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“Essentially The Walking Dead”: Study Shows Earth’s 6th Great Mass Extinction Happening Faster Than 5 Previous; Humans “very likely” To Be Among First Wave Of Species To Go Extinct

In Uncategorized on June 30, 2015 at 2:07 pm
An irrigation canal near a parched field in Manteca, Calif., April 24, 2015. California's drought has made the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta's limited supply of fresh water, which helps feed more than three million acres of farmland, a central battle zone between farmers and environmentalists. (Jim Wilson/The New York Times)

An irrigation canal near a parched field in Manteca, California, April 24, 2015. California’s drought has made the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta’s limited supply of freshwater, which helps feed more than 3 million acres of farmland, a central battle zone between farmers and environmentalists. (Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Oldspeak:”[The study] shows without any significant doubt that we are now entering the sixth great mass extinction event. There are examples of species all over the world that are essentially the walking dead.” –Dr. Paul Ehrlich, Bing professor of population studies in biology and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

Life would take many millions of years to recover, and our species itself would likely disappear early on…. We emphasize that our calculations very likely underestimate the severity of the extinction crisis.” –Dr. Gerardo Ceballos, Universidad Autónoma de México

“Yep. This is where we’re at. Esteemed scientists talking matter of factly about the unprecedented accelerated rate of this Mass Extinction event; estimating that humans will likely be among the 1st to go. Emphasizing that their calculations, horrific as they are are likely underestimating the severity of the extinction crisis. A celebrated scientist regarding humans efforts to save the planet as as “foolish and romantic extravagance.” While technocrats cut funding for climate research, and limit Environmental Protection Agency efforts to curb toxic fossil fuel emissions. We’re fucked. We’re The Walking Dead. We’re the zombies, mindlessly and hedonistically shuffling about, dimly aware of the world around us, insatiable in our desires for more, bigger, faster, being “productive”, “efficient”, “hacking” our lives to squeeze more work out of ourselves to accumulate more sense-pleasuring things and stuff. This is unsustainable and omnicidal. Is this the way you want to live your last days on this plane of existence? I invite You to choose to spend these last hours here doing & consuming less; instead being & loving more. Endeavoring to be in a place of mindfulness, wonder, reverence, gratitude and acceptance of all that exists.” –OSJ

Written By Dahr Jamail @ Truthout:

At the end of May, a few friends and I opted to climb a couple of the larger volcanoes in Washington State. We started on Mount Adams, a 12,280-foot peak in the southern part of the state.

We were able to drive to the Cold Springs Campground at 5,600 feet, where the climb would begin. This itself was an anomaly for late May, when the dirt road tended to still be covered with snowpack. But not this year, one in which Washington’s Gov. Jay Inslee has already declared a statewide drought emergency, given this year’s record-low snowpack.

To see more stories like this, visit “Planet or Profit?”

In fact, we hiked up bare earth until around 7,500 feet before we even had to don our crampons (metal spikes that attach to climbing boots to improve traction), itself another anomaly. During a short visit to the Forest Service ranger station the day before, the ranger had informed us that we were already experiencing mid- to late-August conditions, though it wasn’t yet June.

A few days later and much further north on Mount Baker, a 10,781-foot glacial-clad volcano not far from the border of Canada, we experienced the same thing. We camped on terra firma at around 5,500 feet, in an area that normally would have found us camping on several feet of snowpack. When we headed up the peak, the route was already in late season (August) conditions. We found ourselves having to navigate around several large open crevasses where snow bridges that had offered access had already collapsed due to rising temperatures and melting snow.

During our descent after visiting the summit, two of my climbing partners punched through snow bridges over crevasses, and the lower part of the route was more like a Slurpee than a glacier. I would not have wanted to be on the mountain a day later than we were.

The signs of the increasing rapidity and intensification of our warming planet are all around us. And bigger-picture reports, studies and warnings are multiplying every day.

If current rates of ACD continue, “Life would take many millions of years to recover, and our species itself would likely disappear early on.”

NASA recently released its global temperature data for the month of May, and it was 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit above the norm. The agency’s data also revealed that 2015 has had the hottest five months of any year ever recorded. As of right now, 2015 is already hotter than last year, according to NASA; in fact, if it stays on the same track, it will be the hottest year ever recorded for the planet.

Things are bad enough that President Obama’s science adviser issued a warning that anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) is currently barreling forward so quickly that the entire state of California could be “overwhelmed”: The state’s efforts to adapt will be unable to keep pace with the rapidly intensifying developments on the ground. Essentially, this means the state does not have the financial nor physical resources to keep pace with rising seas, drought and wildfires that are all becoming the norm there.

Scientists like Bill Nye (“the Science Guy”) are warning us to expect even more weather extremes as ACD progresses. For example, they predict the recent deluge of rain and flooding in Texas will become the norm for that state going forward.

A study recently published in Nature Climate Change has shown that if carbon dioxide and methane emissions are not dramatically cut extremely rapidly, ACD is set to bring about the most dramatic and encompassing rearrangement of ocean species in at least the last 3 million years. For example, the study shows that by 2100, the polar regions, which currently host some of the most diverse and widespread sea life on the planet, will likely be drained of much of their marine life.

It’s not news that Arctic sea ice is melting at a record-breaking pace and that the odds of there being summer ice-free periods by next year are high. But an interesting twist resulting from this development is that this thinning Arctic ice, along with a lack of air support, has officially forced an end to trekking expeditions to the North Pole this year … and quite likely, forever.

All of these changes are portentous.

However, the most important development this month is clearly a recently published study in Science that states, unequivocally, that the planet has officially entered its sixth mass extinction event. The study showed that species are already being killed off at rates much faster than they were during the other five extinction events, and warned ominously that humans could very likely be among the first wave of species going extinct.

The lead author of the study, Gerardo Ceballos of the Universidad Autónoma de México, told reporters that if current rates of ACD, deforestation and pollution are allowed to continue, “Life would take many millions of years to recover, and our species itself would likely disappear early on.”

Another alarming feature of the study is that it is admittedly conservative. On page three it states: “We emphasize that our calculations very likely underestimate the severity of the extinction crisis.”

Study co-author Paul Ehrlich, a Bing professor of population studies in biology and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, told Stanford News, “[The study] shows without any significant doubt that we are now entering the sixth great mass extinction event. There are examples of species all over the world that are essentially the walking dead.”

As we explore ACD’s impact upon the four quadrants of the planet this month, we see developments that certainly confirm the aforementioned report’s findings.

Earth

As warming from ACD continues to fuel increases in diseases and pests, moose in North America are dying by the thousands, according to a recent scientific report.

Another report revealed recently that the warming waters in Long Island Sound are dramatically altering fish populations, as summer flounder and sea bass that usually prefer warm water are now appearing in the northern locale.

As California’s mega-drought lumbers on, redwoods and other iconic trees in that state are now dying in record numbers. As one example, Monterey pines – in one area that covers nearly 15 square acres – are already as much as 90 percent dead.

Even more disturbing is a recent report that polar bears have been seen killing and eating dolphins. That in itself isn’t news, but the fact that it happened this spring, instead of during the warmer summer months, has never been seen before.

Water

Recent NASA data has given us some remarkable graphics that show how the world’s aquifers are losing their water at “alarming” rates, according to scientists. The data shows that more than half of the planet’s 37 largest aquifers are being depleted. Given that the groundwater reserves take thousands of years to accumulate, one of the scientists described the situation as “critical.”

São Paulo, Brazil, a mega-city of over 20 million people, has been pushed to the verge of severe water rationing, as its largest water reservoir is on pace to dry up completely by August.

In Chile, most of the ski areas have completely bare slopes. Santiago, which sits below all the ski resorts, has seen a scant 1.2 centimeters of rain this year, which is a jaw-dropping 86 percent less than normal.

North Korea is facing its worst drought in recorded history, which has sparked fears of a worsening of already severe food shortages.

The worst regional drought in nearly 10 years is hammering southern Africa, causing Zimbabweans to go hungry as crop failure has become rampant. The drought threatens to persist.

Meanwhile Nicaragua, the country with the most abundant water sources in its region (it even has the word “agua” as part of its very name), is experiencing one of its worst water shortages in five decades.

California’s drought has taken at least a $2.7 billion toll on the state’s agriculture.

In the United States, a record drought in Oklahoma has given wheat farmers there a glimpse of what is to come, although recent wet weather has ended the drought for now. Scientists are warning that the region should brace itself for a growing number of hotter, drier days in the future.

Farms in Utah are being wracked by drought, as officials in that state have begun rationing water, causing farmers there to worry about even more cutbacks as summer progresses.

In California, the Salton Sea – the largest lake in the state – is drying out of existence, giving us another indicator of how deep the drought is now embedded in the state’s climate.

In monetary terms, a recent report shows that California’s drought has taken at least a $2.7 billion toll on the state’s agriculture. Obviously, that number is sure to continue to rise.

As is happening globally now, residents in some towns in central California are suffering from a health crisis that stems from not having running water and breathing increasingly dusty air, due to the drought. Respiratory problems are becoming rampant throughout the state.

In Canada, John Pomeroy, the director of the Centre for Hydrology at the University of Saskatchewan, recently spent time high up in the Rocky Mountains, along the British Columbia-Alberta divide. He witnessed clear signs of the highly damaging drought plaguing his country. Due to record dry spells, dramatically decreased river flows and the shortage of runoff water, Pomeroy said that western Canada is likely in the midst of a long-term drought.

The flip side of the water climate coin is flooding. In the United States, unprecedented amounts of rainfall across Texas and Oklahoma recently are evidence of what happens when a warming atmosphere becomes saturated with more water vapor than it used to be able to hold: yet another harbinger of our future.

By the end of the century, it is feasible that Mount Everest could be entirely without glaciers.

Thus, it comes as no surprise that the latest National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report showed that this May was the wettest month ever recorded in the United States, despite the mega-drought in California and the West. Obviously, scientists have linked these phenomena to ACD.

Dramatic changes are happening in most of the planet’s highest places, given the rapidly accelerating melting of glaciers. Even Mount Everest, the highest point on earth, is witnessing massive changes. A recent report in the journal The Cryosphere found that thousands of glaciers across the Himalayas will likely shrink by 70 to 99 percent by 2100.

Thus, by the end of the century, it is feasible that Mount Everest could be entirely without glaciers.

Another recent study linked intensifying weather events – like the extreme cold that wracked the eastern United States last winter and spring, along with the record flooding that hit Britain – to the rapid loss of Arctic ice. This doesn’t bode well, as the Arctic summer sea ice will likely begin to vanish entirely for short periods, starting as early as next summer.

