"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

We’re Running Out Of Water, And The World’s Powers Are Very Worried

In Uncategorized on April 16, 2016 at 3:23 pm
Mideast Yemen

A boy carries buckets filled with water from a public tap amid an acute shortage of water, on the outskirts of Sanaa, Yemen, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015. The war has taken a heavy toll on Yemen. More than 4,000 people have been killed, and the humanitarian crisis has left the impoverished country on the brink of famine. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

Oldspeak: “Yeah. That’s still happening. While politricians quibble about tax returns and wall street and gun regulations. Humanity is running out of fresh water sources. Wars that have been blamed on “murdering tyrants” and “terrorists” in Yemen, Syria, Libya and other water-starved regions are intensifying and the scores of climate refugees streaming into Europe only grow more vast.  This is a civilization ceasing predicament that grows worse by the day. And we’re actively exacerbating the predicament with our way of being. Just not sustainable for much longer. Not sure about the veracity of the quote at the end of this piece though; how water scarcity will “leave the rich and powerful largely unaffected” There are only finite amounts of resources on this planet. Drilling deeper for water that isn’t there will become a reality for us all, regardless of socio-economic status.”-OSJ

Written By Nathan Halverson @ Reveal:

Secret conversations between American diplomats show how a growing water crisis in the Middle East destabilized the region, helping spark civil wars in Syria and Yemen, and how those water shortages are spreading to the United States.

Classified U.S. cables reviewed by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting show a mounting concern by global political and business leaders that water shortages could spark unrest across the world, with dire consequences.

Many of the cables read like diary entries from an apocalyptic sci-fi novel.

“Water shortages have led desperate people to take desperate measures with equally desperate consequences,” according to a 2009 cable sent by U.S. Ambassador Stephen Seche in Yemen as water riots erupted across the country.

On Sept. 22 of that year, Seche sent a stark message to the U.S. State Department in Washington relaying the details of a conversation with Yemen’s minister of water, who “described Yemen’s water shortage as the ‘biggest threat to social stability in the near future.’ He noted that 70 percent of unofficial roadblocks stood up by angry citizens are due to water shortages, which are increasingly a cause of violent conflict.”

Seche soon cabled again, stating that 14 of the country’s 16 aquifers had run dry. At the time, Yemen wasn’t getting much news coverage, and there was little public mention that the country’s groundwater was running out.

These communications, along with similar cables sent from Syria, now seem eerily prescient, given the violent meltdowns in both countries that resulted in a flood of refugees to Europe.

Groundwater, which comes from deeply buried aquifers, supplies the bulk of freshwater in many regions, including Syria, Yemen and drought-plagued California. It is essential for agricultural production, especially in arid regions with little rainwater. When wells run dry, farmers are forced to fallow fields, and some people get hungry, thirsty and often very angry.

The classified diplomatic cables, made public years ago by Wikileaks, now are providing fresh perspective on how water shortages have helped push Syria and Yemen into civil war, and prompted the king of neighboring Saudi Arabia to direct his country’s food companies to scour the globe for farmland. Since then, concerns about the world’s freshwater supplies have only accelerated.

It’s not just government officials who are worried. In 2009, U.S. Embassy officers visited  Nestle’s headquarters in Switzerland, where company executives, who run the world’s largest food company and are dependent on freshwater to grow ingredients, provided a grim outlook of the coming years. An embassy official cabled Washington with the subject line, “Tour D’Horizon with Nestle: Forget the Global Financial Crisis, the World Is Running Out of Fresh Water.”

“Nestle thinks one-third of the world’s population will be affected by fresh water scarcity by 2025, with the situation only becoming more dire thereafter and potentially catastrophic by 2050,” according to a March 24, 2009, cable. “Problems will be severest in the Middle East, northern India, northern China, and the western United States.”

At the time of that meeting, government officials from Syria and Yemen already had started warning U.S. officials that their countries were slipping into chaos as a result of water scarcity.

By September 2009, Yemen’s water minister told the U.S. ambassador that the water riots in his country were a “sign of the future” and predicted “that conflict between urban and rural areas over water will lead to violence,” according to the cables.

