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

Posts Tagged ‘Environmental Policy’

Big Oil Uses U.S. Gov’t To Eliminate Threats To Drilling Plans, Research Supressed, Scientists Harassed, Terminated

In Uncategorized on September 8, 2015 at 3:27 pm

Source: Greenpeace

Oldspeak: “It is a systemic problem far beyond BOEMRE, It’s in all the agencies, the universities. It’s state and federal and a broad systemic problem in Alaska….There is an unwritten orthodoxy in Alaska, that dissenting opinions regarding unsustainable economic and political paradigms here need to be suppressed and silenced. Everybody knows that. There’s a very strong political dynamic where agencies and public institutions like the university are captured by the oil industry because it pays 95% of the state budget. Federal agencies bend over backwards for the oil industry and tend to marginalize voices that threaten that dynamic. If you criticize oil, you will have hell to pay… There aren’t very many dissenters. The whole point of making an example of me and Charles [Monnett] was to suppress people from doing that in the future. People have learned that if they want to keep their job and their pay check, and their pension and their benefits, they need to keep their head down.” –Dr. Rick Steiner, Professor, Marine Conservation

“In the context of this reality, in a maniacal ecocidal ever more destructive pursuit of profit, is there any wonder that Alaska is on fire as in no other time in recorded history? This is perfect example of the madness of Inverted Corptalitarian Kleptocracy begotten by Industrial Civilization. Corportate “persons” funding government education and research institutions and dictating what is and isn’t researched, published and disclosed. Important science and research censored, scientists abused, harassed and drummed out of jobs when their findings don’t serve the ends of polluters. Can we reasonably expect anything but politically mediated and watered down science and research from institutions in the unfortunate condition of being captured by the industries their findings affect? Not likely. “Profit Is Paramout”,  -OSJ.

Written By Kamil Ashan @ Alter Net:

In February 2011, Charles Monnett, an Arctic marine biologist who in 2006 published the first observations of a decline in the polar bear population of the Arctic due to melting sea ice, was interviewed by Eric May and Lynn Gibson from the Department of Interior’s Office of the Inspector General. The conversation was perplexing. May and Gibson, criminal investigators with the IG, began by suggesting that Monnett was being investigated for scientific misconduct, but early on in the conversation they admitted that neither of them had any training in science and biology.

From there, the transcript of the conversation, a document released by Monnett’s legal representation, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), becomes murkier. May and Gibson’s line of questioning shifts several times, making it increasingly unclear what aspects of misconduct were being investigated. Monnett explains that his findings, published in Polar Biology, were peer-reviewed; May responds by asking how Polar Biology got involved. Monnett painstakingly takes May and Gibson through the calculations and observations underlying his data, but they seem dissatisfied and change tacks.

What happened after isn’t murky at all. Soon after the interview, Dr. Monnett’s hard drive and notebooks were seized. In July 2011, Monnett found out from his employer, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), that he had been put been put on administrative leave, barring him from speaking to his colleagues or continuing his research.

The investigation had turned in to a virtual witch-hunt—but when the IG finally released its report toward the end of 2012, its only allegations were of an administrative nature. Monnett subsequently filed a whistleblower complaint against BOEMRE, alleging that the official harassment had impeded him from doing his job and that the Interior Department was violating its own scientific integrity policies intended to protect federal scientists from political interference. In November 2013, Monnett reached a $100,000 settlement with BOEMRE.

The tale of Dr. Monnett is now a few years old, but instructive. Both Monnett and PEER have maintained that Monnett was harassed and essentially eliminated from the ranks of BOEMRE because he represented a threat to the financial stakes of oil companies like Shell hoping to open up the Alaskan Arctic for offshore drilling projects, and that suppressing scientific research was seen as necessary for Shell’s permits to go through. At the time, BOEMRE had been reviewing Shell’s plans to drill in the Arctic. It approved those permits in 2012, and again, in a highly contentious decision by the Obama administration, earlier this year.

Now, years after the debacle, Monnett says he has complex feelings about the dynamics of the science done in federal agencies, given how overbearing the oil industry is and its pervasive influence on the government.

The Bush administration, Monnett recalls, had “created an environment where the managers [of BOEMRE] were very hostile and aggressive towards some of the scientists…which led to a number of people leaving the agency. These people were being actively attacked by managers, screamed at in hallways, threatened with all sorts of actions. Some of them were even being threatened with legal action. The agency just wasn’t receptive to honest analysis.”

“Because of pressure from industry and the administration…certain timelines had to be met, and those timelines weren’t long enough to allow [scientists] to do complete analysis. Management was dictating the outcomes…which is against the law in my view.”

The Bush administration’s agenda from the very beginning was pro-drilling, and therefore invested in fast-tracking Shell’s permits for the Arctic. During the administration’s tenure, there was a mass exodus of scientists from BOEMRE—at the time known as the Minerals Management Service—who were under pressure to overlook the overwhelming environmental concerns of Arctic oil drilling in their analyses.

But Monnett’s investigation began in 2011, not during the Bush administration but during the Obama administration, foretelling Obama’s climate legacy of paying lip service to climate change while fast-tracking Shell’s offshore drilling plans all the same.

On Monday morning, President Obama arrived in Alaska to shed “a spotlight on what Alaskans in particular have come to know: climate change is one of the biggest threats we face, it is driven by human activity, and it is disrupting Americans’ lives right now.” The trip, mere weeks after the final approval for Shell’s summer plans to drill in the Chukchi Sea, is likely to be seen in retrospect as illustrative of the schizophrenic energy policy the Obama administration has long espoused.

The Limits of Academic Freedom

Scientific suppression and the loss of many scientists to BOEMRE during the Bush administration have been well-documented, but as Dr. Monnett’s case reveals, something similar, if not worse, has been underfoot during the current administration. As the case of Professor Rick Steiner demonstrates, the influence of oil goes well beyond federal agencies in Alaska.

A tenured professor of marine conservation at the University of Alaska, Steiner spent a large part of his career in the Arctic and then Anchorage, Alaska. Steiner had been a vocal opponent of offshore oil drilling since the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 and a staunch defender of marine conservation—positions that got him in to trouble multiple times during his career.

In December 2007, soon after Monnett’s polar bear paper was published, there was a federal proposed rule to list polar bears under the Endangered Species Act. At the time, Gov. Sarah Palin publicly stated that Alaska state marine mammal biologists (ADFG) disagreed with the rule, but Steiner was unsatisfied. After much resistance from the ADFG, he obtained the state review through a federal Freedom of Information Act request. The review, underscoring the dishonesty of the Palin administration, showed that marine mammal scientists overwhelmingly agreed that polar bears should be classified as endangered. This move, and many others, put Steiner on the radar as a staunch advocate of marine conservation and opponent of the pervasive influence of the oil industry in Alaska.

In 2008, when the federal government began to consider an expansion of oil development projects in Alaska, Steiner continued to raise major environmental concerns. Written records released by PEER chart out what happened next: the University of Alaska and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration terminated the grant funding for Steiner’s research work. The documents demonstrate how pressure from NOAA led university officials to cut Steiner’s funding: federal officials wrote that they “had an issue with Steiner” and that his environmental advocacy could “cause problems nationally” for the agency. PEER called this one of the first instances where a university and federal agency admitted to removing a faculty member’s funding because of their environmental positions.

Steiner filed multiple internal grievance claims which were all rejected by the university, and in February 2010, Dr. Steiner resigned from the university faculty on principle. Soon after, he was told by a friend who had been in a meeting with university officials that oil executives had met with university officials, telling them point blank that as long as Steiner continued to oppose the oil industry, the university would not get a dime of its money. The University of Alaska, like many public institutions in Alaska, is funded largely by oil revenues.

Like Monnett, Steiner says his experience taught him the limits to academic and scientific freedom in a place like Alaska. “It is a systemic problem far beyond BOEMRE,” he explains. “It’s in all the agencies, the universities. It’s state and federal and a broad systemic problem in Alaska.

“[The University] felt I was being too much of an advocate for marine conservation which is in contradiction to their professed goal of being in favor of academic freedom.”

And indeed, the brazen nature of the university’s statements on Steiner’s case is deeply shocking. In the recommendation to cut Steiner’s funding, Dean Wiesenburg of the University of Alaska noted that Steiner “regularly takes strong public positions on issues of public debate.” Steiner, he said, “has chosen to be a maverick and work independently.”

To Steiner, what this means is clear. “There is an unwritten orthodoxy in Alaska,” he explains, “that dissenting opinions regarding unsustainable economic and political paradigms here need to be suppressed and silenced. Everybody knows that. There’s a very strong political dynamic where agencies and public institutions like the university are captured by the oil industry because it pays 95% of the state budget. Federal agencies bend over backwards for the oil industry and tend to marginalize voices that threaten that dynamic. If you criticize oil, you will have hell to pay.”

“There aren’t very many dissenters. The whole point of making an example of me and Charles [Monnett] was to suppress people from doing that in the future. People have learned that if they want to keep their job and their pay check, and their pension and their benefits, they need to keep their head down.”

A Handy Guide to Scientific Suppression

The cases of Charles Monnett and Rick Steiner have dire implications for how we view Shell’s offshore drilling plans in the Chukchi Sea this summer, and the lengths to which they went to acquire the permits. Much of this can only be guessed at. Steiner talks about the prevailing culture where federal agencies and universities begin to eliminate scientists who do not conform to the pro-oil agenda by not granting promotions or incentive awards, or giving them inadequate annual performance reviews. Another tactic, he says, is overwhelming staff scientists with trivial tasks, pulling them off projects for which they are qualified.

Jeff Ruch, executive director of PEER, an organization that seeks to protect scientist whistleblowers, can add to this list. “The range of things we see,” he says, “range from attempts to terminate, suspend, crippling internal investigations. In one case involving a lab director, the funding for his graduate students was jeopardized so he lost a lot of his research capacity. Preventing publications has no limits—in one case, a scientist was raising issues and her email privileges were taken away. We were left scratching our heads wondering how that could have happened.”

One possible remedy is scientific integrity policies that protect whistleblowers, but as Ruch explains, they are far from satisfactory. “Industry puts pressure on government agencies, and government agencies are the instrument of retaliation,” he explains. “For the most part, scientists have few legal protections. These scientists are not covered by whistleblower laws, because they’re not disclosing violations of law, fraud, or abuse. They’re disclosing suppression of research, or watering down of methodologies or the omission of key findings.”

