Balance/Sustainability — Climate change could be coming for Sriracha sauce

Spice lovers are bracing for a shortage of Sriracha sauce that experts say is likely due in part to the effects of climate change on peppers.

The bright red product with a green cap, whose popularity NPR described as “something like a cult following,” is starting to fade from supermarket shelves.

The company that makes Sriracha, Huy Fong Foods, wrote in an April email that it would stop making the sauce in the coming months due to “severe weather conditions that affect the quality of the peppers.”

The Hill reported that the shortage is expected to extend throughout the summer and into the fall.

Guillermo Murray Tortarolo, a climate scientist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, attributes the shortages to a failed pepper crop in northern Mexico and says climate change is a very likely factor, according to NPR.

Peppers grow during the first third of the year and need constant irrigation, but the region is experiencing its second year of drought and has been “overtaken by two consecutive La Niña events,” Tortarolo told NPR.

Grocery stores in some regions are low on the sauce, while many restaurateurs are struggling with rising prices, according to the store.

“Usually when I bought a box it was about $30 to $32,” Michael Csau, co-owner of Pho Viet restaurant in Washington DC, told NPR. “Now it reaches $50, almost double the price. If it keeps going up, we can’t afford it.”

Welcome to Equilibriuma newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability.

Today we will look at the extreme weather events that hit the world before summer. Then, we’ll make a final stop in Iceland to see carbon-removing technologies up close.

Send us tips and comments: Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. If you enjoyed this newsletter, please consider sharing it with a friend. Not on the list? Register here.

Weather disasters abound in the US

With summer officially still days away, several pockets of the country have already suffered from an onslaught of weather-induced weather disasters.

  • Massive flooding destroyed bridges in Montana and Wyoming, forcing the evacuation of more than 10,000 tourists from Yellowstone National Park, according to the Associated Press.
  • In the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley regions, half a million homes were left without power amid a severe storm this week, while record temperatures killed at least 2,000 head of cattle in Kansas, the Washington Post reported.

danger season: “Summer has become the season of danger where you see these types of events happening earlier, more often and co-occurring,” Rachel Licker of the Union of Concerned Scientists research and advocacy group told the Post.

The Midwest is weathering the heat: Low-pressure systems in northern New England and the Pacific Northwest helped trap what is known as a high-pressure “heat dome” over the central US, according to Bloomberg.

That summit “amplifies the heat like a magnifying glass over the region,” Bloomberg reported, noting that Chicago and Denver set new highs earlier this week.

things won’t get better: Extreme heat conditions are expected to become more intense over the next week in the South, Southeast and Mid-Atlantic, a second Post article warned.

Temperatures in many US cities could break records as parts of Georgia and the Carolinas can hit triple digits, according to the Post.

Not better abroad: France warned its citizens of the health risks associated with continued extreme heat as firefighters battled wildfires in the Catalonia region of Spain, according to Reuters.

Britain was boiling on the hottest day of the year so far – which The Telegraph dubbed “Fryday” as sunseekers swarmed the country’s shores.

Fast range: The Hill’s night report – recapping the most important news of the day and looking forward to tomorrow. Click here to subscribe

Biogas supply chains leaking methane: study

Biogas and biomethane supplies — often touted as greener alternatives to traditional energy sources — may be leaking twice as much methane than previously thought, a new study has found.

  • Update: Biogas and biomethane are by-products of the decomposition of organic matter such as food, animal waste, crops, grass and sewage sludge.
  • Their origins make these energy sources “renewable alternatives to natural gas, coal and oil,” according to the authors, who published their findings in the journal One Earth on Friday.

But the problems are many: Emphasizing that there are “potential pitfalls in energy supply chains for these climate-friendly gases,” the authors said that these gases release up to twice as much methane as the International Energy Agency’s highest estimates.

Like this? That’s because the agency’s latest review looked at an incomplete picture — accounting only for inefficiencies in the gas combustion process rather than within the broader supply chain, the authors explained.

About 62% of the leaks were concentrated in what the authors described as “super-emitting” components – a limited number of facilities and equipment in that chain.

