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Samples taken from the Antarctic Weddell Sea have returned riddled with synthetic microplastic fibers, scientists have revealed in a new study.  

The researchers identified fibrous polyesters, primarily from textiles, in the air, seawater, sediment and sea ice they sampled during a 2019 expedition. They published their findings this week in Frontiers in Marine Science

While all of these sources were contaminated, the scientists found that the majority of the microplastic fibers were present in Antarctic air samples — indicating that seabirds and other animals could be inhaling them.

“The issue of microplastic fibers is also an airborne problem reaching even the last remaining pristine environments on our planet,” co-author Lucy Woodall, a professor of marine biology at the University of Oxford, said in a statement.

Woodall, the first scientist to reveal plastic in the deep sea in 2014, urged policymakers to tackle this issue at a related United Nations conference taking place in Uruguay next week.

At the summit, an intergovernmental negotiating committee is being tasked with developing a legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, according to the U.N. Environment Program.

Ahead of these so-called “Global Plastic Treaty” discussions, Woodall and her colleagues urged negotiators to reduce plastic pollution and production by delivering a robust agreement.

They also advocated for empowering local communities to co-develop programs that bolster full life-cycle solutions to waste management.

“Ocean currents and winds are the vectors for plastic pollution to travel across the globe and even to the remotest corners of the world,” added co-lead author Nuria Rico Seijo, an Oxford research scientist.  

“The transboundary nature of microplastics pollution provides more evidence for the urgency and importance of a strong international plastic pollution treaty,” Rico Seijo said. 

Welcome to Equilibrium, I’m Sharon Udasin. Today we’ll start in Ukraine, where Russian missile strikes have knocked out power across the country. Then we’ll turn to New York, the first state to set limits on cryptocurrency mining. Plus: A look at drought impacts in both California and Hawaii.

Russian attacks shutter Ukrainian plants, kill civilians

Russian launched a widespread attack on critical infrastructure in Ukraine on Wednesday, knocking out power across much of the country, our colleague Brad Dress reported for The Hill. 

Targeting power, heat: The power cuts resulted in temporary blackouts, while Ukraine’s Energy Ministry said the “vast majority of electricity” was disrupted.

  • Officials also reported temporary power cuts for all nuclear plants and most heating and hydroelectric plants — impacting millions of people.
  • Russia has launched missile strikes directed at civilian infrastructure and electricity grids since October.

Human impacts: Russian missiles not only shut down electricity, but they also killed at least six people in the Ukrainian capital, Reuters reported.

Dedicated “invisibility centers” were being opened around Ukraine to provide electricity, heat, water, Internet, mobile phone connections and pharmacy services, according to Reuters.  

Simultaneous attacks: Also on Wednesday, the European Parliament’s website was hit with a cyberattack claimed by a pro-Kremlin group, our colleague Julia Mueller reported.

  • The Parliament had voted the same day to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism.
  • The identity of the pro-Kremlin group claiming responsibility and the extent of the damage to the site has not yet been shared. 

European cities taking action: The European Parliament, together with the Eurocities network of major European cities, will be sending electricity generators to Ukraine, Euronews reported. 

These generators will arrive to specific areas “within days” to help residents cope with what is becoming a very difficult winter.  

Reviving basic services: “Ukrainians are facing a real emergency regarding energy,” European Parliament President Roberta Metsola said at a press conference, covered by Euronews.

  • Metsola touted the initiative as a way of bringing Ukrainians “practical support to get through the winter.”
  • The generators could restore basic powers to homes, hospitals and schools, while helping services like clean water also come back online, Metsola added. 

NY restricts crypto mining, citing climate concerns

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) late Tuesday signed a law temporarily limiting cryptocurrency mining in the state due to environmental concerns.

Setting precedent: The New York law, passed by the state legislature in June, focuses on the technology’s environmental impact.

  • The legislation establishes a two-year moratorium on permits for fossil fuel used for cryptocurrency mining.
  • New York is now the first state nationwide to implement such a move. 

Focus on off-the-grid mining: The cryptocurrency bill took effect immediately and will prevent the reactivation of fossil fuel plants used for off-the-grid mining, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Miners earn digital cash by solving equations with computers that require immense amounts of energy. Crypto mining that uses the electrical grid will remain legal.  

How does off-the-grid mining work? Some miners have been obtaining low-cost electricity by circumventing the grid and reviving shuttered power plants, according to the Journal.

  • This has been the case at the Upstate New York Greenidge power plant, which was denied a permit renewal in June.
  • The Greenidge plant will be allowed to continue operating while an appeals process takes place.   

Significant climate impacts: Cryptocurrency opponents have long said the value of mining was not worth the environmental costs, The New York Times reported.  

The process requires large amounts of electricity, and China banned the practice last year.

Singled out: But the Chamber of Digital Commerce, a crypto advocacy group, slammed the bill as undeservedly targeting the cryptocurrency industry, the Times reported. 

  • “To date, no other industry in the state has been sidelined like this for its energy usage,” the group said in a statement.
  • “This is a dangerous precedent to set in determining who may or may not use power,” the statement added.  