“The law generally treats these as a matter of opinion and in these cases, the chain of command generally wins over the staff scientist.”

In his experience, Ruch says “scientific integrity policies operate within the Department of the Interior—those were weakened in December to make it even more difficult to sustain a complaint. Up until that time, there had been 2 instances out of 14 where the scientist involved faced multiple suspensions and the responsible managers escaped punishment altogether. It’s difficult to advise scientists in good conscience to file complaints under their own name because they’re unlikely to resolve in anything good.”

Early in 2009, Obama released a presidential directive to develop policies that restore scientific integrity to federal actions, including providing federal scientists better whistleblower protections. At the time, this was hailed as a huge leap in the right direction.

Ruch feels not much has changed. “The agencies in the Interior have largely ignored the presidential directive,” he explains. “Some policies claim protections but have no mechanisms by which that protection is implemented, which makes it empty protection.”

Environmental groups argue that this scientific suppression, and overlooking the enormous environmental risks, has been key to the Obama administration’s approval of Shell’s permits this year. Much of the information detailing the safety and reliability of Shell’s operations has not been released to the public, despite multiple FOIA requests by groups like Greenpeace and PEER. A recent FOIA request by PEER, directed at the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), seeks to release information on how Shell’s plans for certified by third-party observers, as well as information on the deployment of capping stack and containment domes in the event of an oil spill. BSEE has not responded. PEER has now filed a lawsuit in a federal district court to bring these details to light.

As President Obama continues his trip in Alaska to highlight the dangers of climate change amid overwhelming opposition from environmental and indigenous groups, it begs big questions about the administration’s overarching legacy with federal scientists and the oil industry. Ruch feels strongly about this: “In terms of the actions inside these agencies, there has been no discernible difference between those under George Bush, who was an oil man, and Barack Obama, a constitutional law professor who when his own Commission on the Deepwater Horizon spill met with him, one of the very first questions he asked was about Arctic drilling.”

“It has been clear that Arctic drilling is part of the ‘all-the-above’ energy strategy and the same sort of suppression and the same suite of issues have never really been analyzed.”

For an administration pretending to conduct a dramatic push toward mitigating climate change, that is a shameful record.

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Kamil Ahsan is a freelance journalist and a doctoral student in developmental biology at the University of Chicago.

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Independent Ecologists: Forthcoming UN IPCC Climate Change Mitigation Report Is “Deeply Flawed”; Recommendations Will Worsen Global Warming

In Uncategorized on April 15, 2014 at 4:12 pm

Independent experts explore viability of draft IPCC mitigation plans advocating carbon dioxide produced from power generation to be captured and stored in fight against climate change Photograph: Greenpeace Handout/EPA


Oldspeak:
“Dr Rachel Smolker, co-director of Biofuelwatch says that the report’s embrace of “largely untested” and “very risky” technologies like bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration (BECCS), will “exacerbate” climate change, agricultural problems, water scarcity, soil erosion and energy challenges, “rather than improving them.”A leaked draft of the as yet unpublished report by Working Group 3 (WG3) of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), to be officially released in mid-April, was obtained by the Guardian. Dr Smolker, a behavioural ecologist and biofuels expert, said that the alarming impacts of climate change identified by the IPCC’s Working Groups 1 and 2 would “worsen” as a consequence of such “false solutions” which have been increasingly criticised in the scientific literature… the IPCC’s central emphasis on biofuels with carbon capture is a “dangerous distraction” from the task of “deeply altering our entire relationship to energy consumption.” She highlighted an unwillingness to recognise the “fundamental link between ‘endless growth economics’ and ecological destruction.” Working Group 3, she said, lacks sufficient expertise to assess the merits of its recommended technologies. Many critical assessments of bioenergy “come from scientists with a background in ecology and related disciplines and those are barely represented within the IPCC” – WG3 is staffed largely by economists and engineers. -Dr. Nafeez Ahmed

“The highlighted section above is all you need to know.  Secondary sociopathic refusal to recognize the devastatingly ecocidal and destructive effects of globalized inverted corptalitarian kleptocracy has led market-based economists and engineers to present market-based “climate mitigation” strategies.  Leaving aside the fact there is no longer any way humans can mitigate the unprecedented extinction level event that their activities have wrought, and given who was on the working group this report is wholly unsurprising.  Sister Audre Lorde said “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” The IPCC, is one of the supra-governmental transnational corporate network masters’ tools.  Meant to give the appearance of concern, impartiality, urgency, and “solutions” to Anthropogenic climate change. in the end, its aim is to justify continued business as usual market-based “economy”; infinite growth, profit generation, and cost externalization. Refusing to recognize basic truths like infinite growth is impossible on a finite planet. That nothing can be more important than life. There is no “economy” with out the ecology and its invaluable, and rapidly dwindling natural capital… Unfortunately we have in this report further confirmation that as revolutionary economist Manfred Max-Neef says: “Greed is the dominant value today in the world. As long as that’s the case, we’re done.” -OSJ

By Dr. Nafeez Ahmed @ The Guardian UK:

A British environmental organisation that has reviewed the draft of a forthcoming UN IPCC report on mitigating climate change has questioned many of the document’s recommendations as deeply flawed.

Dr Rachel Smolker, co-director of Biofuelwatch, said that the report’s embrace of “largely untested” and “very risky” technologies like bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration (BECCS), will “exacerbate” climate change, agricultural problems, water scarcity, soil erosion and energy challenges, “rather than improving them.”

A leaked draft of the as yet unpublished report by Working Group 3 (WG3) of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), to be officially released in mid-April, was obtained by the Guardian. Dr Smolker, a behavioural ecologist and biofuels expert, said that the alarming impacts of climate change identified by the IPCC’s Working Groups 1 and 2 would “worsen” as a consequence of such “false solutions” which have been increasingly criticised in the scientific literature.

Avoiding “overshoot”

The IPCC projects that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide emissions are unlikely to stabilise at 450 parts per million (ppm), accepted by the international community as the safe limit to ensure that global average temperatures do not exceed the 2 degrees Celsius danger level. It is more likely that concentrations could “overshoot” to around 550 ppm (if not higher by other less conservative projections). The leaked draft concludes that “essentially any” emissions target can be achieved “regardless of the near‐term path” of overshoot “by shifting emissions reductions to the future”:

“There are no published scenarios depicting a pathway returning to 450 CO2‐e [emissions] by century’s end without a negative emissions option when delayed participation is imposed. The vast majority of published 450 CO2‐e scenarios involve overshoot during the century and include a negative emissions technology.”

The draft thus recommends “carbon negative” energy technologies that might help to draw down carbon from the atmosphere. These include “large scale utilisation of BECCS”; coal and natural gas with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) – carbon emitted from burning fossil fuels is captured and injected underground where it is stored indefinitely; nuclear power; and large hydroelectric plants.

Carbon capture, or multiplier?

The problem, Biofuelwatch’s co-director said, is that there is no scientific consensus on whether these technologies actually work. CCS technology is already being used to facilitate intensified fossil fuel exploitation. In bioenergy, it has involved “capture of fermentation in ethanol refineries”:

“… so far much of carbon captured from bioenergy and other processes is ultimately used for Enhanced Oil Recovery – injected into depleted oil wells to create pressure enough to force remaining difficult to access oil out. This can hardly be considered ‘sequestration’ or an effective approach to solving the climate problem.”

She added that “burning wood for electricity and heat releases up to 150% as much CO2 per unit of energy generation than does coal” excluding emissions from “deforestation, harvesting and transportation.”

According to Dr Smolker, CCS cannot be viewed as “carbon negative” due to “the high costs, and associated high added energy demand for capture, transport, compression and injection.” Even more problematic, she said, is that there is “little real world testing” of whether CO2 pumped into underground cavities “will remain in situ” indefinitely, or be released, which she describes as “a dangerous gamble.”

Biofuelwatch also criticised the IPCC draft report’s recommendation of large-scale bioenergy projects. Bioenergy “should be considered a driver” of emissions from agriculture, forestry and other land use, Smolker said, “not a means of mitigation.” The growing use of bioenergy as a substitute for fossil fuels is encroaching increasingly on land use, and in turn escalating food prices, intensifying land grabbing, and increasing demand for crops, livestock, wood and so on:

“Lands and ecosystems cannot at the same time both provide large quantities of biomass for bioenergy, and still securely act as ‘carbon sinks.’ It is not possible to have it both ways.”

Currently, just under 40% of US corn production is dedicated to ethanol although it provides just “a pittance of transport energy.” The large areas of land required for meaningful bioenergy production means it would simultaneously undermine food production while contributing to “escalating food prices.” Although the IPCC proposes bioenergy as the solution to renewable energy, “it can never provide more than a tiny fraction towards the current and projected growth in demand for energy.”

Broken climate needs fixing

Stephen Salter, a professor emeritus of engineering design at the University of Edinburgh who has proposed cloud enhancement as one mechanism of geoengineering to address climate change, said that given the import of dangerous warming, techniques to reduce carbon in the atmosphere must be part of the toolbox. But he said the focus should be on the Arctic:

“Those working on geoengineering are largely doing so reluctantly. The concern is that we need to ensure technology is available in case events occur more quickly than expected. The IPCC has not fully accounted for certain feedbacks involving black carbon, methane release, and the rapid loss of the Arctic summer sea ice. A technique like marine cloud brightening by spraying seawater onto clouds to increase their reflectivity, could save the sea ice and help cool the climate with relatively little side-effects that can be controlled with careful application.”

But other geoengineering techniques suffer from less certainty, said Prof Salter, who is a member of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG). “Many major proposals suffer from debilitating costs and practicalities, and would take too long – up to a century or more – to work. And their risks are less understood.”

Prof Stuart Haszeldine, a geoscientist also at the University of Edinburgh specialising in CCS, said:

“Ultimately a full, immediate transition to renewables is the right imperative, but it cannot happen overnight due to the engineering costs and practicalities. So we must reduce our carbon emissions while we are still relying on fossil fuels. Our current emissions trajectory is heading for catastrophe. CCS would allow us to draw down emissions during the transition to renewables.

