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Children are much more likely than adults to find eating animals morally unacceptable and to think that livestock should be treated the same as people and pets, a new study has found.

“Humans’ relationship with animals is full of ethical double standards,” Luke McGuire, of the University of Exeter, said in a statement.

The research team, who published their findings on Monday in Social Psychological and Personality Science, surveyed nearly 500 people in England from three age groups: 9-11, 18-21 and 29-59. They found that the two adult groups had similar perspectives, suggesting that attitudes toward animals shift sometime between the ages of 11 and 18.

With age, people were more likely to categorize farm animals as “food” rather than as “pets,” while children were equally likely to place pigs in either of these groups, according to the study.

“If we want people to move towards more plant-based diets for environmental reasons, we have to disrupt the current system somewhere,” McGuire said.

Integrating more plant-based diets in school, for example, could help encourage childhood instincts and “reduce the ‘normalization’ towards adult values” regarding animals, he added.

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 take a look at a spate of wildfires that scorched the West and Midwest plains over the weekend. Then we’ll turn to the lingering impacts of high gas prices, even as they begin to slide.

Weekend of wildfires scorches West, Midwest

A spate of wildfires struck pockets of the West and Midwest this weekend, ravaging homes and landscapes in several states and killing a rural fire chief in Nebraska.

The Nebraska blaze, which was about half-contained by Sunday, began after a dead tree fell across a power line on Thursday, The Associated Press (AP) reported.

Amid strong winds and dry conditions, the fire produced such a thick cloud of smoke that Elwood Volunteer Fire Chief Darren Krull died in a traffic collision with a water tanker, according to the AP.

Grief and shock in rural Nebraska: The fire “took off through the hills and the canyons” and destroyed entire farmsteads, Gosper County Sheriff Craig Ward told the Omaha World-Herald.

“I’ve never seen anything like it in 25 years of fire service and law enforcement,” he added.

And the weekend’s other fires? A massive brush fire that broke out Saturday at Joint Base San Antonio, in south-central Texas, was about 50 percent contained on Monday, ABC13 reported.

The cause of this fire was still under investigation, although windy conditions likely contributed, according to ABC13.

Texas is not yet in the clear: Far from San Antonio, in the state’s northern Panhandle, forecasters warned of a potential Southern Plains fire outbreak for Tuesday.

A dangerous mingling of dry vegetation with above-average temperatures, low humidity and high wind speeds could fan the flames, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.

Southern Colorado was hit hard, too: Multiple fires struck the city of Pueblo and other regions of Southern Colorado this weekend, Colorado Public Radio reported.

High winds led to blazes that not only impacted people, but also led to the evacuation of Pueblo’s PAWS For Life animal shelter, according to CPR.

And in California: Firefighters in San Jose contained a fire at a Home Depot this weekend that was so large it could be seen from space, CNN reported. Meanwhile, another blaze ignited near a port in Benicia, northeast of San Francisco, according to another CNN story.

Southeast of Sacramento, a weekend fire ripped through a barn and killed several horses, the AP reported.

PAYING THE PRICE OF WEST COAST WILDFIRES

While the Pacific Northwest may not have been a firefighting focal point this weekend, blazes in the region have begun to pose mounting financial risks for area utilities — mirroring conditions in California, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Oregon’s Pacific Power, owned by Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary PacifiCorp, is facing more than $1 billion in potential liability costs from a string of fatal fires in 2020, according to the Journal.

Fallen electricity lines, in particular, are commons sources of wildfire ignition, such as this weekend’s example in Nebraska.

A California legacy: For years, California utilities have faced formidable liability costs following wildfire-related damage, due to a state-specific legal precedent, the Journal reported.

California’s most well-known case was arguably the 2018 Camp Fire, which killed 84 people and led to a $25.5 billion settlement with Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), which then sought bankruptcy protection in 2019, the Journal reported.

The cases continue: PG&E cut a deal with California prosecutors on Monday to sidestep criminal prosecution from last year’s Dixie Fire and the 2019 Kincade Fire — and instead pay more than $55 million, the Sacramento Bee reported.

A Pacific push: Lawyers suing Pacific Power are pressing for stricter legal standards to be upheld in Oregon, the Journal reported, adding that PacifiCorp declined to comment on pending lawsuits.

The attorneys have accused PacifiCorp of failing to shut down power lines in advance of what lawyer Robert Julian described as “historical winds and dry fuel,” according to the Journal.

“If you don’t shut off the power in a once in a 100-year event, one could argue you are never going to shut off the power,” Julian told the Journal.

Gas prices fall, but effects persist

High gasoline prices driven up by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continue to ripple through the economy, prompting more people to buy bicycles and leading rideshare and delivery contractors to lobby for higher payouts.