A unique photography project in Alaska has captured ACD impacts over time in a stunning way. The photos are hard to look at, but everyone should see them. They represent a kind of before-and-after view of what ACD is doing to one of the most beautiful areas on the planet. The project shows dramatically reduced glacial coverage in multiple areas of Alaska, including areas that used to be heavily glaciated, which are now completely ice-free.

The project became even more relevant when a recent report was published that shows how glaciers in Alaska have lost 75 gigatons (75 billion metric tons) of ice per year, from 1994 through 2013.

In comparison, this number is roughly half of the amount of ice loss for all of Antarctica (159 billion metric tons). This new data also indicates that the Alaska region alone likely contributed several millimeters to the global sea level rise in the past few decades.

Air

The changing chemistry of the planet’s atmosphere is causing new positive feedback loops to occur. For example, in Mexico City, warmer temperatures are exacerbating the already horrible smog in that mega-city, as higher temperatures mean that industrial pollutants are released more rapidly into the air.

Another recent report from NASA begins with this worrisome observation: “In the third week of May, it was warmer in Fairbanks, Alaska, than in Washington, DC. The small town of Eagle, Alaska, was hotter on May 23 than it has been on any day in Houston or Dallas this year. In what has become a frequent occurrence in the past few years, temperature profiles in North America appeared to be upside down.”

The report, titled “Baked Alaska,” includes a fascinating temperature anomaly map, and notes:

On May 23, the air temperature at Fairbanks International Airport reached 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius), breaking the record of 80°F (26.7°C) from 2002. That same day, thermometers hit 91°F (32.8°C) in Eagle, marking the earliest 90-degree day in state history. The town had nine consecutive days above 80°F. In Barrow, Alaska, on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, temperatures climbed to 47°F on May 21, close to 18°F above normal. Temperatures normally do not reach that high until mid-June.

Thus, not surprisingly, Alaska had its hottest May in recorded history.

India, ranked as the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, recently had to cope with one of the single deadliest heat waves to ever have hit the country, which killed over 2,500 people. The heat wave was at least the fourth deadliest in world history.

“Let us not fool ourselves that there is no connection between the unusual number of deaths from the ongoing heat wave and the certainty of another failed monsoon,” Harsh Vardhan, India’s earth sciences minister, told Reuters. “It’s not just an unusually hot summer; it is climate change.”

As the heat and death toll continued to rise in India, scientists asked if this was really a glimpse of earth’s future: a planet rife with skyrocketing temperatures and the human impacts to match.

Lastly in this section, a recent study published in Geophysical Research Letters shows that the warming generated by carbon dioxide released by burning coal exceeds the heat generated by said combustion in a mere 34 days. In other words, ACD does not take years or decades for its impacts to be felt, as was previously believed: Changes can happen alarmingly quickly.

Fire

As wildfires burn out of control from southern California all the way up the West Coast of the United States and across Alaska, a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists is worth highlighting. The group has warned of the direct links between ACD and drier soil, less moisture, changing precipitation levels and patterns, droughts, and the increasing frequency and severity of wildfires. Scientists emphasize that the connection between the fires and ACD must be recognized and confronted.

Denial and Reality

This month, the voices of climate denial did not fail to disappoint.

Not surprisingly, shareholders of the top two largest US oil companies, Exxon and Chevron, recently rejected proposals to add directors with expertise in studying ACD to their boards. It’d be bad for profits, of course.

The oil giants got some help from the US House of Representatives, which this month passed a bill that would make funding cuts to climate research done by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

On the other hand, Pope Francis let loose on ACD deniers in his recently released encyclical, in which he stated unequivocally that “the bulk of global warming” is anthropogenic, and called on everyone to take steps to mitigate the damage by reducing consumption and reliance upon fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, another recently published report has shown that as carbon dioxide levels continue to increase over time, the planet will become progressively less able to sequester carbon dioxide in the soil or deep in the oceans, as both carbon sinks become supersaturated.

“If all of the carbon of permafrost was released, at that point, this is not going to be a habitable planet for humans.”

A climate researcher with the Woods Hole Research Center, Susan Natali, recently told a reporter that as global temperatures continue to increase, thawing permafrost is releasing larger amounts of carbon dioxide and methane, which of course cause temperatures to warm even further. Thus, the positive feedback loop feeds upon itself, a phenomenon that underpins runaway ACD.

“If all of the carbon of permafrost was released, at that point, this is not going to be a habitable planet for humans,” Natali warned.

All of this information, taken together, paints an increasingly bleak scene for the planet and its species – including, of course, humans.

This could be why James Lovelock, the celebrated scientist and environmentalist who created the Gaia hypothesis, recently stated, “Saving the planet is a foolish, romantic extravagance.”

He added that as climate disruption spins further out of control, “The civilizations of the northern hemisphere would be utterly destroyed, no doubt about it. But it would give life elsewhere a chance to recover. I think actually that Gaia might heave a sigh of relief.”

“What are we supposed to do, just have dirt around our house on four acres?”: Rich Californians Balk At limits, Increase Water Use By 9%

In Uncategorized on June 24, 2015 at 4:02 pm

Riley, a Labrador Retriever, plays in a pool at a residence in Rancho Santa Fe, California. (Sandy Huffaker/The Washington Post)

Oldspeak:”I think we’re being overly penalized, and we’re certainly being overly scrutinized by the world… You could put 20 houses on my property, and they’d have families of at least four. In my house, there is only two of us, so they’d be using a hell of a lot more water than we’re using.” -Gay Butler, Interior Designer, Rancho Santa Fe, California

“Interesting piece. While the attitudes of people like this well-to-do party member are abominable and ignorant, They are completely predictable and logical, for persons reared, nurtured, educated, and benefiting disproportionately unquestioning, within a system of infinite growth and consumption. These people have internalized the world view of their oppressor; Inverted Corptalitarian Kleptocracy or Industrial Civilization.  What’s left unsaid is how these people reflect, the nature of the life-extinguishing culture and environment in which they live. Also unsaid is how insignificant the actions of these people and most people is when compared to the actions of our most spoiled and privileged “citizens”:  energy, agribusiness, and water bottling corporations who consume and poison more water than any actually citizen could, and have had none of the usage restrictions placed on them, that have been placed on humans. No questioning of the suicidal implications of this decision. No attention is drawn to the ongoing and ever expanding extraction and destruction of irreplaceably essential resources for a “profit” by said “citizens”. In the context of the destruction of our world, we have to at least wonder, is profit worth most all that lives on earth?” -OSJ

Written By Rob Kuznia @ The Washington Post:

Drought or no drought, Steve Yuhas resents the idea that it is somehow shameful to be a water hog. If you can pay for it, he argues, you should get your water.

People “should not be forced to live on property with brown lawns, golf on brown courses or apologize for wanting their gardens to be beautiful,” Yuhas fumed recently on social media. “We pay significant property taxes based on where we live,” he added in an interview. “And, no, we’re not all equal when it comes to water.”

Yuhas lives in the ultra-wealthy enclave of Rancho Santa Fe, a bucolic Southern California hamlet of ranches, gated communities and country clubs that guzzles five times more water per capita than the statewide average. In April, after Gov. Jerry Brown (D) called for a 25 percent reduction in water use, consumption in Rancho Santa Fe went up by 9 percent.

But a moment of truth is at hand for Yuhas and his neighbors, and all of California will be watching: On July 1, for the first time in its 92-year history, Rancho Santa Fe will be subject to water rationing.

“It’s no longer a ‘You can only water on these days’ ” situation, said Jessica Parks, spokeswoman for the Santa Fe Irrigation District, which provides water service to Rancho Santa Fe and other parts of San Diego County. “It’s now more of a ‘This is the amount of water you get within this billing period. And if you go over that, there will be high penalties.’ ”

So far, the community’s 3,100 residents have not felt the wrath of the water police. Authorities have issued only three citations for violations of a first round of rather mild water restrictions announced last fall. In a place where the median income is $189,000, where PGA legend Phil Mickelson once requested a separate water meter for his chipping greens, where financier Ralph Whitworth last month paid the Rolling Stones $2 million to play at a local bar, the fine, at $100, was less than intimidating.

All that is about to change, however. Under the new rules, each household will be assigned an essential allotment for basic indoor needs. Any additional usage — sprinklers, fountains, swimming pools — must be slashed by nearly half for the district to meet state-mandated targets.

Residents who exceed their allotment could see their already sky-high water bills triple. And for ultra-wealthy customers undeterred by financial penalties, the district reserves the right to install flow restrictors — quarter-size disks that make it difficult to, say, shower and do a load of laundry at the same time.

In extreme cases, the district could shut off the tap altogether.

The restrictions are among the toughest in the state, and residents of Rancho Santa Fe are feeling aggrieved.

“I think we’re being overly penalized, and we’re certainly being overly scrutinized by the world,” said Gay Butler, an interior designer out for a trail ride on her show horse, Bear. She said her water bill averages about $800 a month.

“It angers me because people aren’t looking at the overall picture,” Butler said. “What are we supposed to do, just have dirt around our house on four acres?”

Rancho Santa Fe residents are hardly the only Californians facing a water crackdown. On Friday, the state said it would impose sharp cutbacks on senior water rights dating back to the Gold Rush for the first time in four decades, a move that primarily hits farmers. And starting this month, all of California’s 400-plus water districts are under orders to reduce flow by at least 8 percent from 2013 levels.

Top water users such as Rancho Santa Fe are required to cut consumption by 36 percent. Other areas in the 36-percent crosshairs include much of the Central Valley, a farming region that runs up the middle of the state, and Orange County, a ritzy Republican stronghold between San Diego and Los Angeles.

“I call it the war on suburbia,” said Brett Barbre, who lives in the Orange County community of Yorba City, another exceptionally wealthy Zip code.

Barbre sits on the 37-member board of directors of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, a huge water wholesaler serving 17 million customers. He is fond of referring to his watering hose with Charlton Heston’s famous quote about guns: “They’ll have to pry it from my cold, dead hands.”

“California used to be the land of opportunity and freedom,” Barbre said. “It’s slowly becoming the land of one group telling everybody else how they think everybody should live their lives.”

Jurgen Gramckow, a sod farmer north of Los Angeles in Ventura County, agrees. He likens the freedom to buy water to the freedom to buy gasoline.

“Some people have a Prius; others have a Suburban,” Gramckow said. “Once the water goes through the meter, it’s yours.”

Yuhas, who hosts a conservative talk-radio show, abhors the culture of “drought-shaming” that has developed here since the drought began four years ago, especially the aerial shots of lavish lawns targeted for derision on the local TV news.

“I’m a conservative, so this is strange, but I defend Barbra Streisand’s right to have a green lawn,” said Yuhas, who splits his time between Rancho Santa Fe and Los Angeles. “When we bought, we didn’t plan on getting a place that looks like we’re living in an African savanna.”

