposal, and urge the legislators to protect Washington communities and small businesses: “As businesses that work in electronics repair, we face significant barriers to fix many products – barriers imposed by the manufacturers. By blocking access to diagnostics, schematics, tools, and replacement parts, manufacturers undercut or even block independent repair. As a result, we are frequently turning away business that we could easily handle otherwise. This makes it harder for businesses like ours to thrive and serve our communities,” the action letter reads.

Repairing devices and prolonging their lives could also save US consumers $40 billion a year and help support the circular economy. Small businesses, such as local repair shops, can also support our recycling efforts by offering consumers more affordable ways to responsibly deal with their electronics.

Final Thoughts

The Right to Repair bill will eventually change the industry and how consumers look at electronics. However, there are still many hurdles along the way. For instance, the California bill excludes game consoles from the list of electronics based on the argument that allowing consumers to repair them at home might also facilitate jailbreaking. In comparison, New York’s 2022 Fair Repair Bill allows manufacturers to sell ensembles instead of the individual parts of the electronics, which makes the law almost useless. This matter is of nationwide importance and needs nationwide coherence, not state laws influenced by powerful manufacturing lobby groups.

Though the battle ahead is long, the Right to Repair Movement is a giant step forward in the fight against e-waste and as a way to safeguard small businesses that work in electronics repair. It is about saving the planet and shifting the decision power to consumers and their needs.

More about the topic: What Is E-Waste Recycling and How Is it Done?

As of Tuesday morning, the wildfire had burned 2,200 acres of land across Riverside County in Southern California.

A fast-moving Southern California wildfire has prompted authorities on Tuesday to issue evacuation orders for 4,000 people in Riverside County.

The Highland Fire broke out Monday afternoon near Highlands and Aguanga Ranchos roads, according to the Riverside County Fire Department, which issued an evacuation order for roughly 4,000 people. It nearly doubled in size overnight, fuelled by strong Santa Ana winds – seasonal winds that carry dusk and smoke from wildfires across the deserts and coastal regions of Southern California all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s latest update, the fire had so far burned 2,200 acres (890 hectares) of land and was 0% contained as of Tuesday morning. More than 300 firefighters have been assigned to respond to the blaze.

Meanwhile, the National Weather Service has issued an air quality alert for nearby communities due to the dispersion of windblown dust and smoke from the wildfire.

California – historically a wildfire-prone state – has escaped this year’s fire season “mostly unharmed” thanks to record rainfall – 141% higher than average over the past 12 months – after disastrous seasons, which usually take place between late summer and early autumn, in 2020 and 2021.

In 2020, California experienced its worst wildfire season on record, with 8,600 wildfires which burned 4.3 million acres – more than 4% of the state’s total land area – and claimed 33 lives.

California has been experiencing warmer temperatures and drier seasons, bringing on longer and more intense drought seasons as a result of the changing climate. The conditions that are needed to spark a wildfire are more easily met, thereby also increasing a blaze’s severity once it starts. This is evident by the fact that eight of the 10 largest fires in California history all took place in the last five years

Scientists project an average 1C temperature increase every year would increase the median burned area by as much as 600% in some types of forests, while other modelling suggests that land burned by wildfire could increase by 30% by 2060 compared to 2011 levels.  

You might also like: 15 Largest Wildfires in US History

Initiatives are being taken to establish a genetic repository in the US to safeguard the genetic diversity of endangered species with the potential to support conservation and cloning. This project has already preserved samples from five endangered species and is dedicated to securing America’s biodiversity heritage.

Animal extinction and biodiversity loss are long-standing issues, though they have become increasingly imperative over the years due to factors such as habitat destruction, illegal wildlife hunting, and the rapidly deteriorating climate crisis. 

Currently, more than 25% of Earth’s species are at risk of extinction, and this figure could increase to 50% by the end of the century without timely intervention. This biodiversity crisis is considered more drastic than climate change, affecting 28% of all assessed species. The current extinction rate is significantly higher than historical averages. While Earth has experienced natural extinctions over billions of years, in the past century, reckless human actions have exacerbated the situation.