  • “Biomethane and biogas are great candidates for renewable and clean energy sources, but they can also emit methane,” lead author Semra Bakkaloglu of Imperial College London said in a statement.
  • “For them to really help mitigate the warming effects of energy use, we must act urgently to reduce their emissions.”

More action needed: The authors called for greater efforts to reduce methane leakage, including more focus on detection, measurement and repair techniques, as well as relevant government regulations.

“We want to encourage the continued use of biogas and biomethane as a renewable resource, taking the necessary actions to combat methane emissions,” said Bakkaloglu.

Turning carbon dioxide into stone

Scientists are working to develop technology to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, which could help play a key role in containing the worst impacts of climate change.

The process is called “direct air capture,” with carbon dioxide removed from the air and permanently stored underground or used for other purposes.

  • This week, The Hill visited the Iceland-based pilot project of a partnership that aims to turn that carbon dioxide into stone stored underground.
  • The publicly owned Hellisheiði power station in southwest Iceland and private companies Carbfix and Climeworks are collaborating on the project.

A lot of money: Big companies have been pushing to invest in these types of carbon removal technologies.

  • The Carbfix and Climeworks partnership received pledges of up to $925 million in April from a coalition of tech companies including Apple, Stripe and Alphabet.
  • Carbfix also won two separate awards for its work in removing carbon from the Elon Musk foundation.

How it works: Switzerland-based Climeworks uses geothermal energy from the plant to operate its direct air capture machine.

  • The machine resembles a shipping container studded with black fans that suck air from the atmosphere.
  • Inside the direct air capture machine, filters behind the fans eliminate traces of carbon dioxide — which today makes up about 0.042% of the air’s composition, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

After CO2 is captured: To really remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, it needs to be stored permanently, not simply captured. That’s where the Icelandic company CarbFix comes in.

  • The company runs a flow of geothermal heated water over the filters to dissolve the captured carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide.
  • This process creates a sort of rotten-egg-flavored hot seltzer that workers inject underground into the porous volcanic basalt, geologist Sandra Snæbjörnsdóttir told Equilibrium.
  • Once there, the acidic liquid slowly dissolves the rock and then solidifies into a matrix of solid limestone, he added.

CAPTURE VS. REMOVAL

Climeworks CEO Christopher Bettler made a sharp distinction between the removal of carbon for permanent storage and the capture of the gas for other purposes.

  • Some end goals, which the company facilitates in other locations around the world, include reuse in food, fuel and soft drinks, according to Beuttler.
  • But in Iceland, the goal is removal. Carbfix began its commercial operations as a means of capturing and storing the small amounts of carbon dioxide released from the Hellisheiði geothermal plant, Snæbjörnsdóttir said.

Climeworks tour guide Brintis Nielsen stressed to Equilibrium that carbon removal plans are no excuse to pollute more.

  • “First we have to reduce emissions – that’s number one, two, three, four and five,” she said.
  • And cutting current emissions does nothing to remove the “historic CO2” released by nearly 150 years of industries burning fossil fuels and now warming the planet, Beuttler explained.

Christoph Gebald, founder and director of the company, touched on similar topics when discussing carbon removal at The Hill’s Sustainability Imperative event in April.

Competitive advantage: Many other companies around the world are developing carbon removal and direct air capture technologies, such as California-based Blue Planet, Canada-based Carbon Engineering, and New York-based Global Thermostat.

  • While none, including the Iceland partnership, have yet to reach commercial viability, Beuttler said he believes his company has a competitive edge — as well as a high-profile customer group to help it grow.
  • “Big corporations have basically realized that their business model does not continue into the distant future without a stable climate,” he added.

follow up friday

Taking another look at this week’s issues.

An economic disaster follows the Yellowstone floods

  • We covered the near-record floods that forced the closure of Yellowstone National Park entrances. Now, tourist towns north of Yellowstone are facing economic disaster after the weather disaster: The closing of the park’s north entrance has left towns like Gardiner, Mont. without the much-needed influx of summer hikers, hunters and fishermen, reported The New York Times.

Paid free time to garden in Sri Lanka

Maine Considers Tighter Standards for ‘Forever Chemicals’

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

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