News roundup for Tue, Mar 29, 2022

Economy and supply chain

Gas prices in the US have declined from an average of $4.33 to $4.24 per gallon, but they are still 18% higher than last month and 48% more than a year ago. Georgia, Maryland, and Connecticut are cutting taxes on gas. Georgia is cutting 29 cents a gallon until the end of May, Maryland is cutting 36 cents per gallon until mid-April, and Connecticut 25 cents per gallon until June 30 as well as fares needed to ride a public bus. Ohio, West Virginia, and California want to follow suit with similar packages.

What can you do:

The average 30-year US fixed mortgage rate rose 1.3% from three months ago. It’s the largest increase since 1994.

Vitol’s chief warns that the diesel supply shortage could trigger rationing in Europe. Diesel shortages would consequentially threaten to slow economic growth.

The US signed a deal to provide extra liquified natural gas to the EU. The new deal will represent around 24% of the gas currently imported from Russia.

Shanghai goes into lockdown. In response, oil slides more than 8%, and experts worry that the supply chain crisis will worsen. Fertilizer prices hit new highs as multiple problems affect global supplies. A Canadian rail strike is adding to Russia’s and Belarus’ reduced supplies and China’s export ban.

The UN warns that people facing hunger in Sudan could double to 18 million by September. Food prices have risen due to a combination of poor harvests, economic crises, internal conflict, as well as the war in Ukraine.


Zelensky said he is ready to accept a neutral status as part of a peace deal with Russia.

Shelling has intensified around Kyiv, and Mariupol is on the verge of being completely evacuated but overall Russians have not made any significant progress:

Putin’s troops allegedly used white phosphorus munitions. White phosphorus is a substance that ignites instantly and burns fast and bright. It is extremely difficult to extinguish and it sticks to many surfaces, including skin and clothing. It can cause excruciating burns, respiratory damage, infection, shock, and organ damage and it has been used in war zones around the world, including Syria, Afghanistan, and Gaza.

Peace negotiators suffered apparent symptoms of poisoning after peace talks in Ukraine earlier this month:

Biden’s 2023 budget proposal includes $6.9 billion for the European Deterrence Initiative, NATO, and countering Russian aggression to support Ukraine.

Explainer: How NATO was formed, and how is helping Ukraine.

Good infographics showing weapons used in the Russia-Ukraine war.

Extreme heat

An unprecedented heatwave in the West caused a wildfire in Colorado and the hottest March day on record for Death Valley (104 F) and Las Vegas (93 F). Although the temperature in Colorado did not break records, it was 20 degrees hotter than just a few days earlier.

A recent heatwave also broke an ice shelf in East Antarctica. The ice shelf was not particularly big but this area had been considered relatively immune to global warming so far. East Antarctica holds more ice than the rest of the world combined and if all its ice were melting the oceans would rise by 53 meters (170 feet), putting most of the world’s great cities underwater.

The rest

The FDA is expected to authorize 2nd boosters for people 50 and up. But the next US booster rollout faces delays and lack of funds.

Microplastics have been found for the first time in human blood. The most common plastic particle found was polyethylene terephthalate (PET), commonly used in drink bottles, the second was polystyrene (styrofoam), and the third was polyethylene (plastic wrap, sandwich bags, shopping bags). Plastic production is increasing from 11 million metric tons in 2016 to a projected 29 million metric tons annually in 2040, the equivalent of dumping 70 pounds of plastic waste along every foot of the world’s coastline. A new review also found that recycled PET leaches more chemicals into drinks.

More homeowners in the West are using recycled greywater for landscape irrigation or flushing toilets. Water-conscious municipalities, such as Tuscon, AZ, now mandate builders to include piping for greywater recycling in new homes. To put things into perspective, the average American family uses more than 300 gallons of water per day at home, so recycling greywater could drastically reduce water usage or save on water used for personal gardening.

Remember the defibrillator-deploying drone in Sweden? Now the UK is training paramedics to fly in a jet suit. One member of Great North Air Ambulance (GNAA) has completed his training and two more are to begin shortly. They will be able to fly up a mountain in 90 seconds rather than taking 30 minutes by foot. Medical kits would be placed in pouches on the pilot’s legs and chest, and the helmets will have a built-in display that shows engine parameters and speed. Here’s a video from last year’s tests:

Vienna, Portland, and the german state of Thuringen are taking the right-to-repair movement one step further by subsidizing repairs.


    • Hardened

      Watching that paramedic in the jet suit feels like watching Superman come to save the day!

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      • ReadyPlayer Hardened

        Or when the guy hovers over the lake it totally looks like Iron Man!

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      • TraceContributor ReadyPlayer

        Now I want to be a paramedic again. In the UK. 🤣

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    • July LewisContributor

      Another “what you can do” tip on fuel efficiency: drive the speed limit! Speeding has really ramped up since the pandemic and so have traffic fatalities. Readjusting back to slower speeds is a win on so many levels – economy, safety, and the environment.

      “While each vehicle reaches its optimal fuel economy at a different speed (or range of speeds), gas mileage usually decreases rapidly at speeds above 50 mph.

      You can assume that each 5 mph you drive over 50 mph is like paying an additional $0.30 per gallon for gas.”

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    • brownfox-ffContributor

      What you can do about it:

      Good luck this week.

