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Equilibrium/Sustainability — Cognitive effects of lead exposure may be reversible

Lead exposure in early childhood is known to cause severe cognitive impairment into adolescence, but new research suggests that these effects may be reversible. 

The study, published in Scientific Reports on Monday, investigated how providing animals with stimulating environments early in life can reverse the vast majority of genetic changes that result from lead exposure. While the research so far is limited to rodents, these findings could provide hope to parents whose children were unwittingly exposed to lead early on in life.  

“Children who live in housing stock built before 1978, the year in which lead was banned as an ingredient in paint, are at high risk of being exposed to lead,” Jay Schneider, a professor of pathology, anatomy and cell biology at Thomas Jefferson University, said in a statement. 

That exposure can come from lead dust or from peeling lead-containing paint in their homes, according to Schneider, who said that at least half a million U.S. children have blood lead levels at or above amounts that can impact cognitive function.  

Probing whether it is possible to counteract these effects, Schneider and his colleagues separated lead-exposed rats into two different housing conditions: Ones that were enriched with social activity and ones that lacked stimulation.  

They ultimately found that 80 percent of the genetic changes induced by lead exposure were reversed in the group of rats that lived in the enriched environment until day 55 — the equivalent of adolescence in humans. Those rats living in the nonenriched environment showed memory deficits that the other animals did not experience, according to the study.  

“By providing an enriched early life environment, the adverse effects of lead on the brain may be minimized or potentially reversed, emphasizing how important early childhood interventions may be,” Schneider 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 start in California, where officials are contending with a raging wildfire near Yosemite National Park. Then we’ll explore potential contributors to the monkeypox emergency and look at why deserts conditions are expanding.

Thousands flee as fire explodes near Yosemite

A wildfire raging near Yosemite National Park forced the evacuation of thousands of residents over the weekend, prompting California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) to declare a state of emergency just a day after announcing a set of ambitious climate goals.

Countywide emergency: Newsom issued a state of emergency for Mariposa County on Saturday due to the impacts of the Oak Fire.  

  • The governor’s office said the fire had destroyed homes, threatened critical infrastructure and led to the evacuation of 3,000 residents. 
  • At the time of the declaration, the blaze had burned more than 11,500 acres — a figure that grew to 16,791 acres by Monday morning, according to Cal Fire.  
  • The fire was 10 percent contained on Monday. 

Fires made worse by climate change: The fire erupted Friday, with officials on Saturday describing “explosive fire behavior,” according to The Associated Press. 

Experts have said that climate change is intensifying droughts in areas like the southwest U.S. and making wildfires worse, as we previously reported.  

Paying the price: Cal Fire Battalion Chief Jon Heggie described the Oak Fire as “a direct result” of climate change, according to CNN.  

“You can’t have a 10-year drought in California and expect things to be the same,” Heggie continued. “And we are now paying the price for that 10-year drought and that climate change.”

NEWSOM RAISES CLIMATE GOALS

Newsom’s emergency declaration came less than a day after he launched new statewide climate targets for renewable energy, clean buildings, carbon removal and clean fuels. 

“California communities experience the devastating impacts of climate change every day,” he said in a statement. “We need to supercharge our efforts to significantly reduce harmful carbon pollution.” 

Achieving climate goals: The governor called for the state to provide the tools necessary to achieve its 2030 climate goals, as well as state carbon neutrality no later than 2045, in a letter sent the chair of the California Air Resources Board. 

In his state budget proposal in January, Newsom allocated $22.5 billion for combatting the climate crisis over the next five years. In May, he revised the figure to add another $9.5 billion. 

Accelerating the transition: On Friday, the governor announced that he would be accelerating the state’s clean energy targets while working with the legislature “to enshrine carbon neutrality into state law,” according to his office. 

  • Among the new targets was a planning goal of at least 20 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2045.  
  • This goal in particular — which would be the largest such target of any state — was met with the approval of green groups in the state. 

Fulfilling state and national needs: Advocacy group Environment California said in a statement that 20 gigawatts of offshore wind is enough to power 14.5 million homes, or more than a third of California’s energy needs.  

That quantity would also fulfill a sizable chunk of President Biden’s goal of generating 110 gigawatts of wind by 2050 nationwide, the statement added. 

Far-reaching climate goals: Newsom also expressed support for 3 million climate-friendly homes by 2030 and 7 million by 2035, as well as 6 million heat pumps installed by 2030. 

  • As part of the transition away from fossil fuels, the governor suggested establishing a 20 percent clean fuels target for the aviation sector.  
  • He also voiced support for the creation of a task force to identify methane leaks from oil infrastructure near communities. 

To learn about Newsom’s other targets and hear community reactions, please click here to read the full story.   

Monkeypox a burgeoning health emergency: officials

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared monkeypox a public health emergency over the weekend. 