Every component of CCS has been practiced separately in the industry for decades, so putting them altogether to minimise our carbon footprint makes sense. Several large-scale commercial CCS enterprises will become operational this year, such as the coal-fired plant in Kemper County.

100% renewable transition in 15 years: feasible?

Danielle Paffard of the Centre for Alternative Technology’s Zero Carbon Britain project, however, voiced further reservations: “BECCS isn’t useful as a central feature of a climate mitigation strategy, due to the scale of current electricity demand, and requires an enormous reduction of demand to be viable. Any proposal to rely primarily on biomass for baseload electricity generation is never sensible.” Salter, Haszeldine and Paffard have not seen the draft IPCC mitigation report.

In particular, Paffard criticised carbon capture for fossil fuel power plants as a “red herring”:

“We can’t hope to simply run over a carbon precipice and pulls ourselves back. Government targets must be much more ambitious. Our research has shown that we can run modern societies without relying on fossil fuels, and that transitioning to net zero carbon emissions by 2030 is technologically and economically feasible with the right approach.”

Despite reservations, Paffard acknowledged a limited but “very important” role for BECCS. Other forms of carbon capture such as peatland conversion, biochar, and extensive reforestation will be “crucial” for energy transition, she said:

“Biomass does have the potential to be very destructive, but if used sparingly it has a place as part of a wider strategy involving renewables, to create synthetic fuels useful for industry and transport. Bioenergy is important as a flexible backup to address long-term energy storage due to the intermittency and variability of renewable sources – but its use must be sustainable, based on ‘second generation’ non-food crops [e.g. forest and crop residues, municipal and construction waste], not encroach on land-use for food, and combined with extensive reforestation.”

The IPCC draft report does emphasise the need to dramatically ramp up solar and wind power, pointing out the superior “technical potential” of solar compared to other renewables.

Economic straitjacket?

Dr Smolker of Biofuelwatch, in contrast, said that the IPCC’s central emphasis on biofuels with carbon capture is a “dangerous distraction” from the task of “deeply altering our entire relationship to energy consumption.” She highlighted an unwillingness to recognise the “fundamental link between ‘endless growth economics’ and ecological destruction.”

Working Group 3, she said, lacks sufficient expertise to assess the merits of its recommended technologies. Many critical assessments of bioenergy “come from scientists with a background in ecology and related disciplines and those are barely represented within the IPCC” – WG3 is staffed largely by economists and engineers:

“The underlying assumption appears to be that business as usual [BAU] economic growth must be sustained, and industry and corporate profits must be protected and maintained. But if we focus on ‘BAU economics’, seeking and accepting only bargain basement options for addressing global warming – the costs will be far more severe.”

_________________________________________________________________

Dr Nafeez Ahmed is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save It among other books. Follow him on Twitter @nafeezahmed

USGS Study: Drop In U.S. Underground Water Levels Has Accelerated; 3 Times Greater Than At Any Time In 20th Century

In Uncategorized on May 24, 2013 at 7:00 pm

U.S. Drought Monitor map from March 19, 2013Oldspeak: “Tell your crew use the H2 in wise amounts since/it’s the New World Water; and every drop counts/You can laugh and take it as a joke if you wanna/But it don’t rain for four weeks some summers/And it’s about to get real wild in the half/You be buying Evian just to take a fuckin bathYasiin Bey, “New World Water”
“With the U.S. currently embroiled in historic drought with no end in sight and nearly 80 percent of farmland experiencing drought, this is definitely not good. No surprise, petrochemical/”natural” gas extraction and petrochemical based factory farming are the largest users of water from aquifers. Coincidentally, the process of  extracting of petrochemicals that serve as fertilizer and energy to produce food, has the wonderful side effect of poisoning these same rapidly depleting aquifers with hundreds of secret proprietary “fracking” chemicals that sicken and or kill all life that comes into prolonged contact with them. The burning of these petrochemicals, pollutes the air, and continuously pumps dangerous amounts of  greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which has the nifty side effect of warming the planet to prehistoric levels, causing “less rain and snow filtering underground to replenish what was being pumped out“. Mix it all together and you have a completely avoidable, undeniably man-made slow motion shitshow of a global ecological catastrophe. Human activity is significantly disrupting the water cycle. We are using/poisoning more water than can be replenished naturally. We need to abandon energy and food production that is destroying our water supply.  There’s only so much left. We can’t continue to use water as if it’s supply is infinite. Over 1 Billion have no access to clean drinking water. Count on that number to rise. With that rise will come a rise in disease, as around 80% of all disease in the world stems from unclean water, poor sanitation, or crude living conditions (hygiene). We must put the safety our most vital and indispensable resource ahead of profit.  Water is the Eco-currency we can’t afford to run out of.”

By Deborah Zabarenko @ Reuters:

Water levels in U.S. aquifers, the vast underground storage areas tapped for agriculture, energy and human consumption, between 2000 and 2008 dropped at a rate that was almost three times as great as any time during the 20th century, U.S. officials said on Monday.

The accelerated decline in the subterranean reservoirs is due to a combination of factors, most of them linked to rising population in the United States, according to Leonard Konikow, a research hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey.

The big rise in water use started in 1950, at the time of an economic boom and the spread of U.S. suburbs. However, the steep increase in water use and the drop in groundwater levels that followed World War 2 were eclipsed by the changes during the first years of the 21st century, the study showed.

As consumers, farms and industry used more water starting in 2000, aquifers were also affected by climate changes, with less rain and snow filtering underground to replenish what was being pumped out, Konikow said in a telephone interview from Reston, Virginia.

Depletion of groundwater can cause land to subside, cut yields from existing wells, and diminish the flow of water from springs and streams.

Agricultural irrigation is the biggest user of water from aquifers in the United States, though the energy industry, including oil and coal extraction, is also a big user.

The USGS study looked at 40 different aquifers from 1900 through 2008 and found that the historical average of groundwater depletion – the amount the underground reservoirs lost each year – was 7.5 million acre-feet (9.2 cubic kilometers).

From 2000 to 2008, the average was 20.2 million acre-feet (25 cubic kilometers) a year. (An acre-foot is the volume of water needed to cover an acre to the depth of one foot.)

One of the best-known aquifers, the High Plains Aquifer, also known as the Oglala, had the highest levels of groundwater depletion starting in the 1960s. It lies beneath parts of South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico, where water demand from agriculture is high and where recent drought has hit hard.

Because it costs more to pump water from lower levels in an aquifer, some farmers may give up, or irrigate fewer fields, Konikow said. Another problem with low water levels underground is that water quality can deteriorate, ultimately becoming too salty to use for irrigation.

“That’s a real limit on water,” Konikow said. “You could always say that if we have enough money, you build a desalization plant and solve the problem, but that really is expensive.”

(Reporting by Deborah Zabarenko; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Put the Environment At The Center Of The Global Economy: An Argument For The Eco-Currency

In Uncategorized on May 21, 2013 at 4:50 pm

Oldspeak: “The solution to both the problem of currency and of climate change is obvious: we must hardwire the health of the ecosystem directly to the standard measurements of economic health so that the state of the environment is immediately visible in all economic transactions. Global finance, trade and investment must all be conducted within a system that makes the preservation of the climate, rather than profit, the highest priority. One possible approach is the introduction of a global “eco-currency.” The international community would establish an international currency, an “eco-currency,” whose value is linked directly to the state of the climate (both globally and locally) and that currency would serve either as a universal currency within which international transactions take place, or it could be a factor that significantly impacts all the global currencies.” –Emanuel Pastreich. YES! Brilliant! Tie our monetary measures of health to the health of our planet! Discard extractive, profit driven, imaginary computer generated “market-based” economic systems and replace them with naturally regenerative, resource and ecosystem based economic systems.  An ecosystem based society… Focusing on carbon emissions only allow focus to be placed on a single aspect of the ecosystem. While our bodies,  oceans, streams, lands, fellow lifeforms and food are poisoned.” This system requires consideration of the ecosystem as a whole. Species extinction would have to be accounted for and avoided… Waste would have to be minimally or non-toxic, bio-degradable and recyclable. Extraction would be highly regulated done in a manner that would require replenishment or conservation. All kinds of wonderful side-effects would arise. Reduced pollution, healthier food, cleaner water, reduced poverty, reduced inequality, greater bio-diversity, etc, etc, etc, the possibilities are endless! Barefoot Economics par excellence!

By Emanuel Pastreich @ Truthout:

The environmental challenges we face today, from spreading deserts to rising oceans, compel us to reconsider the conventional concepts of growth and recognize that they cannot easily be reconciled with the dangerous implications of runaway consumption and unlimited development.

Above all, we must get away from a speculative economy born of an irrational dependence on finance, which has becoming increasingly unstable as digital technology accelerates and financial transactions take place without any objective review. We must return to a stable and long-term economy. In part, that process concerns the restoration of regulation on the banking system, but the change must also involve the very conception of finance and banking. Finance must be aimed at stable, long-term projects which have relevance for ordinary people.

Nothing could possibly be more helpful in this process than large-scale projects to restore the environment and address the damage done to the climate by human activity. These projects are absolutely necessary for human survival and they will take decades, if not centuries, to complete. By grounding the economy in adaptation and mitigation, we can return to a predictable system in which green bonds funding 30-50 year projects directly related to our well-being are dominant and we can escape from the flighty digital economy of thousands-per-second transactions.

In addition to the development of a “green bonds” system for funding long-term meaningful projects to address the climate crisis, we should also consider the role of currency itself. We are engaged in a dangerous race to devalue currency around the world in the expectation of increasing advantage in trade. This activity is profoundly destabilizing for our economy and at a higher level also causes chaos in the process by which we assign value in general.

The solution to both the problem of currency and of climate change is obvious: we must hardwire the health of the ecosystem directly to the standard measurements of economic health so that the state of the environment is immediately visible in all economic transactions. Global finance, trade and investment must all be conducted within a system that makes the preservation of the climate, rather than profit, the highest priority.

One possible approach is the introduction of a global “eco-currency.” The international community would establish an international currency, an “eco-currency,” whose value is linked directly to the state of the climate (both globally and locally) and that currency would serve either as a universal currency within which international transactions take place, or it could be a factor that significantly impacts all the global currencies.