Drought adds billions to California agriculture losses

As California’s drought stretches into a third straight year, the state’s agriculture industry is incurring billions in related losses, a new study has found. 

Effects on farming, food processing: The report estimates direct impacts on farm activity of $1.2 billion this year — up from $810 million in 2021.

  • But the effects of the drought in 2022 extended far beyond that $1.2 billion sum, according to the report, released by researchers at the University of California, Merced.
  • Impacts on food processing industries that depend on farm products were about $845 million 2022 — up from $590 million last year.  

Cuts at California’s core: “California is no stranger to drought,” co-author John Abatzoglou, a professor of climatology at UC Merced, said in a statement.   

“But this current drought has hit really hard in some of the typically water-rich parts of the state that are essential for the broader state water supply,” he added. 

Hefty losses: Altogether, the combined direct and indirect consequences of the drought have reached about $2 billion this year alone, the researchers found.  

These losses amount to a 5.9 percent reduction when compared to those of 2019 and also resulted in 19,420 job cuts, according to the study.  

And it’s not just drought: In addition to suffering the impacts of the drought, California’s agricultural economy has also suffered from supply chain disruptions, the authors explained.

  • These disruptions have affected the ability of farmers to ship crops out of state.
  • Related delays could result in increased inventory and influence some of California’s specialty crop prices.  

Things could have been worse: While acknowledging such negative effects of the drought on agriculture, the researchers found that things could have been worse. 

Mitigation techniques — such as land idling and water trading — have reduced losses, according to lead author Josue Medellín-Azuara, an associate professor of environmental engineering.  

Certain areas were hit harder than others: “The Sacramento Valley and its communities have been ground zero during this drought,” Alvar Escriva-Bou, a senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, said in a statement. 

Statewide idled land in 2022 grew by 750,000 acres in comparison to 2019 — with more than half of these farms located in the Sacramento area, according to the study.  

To read the report’s recommendations for the region, please click here for the full story.  

HOT AND DRY HAWAII FACES INCREASED WILDFIRE RISK

The landscape of Hawaii, another state combatting crippling drought, is becoming so dry that that parts of the archipelago are at risk of wildfire, The Washington Post reported.  

Cause for concern: More than half of Hawaii is currently enduring abnormally dry weather, with nearly a third of the state facing drought conditions that are moderate or worse, according to the Post.

  • In the isolated spots experiencing extreme drought, the federal government’s Drought Monitor observed that “trees are dry and dropping leaves.”
  • Such conditions worsen the wildfire risk, and the National Weather Service’s Honolulu branch is increasingly alarmed, the Post reported.   

A dangerous combination: The National Weather Service issued a red-flag warning for Hawaii earlier this week — the first such notice in November since 2012, according to the Post.  

“A combination of strong winds, low relative humidity, and warm temperatures can contribute to extreme fire behavior,” the agency stated. 

Fire departments are busy: The windy weather has been complicating the work of Hawaii’s firefighters, who have been fighting multiple brush fires over the past week, Nexstar station KHON2 reported.  

Heading into what is typically Hawaii’s wet season, the islands are facing not only winds and dryness, but also an accumulation of dry fuel, John Bravender of the National Weather Service told KHON2.  

Certain areas are more at risk: Meteorologists warned that because of the uncharacteristic weather conditions, the “leeward sides” of the islands — those downwind — are getting hit the hardest, according to KHON2.

  • “Even if we do get a wetter wet season, it’s not necessarily going to help alleviate the drought and alleviate the dry conditions across the leeward sections,” Bravender told KHON2.
  • “And those are the areas that we’re seeing the wildfires recently,” he added. 

Drought disaster loans available: The U.S. Small Business Administration is offering Economic Injury Disaster Loans related to drought in Hawaii, Kalawao and Maui counties, the Big Island Now news site reported.

  • The deadline to apply for such loans, intended to offset economic injury due to drought, is Dec. 8.
  • Loans of up to $2 million to meet working capital needs are available to small non-farming businesses, small agricultural cooperatives and firms engaged in aquaculture.

Water Wednesday

State of emergency in Mississippi concludes, Virginians get help with water bills and Tanzania begins rationing power due to drought.  

Mississippi governor ends state of emergency over Jackson water crisis

  • Gov. Tate Reeves (R) has officially ended an Aug. 30 state of emergency related to a water crisis that left the Jackson region on a weeks-long boil notice, Mississippi Today reported. Reeves had issued the emergency when the water system was facing imminent collapse amid critical treatment plant repairs, according to Mississippi Today.

Virginia helping low-income residents pay their water bills

  • Virginian households with past due water/wastewater balances and gross incomes below 150 percent of the poverty line may qualify for help with paying their bills, local Nexstar affiliate WRIC reported. The temporary, federally-funded program is offering relief through Sept. 1, 2023, or until the funds run out, according to WRIC.

Tanzania begins rationing power due to drought

  • Tanzania has begun rationing electricity due to a drought-induced plunge in hydropower generation, according to Agence France Presse. While the East African country has the capacity to produce nearly 1,695 megawatts of electricity, it is now facing a shortage of between 300 and 350 megawatts, AFP reported, citing the national power provider.

Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online for more coverage. Have a great Thanksgiving weekend — we’ll see you Monday.

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