Climate change is subjecting the world’s wildlife to a series of challenges, such as the disappearance of their natural habitats and a decrease in available food. Endangered species in the US are moving dangerously close to extinction at a concerning rate. When these species vanish, there is a risk of losing crucial genetic data that they carry within them, which could have potential implications for the broader ecosystem.

More on the topic: 10 of the Most Endangered Species in the US in 2023

In October 2023, the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) revealed that they have teamed up with the non-profit organisation Revive & Restore and other collaborators to establish a comprehensive genetic repository for endangered species across the US, which aims to safeguard the genetic diversity and biological heritage of the nation’s threatened species in the shortest possible time.

Oliver Ryder, Kleberg Endowed Director of Conservation Genetics at San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, said, “We want to provide the greatest possible set of options for ensuring the continued survival of the native wildlife of the United States.”

The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance is also a part of this partnership, actively contributing to the conservation and restoration of endangered species and ecosystems, thus further emphasising its commitment to preserving the natural heritage of the United States.

Revive & Restore was established in 2012 and received support from The Long Now Foundation, an organisation located in the San Francisco Bay Area, United States. The Long Now Foundation is dedicated to fostering a perspective that spans ages within a 10,000-year framework and adopts a far-reaching approach to wildlife conservation. Their mission is to leverage the Genetic Rescue Toolkit, which can advance and optimise traditional conservation practices, in order to support the restoration of biodiversity and bio-abundance for generations to come. The NGO acts as a facilitator for partnerships, an instigator of technological advancements, and a financier of impactful research. All these factors work together to lay the foundation for a brighter future in wildlife preservation.

FWS field staff are employing biobanking, where they collect biological samples, including blood, tissues, and reproductive cells from animals. These samples are cryogenically preserved at frigid temperatures and stored at a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) facility in Colorado. These samples also undergo genetic sequencing, and the resulting data is shared on the publicly accessible GenBank database. 

This repository of frozen living cells is expected to play an integral role in ongoing and future conservation initiatives. It can aid in diversifying gene pools within captive breeding programmes, with the end objective of reviving species populations. Experts also recognise that this resource has the potential for applications in cloning.

The Deputy Assistant Regional Director of Ecological Services for the FWS’s Southwest region, Seth Willey, provided a statement indicating that biobanking offers a means to preserve genetic diversity that is distinctive and cannot be recreated. He also added that, “if done right, [biobanking] creates a marker in time and gives future recovery biologists options, like genetic rescue, that are only possible if we act now.”

Ryan Phelan, the executive director of Revive & Restore, asserts that this expansive project is “creating a legacy of America’s natural history before it is lost and provides an important resource to enhance species recovery efforts now and in the future,” with the mission of creating a comprehensive biobank that includes all endangered mammal species in the country.

Since the project’s launch in January 2023, the organisations involved have already collected and preserved samples from five endangered species, including the Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi), the Florida bonneted bat (Eumops floridanus), and the Sonoran Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana sonoriensis). While the initial phase of the programme focuses on 24 endangered mammals in the US, the ultimate objective is prodigious as they step forward to establish a repository that preserves America’s rich biodiversity heritage for future generations.

Check out our Endangered Species Spotlight Series

Chevron’s announcement came just two weeks after oil giant Exxon said it would acquire Pioneer Resources for $60 billion.

American oil giant Chevron is buying independent oil and natural gas company Hess Corporation for US$53 billion, the second Big Oil consolidation deal in weeks.

The acquisition adds a major oil field off the coast of Guyana, a South American country highly contented among oil giants Exxon Mobil, Chinese CNOOC, and Hess since its discovery in 2015, as it is poised to become the world’s fourth-largest offshore oil producer. In a statement published Monday, Chevron, one of the largest companies in the world and the second-largest US-based oil company by revenue, said that Hess’s assets in US shale and Guyana will “grow production and free cash flow faster.” 