Such an eco-currency would require a calculation of the state of the environment on which its value would be based. First we need to come up with a system for evaluating the state of the environment in real-time which could be converted into a set of figures for the calculation of the total state of the global and the local ecosystems. That set of figures would then be the basis for the eco-currency’s value. Such a system would be complex and far from perfect, but it would be a massive improvement over the current factors employed in calculating gross domestic product which are limited to consumption and production and exclude the state of the environment entirely.

There exist indices such as Yale’s Environmental Performance Index that do part of that process, but so far, there is no total agreed on standard for evaluating the state of the total environment that could be used to periodically measure the state of the environment in a manner that could be employed as a universal reference. Only then could the amount of, or the value of, the eco-currency possessed by a nation reflect an objective evaluation of the health of the climate.

If the eco-currency were to serve as one of several factors impacting all global currencies, it might serve as an instrument akin to the SDR (special drawing rights) system currently employed by the International Monetary Fund. According to the IMF website, member [nations] with sufficiently strong external positions are designated by the Fund to buy SDR s with freely usable currencies up to certain amounts from members with weak external positions. In the case of the eco-currency, that strong external position could be redefined so as to consist primarily, or entirely, of environmental criterion.

The eco currency could alternatively serve as a gold standard for all nations of the world, permitting each nation to increase its money supply in direct proportion to the environmental credits that it has accumulated through wise and effective policies by reducing emissions and preserving water and soil.

After all, in that the previous gold standard was based on a mineral that was exceptionally rare and valuable, so it could be a logical extension of that concept to argue that a healthy ecosystem is the most valuable commodity available. The ecosystem is far more valuable to human society than is gold. Each nation would continue to have sovereignty with regards to its own currency, but the calculation of each currency’s exchange rate would take into account the environmental status of the country and its share of a calculated total of environmental credits for the entire world.

Whether it serves as a universal currency, or as a factor impacting all hard currencies, the total amount eco-currency available would be calculated as equal to a global sum of the total value of the ecosystem. Those credits would be assigned to a country based on an evaluation of how good a job that nation does reducing harmful emissions, preserving undeveloped lands, caring for its water supplies and otherwise implementing policies that have a positive effect on the environment.

The serious problems faced by the European emissions trading system suggest that we need to move bravely to a new approach to putting the environment itself, and not merely carbon emissions, at the center of our calculations of the economy. An international currency program based on environmental credits as part of a total biosphere would make the environmental crisis visible in the financial world. The eco-currency could be the first step towards forcing those making fiscal and developmental policy at the national and international level to engage in a serious debate on the implications of their policies for the climate. No longer would it be possible to think separately about monetary policy and environmental policy; the two would be effectively yoked together.

 

 

Global Carbon Dioxide Levels In Atmosphere Identical To Those Last Seen In Prehistoric Pliocene Era

In Uncategorized on May 12, 2013 at 7:05 pm

MAUNA LOA OBSERVATORYOldspeak: “We are creating a prehistoric climate in which human societies will face huge and potentially catastrophic risks, only by urgently reducing global emissions will we be able to avoid the full consequences of turning back the climate clock by 3 million years.” –Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics. Yep. It’s that serious. Huge and catastrophic risks to all life on this planet are upon us. Meanwhile the U.S.’s selected officials are holding congressional inquiries into what happened in Benghazi, Libya, last year. Creating an immigration reform” bill with mandates for national biometric identification databases to contain information about all adult americans buried in them. Inflating bubbles to create imaginary economic growth with computer generated fiat money. Why are we paying so much  attention to what happened in the past and what is yet to happen in the future, ignoring the clear and present dangers? Why are so many resources being devoted to manufactured scandals & crises, social control plans & billionaires stealing fake money, while infinitely fewer resources, are devoted to the preeminent problem of our time? There are plans to extract dead fossil energy from the seas under the soon to be completely melted polar ice caps, which will generate more toxic emissions and quicken climate change. All plans to slow climate change are ‘market-based’ and profit driven. We know how the corporatocracy is preparing for our dystopic future.  Private armies and gated communities, while cutting resources to the poor, sick and elderly. The mass of people and the planet are not a priority. The people need to demand immediate, coherent, decisive, sustainable and drastically different energy policy.”

By Damian Carrington @ The UK Guardian:

For the first time in human history, the concentration of climate-warming carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has passed the milestone level of 400 parts per million (ppm). The last time so much greenhouse gas was in the air was several million years ago, when the Arctic was ice-free, savannah spread across the Sahara desert and sea level was up to 40 metres higher than today.

These conditions are expected to return in time, with devastating consequences for civilisation, unless emissions of CO2 from the burning of coal, gas and oil are rapidly curtailed. But despite increasingly severe warnings from scientists and a major economic recession, global emissions have continued to soar unchecked.

“It is symbolic, a point to pause and think about where we have been and where we are going,” said Professor Ralph Keeling, who oversees the measurements on a Hawaian volcano, which were begun by his father in 1958. “It’s like turning 50: it’s a wake up to what has been building up in front of us all along.”

“The passing of this milestone is a significant reminder of the rapid rate at which – and the extent to which – we have increased the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,” said Prof Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which serves as science adviser to the world’s governments. “At the beginning of industrialisation the concentration of CO2 was just 280ppm. We must hope that the world crossing this milestone will bring about awareness of the scientific reality of climate change and how human society should deal with the challenge.”

The world’s governments have agreed to keep the rise in global average temperature, which have already risen by over 1C, to 2C, the level beyond which catastrophic warming is thought to become unstoppable. But the International Energy Agency warned in 2012 that on current emissions trends the world will see 6C of warming, a level scientists warn would lead to chaos. With no slowing of emissions seen to date, there is already mounting pressure on the UN summit in Paris in 2015, which is the deadline set to settle a binding international treaty to curb emissions.

Edward Davey, the UK’s energy and climate change secretary, said: “This isn’t just a symbolic milestone, it’s yet another piece of clear scientific evidence of the effect human activity is having on our planet. I’ve made clear I will not let up on efforts to secure the legally binding deal the world needs by 2015 to avoid the worst effects of climate change.”

Two CO2 monitoring stations high on the Hawaiian volcano of Mauna Loa are run by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and provide the global benchmark measurement. Data released on Friday shows the daily average has passed 400ppm for the first time in its half century of recording. The level peaks in May each year as the CO2 released by decaying vegetation is taken up by renewed plant growth in the northern hemisphere, where the bulk of plants grow.

Analysis of fossil air trapped in ancient ice and other data indicate that this level has not been seen on Earth for 3-5 million years, a period called the Pliocene. At that time, global average temperatures were 3 or 4C higher than today’s and 8C warmer at the poles. Reef corals suffered a major extinction while forests grew up to the northern edge of the Arctic Ocean, a region which is today bare tundra.

“I think it is likely that all these ecosystem changes could recur,” said Richard Norris, a colleague of Keeling’s at Scripps. The Earth’s climate system takes time to adjust to the increased heat being trapped by high greenhouse levels and it may take hundreds of years for the great ice caps in Antarctica and Greenland to melt to the small size of the Pliocence and sea level far above many of the world’s major cities.

But the extreme speed at which CO2 in now rising – perhaps 75 times faster than in pre-industrial time – has never been seen in geological records and some effects of climate change are already being seen, with extreme heatwaves and flooding now more likely. Recent wet and cold summer weather in Europe has been linked to changes in the high level jetstream winds, in turn linked to the rapidly melting sea ice in the Arctic, which shrank to its lowest recorded level in September.

“We are creating a prehistoric climate in which human societies will face huge and potentially catastrophic risks,” said Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics. “Only by urgently reducing global emissions will we be able to avoid the full consequences of turning back the climate clock by 3 million years.”

“The 400ppm threshold is a sobering milestone and should serve as a wake up call for all of us to support clean energy technology and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, before it’s too late for our children and grandchildren,” said Tim Lueker, a carbon cycle scientist at Scripps.

Professor Bob Watson, former IPCC chair and UK government chief scientific adviser, said: “Passing 400ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is indeed a landmark and the rate of increase is faster than ever and shows no sign of abating due to a lack of political committment to address the urgent issue of climate change – the world is now most likely committed to an increase in surface temperature of 3C-5C compared to pre-industrial times.”

The graph of the rising CO2 at Mauna Loa is known as the Keeling curve, after the late Dave Keeling, the scientist who began the measurements in March 1958. The isolated Hawaiian island is a good location for measurements as it is far from the main sources of CO2, meaning it represents a good global average.

How Resource Scarcity & Climate Change Could Produce Global Explosion

In Uncategorized on April 23, 2013 at 5:48 pm

Dark waterOldspeak:”In March, for the first time, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper listed “competition and scarcity involving natural resources” as a national security threat on a par with global terrorism, cyberwar, and nuclear proliferation.

“Many countries important to the United States are vulnerable to natural resource shocks that degrade economic development, frustrate attempts to democratize, raise the risk of regime-threatening instability, and aggravate regional tensions,” he wrote in his prepared statement for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.  “Extreme weather events (floods, droughts, heat waves) will increasingly disrupt food and energy markets, exacerbating state weakness, forcing human migrations, and triggering riots, civil disobedience, and vandalism.”

There was a new phrase embedded in his comments: “resource shocks.” It catches something of the world we’re barreling toward, and the language is striking for an intelligence community that, like the government it serves, has largely played down or ignored the dangers of climate change. For the first time, senior government analysts may be coming to appreciate what energy experts, resource analysts, and scientists have long been warning about: the unbridled consumption of the world’s natural resources, combined with the advent of extreme climate change, could produce a global explosion of human chaos and conflict.  We are now heading directly into a resource-shock world.” –Michael T. Klare

Whelp. You know when the Director of National Intelligence says there’s a problem on par with global terrorism, you know shit is real. Unfortunately the trillions of dollars wasted on fighting the “Global War on Terror”, have not been similarly allocated to the global war on our planet. There’s no terrorism on a dead planet.  O_0 These are the over arching problems of our times.   Resource scarcity and climate change.  We are poisoning, wasting and running out of the only things that matter: water, arable land, and air. The resulting scarcity and deteriorating condition of our environment are THE global security problems that are driving, war, terrorism, unrest, inequality,  failing governments, famine, poverty, etc, etc, etc, ad nauseum. Unbridled consumption and destruction of natural, sometimes toxic and non-renewable resources continues unabated. The “resource shock” world is fast approaching, and we are wholly unprepared. The 1% has the resources, armies & governments to protect its interests. Our survival and that of the planet is secondary. If recent events in the wake of bank riots, food riots, government protests, tsunamis, hurricanes, and earthquakes are any indication, people, you’re on your own. Your protests will be brutally and violently suppressed. Your money is taken. Your food is used for fuel.  Your rivers, oceans and lands are used for waste dumps and left as dead zones where life cannot be supported.  Your governments are used as giant ATMs. Countless unknown species are going extinct. Countless unknown amounts of radiation, chemicals and pollutants are being constantly pumped into the biosphere.  How long before the people rise up en masse to demand sustainable and healthy change?” Ignorance is never far from repression” – Henry A. Giroux

By Michael T. Klare @ Tomdispatch:

Brace yourself. You may not be able to tell yet, but according to global experts and the U.S. intelligence community, the earth is already shifting under you.  Whether you know it or not, you’re on a new planet, a resource-shock world of a sort humanity has never before experienced.

