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Highlights from the Week's News

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A River Sued a City—and Won

July 14, 2024

Conservative Agenda, Project 2025, Would Dismantle Climate and Environmental Rules

Project 2025” is a roadmap for what a Republican president would do if elected, and it would have serious effects on U.S. policy regarding climate and the environment. The 900-plus-page book, assembled by the conservative Heritage Foundation, would enable a new administration to begin dismantling many rules and offices related to energy and the environment.

Stop Project 2025 rally across from Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC, on 27 January 2024  |  Credit: Elvert Barnes Photography/Flickr

Project 2025 would add almost 4.5 billion tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere in five years, effectively eliminating twice the savings from all clean energy technologies since 2109. Instead, President Biden’s plans would cut emissions by 50 percent, according to Carbon Brief.

The conservatives' plan would have the U.S. withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement—again—this time permanently by exiting the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change meant to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations.

Investment and support for renewable energy and electric vehicles would be reduced or ended under Project 2025, and the plan would encourage fossil fuel development on federal lands. The blueprint calls for rolling back air and water protections and the dismantling of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the agency that oversees climate, oceans, and fisheries.

An adviser involved in the next COP29 climate summit told the news outlet Capital & Main on condition of anonymity, that the prospect of a Trump presidency dominates the planning for the conference to be held in November, just six days after the election.

Judge Rules in Favor of Protecting the Rights of a South American River

Last week, a court in Ecuador ruled that the rights of a river had been violated by pollution coming from the country’s capital city. Rio Machángara begins in the Andes and runs through Quito, where 2.5 million people live. The court decided that the city had breached the rights of the river by failing to treat 98 percent of the wastewater that’s being dumped into it.

Puente de Río Machángara in Quito  |  Credit: Natalia Cartolini/Creative Commons

Ecuador’s constitution recognizes that nature, including rivers, has rights to protection and restoration. All people and communities are empowered to enforce those rights. The complaint was filed by the Kitu Karu Indigenous people. Although the city has appealed, the judge ruled that it must still devise and implement a comprehensive plan to address the pollution. The river is a critical source of water and an ecological corridor. The contamination, such as solid waste, severely diminishes oxygen levels that aquatic life needs.

Several countries in Latin America grant residents constitutional rights to a clean environment, but as EuroNews reports, Ecuador recognizes that nature has a right not to be degraded or polluted.

The Key Largo Tree Cactus in Florida Goes Extinct—a Victim of Sea Level Rise

The Key Largo tree cactus (Pilosocereus millspaughii) can grow up to 20 feet tall. It has cream-colored, garlic-scented flowers that reflect moonlight and attract bat pollinators as well as reddish-purple fruit that entices birds and mammals—or rather, it once did.

After the flower of the Key Largo tree cactus has bloomed and died, the fruits ripen and develop a reddish-purple exterior that attracts birds and mammals. |  Credit: Susan Kolterman/Florida Museum of Natural History

The cacti that grew in the Florida Keys have fallen victim to climate change in what researchers from the Florida Museum of Natural History and Miami’s Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden are calling the “first local extinction of a species caused by sea level rise in the U.S.” The eponymous cacti were only first discovered in an isolated mangrove forest on Key Largo in 1992, when there was a thriving stand of around 150 stems. By 2021, saltwater intrusion from rising seas, coupled with soils being washed away from hurricanes and high tides, as well as herbivory by mammals, reduced that number to six ailing fragments, which scientists relocated to greenhouses to ensure their survival.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has tentative plans to replant some Key Largo tree cactus in the wild, but that may only be temporary, given continued global warming. The highest point on Key Largo is only 15 feet above sea level and projections are that the water could rise around 13 inches by 2040 and, worst case, up to 136 inches (about 11 feet) by the end of the century.

Although gone from the U.S., there are some of the cacti on a few islands in the Caribbean, including northern Cuba and parts of the Bahamas, but Jennifer Possley with the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and lead author of the study out last week documenting the population’s decline, said the cacti in Florida may be a bellwether for how other low-lying coastal plants will respond to climate change.

The study was published in the Journal of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas.

A Science Fiction Novel Inspired a Spacesuit That Can Recycle Pee into Water

If you’re an astronaut on a spacewalk, it’s not only okay to pee in your pants but also expected. Since the 1970s, crew members strolling outside a spacecraft have to don “maximum absorbency garments” or MAGs, which are more or less adult diapers for when nature calls.

Urine collection garment prototype with a side view of the whole system, worn as a backpack  |  Credit: Claire Walter and Karen Morales/Creative Commons

Astronauts have long complained that MAGs are uncomfortable, leak, and not hygienic—sometimes leading to urinary tract infections. Additionally, the suits carry only one liter of drinking water, which is not enough for longer spacewalks that would likely occur in upcoming Artemis missions to the moon.

Researchers at Cornell University think they have a solution. Inspired by the Dune novels by Frank Herbert, in which inhabitants of a desert planet wear “stillsuits” that can collect sweat and urine and recycle them into drinking water, the team has designed a real-world prototype that can do the same in just five minutes. Their stillsuit knockoff involves a collection cup that fits around the genitalia—shaped differently for women and men—and connects to a sensor-activated pump that whisks away moisture to a backpack filtration system (with an efficiency of 87 percent) where it gets purified into water that the astronaut can drink.

Currently, aboard the International Space Station (ISS) 98 percent of wastewater is recycled and if the new suit becomes available it would hopefully make water reuse here on Earth a bit more ap-pee-ling?

The prototype is described in a paper published in the journal Frontiers in Space Technology.