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Equilibrium/Sustainability — French frantic over meager mustard manufacture

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A shortage of mustard has even French citizens road-tripping and queuing up to try to get their hands on a jar of quality Dijon, Germany public broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) reported. 

“There’s no mustard to be found in the supermarkets. At least no Dijon mustard,” retired schoolteacher Cecile Martin told DW. 

Martin said she drove from northern France to the mustard producing region of Dijon in an attempt to get a coveted jar of the condiment.  

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“It’s really hard to imagine French cuisine without it,” she added. 

Dijon mustard is made by grinding up brown mustard seeds with wine — both of which are currently encountering climate-induced shortages. 

Canada’s brown mustard seed harvest — which accounts for 80 percent of French supply — fell by half in 2021 as climate change worsened heat waves, DW reported. 

To make matters worse, local French production fell as well due to a warm winter. 

And climate change is also leading to heat, floods, fire and hail that are threatening or even destroying global wine grape yields, The Guardian reported. 

With the pungent condiment in short supply, French cooks are trying to adapt. 

“We try and make fewer dishes based on mustard. We’ve adapted our cooking to use less of it,” chef Guillame Royer told DW. 

“We try and replace mustard often with a spice, or another dressing or some lemon juice or citrus fruit juice to compensate,” Royer added. 

Over the longer term, however, the solution lies in diversity of supply, including more local production, according to Burgundy Mustard Association president Luc Vandermaesen. 

“We can’t put all our eggs in one basket,” Vandermaesen told DW. 

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 visit Puerto Rico, where the lights are still off as Hurricane Fiona continues its path across the Caribbean. Then we’ll see why water pollution left the population of Flint, Mich., with a follow-on epidemic of PTSD. Finally, we’ll look at how extreme weather in the United States has put global food security back by at least two years. 

Most of Puerto Rico still without power post-Fiona 

About 80 percent of Puerto Rico’s population still lacked power on Tuesday, after Hurricane Fiona swept through the island over the weekend and into Monday, AccuWeather reported. 

Electricity and economic losses: As most of Puerto Rico waited in the dark, AccuWeather estimated that Fiona’s economic toll on residents would amount to about $10 billion.  

  • About 1.2 million customers — out of 1.47 million — had no power on Tuesday, AccuWeather reported, citing data from PowerOutage.US. 
  • “Updates, exact numbers and restoration timelines are not available,” according to the site, which aggregates live power outages from U.S. utilities.     

Deadly storm: Officials have thus far attributed four deaths in the northern Caribbean to the storm, AccuWeather reported.  

  • Puerto Rican authorities linked one death to Fiona itself — a man swept away by the rains — and a second to faulty generator use.  
  • A third fatality occurred in the Dominican Republic after a tree fell on a man, AccuWeather reported, citing local Spanish-language media.  
  • Another individual died in Guadeloupe due to flooding, prior to Fiona’s arrival in Puerto Rico, according to Reuters.  

A far-ranging trajectory: After battering Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic through Monday, Fiona strengthened into a Category 3 storm overnight — before careening across the island chain Turks and Caicos, AccuWeather reported.  

Fiona was next expected “to make an ominously close pass” by Bermuda on Thursday night, before speeding up toward Newfoundland and Labrador, The Washington Post reported. 

Devastation persists in Puerto Rico: Fiona’s fury struck while Puerto Rico was
still struggling to recover from the impacts of Hurricane Maria, which killed nearly 3,000 people and destroyed the power grid five years ago, according to The Associated Press. 

Unclear when the power will be back: Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi (D) did not say how long it would take to restore power on the island but indicated that for most customers it would be “a question of days,” the AP reported.  

For now, residents wait: LUMA Energy, which operates Puerto Rico’s grid, said on Monday that its crews were working with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and private producers to increase generation, according to Reuters.  

  • Since Hurricane Maria, the electricity authority and the state government have been “mired in bankruptcy,” while the island’s finances have been administered by a federally appointed oversight board.   
  • The power company said on Monday that it had restored power to more than 100,000 households, but that “full restoration could take several days,” according to Reuters.

PTSD, depression plague Flint years after crisis

One in 4 adults surveyed in Flint, Mich., were experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) five years after enduring a citywide a water disaster, a new study has found.  

PTSD and depression persist: The disaster in question, which became known as the “Flint water crisis,” was a 2014 lead contamination debacle in which the neurotoxicant infected an entire city’s water supply. 

  • Years later, residents were still reeling from the events.  
  • In addition to those suffering from PTSD, 1 in 5 individuals polled had clinical depression, according to the study, published in JAMA Network Open on Tuesday. 

A continuing crisis: “The mental health burden of America’s largest public-works environmental disaster clearly continues for many adults in Flint,” first author Aaron Reuben, a postdoctoral scholar at Duke University, said in a statement.  

Citywide effects: The Flint water crisis began in April 2014, when the city of Flint’s drinking water source changed from Detroit’s water network to the adjacent Flint River.    

  • Because that resource was not properly treated, corrosive river water damaged the city’s pipes — leading to the discharge of pollutants into Flint’s drinking water system.  
  • Nearly all Flint residents were exposed to bacteria, disinfection byproducts and lead, which has toxic effects on the nervous system, the study authors noted.  