“This combination positions Chevron to strengthen our long-term performance and further enhance our advantaged portfolio by adding world-class assets,” said Chevron Chairman and CEO Mike Wirth. 

“I believe our strategic combination creates a company that is stronger in every respect, with the leadership, asset portfolio and financial resources to lead us through the energy transition and deliver significant shareholder value for years to come,” said CEO John Hess, who praised Hess’ and Chevron’s world-class portfolios.

The deal follows another huge Big Oil investment announcement, even as the rest of the world is moving off fossil fuels. Exxon Mobil, the largest non-government-owned company in the energy industry, said two weeks ago it would acquire Pioneer Resources for $60 billion.

Record Profits

Oil companies have scored record profits after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine created a favourable market for Big Oil as it pinched oil supplies and sent prices higher, sparking backlash among environmental groups who accuse oil companies of profiting from the situation rather than trying to ease the pain for consumers and invest in the energy transition.

Exxon, which produces about 3% of the world’s oil and about 2% of the world’s energy, reaped a record US$55.7 billion in profit last year, bringing home about $6.3 million per hour. The total was more than double 2021’s figure and far exceeded the prior record of $45.2 billion set in 2008, making it the most profitable year ever for any American and European fossil fuel company.

Exxon, Chevron, and other oil giants BP, Shell, and TotalEnergies recorded a combined $190 billion in profits for 2022. Together, the companies are responsible for more than 10% of global carbon emissions since 1965. 

A 2021 research examining their clean energy transition activity found that, despite a marked increase in climate action and pledges on decarbonisation as well as the use of keywords such as “climate”, “low-carbon’”, and “transition” between 2009 and 2020, there is no real evidence of a transition towards clean energy business models. On the contrary, evidence points that companies are increasing rather than decreasing oil exploration. BP and Shell have promised to reduce investments in fossil fuel extraction projects, but both increased their acreage for new exploration in recent years. 

Time’s Up

The news comes as a new report published Tuesday by the International Energy Agency (IEA) suggests that the world may see demand for oil and other fossil fuels peak in this decade, as the world shifts to electric vehicles and renewable energy sources, which are expected to supply 50% of global electricity by 2030, up from 30% today.

“I have a gentle suggestion to oil executives, they only talk among themselves,”  Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA, told the New York Times. “They should talk to car manufacturers, to the heat pump industry, to the renewable industry, to investors – and see what they all think the future of energy looks like.”

You might also like: Current World Electricity Grids Too Weak to Sustain Energy Transition, IEA Warns

The Agency said that the world must add or replace about 80 million kilometres of electricity grids by 2040 to meet national climate goals and support energy transition.

Reaching national climate targets and putting the world on track to net zero emissions by 2050 will require huge efforts in improving global electricity grids which, in their current state, are not deemed suitable to support the energy transition, a new study has suggested.

In a first-of-its-kind, country-by-country analysis on the state of the world’s electricity grids published Tuesday, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said major investments were needed to upgrade what is considered the “backbone of today’s electricity systems.” According to the Agency, approximately 80 million kilometres (50 million miles) of electricity grids worldwide need to be added or refurbished by 2040, the rough equivalent of doubling the entire existing global power infrastructure.

The report also encourages countries to double annual investments in electricity grids – which the IEA says have been stagnant for over a decade – to more than US$600 billion each year by 2030. According to the study, delays in grid reform would lead to a “substantial” increase in carbon dioxide emissions, slowing down the energy transition and effectively putting the Paris Agreement goal out of reach. 

Earlier this week, the Biden administration announced $3.5 billion for 58 projects across 44 states to improve the resilience of the country’s ageing electric grid, as increasingly frequent and powerful extreme weather events are contributing to their rapid deterioration. 