Others are embarrassed by such defiance. Parks of the Sante Fe Irrigation District said she was mortified when the report came out earlier this month showing that Rancho Santa Fe had increased its water use — the only community in the region to do so.

“I kind of take it personally,” she said last week as she toured the community in an SUV bearing the water district’s logo.

Parks said she doesn’t know exactly what happened, but she has heard rumors that some people jacked up their water use in a misguided attempt to increase their baseline before rationing kicks in. With sprinkler restrictions already in place, she said the dynamic between local gardeners and her small team of enforcers is getting interesting.

“Everyone seems now to know what our cars look like,” she said. In Fairbanks Ranch, a gated community, “whenever one of our trucks go in, the gardeners all seem to call each other — text-message each other — to let them know that we’ve arrived. So then all of a sudden we see water kind of draining off the property but no sprinklers on.”

Because the restrictions that took effect in September didn’t register, the district further tightened the screws this month. Sprinkler days were reduced from three a week to two, while car-washing and garden fountains were banned altogether.

Holly Manion, a real estate agent who has lived on the Ranch, as it’s often called, for most of her 62 years, supports the restrictions. Although Manion cherishes the landscape of manicured lawns and burbling fountains that has long defined the Ranch, she thinks the drought requires a new way of life that emphasizes water conservation.

“Just take a drive around the area. You’ll see lakes low, rivers dry and hillsides parched,” Manion said, adding that she is appalled by people who tolerate leaking sprinklers and the resulting cascades of wasted water.

“There are people, they aren’t being responsible,” she said. “They’re just thinking of their own lives.”

Ann Boon, president of the Rancho Santa Fe Association, insists that most residents are taking the drought seriously. She said she was shocked by the reported 9 percent increase, arguing that it “must be some anomaly.”

“Everybody has been trying to cut back,” she said.

For example, many Rancho Santa Fe residents have enthusiastically embraced drought-tolerant landscaping. Manion took advantage of a rebate to rip out much of the turf on her three-acre property and replace it with succulents and decomposed-granite pathways. She left only a small patch of grass for her two dogs to play on.

“It makes me happy when I look at it, because it’s thriving,” she said.

Butler said she, too, is replacing grass with drought-friendly native landscaping on her four acres, at a cost of nearly $80,000. (She’ll get a rebate for about $12,000.) But she came to the decision grudgingly, she said. And she defends the amount of water she and her neighbors need for their vast estates.

“You could put 20 houses on my property, and they’d have families of at least four. In my house, there is only two of us,” Butler said. So “they’d be using a hell of a lot more water than we’re using.”

Rancho Santa Fe resident Randy Woods was feeling burdened by his lush landscape and opted to downsize. The 60-something chief executive of a biotech company moved a year ago from a two-acre estate — replete with two waterfalls, two Jacuzzis, a swimming pool and an orchard — to a condo in the tiny core of town known as “the Village.”

Woods said some of his friends would like to do the same, largely to cut down on their bloated water bills. But they have encountered an unforeseen obstacle, he said: The drought has dampened demand for large estates in San ­Diego County.

Woods said his girlfriend is among those struggling to sell. Her home boasts a yard designed by Kate Sessions, a well-known landscape architect and botanist who died in 1940. But now, the rare palm tree specimens, the secret garden and the turret-shaped hedges are a liability rather than a selling point.

Another friend, Woods said, has seen the value of his nine-acre plot plummet from $30 million to $22 million.

As for Woods, his monthly water bill has shriveled from $500 to around $50.

“My friends,” he said, “are all jealous.”

“At some point those aquifers might run dry.”: NASA Study Indicates World Is Running Out Of Groundwater. Fast.

In Uncategorized on June 23, 2015 at 7:15 pm
Photos of India's Deadly, Street-Melting Heat Wave

A young boy, son of a laborer, walks to a water pump to fill his bottle with drinking water in Ghasera, on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, Wednesday, May 27, 2015. Photo: Saurabh Das/AP

Oldspeak: “As temperatures rise and conditions worsen, this existential crisis that is being largely ignored on corporate infotainment streams, will continue to become more severe. Climate refugees are streaming into Europe from a thoroughly parched Africa, though they’re being referred to as “migrants”. Expect the flow of “migrants” to increase as time passes and the heat goes up. The U.N. Deputy Secretary General, Jan Eliasson, recently said: “In 10 years, 2 billion people will be living in regions with absolute water scarcity. 2/3rds of the world will live under water stress conditions.” That syncs up with a 2013 survey of U.S. State water managers, where 40 of 50 managers said they expect to see current regional water shortages continue into at least the next decade. This is an intractable global problem. It affects all life on Earth. Yet water intensive agricultural, mining, energy and technological production industries plunder on, wholly committed to unsustainable systems of extraction, with little to no regard for regeneration, as though water resources are infinite. We waste and posion soooo much water in service to vulture capitalist profiteers. This ecocidal madness will only stop when there is no clean water left. Then what?.” -OSJ

Written By Gabriel Fisher @ Quartz:

The world is losing groundwater, fast.

That is the conclusion of a new study published by researchers at NASA, which drew on satellite data to quantify the stresses on aquifers. The researchers found that over the decade-long study of the 37 major aquifers worldwide, 21 experienced a depletion of their water supply. Especially alarming was the study’s finding that the Indus Basin aquifer, which supplies much of India’s water supply, has depleted rapidly.

“The potential consequences are pretty scary,” NASA scientist Matthew Roddell, a lead author of the study, tells Quartz. “At some point those aquifers might run dry.”

To measure the water level changes, the researchers studied the gravitational orbit of NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite caused by the shifting of earth’s mass. Because water is one of the larger and constantly shifting masses on earth, this allowed them to measure changes to groundwater supplies.

The researchers found that California’s Central Valley aquifer was the most depleted of all aquifers in the US, because Californians have relied more heavily on drawing groundwater as rain water has dissipated during California’s long drought.

While the study detected the change in groundwater levels, it could not quantify the amount of water remaining in the aquifers. Rodell said this would require drilling into the aquifers themselves, which he supports doing. “We should be monitoring and quantifying how much water is in these aquifers like we do with oil,” he says.

Preserving water in aquifers is especially problematic in agricultural areas like India, which relies heavily on water-intensive rice farming. According to Rodell, over 68% of our water supply is used for agriculture. But unlike, say, water used to cool a power plant, water used in agriculture is not recyclable, Rodell explains. “The people who are using the water don’t necessarily recognize that it will ever run out. It is used as a resource that will last forever,” Rodell says. If we continue with our current consumption practices, hesays,”these people and those farmers that rely on that water won’t have it anymore.”

One Photo Shows That We Have Destroyed Nature: Polar Bears Seen Killing & Eating Dolphins That Have Been Forced North By Global Warming

In Uncategorized on June 18, 2015 at 4:26 pm

Image shows apparently very hungry bears eating dolphins for the first time, before freezing the leftovers in the snow.

Oldspeak:”The worlds oceans are boiling, acidifying and deoxygenating. As a result dolphins are ending up in the fucking arctic ocean that used to be covered in ice to avoid the conditions in the tropics. Polar bears whose habitats are rapidly shrinking and food sources dying off, likely because the Ocean is turning into a fucking toxic soup, have had to resort to eating those dolphins and saving their carcasses for later in the snow. Yeeaaaaaah. That’s normal.O_o Just another day in paradise kids, nothin to see here! LOOK! There’s a Church Shooting! OOOH! Donald Trump is running for president. OMG that white woman thinks she’s black! Enjoy your regularly scheduled Infotainment.” -OSJ

By Andrew Griffin @ The U.K. Independent:

It marks the first time that bears have been seen killing and eating dolphins. Usually, the dolphins only go up north during the warmer summer — but this year they have arrived in spring.

The bears catch the dolphins in a similar way to the seals that they usually eat. Both animals keep holes in the ice which they use to come up and breathe from — at which point, if the bear is lucky, it will snatch them up and eat them.

The researchers observed the behaviour for the first time last year. At least six different bears have been seen eating the dolphins since then, scientists write in a new report, ‘White-beaked dolphins trapped in the ice and eaten by polar bears’.

After eating the dolphin, the bear seemed to cover it with ice so that it could be kept for later. Such behaviour is rare in polar bears, and could be a result of the animals not having enough to eat.

The authors of the study describe the bear as having “clearly visible ribs” and being “very skinny”.

The habitat of polar bears is shrinking drastically as the Arctic warms. As such, scientists expect to be able to observe them much less in the coming years.

The same global warming appears to be trapping the dolphins, leaving them stuck and so able to be caught by the bears.

“We suggest [the dolphins] were trapped in the ice after strong northerly winds the days before, and possibly killed when forced to surface for air at a small opening in the ice,” the authors of the study write. White-beaked dolphins tend to travel north to Svalbard during the warmer summer, but haven’t been reported so far north in the early Spring.

Usually, the Svalbard fjords and coast is covered by ice. But in the winter of 2013 and 2014, when the dolphins and bears were first seen together, they were ice free.

As The World Burns: 2015 On Pace To Be Hottest Year Ever Recorded; The Latest Global Temperature Data Are Breaking Records

In Uncategorized on June 16, 2015 at 9:02 pm
Road markings appear distorted as the asphalt starts to melt due to the high temperature in New Delhi, India, 27 May 2015.

Road markings appear distorted as the asphalt starts to melt due to the high temperature in New Delhi, India, 27 May 2015. Photograph: Harish Tyagi/EPA

Oldspeak:”I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise.” –The Narrator, Fight Club

By John Abraham @ The Guardian:

Just today, NASA released its global temperature data for the month of May 2015. It was a scorching 0.71°C (1.3°F) above the long-term average. It is also the hottest first five months of any year ever recorded. As we look at climate patterns over the next year or so, it is likely that this year will set a new all-time record. In fact, as of now, 2015 is a whopping 0.1°C (0.17°F) hotter than last year, which itself was the hottest year on record.

Below, NASA’s annual temperatures are shown. Each year’s results are shown as black dots. Some years are warmer, some are cooler and we never want to put too much emphasis on any single year’s temperature. I have added a star to show where 2015 is so far this year, simply off the chart. The last 12 months are at record levels as well. So far June has been very hot as well, likely to end up warmer than May.

Global surface temperature estimates from NASA GISS.
Global surface temperature estimates from NASA GISS.

So why talk about month temperatures or even annual temperatures? Isn’t climate about long-term trends?

First, there has been a lot of discussion of the so-called ‘pause.’ As I have pointed out many times here and in my own research, there has been no pause at all. We know this first by looking at the rate of energy gain within the oceans. But other recent publications, like ones I’ve written about have taken account of instrument and measurement quality and they too find no pause.

