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Equilibrium/Sustainability — Las Vegas to limit swimming pool size

New swimming pools built on residences in and around Las Vegas will be limited to a set size amid a regional push to combat the ongoing impacts of drought.

Clark County officials will be capping the dimensions of swimming pools at single-family homes to 600 square feet, or about the size of a three-car garage, The Associated Press reported.

There are currently about 200,000 residential pools in this region, with about 1,300 added annually, according to the AP.

“Having a pool in Las Vegas is like having a second car. It’s that common,” Kevin Kraft, owner of a pool design company, told the AP.

Kraft, who slammed the new regulations for prioritizing “optics” over saving water, said the desert heat means that “it’s part of life to have a pool.”

But county officials cited concerns about the depletion of the Lake Mead reservoir on the Colorado River, as well as a dwindling drinking water supply, according to the AP.

“If the trends continue and the lake continues to decline, then this may be one of the least of the tough decisions that we’ll be making over the course of time,” Clark County Commission Chairman Jim Gibson said.

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. Subscribe here.

Today we’ll examine why the Southern Plains are facing a whiplash of summer weather and look at the implications of Germany bailing out its biggest importer of Russian gas. But first: A pivot deal that could help stem the rise of global grain prices.

A big deal for a hungry world

A Turkish-brokered deal between Russia and Ukraine could soon alleviate the global grain shortages that have inflated food prices and caused widespread hunger, our colleague Tobias Burns reports for The Hill.

What leaders are saying: “This is an agreement for the world,” U.N. chief Antonio Guterres said. Guterres, who has long lobbied for such a deal, called the resolution “a beacon on the Black Sea.”

Work ahead: Both sides must still navigate literal and diplomatic minefields to export the nearly 22 million tons grain trapped in Ukraine to global markets, the U.N. said.

  • Ukrainian pilot vessels will lead cargo ships through minefields protecting the port of Odesa. Third-party inspectors will ensure that ships heading in to pick up grain aren’t carrying arms.  

  • The U.N. assured Russia it would also be able to export its own grain and fertilizer.

Shipping out: The first grain shipments will leave Odesa within a few weeks, The New York Times reported.

Ukraine will bring 5 million acres of grain to market each month following, the Times reported.

  • The shipments will enter a world market where nearly 300 million people face starvation, as World Food Program chief David Beasley said in a statement in May.

  • The “failure to open those ports in Odesa region” would have meant a declaration of war on global food security,” Beasley said at the time.

Southern Plains face weather whiplash

Dangerous heat and crushing drought conditions in southern U.S. states are unlikely to subside anytime soon, federal experts say.

  • Why it’s important: A period of rain may bring little relief as summer heat squashes crop yields and forces farmers to sell off cattle, while also boosting wildfires and creating life-threatening conditions for outdoor work.

  • Don’t expect relief to last: The heat wave across the middle of the country “will split next week and then gradually fade,” Greg Carbin, head of Forecast Operations at the National Weather Service, told Equilibrium. But within a couple of weeks, conditions will return to what they are now, “and you bring the heat back in with a vengeance to parts of the central U.S.,” Carbin said.

Summer heat waves and droughts are showing a tendency to return — rather than breaking apart in a new wave of good weather, according to Victor Murphy, who runs the Climate Services program at the National Weather Service.

That is “one of the big challenges facing all of us in the weather and climate community,” Murphy told reporters on Thursday at a webinar hosted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA).

“You can see an amazing amount of weather whiplash — from one extreme to the other, then right back to the first extreme again,” he said.

EXTRA LAYERS

Persistent midsummer heat waves are the result of the “layering” of unusual climate conditions atop normal summer heat waves, Carbin said.

  • The unseasonable spring heat waves this summer were caused in large measure by such abnormal conditions, like the persistent drought, which caused land and air to heat up more quickly.

  • The atmospheric phenomena known as “heat domes,” — dense masses of warm air that become trapped over a broad area — also drove up temperatures by creating in effect an enormous, continental-scale greenhouse.

  • Both of these phenomena create feedback loops that make heat waves and droughts more likely to return, Carbin said.

Is it climate change? It is difficult to link any particular phenomenon to climate change. Summer heat waves are, in and of themselves, hardly unusual.