Less than two years later, rural tribesmen fought their way into Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, and seized two buildings: the headquarters of the ruling General People’s Congress and the main offices of the water utility. The president was forced to resign, and a new government was formed. But water issues continued to amplify long-simmering tensions between various religious groups and tribesmen, which eventually led to a full-fledged civil war.

Reveal reviewed a cache of water-related documents that included Yemen, Nestle and Saudi Arabia among the diplomatic documents made public by Wikileaks in 2010. Thomas Friedman, a columnist for The New York Times, found similar classified U.S. cables sent from Syria. Those cables also describe how water scarcity destabilized the country and helped spark a war that has sent more than 1 million refugees fleeing into Europe, a connection Friedman has continued to report.

The water-fueled conflicts in the Middle East paint a dark picture of a future that many governments now worry could spread around the world as freshwater supplies become increasingly scarce. The CIA, the State Department and similar agencies in other countries are monitoring the situation.

In the past, global grain shortages have led to rapidly increasing food prices, which analysts have attributed to sparking the Arab Spring revolution in several countries, and in 2008 pushed about 150 million people into poverty, according to the World Bank.

Water scarcity increasingly is driven by three major factors: Global warming is forecast to create more severe droughts around the world. Meat consumption, which requires significantly more water than a vegetarian or low-meat diet, is spiking as a growing middle class in countries such as China and India can afford to eat more pork, chicken and beef. And the world’s population continues to grow, with an expected 2 billion more stomachs to feed by 2050.

The most troubling signs of the looming threat first appeared in the Middle East, where wells started running dry nearly 15 years ago. Having drained down their own water supplies, food companies from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere began searching overseas.

By buying land in America’s most productive ground for growing hay, which just happens to be a desert, Saudi Arabia’s largest dairy company now can grow food for its cows back home – all year long.

In Saudi Arabia, the push to scour the globe for water came from the top. King Abdullah decreed that grains such as wheat and hay would need to be imported to conserve what was left of the country’s groundwater. All wheat production in Saudi Arabia will cease this year, and other water-intensive crops such as hay are being phased out, too, the king ruled.

A classified U.S. cable from Saudi Arabia in 2008 shows that King Abdullah directed Saudi food companies to search overseas for farmland with access to freshwater and promised to subsidize their operations. The head of the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh concluded that the king’s goal was “maintaining political stability in the Kingdom.”

U.S. intelligence sources are quick to caution that while water shortages played a significant factor in the dissolution of Syria and Yemen, the civil wars ultimately occurred as a result of weak governance, high unemployment, religious differences and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in addition to water shortages.

For instance, the state of California has endured a record drought without suffering an armed coup to overthrow Gov. Jerry Brown.

But for less stable governments, severe water shortages are increasingly expected to cause political instability, according to the U.S. intelligence community.

In a 2014 speech, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said food and water scarcity are contributing to the “most diverse array of threats and challenges as I’ve seen in my 50-plus years in the intel business.

“As time goes on, we’ll be confronting issues I call ‘basics’ resources – food, water, energy, and disease – more and more as an intelligence community,” he said.

These problems are not just happening overseas, but already are leading to heated political issues in the United States. In the western part of the country, which Nestle forecast will suffer severe long-term shortages, tensions are heating up as Middle Eastern companies arrive to tap dwindling water supplies in California and Arizona.

Almarai, which is Saudi Arabia’s largest dairy company and has publicly said it’s following the king’s directive, began pumping up billions of gallons of water in the Arizona desert in 2014 to grow hay that it exports back to the Middle East. Analysts refer to this as exporting “virtual water.” It is more cost effective to use the Arizona water to irrigate land in America and ship the hay to Saudi Arabia rather than filling a fleet of oil tankers with the water.

Arizonans living near Almarai’s hay operation say their groundwater is dropping fast as the Saudis and other foreign companies increase production. They are now worried their domestic wells might suffer the same fate as those in Syria and Yemen.

In January, more than 300 people packed into a community center in rural La Paz County to listen to the head of the state’s water department discuss how long their desert aquifer would last.