Second, there has been a lot of discussion of why models were running hotter than surface air temperatures. There was a real divergence for a while with most models suggesting more warming. Well with 2014 and 2015, we see that the models and actual surface temperatures are in very close agreement.

When we combine surface temperatures with ocean heat content, as seen below, a clear picture emerges. Warming is continuing at a rapid rate.

Global ocean heat content estimates from NOAA.
Global ocean heat content estimates from NOAA.

There is an emerging view that the so-called surface warming slowdown was caused from poor instrument coverage around the globe, volcanic eruptions, and a multi-year oscillation in the oceans. The issue of instrument coverage is being fixed as we speak.

But, any short term fluctuations can only temporarily influence the long term trend. In the ocean heat content image above, you might notice a slight change in the trend around 2005. The trend change has since disappeared; it was associated with the ocean oscillations I mentioned earlier.

The recent warming skyrocket has put the contrarians in a bad position. In 2013, when contrarian Christopher Monckton repeated a claim that temperatures might decrease by 0.5°C in two years, I challenged him to a $1000 bet. He never took that bet, but we can see he would have lost handily if he had.

More recently, contrarian Judith Curry was reported as warning about decades of cooling (or perhaps lack of warming) stretching out to the 2030s. We see that this prediction is not looking very likely. Other contrarians have made similar predictions and it makes one wonder how much evidence will have to pile up before they climb down.

Just a few months ago, Roy Spencer (another climate contrarian) claimed, “We are probably past the point of reaching a new peak temperature anomaly from the current El Niño, suggesting it was rather weak.” While it remains to be seen whether or not he is correct, his own data have shown an uptick in temperatures, and the most recent months have continued the very warm trend. Barring something really unusual, the trend will continue until the end of this year.

I asked climate expert Dr. Joe Romm, Founding Editor of Climate Progress for his thoughts. He reminds us,

Historically, the global temperature trend-line is more like a staircase than a ramp. It now appears we are headed for a step-jump in global temperatures that scientists have been expecting.

Let’s hope his prediction is wrong, but let’s plan for it to be correct.

Collapse Of Antarctic Ice Shelf Imminent, Sea Level Rising Faster Than Expected, Forests Dying & Emitting Carbon; Droughts Deepeing, Food Production Dropping, As Funding Is Cut For Earth Science

In Uncategorized on June 15, 2015 at 8:12 pm
(Photo: Iceberg via Shutterstock)

As human-caused climate disruption progresses, sea level rise is happening far faster than previously expected. (Photo: Iceberg via Shutterstock)

Oldspeak: “You know things are not good when forests, historically known as CO2 reducers, due to rising temperatures, switch to being carbon emitters. Ongoing and expanding droughts, more water rationing, more mass-die offs, increasing melting in polar regions, decreasing food production,  Dahr Jamail is back with his latest dispatch documenting Earth’s ongoing and ever accelerating 6th Mass Extinction. As usual, the news be shitty, and getting shittier by the day. Only Love remains.” -OSJ

By Dahr Jamail @ Truthout:

Recently, two friends and I attempted to climb Washington State’s beautiful, glacier-clad Mount Baker. Roped up while climbing up a glacier, roughly 1,500 feet below the summit, our route reached an impasse.

Given that it was technically early in the climbing season, and that we were on the standard route, we were dismayed to find a snow bridge spanning a 10-foot wide crevasse about to collapse. Finding no other way around the gaping void, we agreed to turn back and return another day.

After breaking down our camp and hiking out, we stopped off for a bite to eat in the nearby small town of Glacier, Washington. Our waitress told us of a friend of hers who worked in the Forest Service there, who told her that the area had, in the past year, “received the least amount of precipitation [that] it had for over 100 years.”

While planning our next trip to Mount Baker, one of my climbing partners spoke with a local guide who informed him that, despite the fact that it was only mid-May, “climbing conditions are already equivalent to what they usually are in mid- to late July … crevasses are opening up, and snow bridges are already melting out like it’s late season.”

Mountaineering in the throes of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), like the rest of life, is becoming increasingly challenging – as well as more dangerous.

The signs are all around us, every day now. All we need to do is open our eyes to the changes occurring in our regions. We need to look closely, and think about what is happening to the planet.

Now, zoom out with me for the bigger picture in this month’s Climate Disruption Dispatch, and brace yourself for some difficult news.

Changes in the Arctic Ocean have now become so profound that the region is entering what Norwegian scientists are calling “a new era.” They warn of “far-reaching implications” due to the switch from a permanent cover of thick ice to a new state in which thinner ice vanishes in the summer.

Meanwhile, sea level rise is now happening much faster than anyone had expected, according to a recently published study from climate scientists in Australia. The study showed that sea level rise has been accelerating over the last two decades.

NASA recently released a study that reveals that the planet’s polar regions are in the midst of a stunning transformation, and showed that the massive 10,000-year-old Larsen B ice shelf in Antarctica will soon completely collapse – perhaps as soon as 2020.

And these trends are on track to speed up, as March saw the global monthly average for atmospheric carbon dioxide hit 400.83 parts per million. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it was the first time the average surpassed 400 parts per million for an entire month since such measurements began in the late 1950s.

Earth

Starting on the earth and land front, the changes are coming fast and furiously.

A study released by researchers in Sweden and China revealed how ACD can seriously alter the prospects of survival for pretty much every living thing on the planet, and in particular birds. The researchers showed how in the last ice age there was a severe decline in the vast majority of the species studied, which is precisely what we are seeing currently. Massive numbers of species of birds are currently in dramatic decline.

A recent stark example of this is happening in Ohio, where birds are being devastated from the impacts of ACD, according to the Audubon Society’s top scientist, who expects things to get far worse.

In California, the ongoing megadrought is already responsible for having killed 12.5 million trees in that state’s national forests, according to scientists with the US Forest Service. The scientists expect the die-off to continue. “It is almost certain that millions more trees will die over the course of the upcoming summer as the drought situation continues and becomes ever more long term,” said biologist Jeffrey Moore, acting regional aerial survey program manager for the US Forest Service.

Recent research out of California also shows that forests there have actually become climate polluters, rather than carbon dioxide reducers, again due to ACD impacts. The study shows that greenhouse gases are billowing out of the state’s forests faster than they are being sucked back in, with ACD-amplified wildfires mostly to blame.

Across most of the drought-stricken western United States, wild animals are literally dying for water to drink, as they are now being forced to seek water and food in areas far outside their normal range, leading to large increases in deaths.

Another recent study shows that as ACD progresses, expanses of majestic forests across the planet will become short and scrubby, due to changes of fluid flow to the inner workings of vegetation.

Meanwhile, rising carbon dioxide levels and other ACD impacts are having a massive impact on Native peoples’ ability to provide for their own health care, as medicinal plants are on the wane. This issue extends beyond the United States: Of the 7.3 billion people alive on earth right now, approximately 5 billion of them don’t go to a pharmacy to get their prescriptions filled.

On that note, a troubling recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that a warming climate is already driving down wheat yields in the United States, and likely elsewhere around the globe. Hence, feeding the 7.3 billion humans (and counting) is only going to become increasingly challenging.

More broadly, a recent report from doctors and scientists in Australia warned that ACD will lead to more disease, death and violent conflicts as countries fight more for food and water resources.

Water

As usual, some of the most glaringly obvious impacts of ACD are making themselves known on the waterfront, both in the form of too little or too much water.

With the former, Nevada’s Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States, has now dropped to its lowest water level in recorded history.

Up in the Pacific Northwest – not the region one tends to think about when considering droughts – a recent study found that more mountains there were snow-free earlier in the year than ever, since the region had a largely snow-free winter with many of the snowpacks at record lows. Water managers there had hoped late season snows or heavy spring rains would fill reservoirs, but they didn’t come. Instead, of the 98 sites monitored in Washington, 66 were snow-free by early May, and “76 percent of Oregon’s long-term snow monitoring sites were at the lowest snowpack levels on record” in April. In a typical year at that time, most sites would be near their peak snowpack.

Things are bad enough in the region that by mid-May Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared a statewide drought emergency, as mountain snowpack in that state reached only 16 percent of average and water levels in rivers and streams dried to a trickle not seen since the 1950s. Inslee warned that “residents should also be prepared for an early and active fire season that could reach higher elevations in the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges, where many spots are already completely clear of snow.”

Looking further north, this past winter was also the least snowy on record for Anchorage, Alaska, according to the National Weather Service.

Moving across the Pacific to Taiwan, not a country one usually thinks about being impacted by drought, that nation is currently experiencing one of its most severe droughts in decades. Residents living on the country’s heavily populated western coast must ration their water use.

Up in the Arctic, our canary in the coal mine for ACD impacts, circumstances are growing increasingly dire. There was less ice in the Arctic this winter than during any other winter in the satellite era, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

An international team of scientists recently confirmed a longstanding fear: The vast amounts of carbon currently preserved in the frozen soils and tundra of the Arctic will, thanks to melting of the permafrost, eventually all get back into the atmosphere. This is evidence of a positive feedback loop: Warming temperatures melt the permafrost, releasing stored carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which further warms temperatures, which melts more permafrost, and on and on.

As though performing an Arctic version of the post-apocalyptic action movie Mad Max, the thawing of the northern polar ice cap has several Western powers and Russia rushing to stake and safeguard their claims of newly opening shipping routes and offshore drilling sites. In other words, the latest iteration of the Cold War is heating up, rapidly.

Down in the Antarctic, this dispatch finds some equally disturbing developments.

The Larsen C ice shelf, which is dramatically larger than Larsen A and B and about two and a half times the size of Wales, is now looking as though it could collapse. A recently published study reported that mechanisms exist that “could pose an imminent risk” to the ice shelf.

In an example of yet another runaway feedback loop, a recent report shows that accelerating sea level rise is occurring, as the planet’s ice sheets melt at ever-increasing speeds.

On that note, Caribbean political leaders, whose 14 island countries are being hammered by increasing ocean acidification, rising sea levels and increasingly intense hurricane seasons, are pinning their hopes on the upcoming Paris Climate Summit later this year for their very survival.

Fire

California’s ongoing drought is turning the entire state into a tinderbox, where several years of hyper-dry conditions have led experts to warn that the drought and current conditions are “a recipe for disaster.” California is already spending more money on fighting wildfires than the other 10 western states combined, and the state’s tally of fires so far this year is 967, which is 38 percent higher than the average for this date since 2005. The number of acres burned is already nearly double what it was this time last year, and 81 percent above the average since 2005.

Throughout the rest of the western United States, the upcoming wildfire season is looking grim as well. As drought continues to worsen across the West and upper Midwestern United States, the Forest Service expects to spend up to $1.6 billion on fighting wildfires in 2015, during a fire season that is expected to be far worse than “normal.”