“Much of [the grid] was built nearly a century ago. We need it to be bigger, we need it to be stronger, we need it to be smarter,” said Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, who announced the plan on Wednesday, calling it “the largest investment into national grid infrastructure in history.”

More on the topic: Texas Energy Crisis: Why Is the State’s Power Grid So Fragile?

According to the IEA, at least 3,000 gigawatts worth of renewable projects worldwide, an amount five times higher than the total solar PV and wind capacity added globally in 2022, are currently waiting to be connected to the grid.

“The recent clean energy progress we have seen in many countries is unprecedented and cause for optimism, but it could be put in jeopardy if governments and businesses do not come together to ensure the world’s electricity grids are ready for the new global energy economy that is rapidly emerging,” said Fatih Birol, IEA Executive Director.

The report emphasises the importance of governmental backing for the growth of supply chains, the provision of additional training to enhance grid infrastructure, and the need for enhanced planning systems. 

While emerging economies such as Sub-Saharan Africa face huge financial barriers to grid development, which can be solved by enhancing the compensation structure for grid companies, promoting specific funding for grid improvements, and enhancing transparency in cost management, the main obstacle in more advanced economies is public acceptance of new projects and the lack of regulatory reform. According to the IEA, the best ways to overcome these obstacles is by improving the planning process, enabling regulatory risk assessments that facilitate proactive investments, and simplifying administrative procedures.

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The UN failed short of a US$10 billion target after the US and other wealthy nations failed to fulfil their climate finance pledges at a crucial climate financing conference held last week in Bonn, Germany.

Last week’s Bonn conference on climate change witnessed a significant setback as the US and other rich countries failed to fulfil their pledge to the UN Climate Fund, further widening the gap between developed and developing nations and raising concerns about the global effort to combat climate change and support vulnerable nations in their adaptation and mitigation efforts.

The climate funding conference, held last Thursday in Bonn, Germany, brought together delegates from around the world to advance discussions on climate finance and encourage countries to fulfil their commitments made under the Paris Agreement. However, wealthy nations fell short of a US$10 billion target, managing to raise only $9.3 billion, only a fraction of what the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) says is needed by developing countries by 2030 to adapt to the rapidly deteriorating climate crisis

In a report published ahead of the Bonn meeting, the UNFCCC called on “increased finance in areas that are deemed priority by developing countries.” This includes an increase of adaptation finance to $200-250 billion by 2030 and an increase in loss and damage compensation to $200-240 billion.

A total of 25 countries added cash to the world’s largest dedicated fund helping developing countries respond to climate change on Thursday, including Japan, which said it would contribute up to 165 billion yen ($1.11 billion) over the next four years, and Norway, which offered around $300 million. Nevertheless, the absence of funding pledges by the world’s two largest polluters, the US and China, as well as other wealthy countries including Australia, Italy, and Sweden, has dealt a blow to the aspirations of developing nations, many of which are already grappling with the adverse impacts of climate change and are struggling to  transition to low-carbon economies. 

A US representative said the country is “working on” an announcement, though the recent political turmoil and battles to avoid a government shutdown after Kevin McCarthy, the US House Speaker, was ousted last week, have stymied efforts to secure money. The US had pledged a substantial amount to the fund as part of its commitment to international climate action. China, on the other hand, has yet to commit to the UN Climate Fund, according to Reuters

The Bonn conference served as a crucial platform for negotiations ahead of the upcoming COP28 summit, set to begin in less than two months in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. 

Several points remain to be settled in Dubai, including the still-unmet $100 billion pledge made by rich nations in 2009, which was supposed to be delivered by 2020, as well as the loss and damage fund, a historic deal reached at last year’s UN climate summit, COP27.

Commenting on the conference’s outcome, Sultan Al Jaber, COP28 president-designate and chief executive of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), said the “current level of replenishment” was “neither ambitious nor adequate to meet the challenge the world faces.”