Five sheriff’s deputies stood guard at the event to ensure the meeting remained civil – the Arizona Department of Water Resources had requested extra law enforcement, according to county Supervisor Holly Irwin.

“Water can be a very angry issue,” she said. “With people’s wells drying up, it becomes very personal.”

Peter Byck

Thomas Buschatzke, Arizona’s water director, defended the Saudi farm, saying it provides jobs and increases tax revenue. He added that “Arizona is part of the global economy; our agricultural industry generates billions of dollars annually to our state’s economy.”

But state officials admit they don’t know how long the area’s water will last, given the increased water pumping, and announced plans to study it.

“It’s gotten very emotional,” Irwin said. “When you see them drilling all over the place, I need to protect the little people.”

After the meeting, the state approved another two new wells for the Saudi company, each capable of pumping more than a billion gallons of water a year.

Back in Yemen in 2009, U.S. Ambassador Seche described how as aquifers were drained, and groundwater levels dropped lower, rich landowners drilled deeper and deeper wells. But everyday citizens did not have the money to dig deeper, and as their wells ran dry, they were forced to leave their land and livelihoods behind.

“The effects of water scarcity will leave the rich and powerful largely unaffected,” Seche wrote in the classified 2009 cable. “These examples illustrate how the rich always have a creative way of getting water, which not only is unavailable to the poor, but also cuts into the unreplenishable resources.”

This story was edited by Andrew Donohue and copy edited by Sheela Kamath.

Nathan Halverson can be reached at nhalverson@cironline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @eWords.

The Arctic Is Thawing Much Faster Than Expected, Scientists Warn

In Uncategorized on March 24, 2016 at 2:33 pm

1

NEWTOK, AK – JULY 06: The marshy, tundra landscape surrounding Newtok is seen from a plane on July 6, 2015 outside Newtok, Alaska. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

 

Oldspeak: Yeesh. More “faster than expected” news. Especially sobering on the heels of  last week’s news that Arctic sea ice volume is nearing a record low.  Consider these realities with the findings of an influential group of scientists led by James Hansen, who recently published a dire climate study that suggests the impact of global warming will be quicker and more catastrophic than generally envisioned. When you throw in the little nugget that faster than expected thawing permafrost is likely to trigger methane releases that will offset any human attempts at “mitigation”, it gets a little more clear how proper fucked we are.  Are we beginning to see a pattern here people? Ecological change is happening far faster than climate models predict. There’s nothing we can do to stop it, in fact, we are still trying to figure out just what the fuck is going on….What a shitshow it will be when our Great Mother’s air conditioner goes Kaput.”-OSJ

Written By Chris Mooney @ The Washington Post:

Amid blowout warm temperatures in the Arctic this year, two new studies have amplified concerns about one of the wild cards of a warming planet — how quickly warming Arctic soils could become major contributors of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, causing still greater warming.

In a major international study published last week in Nature Geoscience, a team of researchers from regions ranging from Alaska to Russia report that permafrost is thawing faster than expected — even in some of the very coldest areas.

In these regions, winter freezing cracks open the ground, which then fills with water in the summer from melting snow. When refreezing occurs in the winter, that causes large wedges of ice to form amid the icy ground. These ice wedges can extend ten or fifteen meters deep, and can in some cases be thousands of years old.

But the study, sampling high Arctic sites in Russia, Alaska, and Canada based on both field studies and satellite observations, found that across the Arctic, the tops of these wedges are melting, as the top layer of permafrost soil — which itself lies beneath a so-called “active layer” of soil that freezes and thaws regularly — also begins to thaw. “Landscape-wide ice-wedge degradation was observed at ten out of eleven sites,” the paper reported.

“At the places where we have sufficient amounts of data we are seeing this process happen in less than a decade and even after one warm summer,” says Anna Liljedahl, the lead author of the study and a researcher at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.

“The scientific community has had the assumption that this cold permafrost would be protected from climate warming, but we’re showing here that the top of the permafrost, even if it’s very cold, is very sensitive to these warming events,” Liljedahl continues.