A recently released study by researchers from the National Park Service, the University of California, Berkeley, and other institutions has confirmed what we already know: When drought-parched forested land goes up in flames, the fire contributes to ACD, causing yet another runaway feedback loop.

Air

A recent paper published in Nature Climate Change has revealed that 75 percent of the world’s abnormally hot days and 18 percent of its extreme snow and rain events are directly attributable to ACD.

Two reports recently published by scientists at UCLA showed that by 2050, portions of Los Angeles County are forecast to experience triple or even quadruple the number of days of extreme heat (days over 95 degrees) that they currently do.

On that note, another recently published study showed that Americans’ exposure to heat extremes will likely rise sixfold by 2050, due to a combination of rising temperatures and rapid population growth across the South and West.

The ongoing drought in California has also made that state’s air quality far worse, according to a recent American Lung Association report.

Across the Atlantic, scientists have warned that record-breaking hot years in England have officially become at least 13 times more likely due to ACD.

Another recent report shows that, due to ACD, hurricanes, globally, are now expected to come in bunches and be far stronger than in the past.

Denial and Reality

There seems to never be a dull moment in the ACD-denial camp in the United States. The US House committee that is tasked with authorizing NASA spending has taken aim recently at a key Obama administration priority with a party line vote slashing spending on “earth science”: the missions that study ACD. The opponents aim to shift funding away from environmental and earth science research that can help policy makers assess how to regulate pollution and plan for the effects of ACD.

In Alaska, hawkish anti-environmental Sen. Lisa Murkowski is urging the Environmental Protection Agency to drop her state from that agency’s ACD rule that regulates power plant emissions – and it appears as though she might get her way.

Down in Florida, although rising sea levels bring a greater threat to that state’s coastline with each passing day, there remains no statewide plan on how to mitigate this particular ACD impact.

The United States isn’t the only country with a strong fossil-fuel-funded ACD denial movement. In Australia, the former head of Australia’s respected Climate Commission, which was disbanded by conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2013, recently challenged the government to explain why it is funding a “research institute” that supports ACD denial.

I’m unsure whether this next item fits into the category of “denial” or “reality”: Back in the US, President Obama, who has green-lit offshore drilling in both the Arctic and off the Atlantic coast, has argued that ACD poses an “immediate risk” to the US, and has pushed for urgent action as a national security imperative.

Fully on the reality front, the chief of the World Bank recently stated that ACD is a “fundamental threat” to development, acknowledging how far the dangers have progressed.

The US Department of Defense, not known for being concerned about the environment, is now taking large steps toward adapting to and preparing for ACD.

Also not known for being overly worried about ACD, Saudi Arabia’s oil minister, Ali al-Naimi, recently announced his country’s intentions to switch entirely over to solar power by 2040-2050: “We have embarked on a program to develop solar energy. Hopefully, one of these days, instead of exporting fossil fuels, we will be exporting gigawatts, electric ones. Does that sound good?”

Yes minister, it does, albeit a little late in the game.

Also on the reality front, the UN and Vatican have teamed up against ACD deniers, warning the world about the impacts of ACD while coming down firmly against the “skeptics.” Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan came out and said, “We must challenge climate-change skeptics who deny the facts.” And Pope Francis has instructed Catholic Church leaders to join with politicians, scientists and economists to draft a statement that declares not only that ACD is a “scientific reality,” but also that there is a moral and religious responsibility to do something about it.

All of this is good, but we cannot rest easy. We do not have a moment to waste: A recently published analysis in the prestigious journal Science shows that one in six of the world’s species now faces extinction due to ACD.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Dahr Jamail

Dahr Jamail, a Truthout staff reporter, is the author of The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, (Haymarket Books, 2009), and Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq, (Haymarket Books, 2007). Jamail reported from Iraq for more than a year, as well as from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey over the last ten years, and has won the Martha Gellhorn Award for Investigative Journalism, among other awards.

Obama Administration Opens Up Thousands Of Acres Of Public Lands To Coal Mining

In Uncategorized on June 3, 2015 at 12:17 pm
Coal mining in Wyoming's Powder River Basin.

Coal mining in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin

Oldspeak: “Do you get how this makes ANY FUCKING SENSE? Cause I sure as hell don’t. Why act like you care about the ever growing threat of Anthropogenic Climate change to public health? Why pledge emissions reductions, crow about the climate legislation you pass? Why do all that, when you’re literally simultaneously doing things that will make things immeasurably WORSE, subsidizing the sale of one of the dirtiest fuels on Earth? Moreover, how is it that these are supposed “Public Lands” but the public has zero say in what is done with them, and do not share in the private profit being generated on them? Sigh. Pathocracy reigns. More sacrifices made to the Great Energy Corporation Gods in the giant Sacrifice Zone that is America. “Profit Is Paramount.” “ -OSJ

By Natasha Gelling @ Think Progress:

On May 29, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management released a regional management plan for the Buffalo Field Office, the Wyoming office charged with managing the Powder River Basin, an area that supplies nearly 40 percent of U.S. coal.

Under the proposed plan, the BLM estimates that it will issue 28 new coal leases, which could open up the mining of 10 billion tons of coal over the next 20 years.

That seems like a lot of coal. But is it really?

“It’s a huge amount, especially because the leasing period is the time frame that the world needs to get a handle on carbon emissions,” Shannon Anderson, an organizer with the environmental non-profit Powder River Basin Council, told ThinkProgress.

The United States burns around 900 million tons of coal annually — the amount of coal made available under the proposed Buffalo regional management plan is more than ten times that.

According to a report released by Greenpeace, if all 10.2 billion tons of coal made available by the leases was to be burned, 16.9 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide would be released into the atmosphere. That carbon, Greenpeace notes, significantly dwarfs any reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that would come from President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, often considered the president’s most robust action on climate change.

The Clean Power Plan isn’t the only environmental action Obama has taken, so it’s not necessarily a one-to-one comparison — but as Joe Smyth, a media officer with Greenpeace told ThinkProgress, it does offer a useful comparison between what is largely considered Obama’s signature piece of climate legislation and the potential climate impact of the BLM’s decision.

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CREDIT: Greenpeace

“When you look at the emissions from the Buffalo regional management plan, it’s an off the chart, massive amount of carbon pollution,” Smyth said. “These actions by the BLM are still operating under a business as usual approach, and really ignoring the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce carbon pollution.”

The United States produces around 1 billion tons of coal annually, with approximately 400 million tons of that coming from the Powder River Basin. The new management plan, Anderson said, won’t necessarily flood the U.S. market with more coal — instead, it will help mining operations maintain current levels of production, allowing them to tap into new reserves if they exhaust current ones. That’s because the new management plan doesn’t actually change the status quo of land management in the area — it simply keeps coal lease decisions from 2001 in place. According to Greenwire, the BLM found that it had received “no substantial new information regarding coal leasing.”

“The expectation is that it’s maintaining the status quo,” Anderson said. “That decision is really made in a silo, without any consideration of environmental impacts, and especially climate change.”

As Dave Roberts at Vox points out, the regional management plan simply increases the national supply of coal, not the demand for it. The Energy Information Administration estimates that the Clean Power Plan will spur a wave of coal plant retirements, reducing the demand for coal domestically — but that doesn’t mean that the coal mined under the Buffalo regional management plan won’t be shipped to overseas markets.

“The regional management plan doesn’t take into account the potential for exports, even though the coal industry is quite explicit about their desire to export large quantities of coal from the Powder River Basin,” Smyth said. “The Interior Department is still taking the view that that’s not going to happen.”

Under the BLM’s coal leasing program, the government also leases land to mining companies under very generous terms — as little as a dollar per ton, according to Smyth. Environmentalists have argued that the government’s generous prices effectively subsidize coal from public lands, selling coal owned by taxpayers at prices that give coal a distinct advantage over renewable energy. According to a 2012 study conducted by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, the federal government has left as much as $28.9 billion in revenue on the table over the last 30 years by offering coal companies below-market prices.

“It’s not just that they’re allowing this coal to be leased, it’s that they’re giving it away for such low prices,” Symth said. “It’s favoring coal at the expense of better and cleaner alternatives.”

Environmental groups had hoped that the Buffalo regional management plan would address both the massive amounts of coal allowed to be mined under current leases and the below-market prices at which those leases are sold. During a speech in March, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell stoked those hopes, saying that the government “must do more to cut greenhouse gas pollution that is warming our planet.” She also called for reforming the way that federal coal is valued and leased, saying that “it’s time for an honest and open conversation about modernizing the federal coal program.”

The proposed Buffalo regional management plan, Smyth says, suggests that Jewell isn’t taking her own comments to heart.

“We think the Obama administration has not spent sufficient time and attention on [the plan] given the scale of emissions,” Smyth said. “They really need to understand how big a problem this is in order to reform the [federal coal] program or phase it out over time.”

How Federal Dollars For Arizona Cotton Are Financing The Water Crisis In The American West

In Uncategorized on June 2, 2015 at 7:51 pm

https://projects.propublica.org/killing-the-colorado/assets/cotton-titles-03-d16dccec6b55a6d6b537190e01ec6794705b8e20d30753e399ad2acf7d02cfe9.jpg

Oldspeak:”Oh the demented irony. While farmers in India are literally killing themselves and selling their children in to slavery to cope with crop-losses because their government’s corruption limits the amount relief aid they receive, when their crops fail, the corruption in U.S. government is making it so farmers in the U.S. are being paid handsomely to plant cotton, a highly water-intensive crop, that there is no real market for. In a fucking desert, in the midst of a 1,000 year drought, no less. What’s crazy is without the government handouts, there’d be lots of U.S. farmers offing themselves too. Massive fossil-fueled infrastructure is required to pump millions of gallons of  precious water in to the deserts of Arizona, in spite of the fact that many farmers have been forced to fallow fields due to the drought, yet this madness continues at the behest of cotton lobbyists, insurance corporations and politicians. Ecology be damned. I’ll say one thing for Bizzaro World, it’s never boring, and never makes any fucking sense. One more reason to ignore the ongoing and upcoming climate talks. Major emitters plan to blabber about reaching agreements for emissions reductions targets, green energy and all that Jazz, at the same time they’re opening new and more sensitive areas to extract fossil fuels to burn in the death machine and heat engine that is Industrial Civilization. In the climate of insanity that exists today, (pun intended) prospects for survival grow dimmer every day. “Ignorance Is Strength” -OSJ

By :

State Route 87, the thin band of pavement that approaches the mostly shuttered town of Coolidge, Ariz., cuts through some of the least hospitable land in the country. The valley of red and brown sand is interrupted occasionally by rock and saguaro cactus. It’s not unusual for summer temperatures to top 116 degrees. And there is almost no water; this part of Arizona receives less than nine inches of rainfall each year.