The crisis didn’t end there: Flint returned to Detroit’s water system a year and a half later, but the city’s drinking water was not declared lead-free until January of 2017, according to the researchers.  

Troubling findings: The researchers surveyed 1,970 adults from Flint between August 2019 and April 2020 — collecting data on perceived exposure to contaminated water, as well as the development of PTSD and depression in the past year.  

  • They found that 480 people (24.4 percent) met the criteria for PTSD, while
    435 individuals (22.1 percent) met the criteria for past-year depression.  
  • And 276 respondents (14 percent) met the criteria for both disorders.  

But mental health services were minimal: “The vast majority of our respondents were never offered mental health services,” Reuben said.   

Only 685 respondents (34.8 percent) were ever offered such treatment services, and 79.3 percent of those who were offered the services never utilized them, according to the study.  

To read more about these findings, please click here for the full story. 

World two years behind on food supply 

It will take at least two years of good harvests in the Western Hemisphere to ease global food instability and quell surging prices, senior agribusiness executives told The Wall Street Journal. 

Tough times: “When it comes to the global food-supply situation, I think things are going to continue to be tight for the time being,” said Werner Baumann, chief executive of Bayer. 

A disappointing U.S. grain harvest is driving a larger global downturn and grain production, according to a September report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

  • The USDA’s Economic Research Service downgraded its estimate of both soybean and corn harvests by 3 percent.  
  • On a local scale, those losses may be even more dramatic — South Dakota’s grain outlook has dropped by 25 percent. 

Climate and conflict fuel disruption: In the US, extremes of wet and dry led to slumping harvests, the Journal reported.

  • In the U.S. breadbasket of the Great Plains, drought cut into harvest yields that would already have been smaller than usual — after spring planting was delayed by unseasonal rains. 
  • In South America — and particularly in key commodity producer Brazil — persistent cycles of heat, freeze, drought and flood have also slashed harvests. 

Then there’s the war: While Ukraine saw grain exports fall to 40 percent of normal levels between March and August, though those numbers are beginning to creep back up, the Journal reported. 

  • A July grain export deal with Russia raised Ukraine’s exports closer to 60 percent. 
  • September could see Ukraine reach as much as 90 percent its usual output, Juan Luciano, CEO of Archer Daniels Midland, told investors earlier this month. 

But supplies are still tight: U.S. exports fell by 2 million tons this year — straining global food supplies, according to the USDA. 

In a separate September report, the USDA estimated that 1.3 billion people around the world didn’t have reliable access to food — up 10 percent from its estimates at the same time last year. 

Conflict, climate change fuel coal demand

Soaring coal prices in Europe are pushing up production in Tanzania and Madagascar — countries once considered too remote for their coal to be worth exporting beyond East Africa, Reuters reported. 

Changing bets: Europe’s looming energy drought — and the soaring price of gas, the continent’s preferred energy source for the last decade — has changed both economic and climate calculations, according to Reuters. 

  • Commodities giant Cargill transported 9 million tons of coal between June and August. 
  • That’s 28 percent more than last year. 
  • Maritime coal shipments hit their highest level in July — a fact that spells trouble for global climate commitments. 

“European players, after the Russian war, are going to any place where there is coal. They are offering to pay very good prices,” Rizwan Ahmed of Tanzanian coal mining firm Bluesky Minings told Reuters. 

Climate coal connection: The situation facing China illustrates the paradox of a surge in coal demand versus an increasingly climate-concerned world. 

The People’s Republicimported its highest levels of coal in five years, as utility operators struggled to meet the air conditioning demands of record heat waves, Reuters reported. 

  • While coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel, with the highest amount of greenhouse gas emissions, it is unmatched as a source of on-demand power that is easily shipped, stored and burned using existing infrastructure. 
  • That means it’s a perfect short-term fix for the unprecedented heat that scorched China this summer — even if burning it ultimately worsens global heating, Reuters reported. 

Transport Tuesday

Amazon seeks to power its deliveries with electrofuels, a Quebec-based lithium mine could drop electric vehicle costs and the Navajo Nation gets the beginnings of an electric school bus fleet. 

Amazon fleet to get infusion of ‘electrofuels’ next year 

  • Amazon-backed startup Infinium announced on Tuesday that it would provide low-carbon “electrofuels” to the e-commerce site’s trucking fleet next year, Reuters reported. Electrofuels — fuels powered by carbon waste and renewables — could reduce Amazon’s emissions on about 5 million miles of travel per year, Infinium told Reuters. 

North America’s second lithium mine readies for opening 

  • A Quebec-based lithium mine set to open by 2023 would be just the second North American source of the critical mineral — potentially helping drive down the cost of electric vehicles from a current average of $66,000, The New York Times reported. But like other new mines in planning across the continent, the Quebec site has sparked concern as to whether it will yield sufficient resources to budge prices, according to the Times.  

Navajo Nation school district gets electric buses 

  • The Navajo Nation’s largest school district has received the first of three electric buses, in a move to become more energy and financially efficient, Phoenix area station KTAR-FM reported. Chinle Unified School District serves 3,300 students in eight schools, including the biggest reservation high school in the U.S., according to KTAR-FM.  

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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