The new study focuses specifically on the consequences of this ice wedge degradation for the region’s hydrology. The melting of ice wedges redistributes water on a massive scale. It can flow out of the landscape and into rivers and the Arctic Ocean, says Liledahl. Or it pools in lakes.

However, the real implication is far broader, says Liledahl’s co-author Ken Tape, also a professor at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. “It’s the first study where these features and changes have been documented across the Arctic,” Tape says. “We’ve had occasional studies where they look at one place. That’s a lot different than saying it’s happening across the Arctic.”

“It’s a region that we thought up until recently would hold together a little bit better because there’s so much cold permafrost, and so much cold down deep,” Tape continues. “I think the idea was that it will be more stable than this.”

The degrading of permafrost in this way won’t just affect water, but also the planet’s atmosphere, says another of Liljedahl’s co-authors, the permafrost expert Vladimir Romanovsky, also of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. “The degradation of ice wedges shows that upper part of permafrost is thawing, and thawing of the upper part of permafrost definitely is producing additional greenhouse gases,” he says.

The problem is that as these frozen soils thaw, even for part of the year, microorganisms living within them can begin to break down dead but preserved plant life from eons past, and release their carbon in the form of carbon dioxide or methane. Romanovsky says he thinks that the Earth’s atmosphere already contains more greenhouse gases than it might otherwise due to this thawing.

It has been estimated that Arctic permafrost contains roughly twice as much total carbon in its frozen depths as the entire planetary atmosphere does, because these landscapes have slowly stored it up over vast time periods.

And it’s not just carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that results — the melting of ice wedges leads to sinking ground and a bumpy, denatured landscape that impairs Arctic transportation and infrastructure. “Instead of having a relatively smooth landscape, which is really easy to drive a snowmachine on, you create this bumpy landscape, with bumps that could become a meter or two high,” says Liljedahl.

There have been at least some arguments that there may be other factors that offset permafrost carbon emissions. Some have suggested, for instance, that more plants will grow in the warmer Arctic, sequestering more carbon, and that this will help offset permafrost losses.

But in the second study, just published in Environmental Research Letters, an expert assessment of nearly 100 Arctic scientists found little reason to believe there will be any factor that offsets permafrost emissions enough to reduce the level of worry.

The expert assessment led to the conclusion that, as the paper puts it, “Arctic and boreal biomass should not be counted on to offset permafrost carbon release and suggests that the permafrost region will become a carbon source to the atmosphere by 2100 regardless of warming scenario.”

These studies of permafrost are critical because of the underlying math of the climate change problem. There is a hard limit to how many greenhouse gases can be emitted if we want to avoid a given level of warming — say, 1.5 degrees Celsius or 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Researchers have even quantified the latter limit, suggesting we can’t emit more than 1,000 billion tons, or gigatons, of carbon dioxide from 2011 and on if we want a two thirds or better chance of staying below 2 degrees C. The inevitable result is an extremely tight planetary carbon budget for the coming years.

Permafrost has the potential to upend all of that. The last thing the world needs, as it creaks into action to reduce emissions, is the emergence of a major new source of them, brought on by warming itself. Yet that’s exactly what we’re talking about here.

Granted, precisely how much carbon permafrost can emit and how fast that can happen remain big uncertainties. But given current scientific understanding, it could easily be well over 100 gigatons of carbon dioxide by the end of the century, or one tenth of the remaining carbon budget. In fact, it could be more than that.

“Ten percent is really something that you have to be aware and include it in any kind of projections of changes in greenhouse gases,” said Romanovsky. “And I would say at this point it is still slow, but with further warming, probably by mid-century, these emissions will be much more.”