All of this is happening despite the slide in gasoline prices that followed the Biden administration’s decision last week to release an unprecedented volume of crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

But as the April shift to summer fuel blends constricts gasoline supply, and the summer rise in travel spikes demand, any such relief is likely to be short-lived.

Catch me up: The Biden administration decided last week to sell off a record 180 million barrels of oil from the reserve over the next six months, as foreign allies released another 60 million, according to the International Energy Agency.

Is the release dropping prices? Sort of. The new gasoline blended from the newly-released oil won’t hit stations until early May — but the expectation of more supply is driving prices down now, according to NJ.com.

Since the Biden announcement, average gas prices fell across the country by 10 cents a gallon (down to $4.27), the Detroit News reported on Sunday.

How far will they go? Expect a price decrease of 18 to 35 cents a gallon thanks to the government sales, Tom Kloza of Oil Price Information Service told NJ.com.

Summer brings high prices: Any relief in prices will likely be temporary, as American Automobile Association (AAA) spokesman Robert Sinclair told NJ.com.

Summer will bring a transition from a “winter gas” blend to a more expensive, harder-to-refine “summer blend” — raising the cost of supply just as more people take to the roads, driving up demand, Sinclair explained.

Present stability, future volatility: In order to get out more oil more quickly, the Biden administration is selling it off directly, rather than by the more painstaking method of company-by company loan contracts, in which oil has to be paid back in specific amounts, Reuters reported.

What does that mean? The government is betting that it will be able to get the oil back later — and not be stuck with low reserves at an even worse time, when oil prices are even higher, several economists told Reuters.

IMPACTS OF HIGH GAS PRICES STILL RIPPLING ACROSS ECONOMY

But regardless of long-term impacts, gas prices today are nearly a dollar per gallon above where they were in January. And with gasoline and diesel critical components of most of the American economy, these high prices are having diverse impacts.

Contractors pushing for higher fuel surcharge: FedEx, Uber and Lyft — all of which depend on independent contractors — are facing revolts from their drivers, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Drivers like Melnik Lyudmila say that high gas prices — which the company no longer pays enough to cover — are forcing them out of business.

“Everywhere you look is just expenses, expenses, expenses,” Lydumila told the Journal, explaining why she quit driving for Uber and Lyft.

At FedEx, a petition by a group of contractors — who are seeking a cash injection to cover high fuel costs — warns that many “are on the verge of financial collapse,” the Journal reported.

“Can’t make a living”: Few places have higher gas prices than Los Angeles, where prices have dropped 20 cents in 2 weeks to a still-costly $5.86 a gallon on Monday, according to ABC 7.

“You really can’t make a living too well with Uber, and now with the gas prices going out of sight, it’s become even less lucrative than it was,” rideshare driver Richard Martin told us last month.

Running on empty: More people called AAA to report running out of gas in March, which seemed to correspond to the mid-month spike in gas prices, AAA spokesman Jim Garrity told Ohio’s Vindicator.

“They just thought they could make it. That’s what I hear,” tow truck company manager Mike Capito told The Vindicator.

Really, don’t do this: Garrity added that many motorists are endangering their engines by running them consistently with low fuel.

Considering alternate transport: About 30 percent of the customers coming into one Denver electric bike shop are there “to skirt high gas prices,” owner Mike Radenbaugh told Denver 7 News.

E-bikes, Radenbaugh noted, get the equivalent of “1,600 miles to the gallon.”

And some Chicago school districts are changing school-bus pickup routes to cut costs — or converting to propane-fueled buses, “which cost about half as much as diesel to run,” according to CBS.

Mother Nature Monday

Bears, chickens and crabs: three populations — and the human groups they intersect with — impacted by larger natural forces.

Climate change may shorten hibernation periods

  • Bears may start taking shorter hibernation breaks as winters become shorter, according to a piece in The Atlantic, originally published by Knowable Magazine. While it’s difficult to say if such shifts have already begun, anecdotes abound in which bears have shown up in towns during winter warm spells — worrying scientists that the animals could end up with “more time to get into trouble,” the piece reported.

Domestic poultry flocks ravaged by bird flu

  • Nearly 24 million U.S. poultry have been killed in recent weeks by avian flu — a disease that poses little danger to humans or the wild birds that spread it, but can be lethal to farmed chickens and turkeys, The Guardian reported.

Warm winters mean more crabs snatched by cod — and fewer by humans

  • Years of warm Arctic winters have shrunk the deep ocean “refuges” of very cold water that protect snow crabs from predators like cod fish — causing populations to crash in the rich crabbing grounds of the Bering Strait and endangering the future of the Alaska industry, NPR reported.

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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