Two nightmare scenarios — a global scarcity of vital resources and the onset of extreme climate change — are already beginning to converge and in the coming decades are likely to produce a tidal wave of unrest, rebellion, competition, and conflict.  Just what this tsunami of disaster will look like may, as yet, be hard to discern, but experts warn of “water wars” over contested river systems, global food riots sparked by soaring prices for life’s basics, mass migrations of climate refugees (with resulting anti-migrant violence), and the breakdown of social order or the collapse of states.  At first, such mayhem is likely to arise largely in Africa, Central Asia, and other areas of the underdeveloped South, but in time all regions of the planet will be affected.

To appreciate the power of this encroaching catastrophe, it’s necessary to examine each of the forces that are combining to produce this future cataclysm.

Resource Shortages and Resource Wars

Start with one simple given: the prospect of future scarcities of vital natural resources, including energy, water, land, food, and critical minerals.  This in itself would guarantee social unrest, geopolitical friction, and war.

It is important to note that absolute scarcity doesn’t have to be on the horizon in any given resource category for this scenario to kick in.  A lack of adequate supplies to meet the needs of a growing, ever more urbanized and industrialized global population is enough.  Given the wave of extinctions that scientists are recording, some resources — particular species of fish, animals, and trees, for example — will become less abundant in the decades to come, and may even disappear altogether.  But key materials for modern civilization like oil, uranium, and copper will simply prove harder and more costly to acquire, leading to supply bottlenecks and periodic shortages.

Oil — the single most important commodity in the international economy — provides an apt example.  Although global oil supplies may actually grow in the coming decades, many experts doubt that they can be expanded sufficiently to meet the needs of a rising global middle class that is, for instance, expected to buy millions of new cars in the near future.  In its 2011 World Energy Outlook, the International Energy Agency claimed that an anticipated global oil demand of 104 million barrels per day in 2035 will be satisfied.  This, the report suggested, would be thanks in large part to additional supplies of “unconventional oil” (Canadian tar sands, shale oil, and so on), as well as 55 million barrels of new oil from fields “yet to be found” and “yet to be developed.”

However, many analysts scoff at this optimistic assessment, arguing that rising production costs (for energy that will be ever more difficult and costly to extract), environmental opposition, warfare, corruption, and other impediments will make it extremely difficult to achieve increases of this magnitude.  In other words, even if production manages for a time to top the 2010 level of 87 million barrels per day, the goal of 104 million barrels will never be reached and the world’s major consumers will face virtual, if not absolute, scarcity.

Water provides another potent example.  On an annual basis, the supply of drinking water provided by natural precipitation remains more or less constant: about 40,000 cubic kilometers.  But much of this precipitation lands on Greenland, Antarctica, Siberia, and inner Amazonia where there are very few people, so the supply available to major concentrations of humanity is often surprisingly limited.  In many regions with high population levels, water supplies are already relatively sparse.  This is especially true of North Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East, where the demand for water continues to grow as a result of rising populations, urbanization, and the emergence of new water-intensive industries.  The result, even when the supply remains constant, is an environment of increasing scarcity.

Wherever you look, the picture is roughly the same: supplies of critical resources may be rising or falling, but rarely do they appear to be outpacing demand, producing a sense of widespread and systemic scarcity.  However generated, a perception of scarcity — or imminent scarcity — regularly leads to anxiety, resentment, hostility, and contentiousness.  This pattern is very well understood, and has been evident throughout human history.

In his book Constant Battles, for example, Steven LeBlanc, director of collections for Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, notes that many ancient civilizations experienced higher levels of warfare when faced with resource shortages brought about by population growth, crop failures, or persistent drought. Jared Diamond, author of the bestseller Collapse, has detected a similar pattern in Mayan civilization and the Anasazi culture of New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon.  More recently, concern over adequate food for the home population was a significant factor in Japan’s invasion of Manchuria in 1931 and Germany’s invasions of Poland in 1939 and the Soviet Union in 1941, according to Lizzie Collingham, author of The Taste of War.

Although the global supply of most basic commodities has grown enormously since the end of World War II, analysts see the persistence of resource-related conflict in areas where materials remain scarce or there is anxiety about the future reliability of supplies.  Many experts believe, for example, that the fighting in Darfur and other war-ravaged areas of North Africa has been driven, at least in part, by competition among desert tribes for access to scarce water supplies, exacerbated in some cases by rising population levels.

“In Darfur,” says a 2009 report from the U.N. Environment Programme on the role of natural resources in the conflict, “recurrent drought, increasing demographic pressures, and political marginalization are among the forces that have pushed the region into a spiral of lawlessness and violence that has led to 300,000 deaths and the displacement of more than two million people since 2003.”

Anxiety over future supplies is often also a factor in conflicts that break out over access to oil or control of contested undersea reserves of oil and natural gas.  In 1979, for instance, when the Islamic revolution in Iran overthrew the Shah and the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, Washington began to fear that someday it might be denied access to Persian Gulf oil.  At that point, President Jimmy Carter promptly announced what came to be called the Carter Doctrine.  In his 1980 State of the Union Address, Carter affirmed that any move to impede the flow of oil from the Gulf would be viewed as a threat to America’s “vital interests” and would be repelled by “any means necessary, including military force.”

In 1990, this principle was invoked by President George H.W. Bush to justify intervention in the first Persian Gulf War, just as his son would use it, in part, to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  Today, it remains the basis for U.S. plans to employ force to stop the Iranians from closing the Strait of Hormuz, the strategic waterway connecting the Persian Gulf to the Indian Ocean through which about 35% of the world’s seaborne oil commerce  passes.

Recently, a set of resource conflicts have been rising toward the boiling point between China and its neighbors in Southeast Asia when it comes to control of offshore oil and gas reserves in the South China Sea.  Although the resulting naval clashes have yet to result in a loss of life, a strong possibility of military escalation exists.  A similar situation has also arisen in the East China Sea, where China and Japan are jousting for control over similarly valuable undersea reserves.  Meanwhile, in the South Atlantic Ocean, Argentina and Britain are once again squabbling over the Falkland Islands (called Las Malvinas by the Argentinians) because oil has been discovered in surrounding waters.

By all accounts, resource-driven potential conflicts like these will only multiply in the years ahead as demand rises, supplies dwindle, and more of what remains will be found in disputed areas.  In a 2012 study titled Resources Futures, the respected British think-tank Chatham House expressed particular concern about possible resource wars over water, especially in areas like the Nile and Jordan River basins where several groups or countries must share the same river for the majority of their water supplies and few possess the wherewithal to develop alternatives.  “Against this backdrop of tight supplies and competition, issues related to water rights, prices, and pollution are becoming contentious,” the report noted.  “In areas with limited capacity to govern shared resources, balance competing demands, and mobilize new investments, tensions over water may erupt into more open confrontations.”

Heading for a Resource-Shock World

Tensions like these would be destined to grow by themselves because in so many areas supplies of key resources will not be able to keep up with demand.  As it happens, though, they are not “by themselves.”  On this planet, a second major force has entered the equation in a significant way.  With the growing reality of climate change, everything becomes a lot more terrifying.

Normally, when we consider the impact of climate change, we think primarily about the environment — the melting Arctic ice cap or Greenland ice shield, rising global sea levels, intensifying storms, expanding deserts, and endangered or disappearing species like the polar bear.  But a growing number of experts are coming to realize that the most potent effects of climate change will be experienced by humans directly through the impairment or wholesale destruction of habitats upon which we rely for food production, industrial activities, or simply to live.  Essentially, climate change will wreak its havoc on us by constraining our access to the basics of life: vital resources that include food, water, land, and energy.  This will be devastating to human life, even as it significantly increases the danger of resource conflicts of all sorts erupting.

We already know enough about the future effects of climate change to predict the following with reasonable confidence:

* Rising sea levels will in the next half-century erase many coastal areas, destroying large cities, critical infrastructure (including roads, railroads, ports, airports, pipelines, refineries, and power plants), and prime agricultural land.

* Diminished rainfall and prolonged droughts will turn once-verdant croplands into dust bowls, reducing food output and turning millions into “climate refugees.”

* More severe storms and intense heat waves will kill crops, trigger forest fires, cause floods, and destroy critical infrastructure.

No one can predict how much food, land, water, and energy will be lost as a result of this onslaught (and other climate-change effects that are harder to predict or even possibly imagine), but the cumulative effect will undoubtedly be staggering.  In Resources Futures, Chatham House offers a particularly dire warning when it comes to the threat of diminished precipitation to rain-fed agriculture.  “By 2020,” the report says, “yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50%” in some areas.  The highest rates of loss are expected to be in Africa, where reliance on rain-fed farming is greatest, but agriculture in China, India, Pakistan, and Central Asia is also likely to be severely affected.

Heat waves, droughts, and other effects of climate change will also reduce the flow of many vital rivers, diminishing water supplies for irrigation, hydro-electricity power facilities, and nuclear reactors (which need massive amounts of water for cooling purposes).  The melting of glaciers, especially in the Andes in Latin America and the Himalayas in South Asia, will also rob communities and cities of crucial water supplies.  An expected increase in the frequency of hurricanes and typhoons will pose a growing threat to offshore oil rigs, coastal refineries, transmission lines, and other components of the global energy system.