Then Route 87 tacks left and the dead landscape springs to life. Barren roadside is replaced by thousands of acres of cotton fields, their bright, leafy green stalks and white, puffy bolls in neat rows that unravel for miles. It’s a vision of bounty where it would be least expected. Step into the hip-high cotton shrubs, with the soft, water-soaked dirt giving way beneath your boot soles, the bees buzzing in your ears, the pungent odor of the plants in your nostrils, and you might as well be in Georgia.

Getting plants to grow in the Sonoran Desert is made possible by importing billions of gallons of water each year. Cotton is one of the thirstiest crops in existence, and each acre cultivated here demands six times as much water as lettuce, 60 percent more than wheat. That precious liquid is pulled from a nearby federal reservoir, siphoned from beleaguered underground aquifers and pumped in from the Colorado River hundreds of miles away. Greg Wuertz has been farming cotton on these fields since 1981, and before him, his father and grandfather did the same. His family is part of Arizona’s agricultural royalty. His father was a board member of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District for nearly two decades. Wuertz has served as president of several of the most important cotton organizations in the state.

But what was once a breathtaking accomplishment — raising cotton in a desert — has become something that Wuertz pursues with a twinge of doubt chipping at his conscience. Demand and prices for cotton have plummeted, and he knows no one really needs what he supplies. More importantly, he understands that cotton comes at enormous environmental expense, a price the American West may no longer be able to afford.

Wuertz could plant any number of crops that use far less water than cotton and fill grocery store shelves from Maine to Minnesota. But along with hundreds of farmers across Arizona, he has kept planting his fields with cotton instead. He says he has done it out of habit, pride, practicality, and even a self-deprecating sense that he wouldn’t be good at anything else. But in truth, one reason outweighs all the others: The federal government has long offered him so many financial incentives to do it that he can’t afford not to.

“Some years all of what you made came from the government,” Wuertz said. “Your bank would finance your farming operation … because they knew the support was guaranteed. They wouldn’t finance wheat, or alfalfa. Cotton was always dependable, it would always work.”

The water shortages that have brought California, Arizona and other Western states to the edge of an environmental cliff have been attributed to a historic climate event — a dry spell that experts worry could be the worst in 1,000 years. But an examination by ProPublica shows that the scarcity of water is as much a man-made crisis as a natural one, the result of decades of missteps and misapprehensions by governments and businesses as they have faced surging demand driven by a booming population.

The federal subsidies that prop up cotton farming in Arizona are just one of myriad ways that policymakers have refused, or been slow to reshape laws to reflect the West’s changing circumstances. Provisions in early–20th-century water-use laws that not only permit but also compel farmers and others to use more water than they need are another. “Use It or Lose It” is the cynical catch phrase for one of those policies.

Stangel mediumaz 62 cde7ba9a4ea4e9963a4d3f524878caf1bfbb5ad583a40e7146f126c6f95e0751
Stangel mediumaz 59 7dd06e36f1e1119f81bc8b504378d403087cd5359fe9b9950779689263e1d3e4

Growing cotton in the desert has always been a challenge. But for many farmers, it is a proud tradition and a cherished way of life. Below: Downtown Coolidge, where drought and sinking cotton prices have had their effect. (Jake Stangel, special to ProPublica)

Western leaders also have flinched repeatedly when staring down the insatiable, unstoppable force of urban sprawl. Las Vegas authorities have spent billions of dollars inventing new ways to bring water to their ever-expanding city, yet could not cite a single development permit they had ever denied because of concerns about water.

Instead, when faced with a dwindling water supply, state and federal officials have again and again relied on human ingenuity to engineer a way out of making hard choices about using less water. But the engineering that made settling the West possible may have reached the bounds of its potential. Dams and their reservoirs leak or lose billions of gallons of water to evaporation. The colossal Navajo Generating Station, which burns 22,000 tons of coal a day in large part to push water hundreds of miles across Arizona, is among the nation’s biggest greenhouse gas polluters, contributing to the very climate change that is exacerbating the drought.

Few crises have been more emphatically and presciently predicted. Almost 150 years ago, John Wesley Powell, the geologist and explorer, traveled the Colorado River in an effort to gauge America’s chances for developing its arid western half. His report to Congress reached a chastening conclusion: There wasn’t enough water to support significant settlement.

For more than a century, Americans have defied Powell’s words, constructing 20 of the nation’s largest cities and a vibrant economy that, among other bounties, provides an astonishing proportion of the country’s fruit and vegetables.

For almost as long, the policies that shaped the West have struggled to match the region’s ambitions — endless growth, new industry, fertile farming and plentiful power — to its water supply.

Today, as the Colorado River enters its 15th year of drought, the nation’s largest reservoirs have been diminished to relative puddles. Power plants that depend on dams along the river face shortages and shutdowns that could send water and electricity prices skyrocketing. Many of the region’s farmers have been forced to fallow fields.

The still-blooming cotton farms of Arizona are emblematic of the reluctance to make choices that seem obvious. The Wuertz family has received government checks just for putting cottonseeds in the ground and more checks when the price of cotton fell. They have benefited from cheap loans for cotton production that don’t have to be fully repaid if the market slumps. Most recently, the government has covered almost the entire premium on their cotton crop insurance, guaranteeing they’ll be financially protected even when natural conditions — like drought — keep them from producing a good harvest.

Cotton in Arizona Though Land use statistics show that acres of irrigated farmland in Arizona have decreased over the past few decades, farmers planted more than 161,000 acres of cotton in Arizona in 2013, the second-highest total for any crop in the state, most of it clustered around Phoenix. (Sources: NASA/USGS Landsat, National Hydrography Dataset, USDA CropScape)

The payments, part of the U.S. Farm Bill, are a legacy of Dust Bowl-era programs that live on today at the urging of the national cotton lobby and the insurance industry. Similar subsidies support corn, rice, wheat and, indirectly, alfalfa — all of which also use lots of water. But in Arizona one of the driest states in the nation, it’s cotton that has received the most federal aid, tipping the balance on farmers’ decisions about what to plant.

Over the last 20 years, Arizona’s farmers have collected more than $1.1 billion in cotton subsidies, nine times more than the amount paid out for the next highest subsidized crop. In California, where cotton also gets more support than most other crops, farmers received more than $3 billion in cotton aid.

Cotton growers say the subsidies don’t make them rich but help bridge the worst years of losses and keep their businesses going. And because the money is such a sure thing, they have little choice but to keep planting.

“If you’re sitting on land and thinking of shifting, cotton is safer,” said Daniel Pearson, a senior fellow of trade policy studies at the Cato Institute.

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Greg Wuertz’s family has grown cotton for generations, always with the backing of federal subsidies. “Some years, all of what you made came from the government,” he said. (Jake Stangel, special to ProPublica)

Growing cotton in the desert, long term, may be doomed. In Arizona, the price for cotton has been in decline, and with it the overall planting of the crop. But when the price spikes, as it did dramatically in 2010, the growers get busy. One thing has yet to change: the government’s willingness to back and protect those still wanting to be cotton farmers.

For years, the federal support came through subsidies and price protection cash put directly in the farmer’s pocket. In Arizona, those payments could total tens of millions of dollars a year. Today, the government’s aid comes chiefly in the form of insurance subsidies — reliable and robust protections against losses that many farmers and their lobbyists hoped would be every bit as effective as cold cash. And so every year more than 100,000 acres of cotton still get planted, making the crop the second-most popular in the state.

Thus, at a time when farmers in Arizona, California and other Western states might otherwise adapt to a water-short world, federal farm subsidies are helping preserve a system in which the thirstiest crops are grown in some of the driest places.

“The subsidies are distorting water usage throughout the West and providing an incentive to use more water than would be used in an open market,” said Bruce Babbitt, Arizona’s former governor and a former U.S. Secretary of the Interior.

One night last October, in the weary twilight of the cotton harvest, Greg Wuertz nestled his white Chevy pickup by the mailboxes at the head of his street. Opening a small aluminum door, he removed an envelope containing a $30,000 insurance payment on a policy paid for by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Easy money, to be sure, but it left Wuertz uncertain.

“This kind of way of life in the West, it’s got to be different,” he said. “Water is going to be the oil of the 21st century and it should go to the best use. Right now, I don’t know if we’re doing that.”


Cotton might never have been grown in Arizona without some form of government enticement. During the Civil War, a Union blockade impounded the Southern states’ global exports. As Europe turned to new strains of cotton grown in Egypt, Arizona’s settlers, knowing the Pima Indians had long planted cotton there, thought they could replicate hot and dry North African conditions and compete. Townships reportedly offered cash to farmers willing to pioneer commercial-scale crops, according to a local historical account. Arizona’s first cotton mogul was said to be a blacksmith who abandoned his trade to take the subsidies and try farming.

Arizona, at the time, was short on people and long on land. It was also rich in freshwater aquifers, groundwater that then seemed ample enough to irrigate vast fields and turn the desert into an oasis.

When the United States first went to war in Europe, the demand for cotton surged. The fibers were used to reinforce truck tires and canvas airplane wings. The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company bought thousands of farm acres and built a factory west of Phoenix, where a city by the name of Goodyear still stands. Farmers flocked to the state in search of opportunity.

In 1929, Wuertz’s grandfather packed the family’s belongings into their old Buick and drove down from South Dakota. He strung up tents on 160 acres, six miles outside Coolidge, and planted his first rows of cotton in the months before the Great Depression. By the 1950s, cotton farming had been woven into the state’s identity; Arizona schoolchildren learned about the “Five C’s”: cattle, copper, citrus, climate and cotton.

Draw a sagging line today from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., and every state below it grows cotton. The United States is the world’s largest exporter, with 17 states producing some eight billion pounds of cotton each year, most of which gets shipped off to Asia and Europe.

California and Arizona are able to produce more than twice as much cotton on each acre they plant as can cotton powerhouses like Texas and Georgia because they irrigate their fields more often. But that also means that they use two to four times as much water per acre.

From almost the beginning, Arizona’s cotton farmers understood they were withdrawing from a finite account. “There was a sense the water would run out,” said Wuertz’s father, Howard, now 89. “You could tell there was going to be an end to it, even in the 1950s.”

They’ve made it last, in large part, because as the aquifers beneath their feet were depleted, the state brought in new supplies, mainly from the Colorado River.

Today, Wuertz’s irrigated cotton plants grow to about 4 feet tall, and are planted in even rows, about 3 feet center to center, extending for miles across furrowed fields. Every August, the bolls — pregnant pods just smaller than a golf ball — burst open, allowing their white cellulosic fiber to spring outward from hearty, splayed leaves and a small seed. Modern tractors, called cotton pickers, drive a comb through the fields, plucking the drying bolls from their stems and shooting them through a mechanical snorkel into a large basket being towed behind. Another basket, or “boll buggy,” dumps the load into a compressor, which packs the cotton into a brick 8 feet tall and 32 feet long.