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      • pnwsarahContributor brownfox-ff

        I would add, for microplastics: (1) consider using a filtering device in your washer. This won’t keep them out of your body, but it will reduce overall loading of plastic particles into water (and, by extension, reduce the amount of the stuff that gets into everyone’s food and water); (2) if you’re in the U.S., contact your representatives and express support for pending legislation to address this issue*; and (3) try not to worry too much, because the jury is fundamentally still out on how harmful this stuff is to humans. While I do think we’ll increasingly find that it is… not great for us to be eating and drinking plastic… what we know about the suspected mechanisms isn’t super disconcerting to me relative to a lot of other environmental contaminants that end up in our water— stuff that we actually know is making people very sick, and we’ve known that for a very long time, and the general public doesn’t seem very concerned. It’s super creepy that there are bits of our fleece jackets in our blood, feces, and placentas, but “most creepy” ≠ “most dangerous”. (It’s like the serial killers versus car accidents… one of them is very scary and fascinating and gets a lot of attention; the other is actually likely to cause you death or lesser harms.)

        Personally, I’m much more worried about old-fashioned, unsexy lead (and other things you’ll find on the periodic table), and, to a lesser degree, contaminants of emerging concern like PFAS and chemicals that get into the water system from our pharmaceuticals and personal care products. If you’re in a rural, agricultural area of the U.S. and your water comes from groundwater, I’d be more worried about nitrates than microplastics. Also, if you’re in the U.S. and served by a public water system, you should receive annual reports from your water provider that detail its testing program and water quality performance; these are also available on the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Act webpage (or search “Safe Drinking Water Act Consumer Confidence Reports”). Microplastics aren’t in there yet, but California will probably start doing that soon.

        * I don’t want to violate the “no politics” rule by going into a lot of detail, here, but an actually decent plastics bill died in committee in 2020 and has been reintroduced in the current session. 

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      • JB pnwsarah

        Are there filters that you can put in between your washing machine and the sewer? I would like to do my part at preventing as much stuff going down the drain and into our water.

        Just look how much lint comes off of your clothes after each cycle that you collect and throw away. There probably is quite a lot of material that gets into our water during the wash cycle. 

        Letting the dryer lint build up could lead to a fire, and if there is a filter on the washer then if that clogged it could lead to your house being flooded. So just something I need to be aware of and remember if I do go ahead and install one.

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      • pnwsarahContributor JB

        Yes, and some devices marketed as “filters” are actually things that you throw in with the load that catch the particles (so, no actual modification of the washer required). They aren’t anywhere near 100% effective at trapping microplastics coming off your clothes, but neither are filters that actually filter the water as it flows out the machine, so I wouldn’t rule them out on that criterion. There are also bags you can buy for washing synthetics that are prone to shed (not the best option if you wear a lot of sheddy synthetics, since the bags aren’t huge).

        It’s a bit of a wild west out there right now: Since the microplastics issue is relatively new, measurement methodologies really aren’t standardized, which makes it hard to test the efficacy of the different products intended to keep the stuff out of the water, and there is also a lot of variation in shed rates. Just a few degrees in water temperature can make a difference in how much the same fabric sheds, so multiply that by numerous fabrics and then throw infinite states of wear on top of that and you can begin to get a sense of why it’s so hard to test the products. In the meantime, Wirecutter has a good overview of some of the options out there, including both true filters and bags and balls and the like.

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      • JB pnwsarah

        That sure is startling that 35% of microplastic pollution comes from our textiles. That’s 2.2 million tons a year. Thank you for sharing that article from Wirecutter. 

        I may start moving more towards natural fibers like cotton and research more on these filters.

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    • Momof6

      I am very surprised at the lack of chatter locally about the President coming out and plainly saying there will be shortages Thursday. I fully expected to see people out shopping like crazy but it is business as usual where I live. Not sure what to think about that, especially after seeing locals empty the stores back during the pandemic.

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      • Hardened Momof6

        Do you live in the US?  Biden highlighted wheat as an issue for a lot of countries and the US, the third largest producer of wheat in the world, is talking about increasing exports to compensate.  In other words if you’re in the US then you’re luckier than many on this particular issue.

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    • JB

      While following the link about the weapons used in the Russia-Ukraine war I saw another article that peaked my interest and is related to being prepared.

      Dust off your home WiFi router: It needs some upkeep to stay secure

      In the article, the author says to pick one day a year, like on April fools day, to look for updates to your WiFi router’s software. There have been attacks where hackers steal your router’s computing power to mine cryptocurrency, intercept your data, or injecting spam.

      To prevent these kind of attacks he says to change the default password to something long and secure, update the router’s software, upgrading an old router, don’t put your info into the network name, and hardening all the connected devices. 

      It was a good article and there is many more details in it if you want to read further.

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    • Robert LarsonContributor

      Read a scary article in the news today: Putin threatens to cut Europe off from Russian gas from tomorrow –

      Summary: If a country wants to keep receiving gas from Russia, they need to open a state-linked bank account and pay for that gas in rubles. (makes me think he is feeling the pressure the world is putting on Russia’s finances). If the country does not do this they will be ‘in breach of contract’ and supplies will stop.

      In the news roundup up above they link to an article telling how the US is stepping in to help with the gas demand and I’ve heard other articles over the past month trying to solve issues with gas. But I’ve also heard from people on the forum here that the energy prices have been rising and it has already been hard on folks. This will surely make it even worse.

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