The melting of the Arctic ice cap will open that region to oil and gas exploration, but an increase in iceberg activity will make all efforts to exploit that region’s energy supplies perilous and exceedingly costly.  Longer growing seasons in the north, especially Siberia and Canada’s northern provinces, might compensate to some degree for the desiccation of croplands in more southerly latitudes.  However, moving the global agricultural system (and the world’s farmers) northward from abandoned farmlands in the United States, Mexico, Brazil, India, China, Argentina, and Australia would be a daunting prospect.

It is safe to assume that climate change, especially when combined with growing supply shortages, will result in a significant reduction in the planet’s vital resources, augmenting the kinds of pressures that have historically led to conflict, even under better circumstances.  In this way, according to the Chatham House report, climate change is best understood as a “threat multiplier… a key factor exacerbating existing resource vulnerability” in states already prone to such disorders.

Like other experts on the subject, Chatham House’s analysts claim, for example, that climate change will reduce crop output in many areas, sending global food prices soaring and triggering unrest among those already pushed to the limit under existing conditions.  “Increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events, such as droughts, heat waves, and floods, will also result in much larger and frequent local harvest shocks around the world… These shocks will affect global food prices whenever key centers of agricultural production area are hit — further amplifying global food price volatility.”  This, in turn, will increase the likelihood of civil unrest.

When, for instance, a brutal heat wave decimated Russia’s wheat crop during the summer of 2010, the global price of wheat (and so of that staple of life, bread) began an inexorable upward climb, reaching particularly high levels in North Africa and the Middle East.  With local governments unwilling or unable to help desperate populations, anger over impossible-to-afford food merged with resentment toward autocratic regimes to trigger the massive popular outburst we know as the Arab Spring.

Many such explosions are likely in the future, Chatham House suggests, if current trends continue as climate change and resource scarcity meld into a single reality in our world.  A single provocative question from that group should haunt us all: “Are we on the cusp of a new world order dominated by struggles over access to affordable resources?”

For the U.S. intelligence community, which appears to have been influenced by the report, the response was blunt.  In March, for the first time, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper listed “competition and scarcity involving natural resources” as a national security threat on a par with global terrorism, cyberwar, and nuclear proliferation.

“Many countries important to the United States are vulnerable to natural resource shocks that degrade economic development, frustrate attempts to democratize, raise the risk of regime-threatening instability, and aggravate regional tensions,” he wrote in his prepared statement for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.  “Extreme weather events (floods, droughts, heat waves) will increasingly disrupt food and energy markets, exacerbating state weakness, forcing human migrations, and triggering riots, civil disobedience, and vandalism.”

There was a new phrase embedded in his comments: “resource shocks.” It catches something of the world we’re barreling toward, and the language is striking for an intelligence community that, like the government it serves, has largely played down or ignored the dangers of climate change. For the first time, senior government analysts may be coming to appreciate what energy experts, resource analysts, and scientists have long been warning about: the unbridled consumption of the world’s natural resources, combined with the advent of extreme climate change, could produce a global explosion of human chaos and conflict.  We are now heading directly into a resource-shock world.

Michael Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, a TomDispatch regular and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left, just published in paperback by Picador.  A documentary movie based on his book Blood and Oil can be previewed and ordered at http://www.bloodandoilmovie.com. You can follow Klare on Facebook by clicking here.

Fukushima Uncontained: Nuclear Plant Continuosly Releasing 93 Billion Becquerels Of Radiation A DAY Into Pacific Ocean For Years

In Uncategorized on April 9, 2013 at 7:07 pm

https://i1.wp.com/img.allvoices.com/thumbs/event/609/480/75214631-danger-radiation.jpgOldspeak: “The bottom line is that the reactors have lost containment. There are not “some leaks” at Fukushima. “Leaks” imply that the reactor cores are safely in their containment buildings, and there is a small hole or two which need to be plugged. But scientists don’t even know where the cores of the reactors are. That’s not leaking. That’s even worse than a total meltdown.” This is a daily, ongoing ecological catastrophe. Being ignored and denied  by American and by proxy Japanese goverments to preserve and proliferate pro-nuclear energy policy. Why is this profoundly dangerous, toxic and perpetually contaminating energy source being propped up as viable? Our ecosystem is continuously being contaminated by deadly radiation. It’s being transported around the planet via water and air. How is this part of American environmental policy? It is destroying the environment!? Tell your elected officials you want to your food, air and environment tested for radiation.  You want to know what’s being done to protect the public and environment from this ongoing catastrophe.  I, for the first time in two years, heard a 1 minute mention of the conditions at the plant just now on Free Speech TV on the Thom Hartman Show. Zero coverage in corporate controlled media. ”

 By Washington’s Blog:

You may have heard that Tepco – the operator of the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plants – announced a large leak of radioactive water.

You may have heard that the cooling system in the spent fuel pools at Fukushima has failed for a second time in a month.

This is newsworthy stuff … but completely misses the big picture.

Associated Press notes:

Experts suspect a continuous leak into the ocean through an underground water system, citing high levels of contamination in fish caught in waters just off the plant.

(Tepco graphics of the Fukushima plants even appear to show water directly flowing from the plant to the ocean. And see this.)

In fact, Japanese experts say that Fukushima is currently releasing up to 93 billion becquerels of radioactive cesium into the ocean each day.

How much radiation is that?

A quick calculation shows that Chernobyl released around ten thousand times more radioactive cesium each day during the reactor fire. But the Chernobyl fire only lasted 10 days … and the Fukushima release has been ongoing for more than 2 years so far.

Indeed, Fukushima has already spewed much more radioactive cesium and iodine 131 than Chernobyl. The amount of radioactive cesium released by Fukushima was some 20-30 times higher than initially admitted.

Fukushima also pumped out huge amounts of radioactive iodine 129 – which has a half-life of 15.7 million years. Fukushima has also dumped up to 900 trillion becquerels of radioactive strontium-90 – which is a powerful internal emitter which mimics calcium and collects in our bones – into the ocean.

And the amount of radioactive fuel at Fukushima dwarfs Chernobyl … and so could keep leaking for decades, centuries or millenia.

The bottom line is that the reactors have lost containment. There are not “some leaks” at Fukushima. “Leaks” imply that the reactor cores are safely in their containment buildings, and there is a small hole or two which need to be plugged. But scientists don’t even know where the cores of the reactors are. That’s not leaking. That’s even worse than a total meltdown.

So what are the consequences for people living outside of Fukushima itself?

They could be quite severe, indeed.

The 1% Doctrine: Will Capitalism Destroy Civilization?

In Uncategorized on March 7, 2013 at 4:45 pm

Dollar burn through EarthOldspeak:” The official doctrines suffer from a number of familiar “market inefficiencies,” among them the failure to take into account the effects on others in market transactions. The consequences of these “externalities” can be substantial. The current financial crisis is an illustration. It is partly traceable to the major banks and investment firms’ ignoring “systemic risk” – the possibility that the whole system would collapse – when they undertook risky transactions.

Environmental catastrophe is far more serious: The externality that is being ignored is the fate of the species. And there is nowhere to run, cap in hand, for a bailout.

In future, historians (if there are any) will look back on this curious spectacle taking shape in the early 21st century. For the first time in human history, humans are facing the significant prospect of severe calamity as a result of their actions – actions that are battering our prospects of decent survival. ” –Noam Chomsky
When this man speaks, we should all listen. While the real economy, crumbles and disintegrates, 1 in 6 people go hungry. 1 in 2 people live at or near the poverty line. High unemployment persists and the number homeless people is at the last depression era levels. The Dow Jones is as it was before the last global economic crash – at a record high. Corporate profits are through the roof, while most people’s wages have been cut. Most profits are being funneled to the controllers of our political systems who’ve demonstrated contempt for the planet and every living thing on it who wont rest until every resource is exploited and maximum profit is derived from them. This powerful vampire capitalist system is, unsustainable; accelerating our progression toward environmental catastrophe. It constitutes an existential threat to the planet and by extension, all life on it. On can only wonder what madness will be wrought after the next global economic crash, but our civilizations first global ecological crash will render economics, politics and power as we know it irrelevant. Our corporate controllers do not want us to recognize this essential reality, even though most of us do. It is the reason “the United States has not adopted any consistent and stable set of policies at the national level to foster the use of renewable energy”. None of the manufactured crises we’re encouraged to focus on matter when there’s no clean water, air or soil. Greed has infected our controllers so thoroughly that this horrifying fact is lost on them. “Profit Is Paramount”

By Noam Chomsky @ Truthout:

There is “capitalism” and then there is “really existing capitalism.”

The term “capitalism” is commonly used to refer to the U.S. economic system, with substantial state intervention ranging from subsidies for creative innovation to the “too-big-to-fail” government insurance policy for banks.

The system is highly monopolized, further limiting reliance on the market, and increasingly so: In the past 20 years the share of profits of the 200 largest enterprises has risen sharply, reports scholar Robert W. McChesney in his new book “Digital Disconnect.”

“Capitalism” is a term now commonly used to describe systems in which there are no capitalists: for example, the worker-owned Mondragon conglomerate in the Basque region of Spain, or the worker-owned enterprises expanding in northern Ohio, often with conservative support – both are discussed in important work by the scholar Gar Alperovitz.

Some might even use the term “capitalism” to refer to the industrial democracy advocated by John Dewey, America’s leading social philosopher, in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Dewey called for workers to be “masters of their own industrial fate” and for all institutions to be brought under public control, including the means of production, exchange, publicity, transportation and communication. Short of this, Dewey argued, politics will remain “the shadow cast on society by big business.”

The truncated democracy that Dewey condemned has been left in tatters in recent years. Now control of government is narrowly concentrated at the peak of the income scale, while the large majority “down below” has been virtually disenfranchised. The current political-economic system is a form of plutocracy, diverging sharply from democracy, if by that concept we mean political arrangements in which policy is significantly influenced by the public will.

There have been serious debates over the years about whether capitalism is compatible with democracy. If we keep to really existing capitalist democracy – RECD for short – the question is effectively answered: They are radically incompatible.

It seems to me unlikely that civilization can survive RECD and the sharply attenuated democracy that goes along with it. But could functioning democracy make a difference?