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On Greg Wuertz’s farm, cotton gets harvested as it has for generations: with field hands, cotton gins and flat beds. (Jake Stangel, special to ProPublica)

The brick is hauled through Coolidge to a local gin, where computerized modern machines roll it through a whirring conveyor, separating the seeds and fibers from their leaves and chaff. The seeds are collected for animal feed or crushed for cooking oil. The lint, cleaned and dried, is strapped into 500-pound bales and shipped off through distributors who either sell the cotton or store it in vast warehouses, waiting for prices to rise and the commodity markets to buoy the crop.

Between land costs, labor, equipment, shipping and other expenses, Wuertz said he spends about $1,200 for every acre of cotton he harvests. His cotton has garnered about 62 cents per pound lately, so even if Wuertz gets four bales from each acre — a blockbuster harvest — he brings in about $1,240 and barely breaks even.

Cotton farmers can cut corners to try to eke out a profit, stretching their water, cutting back on fertilizer and making fewer laps with their tractors to save on diesel. But in years when the price is lower, water is short or demand plummets, they’ll lose money. This is when they count on federal subsidies and the crop insurance programs. If Wuertz needs an advance until his cotton is bought, the government lends it to him. If he can’t sell his cotton at a profit, the government never asks for its money back. If the price falls below a base of around 52 cents, Wuertz is insured for much of the decrease in value. If his fields produce a light yield — perhaps because he couldn’t give them enough water — he’s covered for the difference in weight, too. Other crops get subsidized insurance and loans, but none, Wuertz said, are covered as thoroughly as cotton. Add it all up, and the message from the Farm Bill is clear: Grow cotton and you will not be harmed.

“If they didn’t have insurance, it would be ugly around here,” Wuertz said. “It’d be the rope and chair. There’d be people killing themselves. It’s that bad.”


Standing in his field last fall, Wuertz cupped a tuft of cotton about the size of a softball and mused over its miraculous origins.

He gets about one-quarter of his water from the Central Arizona Project, or CAP, the system of canals that brings water from the Colorado River, some 230 miles away. The rest comes from a federally built reservoir nearby called San Carlos Lake, which, with the drought, has been diminished to little more than a bed of mud.

“There comes a time when you have to leave some to keep the fish alive,” Wuertz said wryly.

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Arizona schoolchildren have for years learned about the “Five C’s”: cattle, copper, citrus, climate and cotton. (Jake Stangel, special to ProPublica)

Wuertz loves to farm cotton. Fingering the plant’s thorny, rose-like leaves, he explains the difference between hirsutum, what Arizonans call Upland, or short staple cotton used for everyday clothes, and barbadense, the long-fiber Pima cotton used in high-end sheets and expensive textiles. He is stocky, wearing jeans, cowhide boots, a blue-striped button-down shirt and a broad-rimmed white cowboy hat that shields his face from view as he talks. Every 10 days, he explains, he releases his ditch gates and floods the furrows, using an irrigation technique hundreds of years old, until the roots of his plants are submerged ankle deep. If he were to do it all at once, the water Wuertz spends to produce one acre of cotton would stand 4 feet deep. The ditches flow with hundreds of millions of gallons of water every year.

For the last third of a century, Wuertz was supplied prodigious amounts of water, largely because Arizona was pushing its farmers to use as much as they could. The state’s run on water began in the 1970s, when Arizona planned its mega canal in order to lay claim to its full share of water from the Colorado River. The canal would bring more water than the state needed at the time, ultimately supplying future urban expansion as its cities and economy grew. But in the short term, Arizona had to justify the canal’s $4.4 billion federally subsidized construction cost by demonstrating to Congress that it had a plan to put all that water to use right away.

The state’s aquifers had been drawn down so much that, in places, the land had begun to settle above them. The canal project looked like a way to wean Arizona’s farmers off ground water, using river water to replace it. It looked good on paper until 1993, when the Central Arizona Project canal was completed. The cost of construction plus the cost of the power needed to pump the water made CAP water more expensive than what farmers could pump cheaply from underground. In a bind, state and federal officials slashed the price — subsidizing nearly half the true cost of the water and charging farmers just a fraction of its value to get them to use more of it.

For a while, the plan worked. Farmers made the switch, using government-subsidized canals and inexpensive power to nourish their farms for another generation. But the farms were little more than a place holder in the state’s grand plans. It was understood that as cities grew, farming in Arizona would have to change. Much of the cotton, alfalfa, wheat and citrus would eventually need to be grown somewhere else as the water from CAP was switched to supply urban areas.

“That was the deal that was struck to induce agriculture to go out of business,” said Jon Kyl, the former three-term senator and four-term congressman from Arizona.

But the transition hasn’t been completed, in part owing to the farm subsidies that have delayed change. And now the state’s intricate water supply plan is beginning to crumble.

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Farmers around Coolidge get some of their water from the Central Arizona Project, a system of canals that brings water from the Colorado River, 230 miles away. (Jake Stangel, special to ProPublica)

Drought has diminished the Colorado’s flow so much that federal officials — who control water deliveries on the southern half of the Colorado — now predict they will have to cut the state’s water deliveries through the CAP canal as soon as next year, potentially eliminating much of the farmers’ share. Meanwhile, loopholes in laws designed to conserve aquifers for exactly this situation have allowed housing developers and others to draw down resources that were supposed to be protected.

The water needs of Arizona’s cities are surging. The state’s population — less than two million in 1970 — has ballooned to more than three times that and is expected to reach 11 million within the next 30 years, turning the state into what the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University has described as a “megalopolis.”

Last year Arizona officials forecast the state could run out of water within a few decades.

“The shortages projected hitting municipal customers are really in the 2026 time frame,” said Thomas Buschatzke, the director of Arizona’s Department of Water Resources, as if a 10-year cushion was supposed to be reassuring.

Land use statistics show that acres of irrigated farmland in Arizona have decreased over the past few decades, and since 1985 they’ve dropped by more than half in the area around Phoenix. The Wuertz family sold a chunk of its fields to home developers in 2009.

But the patterns of agricultural water use make clear that it’s not just how many acres of land are planted there, but what is grown on them.

Cotton’s domestic benefits are questionable. After a price spike in 2010, production of cotton surged while global demand — and prices along with it — plummeted. Today, China, the world’s largest cotton producer, has enough cotton in warehouses to stop farming for a year. And Texas, the U.S.’s largest producer, harvests enough to cover more than one third of U.S. exports alone, relying largely on natural rainfall, not irrigation, to do it. Wuertz’s cotton — produced with Arizona’s precious water — is likely to get stacked in cavernous warehouses until the marketing cooperative he uses finds new customers. If Arizona stopped farming cotton tomorrow, Wuertz said, he’s not sure anyone would notice.

This underscores questions about whether continuing to grow these water-hogging crops at their current levels is in the public interest, and whether such an important pillar of U.S. economic policy as the Farm Bill should continue to champion them.

“The basic question is how are you going to manage your water supply? And we have managed it in a way that has subsidized agriculture,” said John Bredehoeft the former manager of the western water program for the U.S. Geological Survey, referring not just to subsidies for crops like cotton, but also the support for crops like alfalfa that are grown as feed. “If you look at the fact that half of the water use in the West is to raise cows — can you say, ‘Hey, we’ve got a water shortage in the West?’”


First established as a New Deal program to rescue farmers during the Great Depression, today’s unwieldy version of the U.S. Farm Bill wraps everything from food stamps to sugar imports into one 357-page, nearly $1 trillion law.

The measure allots about $130 billion over 10 years to protect farmers against price drops, bad weather and bad luck and to insure them against virtually any scenario that gets in the way of turning a profit.

No American law has more influence on what, where and when farmers decide to plant. And by extension, no federal policy has a greater ability to directly influence how water resources are consumed in the American West.

Until this year, the bill doled out direct subsidies for a full menu of crops. Every farmer planting commodities, including those planting cotton, got $40,000 just for signing up.

Then there are the steeply discounted business loans, which have a measurable impact on what farmers decide to plant. In many cases, to be eligible for these subsidies one year, a farmer has to have previously planted the crop — a basic component of the bill’s architecture that gives farmers an incentive to maintain “base” levels of acreage. In an analysis, the Congressional Budget Office found that the subsidies don’t just maintain the status quo, they also foster more planting, and more water use. The USDA’s marketing loans alone, for example, led to a 10 percent increase in the amount of cotton farmers planted — compared to 2.5 percent increase in the amount of wheat, and a 1.5 percent increase in the amount of soybeans produced — in part because the subsidies not only make cotton a safer bet, they also make it more competitive against alternative crops. Banks lend cotton growers money they wouldn’t lend for other crops, largely because they know the government will stand behind them.

All told, Wuertz estimates that nearly one-fifth of his income is derived from Farm Bill aid, and cotton has almost always been his largest and most important crop. According to USDA statistics compiled by the Environmental Working Group, the Wuertz family — including his brother’s and father’s farms — has received more than $5.3 million in farm bill subsidies since 1995, a portion of which may have been targeted for efficient irrigation equipment, Wuertz said.

The Farm Bill has been used in the past to steer environmental policy. It provides for withholding money, for example, from farms that would contribute to soil erosion or the destruction of wetlands. In North Dakota, where farmers were tearing out grasslands to plant corn for ethanol production, the law contains “sodbuster” provisions withholding insurance benefits from those who rip up lands the government wants to conserve.

The Farm Bill contains $56 billion for conservation, funding an effort to encourage farmers to reduce their water consumption by using more-modern equipment as well as measures meant to conserve land. Another section of the bill is aimed at saving energy. But the law’s farming incentives run counter to its far more modest water conservation initiatives.

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Cotton farming in Arizona may, in the long term, be doomed. But farmers, still backed by federal support, plant more than 100,000 acres a year. (Jake Stangel, special to ProPublica)

“There is a real disconnect between that and what the commodity and crop insurance program are promoting, and that’s a basic conflict,” said Ferd Hoefner, the policy director at National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, based in Washington, D.C.

The Farm Bill’s authors have sometimes factored in environmental concerns in specific places and tailored incentives to affect them, Hoefner said. But when it comes to cotton, the bill does not consider the related water use, and it does not distinguish between the places where it is grown. Instead, the money corresponds roughly to the amount of cotton harvested; Arizona, which ranks in the middle in terms of its cotton production, also ranks 10th among the 17 states that receive cotton aid. California, which ranked third for overall cotton production in 2013, also ranks third in subsidies over the last 20 years according to data collected by the Environmental Working Group. It’s in those places that the incentives created by the subsidies are most in conflict with the government’s aid to conserve water.

“Trying to get USDA to break down the silos is difficult,” Hoefner noted.

