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AM Briefing: Insects in Decline

On the troubling rise of self-pollination, Chinese EV tariffs, and speed limits

AM Briefing: Insects in Decline
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Southern California remains at risk of flooding and may even see some waterspouts or tornadoes • A wildfire is burning out of control in Perth, in Australia • It's the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.


1. U.S. may hike tariffs on Chinese EVs

The Biden administration is reportedly considering raising tariffs on electric vehicles made in China, which tend to run cheaper than those made in the U.S. The move would be an attempt to “bolster the U.S. clean energy industry,” explainsThe Wall Street Journal. Chinese EVs are already subject to a 25% tariff. While an increase wouldn’t mean much in the immediate term for most Americans, it would put added strain on relations with China, which are already tense. Global markets are facing a glut of cheap Chinese clean-energy products, and the administration is reportedly also considering higher levies on solar products and EV battery packs, the Journal reports.

2. Study suggests some plants are evolving to not need pollinators

Wildflowers may be evolving to rely less on pollinators in order to reproduce as insect numbers decline. A new study published in the journal New Phytologist looked at flowering plants that grow in farmland near Paris and found they have become smaller and now produce less nectar than they would have 20 to 30 years ago. “Our study shows that pansies are evolving to give up on their pollinators,” says Pierre-Olivier Cheptou, one of the study’s authors. “They are evolving towards self-pollination, where each plant reproduces with itself, which works in the short term but may well limit their capacity to adapt to future environmental changes.” While the study “demonstrates that plant mating systems can evolve rapidly ... in the face of ongoing environmental changes,” the authors say, it paints a troubling picture of a symbiotic relationship in a spiral: As insect populations suffer from loss of habitat and overuse of pesticides, plants begin to rely on them less and produce less nectar, exacerbating their decline.

3. U.S. completes auction for Gulf drilling rights

A U.S. auction of oil drilling rights in the Gulf of Mexico went ahead yesterday. This is the last auction until 2025. Here are a few key numbers:

  • 72.7 million – acres that were up for bidding, including 6 million acres considered habitat for the endangered Rice's whale.
  • $382 million – amount raised in the auction, the highest of any federal offshore oil and gas lease sale since 2015, according to Reuters.
  • $88.2 million – highest amount offered, from Hess, for 20 successful bids.
  • 3 – drilling rights auctions the Interior Department will hold over the next five years, the minimum required to comply with the Inflation Reduction Act. It represents “the smallest offshore oil program in U.S. history.”
  • 47 – auctions over five years that were proposed by the Trump administration.
  • 1.1 million – gallons of oil estimated to have spilled into the Gulf from a leak detected last month, the largest Gulf spill since Deepwater Horizon.
  • 8 – days since the U.S. and nearly 200 other nations agreed at COP28 to transition away from fossil fuels.
  • 21 – percent of the world’s oil produced by America in 2022.

4. Orsted commits to building world’s largest offshore wind farm

Danish energy giant Orsted plans to go ahead with building the world’s largest offshore wind farm, reports the Financial Times. The 2.9 gigawatt Hornsea 3 project is located in the North Sea. It will cost £8 billion (about $10 billion) and represents Orsted’s single biggest investment decision. Once finished in 2027, the project will power 3.3 million homes. Last month Orsted cancelled two major U.S. offshore wind projects and took a $4 billion writedown as a result. The Hornsea 3 investment shows “the offshore wind industry is picking back up, after a crisis year,” concludes Priscila Azevedo Rocha at Bloomberg.

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  • 5. Cities are lowering their speed limits

    Speed limits in some major U.S. cities are dropping, Yale Climate Connectionsreports. This is a “win for the climate” because slower vehicle speeds make for safer city streets, which could nudge people more toward less polluting modes of transportation, like walking or cycling. Seattle, Denver, Minneapolis, Hoboken, and Washington, D.C., have all lowered their speed limits, according to Yale Climate Connections. “Safety and environmental goals go together. They’re inevitably interlinked,” says Venu Nemani, the chief safety officer of the Seattle Department of Transportation.


    A recent White House briefing says more than one million EVs have been sold in the U.S. in 2023 — “three years ahead of the projections made earlier this year and 18 years ahead of the projections made in the beginning of 2021.”

    The White House

    Jessica  Hullinger profile image

    Jessica Hullinger

    Jessica Hullinger is a freelance writer and editor who likes to think deeply about climate science and sustainability. She previously served as Global Deputy Editor for The Week, and her writing has been featured in publications including Fast Company, Popular Science, and Fortune. Jessica is originally from Indiana but lives in London.


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