Let’s keep to the most critical immediate problem that civilization faces: environmental catastrophe. Policies and public attitudes diverge sharply, as is often the case under RECD. The nature of the gap is examined in several articles in the current issue of Daedalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Researcher Kelly Sims Gallagher finds that “One hundred and nine countries have enacted some form of policy regarding renewable power, and 118 countries have set targets for renewable energy. In contrast, the United States has not adopted any consistent and stable set of policies at the national level to foster the use of renewable energy.”

It is not public opinion that drives American policy off the international spectrum. Quite the opposite. Opinion is much closer to the global norm than the U.S. government’s policies reflect, and much more supportive of actions needed to confront the likely environmental disaster predicted by an overwhelming scientific consensus – and one that’s not too far off; affecting the lives of our grandchildren, very likely.

As Jon A. Krosnick and Bo MacInnis report in Daedalus: “Huge majorities have favored steps by the federal government to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions generated when utilities produce electricity. In 2006, 86 percent of respondents favored requiring utilities, or encouraging them with tax breaks, to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases they emit. Also in that year, 87 percent favored tax breaks for utilities that produce more electricity from water, wind or sunlight. These majorities were maintained between 2006 and 2010 and shrank somewhat after that.

The fact that the public is influenced by science is deeply troubling to those who dominate the economy and state policy.

One current illustration of their concern is the “Environmental Literacy Improvement Act” proposed to state legislatures by ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-funded lobby that designs legislation to serve the needs of the corporate sector and extreme wealth.

The ALEC Act mandates “balanced teaching” of climate science in K-12 classrooms. “Balanced teaching” is a code phrase that refers to teaching climate-change denial, to “balance” mainstream climate science. It is analogous to the “balanced teaching” advocated by creationists to enable the teaching of “creation science” in public schools. Legislation based on ALEC models has already been introduced in several states.

Of course, all of this is dressed up in rhetoric about teaching critical thinking – a fine idea, no doubt, but it’s easy to think up far better examples than an issue that threatens our survival and has been selected because of its importance in terms of corporate profits.

Media reports commonly present a controversy between two sides on climate change.

One side consists of the overwhelming majority of scientists, the world’s major national academies of science, the professional science journals and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

They agree that global warming is taking place, that there is a substantial human component, that the situation is serious and perhaps dire, and that very soon, maybe within decades, the world might reach a tipping point where the process will escalate sharply and will be irreversible, with severe social and economic effects. It is rare to find such consensus on complex scientific issues.

The other side consists of skeptics, including a few respected scientists who caution that much is unknown – which means that things might not be as bad as thought, or they might be worse.

Omitted from the contrived debate is a much larger group of skeptics: highly regarded climate scientists who see the IPCC’s regular reports as much too conservative. And these scientists have repeatedly been proven correct, unfortunately.

The propaganda campaign has apparently had some effect on U.S. public opinion, which is more skeptical than the global norm. But the effect is not significant enough to satisfy the masters. That is presumably why sectors of the corporate world are launching their attack on the educational system, in an effort to counter the public’s dangerous tendency to pay attention to the conclusions of scientific research.

At the Republican National Committee’s Winter Meeting a few weeks ago, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal warned the leadership that “We must stop being the stupid party. We must stop insulting the intelligence of voters.”

Within the RECD system it is of extreme importance that we become the stupid nation, not misled by science and rationality, in the interests of the short-term gains of the masters of the economy and political system, and damn the consequences.

These commitments are deeply rooted in the fundamentalist market doctrines that are preached within RECD, though observed in a highly selective manner, so as to sustain a powerful state that serves wealth and power.

The official doctrines suffer from a number of familiar “market inefficiencies,” among them the failure to take into account the effects on others in market transactions. The consequences of these “externalities” can be substantial. The current financial crisis is an illustration. It is partly traceable to the major banks and investment firms’ ignoring “systemic risk” – the possibility that the whole system would collapse – when they undertook risky transactions.

Environmental catastrophe is far more serious: The externality that is being ignored is the fate of the species. And there is nowhere to run, cap in hand, for a bailout.

In future, historians (if there are any) will look back on this curious spectacle taking shape in the early 21st century. For the first time in human history, humans are facing the significant prospect of severe calamity as a result of their actions – actions that are battering our prospects of decent survival.

Those historians will observe that the richest and most powerful country in history, which enjoys incomparable advantages, is leading the effort to intensify the likely disaster. Leading the effort to preserve conditions in which our immediate descendants might have a decent life are the so-called “primitive” societies: First Nations, tribal, indigenous, aboriginal.

The countries with large and influential indigenous populations are well in the lead in seeking to preserve the planet. The countries that have driven indigenous populations to extinction or extreme marginalization are racing toward destruction.

Thus Ecuador, with its large indigenous population, is seeking aid from the rich countries to allow it to keep its substantial oil reserves underground, where they should be.

Meanwhile the U.S. and Canada are seeking to burn fossil fuels, including the extremely dangerous Canadian tar sands, and to do so as quickly and fully as possible, while they hail the wonders of a century of (largely meaningless) energy independence without a side glance at what the world might look like after this extravagant commitment to self-destruction.

This observation generalizes: Throughout the world, indigenous societies are struggling to protect what they sometimes call “the rights of nature,” while the civilized and sophisticated scoff at this silliness.

This is all exactly the opposite of what rationality would predict – unless it is the skewed form of reason that passes through the filter of RECD.

© 2012 Noam Chomsky
(Noam Chomsky’s new book is “Power Systems: Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to U.S. Empire. Conversations with David Barsamian.” Chomsky is emeritus professor of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.)

Water Scarcity: A Widening Global Emergency & The Coming Water Wars

In Uncategorized on February 26, 2013 at 6:23 pm

Oldspeak: “The wars of the 21st century will be fought over water.” –Ismail Serageldin.A comprehensive report from the global conservation organization WWF, released August 16, details how the looming water crisis is now affecting rich countries as well as poor. Global warming, diminishing wetlands, and inadequate resource management are the main causes of expanding water shortages worldwide, according to the group.” As water scarcity grows worldwide, mighty rivers to tiny streams dry up. We continue unabated to expand our obviously unsustainable use of water intensive and contaminating production of our food and energy. While 40% of the world population lives with little or no access to clean water (expected to jump to 50% in 12 years).  Investors are positioning themselves to profit from water shortages and the water purification technology that will be come essential. This is seen as normal and sound business in a civilization animated by greed and exploitation. Cannibal capitalism is that particularly vicious and vampiristic form of capitalism that encourages greed, austerity, prefers gambling to investing and advances the economic interest of the top 00.1% at the expense of all others.  At what point will we shift our priorities from manufactured crises like “The Sequester”, “The Debt Ceiling”, “Entitlement Spending” and “Crises of Confidence” to actual existential crises, threatening our water, soil, air and environment?

By Doug Hornig & Alex Daley @ Casey Research:

Water is not scarce. It is made up of the first and third most common elements in the universe, and the two readily react to form a highly stable compound that maintains its integrity even at temperature extremes.

Hydrologist Dr. Vincent Kotwicki, in his paper Water in the Universe, writes:

“Water appears to be one of the most abundant molecules in the Universe. It dominates the environment of the Earth and is a main constituent of numerous planets, moons and comets. On a far greater scale, it possibly contributes to the so-called ‘missing mass’ [i.e., dark matter] of the Universe and may initiate the birth of stars inside the giant molecular clouds.”

Oxygen has been found in the newly discovered “cooling flows” – heavy rains of gas that appear to be falling into galaxies from the space once thought empty surrounding them, giving rise to yet more water.

How much is out there? No one can even take a guess, since no one knows the composition of the dark matter that makes up as much as 90% of the mass of the universe. If comets, which are mostly ice, are a large constituent of dark matter, then, as Dr. Kotwicki writes, “the remote uncharted (albeit mostly frozen) oceans are truly unimaginably big.”

Back home, Earth is often referred to as the “water planet,” and it certainly looks that way from space. H2O covers about 70% of the surface of the globe. It makes all life as we know it possible.

The Blue Planet?

However it got here – theories abound from outgassing of volcanic eruptions to deposits by passing comets and ancient crossed orbits – water is what gives our planet its lovely, unique blue tint, and there appears to be quite a lot of it.

That old axiom that the earth is 75% water… not quite. In reality, water constitutes only 0.07% of the earth by mass, or 0.4% by volume.

This is how much we have, depicted graphically:

Credit: Howard Perlman, USGS; globe illustration by Jack Cook, Woods Hole
Oceanographic Institution (©); Adam Nieman.

What this shows is the relative size of our water supply if it were all gathered together into a ball and superimposed on the globe.

The large blob, centered over the western US, is all water (oceans, icecaps, glaciers, lakes, rivers, groundwater, and water in the atmosphere). It’s a sphere about 860 miles in diameter, or roughly the distance from Salt Lake City to Topeka. The smaller sphere, over Kentucky, is the fresh water in the ground and in lakes, rivers, and swamps.

Now examine the image closely. See that last, tiny dot over Georgia? It’s the fresh water in lakes and rivers.

Looked at another way, that ball of all the water in the world represents a total volume of about 332.5 million cubic miles. But of this, 321 million mi3, or 96.5%, is saline – great for fish, but undrinkable without the help of nature or some serious hardware. That still leaves a good bit of fresh water, some 11.6 million mi3, to play with. Unfortunately, the bulk of that is locked up in icecaps, glaciers, and permanent snow, or is too far underground to be accessible with today’s technology. (The numbers come from the USGS; obviously, they are estimates and they change a bit every year, but they are accurate enough for our purposes.)

Accessible groundwater amounts to 5.614 million mi3, with 55% of that saline, leaving a little over 2.5 million mi3 of fresh groundwater. That translates to about 2.7 exa-gallons of fresh water, or about 2.7 billion billion gallons (yes billions of billions, or 1018 in scientific notation), which is about a third of a billion gallons of water per person. Enough to take a long shower every day for many lifetimes…

However, not all of that groundwater is easily or cheaply accessible. The truth is that the surface is the source for the vast majority – nearly 80% – of our water. Of surface waters, lakes hold 42,320 mi3, only a bit over half of which is fresh, and the world’s rivers hold only 509 mi3 of fresh water, less than 2/10,000 of 1% of the planetary total.

And that’s where the problem lies. In 2005 in the US alone, we humans used about 328 billion gallons of surface water per day, compared to about 83 billion gallons per day of water from the ground. Most of that surface water, by far, comes from rivers. Among these, one of the most important is the mighty Colorado.