The failure to deliver on the UN Climate Fund pledge at the Bonn conference serves as a stark reminder of the challenges that lie ahead in addressing climate change. As the international community prepares for the COP28 summit, it is crucial for nations to recommit to their climate finance obligations and work towards bridging the divide between wealthy and developing nations. The United States, in particular, must take immediate action to fulfil its pledge to the UN Climate Fund and demonstrate its leadership in global climate action.

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Several countries including Austria, Japan, and New Zealand saw their hottest September on record, following what experts say was the hottest summer in history. 

Parts of the World See Hottest September in History

Scorching temperatures continued to bake parts of the world in September after summer 2023 shattered records and went down in history as the hottest the planet has ever seen.

Just after Texas just recorded its hottest September ever, meteorologists expect scorching heat to persist this week, with some US states expected to see temperatures as much as 25F above October averages. On Sunday, the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota, cancelled its annual Twin Cities Marathon due to record-breaking heat, as temperatures were forecast to reach an unprecedented high of 91F (32.7C), far above the seasonal average of 66F (18.8C).

“The latest weather forecast update projects record-setting heat conditions that do not allow a safe event for runners, supporters and volunteers,” the organisers said in a statement.

Meanwhile, parts of Europe are still reeling from unprecedented September heat. On Sunday, Spain set a national heat record as temperatures surpassed 37.7C (100F), marking the hottest start of October since records began. On that day, almost 100 individual records had been beaten nationwide, according to Ruben del Campo, spokesperson of the country’s weather agency AEMET.

The agency also warned that temperatures this week will soar 10C above normal for this time of year, owing to a heat dome expected to develop over Western Europe. In southwest France, temperatures are expected to rise as high as 35C (95F).

Speaking to state broadcaster TVE, Del Campo explained the link between abnormal temperatures and global warming: “The footprint of climate change is manifested in the fact that such warm spells are now much more frequent and more intense,” he said.

Austria, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Northern Ireland, and France have also experienced their hottest September on record. The latter saw temperatures between 3.5C and 3.6C above the norm for the 1991-2020 reference period, while both Germany and Belgium’s September temperatures were almost 4C higher than the norm for this time of the year.

The UK also saw average highs of 22C (71.6F), a significant increase compared to the previous record of 20.9C (69.6F) set in 1895.

On the other side of the world, Japan saw its hottest September in 125 years, with average temperatures 2.66C higher than usual. 101 of 153 observation stations across the country broke an average temperature record, including the capital Tokyo, which recorded an all-time high of 26.7C (80F).

2023 on Track to Be the Hottest Year in History

There is no doubt among the scientific community that global warming has led temperatures globally to hit record highs this year, a trend that is set to persist in the years to come, according to a World Meteorological Organization (WMO) report published in May. The UN body found that there is a 98% chance that at least one of the next five years will be the hottest on record and a 66% chance of temporarily exceeding 1.5C above the 1850-1900 average for at least one of the five years.

But besides planet-warming greenhouse gases, experts are keeping a close eye on El Niño, a weather event associated with the warming of sea surface temperatures in the central-east equatorial Pacific that typically occurs every few years.

Earlier this year, experts had warned that its comeback this year is making it “very likely” that global average temperatures will exceed 1.5C of warming, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heatwaves, and result in food and water insecurity and poverty for millions of people worldwide.  

Prolonged heatwaves indicate that the phenomenon is far from over. Speaking with the Washington Post, Michael McPhaden, a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said the El Niño is not set to peak until later this year. 

“There is plenty more heat waiting in the wings,” McPhaden said, adding that more records are expected to be broken in the coming months. 

According to the EU Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), 2023 could end up being the hottest year humanity has ever experienced.

“2023 is currently ranked as the second warmest, at only 0.01ºC behind 2016 with four months of the year remaining,” C3S Deputy Director Samantha Burgess said last month. “The scientific evidence is overwhelming – we will continue to see more climate records and more intense and frequent extreme weather events impacting society and ecosystems, until we stop emitting greenhouse gases.” 

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