That announcement represents a significant ramp-up in concern by both U.S. and international public health authorities around the burgeoning viral epidemic. 

It’s also a serious warning about the risk of global epidemics amid a changing climate.

Suddenly shifting circumstances: There are now 16,000 reported cases across
75 countries, the WHO found.

  • Those numbers represent a marked change from last month, when the agency concluded that “the outbreak did not represent a public health emergency of international concern.” 
  • At the time, there were only about 3,000 cases across 47 countries.

A map of U.S. monkeypox incidences, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDD), identified nearly 3,000 cases as of Friday. 

Kindling urgency: On Sunday, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) called on the Biden administration to increase its response to the virus — particularly around vaccine access, our colleague Olafimihan Oshin reported for The Hill. 

  • “We really don’t know the future course of this virus. But what we do now, early on, just as was the case with the pandemic, will determine just how bad this may get,” Schiff said. 
  • The congressman said he has been getting reports from his district of “people lining up to get vaccinated and they don’t have the vaccines for them,” according to CBS’s “Face The Nation.” 

In June, public health experts told NPR that the testing situation was “abysmal.”

FAILURE OF CONTROL

One possible factor among others in the sudden spread of monkeypox is climate change, according to a study published last week in Nature Reviews Microbiology.

  • Historical data suggest that monkeypox outbreaks often occur in fall during periods of increased rainfall and flooding, the authors found. 
  • Along with flooding, deforestation could also drive animal hosts that carry monkeypox into human communities, according to the study.  

A broader problem: The spread of monkeypox, like COVID-19, is representative of a broader threat of new infectious diseases emerging as a result of deforestation and climate change, The Week reported.

Around 10,000 viruses with the potential to infect humans are currently circulating in the wild, an April study in Nature found.

  • As more land is needed to feed more people, the expansion of human activity into wild lands puts more people into contact with animals and those 10,000 viruses, according to The Week.
  • The Nature researchers predicted that different species would transmit viruses to each other at least 4,000 times by 2070 — raising the risk of new viral strains jumping to humans. 

Coronaviruses — including the SARS CoV-2 strain that caused the COVID-19 pandemic — are particularly prone to cross-species transmission, according to a 2021 study in Frontiers in Public Health. 

For more resources, check out the World Health Organization’s comprehensive guide to monkeypox here.

Desert conditions may define temperate regions

Climate change is making historically wet and temperate areas behave more like deserts, a new study has found.

  • By the end of the century, an additional global area about twice the size of the United States would experience soil temperatures and moisture levels equivalent to today’s arid regions, according to the study, published on Monday in Nature. 
  • Over the next century, desert-like conditions — high soil temperatures and minimal soil moisture — will come to define a vast area of currently wet and temperate areas, the authors found.   

Lighting up to a blind spot: Scientists have gotten better at projecting future extremes of heat and drought, but they still face certain limitations, according to the researchers.   

“What our models can’t take into account is: what if the rules by which the[se] systems work change?” asked coauthor Heather Throop of Arizona State University in a statement. 

 
Coming changes: The regions poised to confront long-term changes include the wet and temperate ecosystems in the boreal forests of the northern latitudes, according to the study. Also under such threat are the tropical forests of Latin America, equatorial Africa and Southeast Asia, the authors found. 

  • These environments are responding to a world where heat and drought are rapidly becoming more extreme. 
  • The two hottest years on record were 2016 and 2020, and 19 of the hottest years on record have occurred since 2000, according to NASA.  
  • Meanwhile extreme droughts are expected to increase in size, area and frequency, the Nature study found. 

Practical impacts: “By understanding better how drylands function, societies can better adapt to withstand climate extremes and lessen their impacts on nature and people,” Throop said. 

Motor Monday

The world’s most disrupted airport, GM’s plan for electric vehicle (EV) market dominance and Volkswagen hedges its bets on batteries. 

Toronto Pearson is the airport with the world’s worst delays 

  • As flights get disrupted worldwide this summer, Toronto Pearson International Airport has earned  the title of airport with the worst delays, according to The Wall Street Journal. More than 53 percent of flights departing Toronto Pearson from June 1-July 18 arrived late to their destinations, the Journal reported, citing data specialist FlightAware.

GM betting on standard ‘skateboard’ to capture EV market share 

  • General Motors says it is far ahead of other legacy automakers in the drive to create and scale up a standardized “EV platform” that it can adapt to a wide range of vehicles, CNBC reported. Such a “ground-up EV design” is essential to lowering costs and increasing volumes enough to reach mass market status, automotive consultant Mark Wakefield told CNBC.

Volkswagen wants e-fuels alongside their EVs 

  • The new head of Volkswagen is betting on “e-fuels” — ostensibly carbon-neutral synthetic versions of products like gasoline — in addition to electric vehicles, The Wall Street Journal reported. Such “a two-track” is popular among both German auto industry leaders and trade unions, according to the Journal. 

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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