But fossil fuel emissions are helping “load the dice,” Carbin said.

Climate change battering Caribbean, Latin America

Extreme weather events and the impacts of climate change are wreaking havoc on Latin America and the Caribbean — threatening both public health and food and water security, a new report has found.

Repercussions for the region: The report, published by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on Friday, dissected “the far-reaching repercussions” that conditions like megadrought, extreme rainfall, heatwaves and glacier melt have brought to the region.

Deforestation has reached its highest level since 2009, according to the report.

Andean glaciers have lost more than 30 percent of their area in less than 50 years.

The so-called “Central Chile Mega drought” is the lengthiest in at least a millennium.

Weather-related hazards “have unfortunately led to the loss of hundreds of lives, severe damages to crop production and infrastructure and human displacement,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement.

Warmer, drier, stormier: Among the key findings of the report was a continued warming trend, with temperatures increasing about 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade from 1991-2021, compared to 0.1 degrees per decade from 1961-1990.

  • The 2021 Atlantic Hurricane season what the third highest number of named storms on record, per the report.

  • Extreme rainfall set record values in many places, leading to floods and landslides.

Deforestation doubled in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest in 2021, compared to the 2009-2018 average, according to the report. Meanwhile, 22 percent more forest area was lost in 2021, in comparison to 2020.

Compounding effects: “Worsening climate change and the compounding effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have not only impacted the biodiversity of the region,” Mario Cimoli, of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, said in a statement.

These impacts, Cimoli continued, “have also stalled decades of progress against poverty, food insecurity and the reduction of inequality in the region.”

Germany to bail out largest importer of Russian gas

The German government has agreed to bail out the country’s biggest importer of Russian natural gas, in a 15 billion euro ($15.3 billion) deal aimed at keeping the struggling energy supplier afloat.

What’s in the deal? Germany will be taking a 30 percent equity stake in Uniper SE, a subsidiary of the Finnish corporation Fortum, according to a Friday announcement from Fortum.

  • The country has offered Uniper up to 7.7 billion euros ($7.9 billion) in equity.

  • The company’s credit line will also be expanded by 7 billion euros ($7.2 billion), from an existing 2 billion euros ($2 billion) to 9 billion euros ($9.2 billion).

Casualty of Russian gas ‘squeeze’: The deal was welcome news to a company that has been experiencing significant losses following Russia’s recent reductions in gas deliveries.

Uniper had become what CNBC described as “the first major casualty of Russia’s natural gas squeeze.”

Reductions took a toll: After Russian state-controlled energy giant Gazprom reduced exports through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to 40 percent capacity last month, the company shuttered the conduit entirely for 10 days of maintenance on July 11.

Gas flow through Nord Stream 1 resumed on Thursday, but still at only 40 percent capacity.

  • “It was necessary to stabilize Uniper now,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said at a Friday press conference, according to The Associated Press.

  • Noting that about 60 percent of gas imports in Germany come through Uniper, Scholz said “that there would have been practically no company” down the supply chain immune to instability.

Further support available: The German government indicated that it might provide more support if Uniper’s operating losses end up exceeding 7 billion euros ($7.2 billion), according the Fortum announcement.

  • Fortum’s approximately 80 percent stake in Uniper will be diluted to 56 percent on the initial equity injection, according to Fortum, whose largest shareholder is the Finnish government.

  • Tytti Tuppurainen, Finland’s minister for European affairs and ownership steering, described the deal as “the best possible compromise under these circumstances.”

Driven by urgency: Fortum’s president and CEO, Markus Rauramo praised stakeholders for finding a solution that “met the interest of all parties involved” amid “an unprecedented energy crisis.”

“We were driven by urgency and the need to protect Europe’s security of supply in a time of war,” Rauramo said.

To read the full story, please click here.

Follow-up Friday

In which we revisit some of the issues we’ve covered this week.

Ford plans to buy batteries direct

  • We covered Ford Motor Company’s painful pivot from internal combustion engines-driven cars to electric vehicles. As part of that switch, Ford is building its own supply chains to buy raw materials directly for its battery factories, according to the Detroit Free Press.

West Virginia won’t reevaluate PFAS discharge limits

Europe’s heat wave moves east

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

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