 

 

“It’s a train running downhill, and the hill is getting steeper.” – Greenland’s Darkening Ice Is Melting Faster

In Uncategorized on March 17, 2016 at 6:26 pm
CROP-greenland-ice-sensor-800x400

A scientist launches a measuring sensor into a meltwater river on the surface of the Greenland ice sheet. Image: NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre via Flickr

Oldspeak: “A scientist providing an eloquent metaphor for the intractable predicament that is Earth’s ongoing and accelerating 6th Mass extinction.  It’s noted in the article below that the estimates mentioned in it are conservative. Translation: expect change faster than expected. The ever speedier melting of the Greenland ice sheet is one of a constellation of irreversible non-linear positive feedback loops that have been triggered, are accelerating, and cannot be stopped. And boooy  it’s DOOSY. Melted Greenland means 20 ft of global sea level rise, and quite a bit more on the U.S. and Canadian east coast, because, well lets face it, we kinna fucking deserve to be drowned in our golden bathtub. ” -OSJ

Written By Tim Radford @ Climate News Network:

LONDON, 8 March, 2016 – Greenland is getting darker. Climatology’s great white hope, the biggest block of ice in the northern hemisphere, is losing its reflectivity.

According to new research, the island’s dusty snows are absorbing ever more solar radiation, which is likely to accelerate the rate at which the icecap melts.

The Greenland icecap covers 1.7 million square kilometres and contains enough ice to raise sea levels by seven metres. Right now, the rate of melting is on the increase, and meltwater flowing off the icecap could be raising sea levels by 0.6mm a year.

A powerful contributing factor, scientists report in The Cryosphere journal, could be that the ice has darkened over the last two decades. By 2100, the albedo – the climatologists’ term for the reflectivity of rock, sand, water or ice – could have fallen by 10%.

Feedback loop

Soot blown in from wildfires further south – already fingered as one of the suspects by previous studies – may be part of the problem, but the researchers have a more complex agency in mind: the feedback loop.

In the summer, the surface ice starts to melt. As the top layers trickle away, old impurities are exposed, darkening the surface and making it more sun-receptive. As the snow freezes again, the grains of snow get bigger – as water becomes ice, it makes a glue for the snow grains – and the bigger grains make a less reflective surface.

Greenland still looks icy and snowy, and enough optical light is reflected to make snow-blindness a danger. But in the infra-red region of the spectrum − where the global warming happens in the thickening soup of greenhouse gases − it’s a different story.

“You don’t necessarily have to have a ‘dirtier’ snowpack to make it dark,” says the study’s leader, Marco Tedesco, founder of the Cryospheric Processes Laboratory, which is now based at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

“A snowpack that might look ‘clean’ to our eyes can be more effective in absorbing solar radiation than a dirty one. Overall, what matters is the total amount of solar energy that the surface absorbs. This is the real driver of melting.”

“As warming continues, the feedback from declining
albedo will add up. It’s a train running
downhill, and the hill is getting steeper”

The latest study is not likely to settle the question of the future of the Greenland ice cap, if only because repeated studies keep delivering different conclusions.

Overall, climate scientists are increasingly sure that global climate change, as a consequence of global warming driven by ever-higher carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere – itself a consequence of ever greater combustion of fossil fuels – is to blame. But big questions remain.

How much of the surface meltwater makes it to the ocean? What is going on where the ice meets the bedrock? And why have the glaciers started to accelerate on their journey towards the sea? What is the role of the warming ocean? Do clouds play a part?

Nevertheless,  the darkening of the snows remains a potentially powerful contributing factor.

Summertime changes

The Cryosphere science team used satellite information to compare summertime changes in Greenland’s albedo from 1981 to 2012. The darkening started around 1996 and the ice began absorbing 2% more radiation per decade.

On the other hand, the Global Fire Emissions Database revealed no statistically significant increase in soot released by forest fires in the northern hemisphere that could account for such darkening during that period, so questions remain.

But, over the same period, summer near-surface temperatures in Greenland increased by 0.74°C per decade to help accelerate the feedback. Computer models were used to settle the questions of grain size and albedo. Over the entire ice sheet, average albedo will fall by 8% over the rest of this century, and by as much as 10% on the western edge.

Professor Tedesco thinks these are conservative estimates. Global warming will mean more precipitation. As well as the winter snow, there will be more summer rain, which would also speed up melting. As average global temperatures creep up, higher altitudes are more likely to warm and melt.

“As warming continues, the feedback from declining albedo will add up,” he says. “It’s a train running downhill, and the hill is getting steeper.” – Climate News Network

 

 

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