The Congressional Budget Office attacked this disconnect in 2006, urging the USDA to stop supporting agricultural products that act to “impede the transfer of water resources to higher value uses,” and “encourage the use of water.” Analysts advised the USDA to enhance its conservation programs, align its subsidies with those conservation efforts, and stop paying for infrastructure that makes water artificially cheap.

Every six years or so Congress has the opportunity to revisit its Farm Bill policies and update the bill. When Congress reauthorized it in 2014, however, lawmakers changed, but did not retreat in their support for cotton farming in the Southwest, despite growing awareness of the persistent water crisis in the Colorado River basin.

Instead, legislators allowed the cotton industry to write its own future. Faced with international trade pressures and allegations that subsidies — like payments triggered by price drops — were distorting the market, U.S. cotton trade associations lobbied to ramp up the USDA’s insurance program.

Rather than paying direct subsidies to cotton farmers, starting this year the USDA will use taxpayer dollars to buy farmers additional crop insurance. Policies that once covered up to around 70 percent of farmers’ losses can now be supplemented with new coverage covering up to 90 percent, cushioning the shallowest of losses. The lucrative marketing loan program that serves as a sort of price guarantee also remains in place.

Right now, though, the stubbornly low price of cotton is making Wuertz nervous that the new, enhanced insurance program won’t deliver the same revenues as the old direct subsidies. He’s temporarily cut back, then, planting less cotton this year and only the most valuable strains.

Still, the more than 161,000 acres of cotton that were planted in Arizona in 2013 accounted for almost one out of every five acres of the state’s irrigated farmland. Many believe the insurance program is likely to keep the practice going because it limits most — if not all — downsides, encouraging farmers to take big chances with limited resources.

“If I knew my 401k was guaranteed to not fall below 85 percent of its current level and there was no limit on the upside,” said Craig Cox a senior vice president at the Environmental Working Group, who was a former staff member for the Senate committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, “my portfolio would be a lot riskier than it is.”


If the Farm Bill reshuffled its incentives, water policy experts say, farmers in states that draw on the Colorado River could reduce their water usage substantially, adding large amounts back into the region’s budget.

According to research by the Pacific Institute, simply irrigating alfalfa fields less frequently, stressing the plant and slightly reducing its yield, could decrease the amount of water needed across the seven Colorado River basin states by roughly 10 percent. If Arizona’s cotton farmers switched to wheat but didn’t fallow a single field, it would save some 207,000 acre-feet of water — enough to supply as many as 1.4 million people for a year.

There’s little financial reason not to do this. The government is willing to consider spending huge amounts to get new water supplies, including building billion-dollar desalinization plants to purify ocean water. It would cost a tiny fraction of that to pay farmers in Arizona and California more to grow wheat rather than cotton, and for the cost of converting their fields. The billions of dollars of existing subsidies already allocated by Congress could be redirected to support those goals, or spent, as the Congressional Budget Office suggested, on equipment and infrastructure that helps farmers use less water.

“There is enough water in the West. There isn’t any pressing need for more water, period,” Babbitt said. “There are all kinds of agriculture efficiencies that have not been put into place.”

Today Wuertz lives with the deep uncertainty that comes with a transition he can no longer control. He told his son, Thomas, 24, that there is no future in cotton farming. He says that if Arizona farmers keep planting cotton, farming itself may be in jeopardy. But knowing that and acting on it have so far been different beasts, and Wuertz finds himself resistant to change. He tried growing more cantaloupe but had difficulty finding buyers who would take the time-sensitive crop before it rotted. He’s planting some acres he used to plant with cotton with alfalfa instead, but that uses even more water, though it commands a premium price.

In the end, Wuertz said he doesn’t know how to grow other plants as well as he knows cotton. He’s been a gin director, president of the Arizona Cotton Growers Association, head of the Arizona Cotton Research and Protection Council. His identity is wrapped up in those prickly bolls out in his fields.

“When I quit cotton all of that goes away. Ninety percent of my life is gone. It doesn’t mean a damn thing,” he said. “I’m just not ready to do that yet. And it’s not to say I won’t get there.”

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A worker sweeps cotton scraps at the gin where Wuertz brings his harvest. Wuertz says that if he stopped growing cotton, “ninety percent of my life is gone.” (Jake Stangel, special to ProPublica)

This story was co-published with Matter, a new digital magazine on Medium. Follow ProPublica on Medium for more conversation on the West’s water crisis.

Overheating Earth Staggers Into Last Chance Saloon

In Uncategorized on June 2, 2015 at 2:25 pm
Overheating Earth staggers into Last Chance Saloon

Trying to beat the heat in India, where the temperature in some southern states has recently topped 47°C. And thousands have died from heat related causes. Image: Jorge Royan via Wikimedia Commons

Oldspeak: “More hopium-fueled nonsense here. Understand this article in a couple basic contexts. First, the “The 2°C limit has been set by politicians to prevent the planet overheating dangerously” is at this point nothing more than fantasy. Especially when you consider the the last sentence of this article “India is exploiting far more of its coal reserves, and jeopardising hopes of global reductions in emissions.” With global carbon emissions rising from major human emmiters and natural sources alike, and no way to halt the increase in natural emissions, this limiting to 2c bullshit isn’t happening. It should also be understood that 3 years ago, it was established that “According to the latest research, the level of damages once expected at 2 degrees C is now expected at considerably lower temperatures…the exact same social and political considerations that settled on 2 degrees C as the threshold of safety by all rights ought to settle on 1 degree C [1.8 degrees F]. After all, we now know 2 degrees C is extremely dangerous.” We are seeing this right now, with LESS THAN 1 degree C of warming. 1,000 year droughts. 500 year floods. Temperatures 20 degrees higher in places where previously thought to be “permafrost” is melting rapidly. Monstrous hurricanes and typhoons. Resource Shocks. Oceans acidic enough to melt sea shells. Triple the amount of methane off-gassing. The large scale breakdowns of ecosystems and mass extinctions at rates 10,000 time greater than geologic average. The inane and intractable meetings and conferences to negotiate, reach agreements, set targets and establishing limits are utterly and completely pointless. We are long past the point where human activities will change our fate in any non-extinction inducing way. We’re on track currently for 4c and greater warming in the near term. There is zero evidence to suggest that track will change measurably any time soon, in any direction for but the worse.  What else is there to plan for or meet about? The only thing left to plan for is extinction. Enjoy the Kabuki Theater tho. Our last chance is gone.” -OSJ

By Paul Brown @ Climate News Network:

Hard bargaining in Bonn this week will probably decide whether the crucial climate talks in Paris in December can save human civilisation from ultimate collapse.

LONDON, 1 June, 2015 − The text of the agreement on how the world will tackle climate change and set targets that will keep global temperatures from rising more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels is being negotiated in Bonn this week.

The 2°C limit has been set by politicians to prevent the planet overheating dangerously − but the cuts in carbon emissions required to achieve it have so far not been agreed.

It is this gap between the policy goals agreed  by world leaders and their lack of action to achieve them that the Bonn conference seeks to address.

The meeting, which opened today, will last for 10 days as working groups grapple with action to reduce carbon emissions, how to finance technology transfer, and how to adapt to sea level rise and other unavoidable consequences of present warming − such as the current heatwave affecting India, where temperatures in some southern states have topped 47°C.

Devastating consequences

Scientists and environment groups have said that this year’s negotiations are humanity’s “Last Chance Saloon”. If steep emissions cuts are not agreed and implemented quickly, the global temperature has little chance of staying under 2°C − with devastating consequences for the natural world and human civilisation.

There are signs that momentum towards agreement is increasing. A report by Globe International, which will be given to delegates, reveals that three-quarters of the world’s annual emissions of greenhouse gases are now limited by national targets.

The 2015 Global Climate Legislation Study shows that the number of climate laws and policies aimed at limiting emissions passed by national governments had increased to 804 this year, up from 426 in 2009 when the Copenhagen climate talks collapsed, and from just 54 in 1997 when the Kyoto Protocol was agreed.

“This growing amount of legislation provides
evidence that the world’s major emitters are taking serious steps to tackle climate change in their countries”

The lead author of the study, Michal Nachmany, a researcher at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change, says: “With three-quarters of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions now covered by national targets, we can be more confident about the credibility of the pledges that countries will make ahead of the crucial summit in Paris.

“While collectively these pledges are unlikely to be consistent with the international goal of avoiding global warming of more than 2°C, the existence of national legislation and policies should provide the opportunity for countries to strengthen the ambition of their emissions cuts after the summit.”

Professor Samuel Fankhauser, co-director of the Grantham Institute and co-author of the study, says: “Every five or so years, the number of climate laws and policies across the world has doubled. This growing amount of legislation provides evidence that the world’s major emitters are taking serious steps to tackle climate change in their countries.

“By writing their intentions into law, the world’s leaders have shown that international climate change talks do lead to national action in the vast majority of countries.”

The problem is, as the report points out, that current targets and timetables to achieve them are not enough to limit greenhouse gases sufficiently to get below the agreed 2°C limit.

Under pressure

However,  politicians are coming under pressure to improve their pledges. Ahead of the Bonn meeting, a business summit in Paris showed that many companies are pushing their political leaders for action.

This is a marked change from the last two decades, a time when the fossil fuel industry has lobbied to slow decisions on tackling climate change.

In Paris, 25 worldwide business networks − representing 6.5 million companies from 130 countries − demanded political action to achieve a low-emission, climate-resilient economy.

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the organiser of the Bonn conference, says: “With some 200 days to the UN climate convention conference in Paris, the growing momentum for change and for action is rapidly gaining ground across countries, companies, cities and citizens.

“News of yet another group of stakeholders committing to long-term emission reduction targets or ambitious investments in renewable energies is emerging almost daily – building confidence and a sense of ‘can do’ among nations as we enter the final six months of 2015.”

Whether this optimism is justified will be seen in the next week as the working groups refine the technical agreements that heads of governments are expected to sign in Paris in December.

Recurring problems

Among the many recurring problems that have created a stumbling block is the amount of money pledged by rich nations to developing countries to help them avoid fossil fuel use and adapt to climate change. So far, the pledges to provide billions of dollars in technical help and adaptation have not been followed by the cash.

As well as trying to seal an agreement for action after 2020, the Bonn conference is also working  to accelerate action in the five years until then – which  are currently covered by no legally-binding international agreement. The particular focus here will be on  scaling up the use of renewable energy and energy efficiency in urban areas.

The fact that China and the US are now working together to reach an agreement in Paris is also helping move the talks along.

However, some developing countries, notably India, are still saying their priority is lifting their poor out of poverty, rather than reducing their emissions.

To this end, India is exploiting far more of its coal reserves, and jeopardising hopes of global reductions in emissions. – Climate News Network