Horseshoe Bend, in Page, AZ. (AP Photo)

Tapping Ol’ Man River

Or perhaps we should say “the river formerly known as the mighty Colorado.” That old Colorado – the one celebrated in centuries of American Western song and folklore; the one that exposed two billion years of geologic history in the awesome Grand Canyon – is gone. In its place is… well, Las Vegas – the world’s gaudiest monument to hubristic human overreach, and a big neon sign advertising the predicament now faced by much of the world.

It’s well to remember that most of the US west of the Mississippi ranges from relatively dry to very arid, to desert, to lifeless near-moonscapes. The number of people that could be supported by the land, especially in the Southwest, was always small and concentrated along the riverbanks. Tribal clusters died out with some regularity. And that’s the way it would have remained, except for a bit of ingenuity that suddenly loosed two powerful forces on the area: electrical power, and an abundance of water that seemed as limitless as the sky.

In September of 1935, President Roosevelt dedicated the pinnacle of engineering technology up to that point: Hoover Dam. The dam did two things. It served as a massive hydroelectric generating plant, and it backed up the Colorado River behind it, creating Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the country.

Early visitors dubbed Hoover Dam the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” and it’s easy to see why. It was built on a scale unlike anything before it. It’s 725 feet high and contains 6 million tons of concrete, which would pave a road from New York to Los Angeles. Its 19 generators produce 2,080 MW of electricity, enough to power 1.75 million average homes.

The artificially created Lake Mead is 112 miles long, with a maximum depth of 590 feet. It has a surface area of 250 square miles and an active capacity of 16 million acre-feet.

Hoover Dam was intended to generate sufficient power and impound an ample amount of water, to meet any conceivable need. But as things turned out, grand as the dam is, it wasn’t conceived grandly enough… because it is 35 miles from Las Vegas, Nevada.

Vegas had a permanent population in 1935 of 8,400, a number that swelled to 25,000 during the dam construction as workers raced in to take jobs that were scarce in the early Depression years. Those workers, primarily single men, needed something to do with their spare time, so the Nevada state legislature legalized gambling in 1931. Modern Vegas was born.

The rise of Vegas is well chronicled, from a middle-of-nowhere town to the largest city founded in the 20th century and the fastest-growing in the nation – up until the 2008 housing bust. Somehow, those 8,400 souls turned into a present population of over 2 million that exists all but entirely to service the 40 million tourists who visit annually. And all this is happening in a desert that sees an average of 10 days of measurable rainfall per year, totaling about 4 inches.

In order to run all those lights, fountains, and revolving stages, Las Vegas requires 5,600 MW of electricity on a summer day. Did you notice that that’s more than 2.5 times what the giant Hoover Dam can put out? Not to mention that those 42 million people need a lot of water to drink to stay properly hydrated in the 100+ degree heat. And it all comes from Lake Mead.

So what do you think is happening to the lake?

If your guess was, “it’s shrinking,” you’re right. The combination of recent drought years in the West and rapidly escalating demand has been a dire double-whammy, reducing the lake to 40% full. Normally, the elevation of Lake Mead is 1,219 feet. Today, it’s at 1,086 feet and dropping by ten feet a year (and accelerating). That’s how much more water is being taken out than is being replenished.

This is science at its simplest. If your extraction of a renewable resource exceeds its ability to recharge itself, it will disappear – end of story. In the case of Lake Mead, that means going dry, an eventuality to which hydrologists assign a 50% probability in the next twelve years. That’s by 2025.

Nevadans are not unaware of this. There is at the moment a frantic push to get approval for a massive pipeline project designed to bring in water from the more favored northern part of the state. Yet even if the pipeline were completed in time, and there is stiff opposition to it (and you thought only oil pipelines gave way to politics and protests), that would only resolve one issue. There’s another. A big one.

Way before people run out of drinking water, something else happens: When Lake Mead falls below 1,050 feet, the Hoover Dam’s turbines shut down – less than four years from now, if the current trend holds – and in Vegas the lights start going out.

What Doesn’t Stay in Vegas

Ominously, these water woes are not confined to Las Vegas. Under contracts signed by President Obama in December 2011, Nevada gets only 23.37% of the electricity generated by the Hoover Dam. The other top recipients: Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (28.53%); state of Arizona (18.95%); city of Los Angeles (15.42%); and Southern California Edison (5.54%).

You can always build more power plants, but you can’t build more rivers, and the mighty Colorado carries the lifeblood of the Southwest. It services the water needs of an area the size of France, in which live 40 million people. In its natural state, the river poured 15.7 million acre-feet of water into the Gulf of California each year. Today, twelve years of drought have reduced the flow to about 12 million acre-feet, and human demand siphons off every bit of it; at its mouth, the riverbed is nothing but dust.

Nor is the decline in the water supply important only to the citizens of Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Los Angeles. It’s critical to the whole country. The Colorado is the sole source of water for southeastern California’s Imperial Valley, which has been made into one of the most productive agricultural areas in the US despite receiving an average of three inches of rain per year.

The Valley is fed by an intricate system consisting of 1,400 miles of canals and 1,100 miles of pipeline. They are the only reason a bone-dry desert can look like this:

Intense conflicts over water will probably not be confined to the developing world. So far, Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado have been able to make and keep agreements defining who gets how much of the Colorado River’s water. But if populations continue to grow while the snowcap recedes, it’s likely that the first shots will be fired before long, in US courtrooms. If legal remedies fail… a war between Phoenix and LA might seem far-fetched, but at the minimum some serious upheaval will eventually ensue unless an alternative is found quickly.

A Litany of Crises

Water scarcity is, of course, not just a domestic issue. It is far more critical in other parts of the world than in the US. It will decide the fate of people and of nations.

Worldwide, we are using potable water way faster than it can be replaced. Just a few examples:

  • The legendary Jordan River is flowing at only 2% of its historic rate.
  • In Africa, desertification is proceeding at an alarming rate. Much of the northern part of the continent is already desert, of course. But beyond that, a US Department of Agriculture study places about 2.5 million km2 of African land at low risk of desertification, 3.6 million km2 at moderate risk, 4.6 million km2 at high risk, and 2.9 million km2 at very high risk. “The region that has the highest propensity,” the report says, “is located along the desert margins and occupies about 5% of the land mass. It is estimated that about 22 million people (2.9% of the total population) live in this area.”
  • A 2009 study published in the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate analyzed 925 major rivers from 1948 to 2004 and found an overall decline in total discharge. The reduction in inflow to the Pacific Ocean alone was about equal to shutting off the Mississippi River. The list of rivers that serve large human populations and experienced a significant decline in flow includes the Amazon, Congo, Chang Jiang (Yangtze), Mekong, Ganges, Irrawaddy, Amur, Mackenzie, Xijiang, Columbia, and Niger.

Supply is not the only issue. There’s also potability. Right now, 40% of the global population has little to no access to clean water, and despite somewhat tepid modernization efforts, that figure is actually expected to jump to 50% by 2025. When there’s no clean water, people will drink dirty water – water contaminated with human and animal waste. And that breeds illness. It’s estimated that fully half of the world’s hospital beds today are occupied by people with water-borne diseases.

Food production is also a major contributor to water pollution. To take two examples:

  • The “green revolution” has proven to have an almost magical ability to provide food for an ever-increasing global population, but at a cost. Industrial cultivation is extremely water intensive, with 80% of most US states’ water usage going to agriculture – and in some, it’s as high as 90%. In addition, factory farming uses copious amounts of fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides, creating serious problems for the water supply because of toxic runoff.
  • Modern livestock facilities – known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) – create enormous quantities of animal waste that is pumped into holding ponds. From there, some of it inevitably seeps into the groundwater, and the rest eventually has to be dumped somewhere. Safe disposal practices are often not followed, and regulatory oversight is lax. As a result, adjacent communities’ drinking water can come to contain dangerously high levels of E. coli bacteria and other harmful organisms.

Not long ago, scientists discovered a whole new category of pollutants that no one had previously thought to test for: drugs. We are a nation of pill poppers and needle freaks, and the drugs we introduce into our bodies are only partially absorbed. The remainder is excreted and finds its way into the water supply. Samples recently taken from Lake Mead revealed detectable levels of birth control medication, steroids, and narcotics… which people and wildlife are drinking.

Most lethal of all are industrial pollutants that continue to find their way into the water supply. The carcinogenic effects of these compounds have been well documented, as the movie-famed Erin Brockovich did with hexavalent chromium.

But the problem didn’t go away with Brockovich’s court victory. The sad fact is that little has changed for the better. In the US, our feeble attempt to deal with these threats was the passage in 1980 of the so-called Superfund Act. That law gave the federal government – and specifically the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – the authority to respond to chemical emergencies and to clean up uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous-waste sites on both private and public lands. And it supposedly provided money to do so.

How’s that worked out? According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), “After decades of spearheading restoration efforts in areas such as the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay, improvements in these water bodies remain elusive … EPA continues to face the challenges posed by an aging wastewater infrastructure that results in billions of gallons of untreated sewage entering our nation’s water bodies … Lack of rapid water-testing methods and development of current water quality standards continue to be issues that EPA needs to address.”

Translation: the EPA hasn’t produced. How much of this is due to the typical drag of a government bureaucracy and how much to lack of funding is debatable. Whether there might be a better way to attack the problem is debatable. But what is not debatable is the magnitude of the problem stacking up, mostly unaddressed.

Just consider that the EPA has a backlog of 1,305 highly toxic Superfund cleanup sites on its to-do list, in every state in the union (except apparently North Dakota, in case you want to try to escape – though the proliferation of hydraulic fracking in that area may quickly change the map, according to some of its detractors – it’s a hotly debated assertion).

About 11 million people in the US, including 3-4 million children, live within one mile of a federal Superfund site. The health of all of them is at immediate risk, as is that of those living directly downstream.

We could go on about this for page after page. The situation is depressing, no question. And even more so is the fact that there’s little we can do about it. There is no technological quick fix.

Peak oil we can handle. We find new sources, we develop alternatives, and/or prices rise. It’s all but certain that by the time we actually run out of oil, we’ll already have shifted to something else.

But “peak water” is a different story. There are no new sources; what we have is what we have. Absent a profound climate change that turns the evaporation/rainfall hydrologic cycle much more to our advantage, there likely isn’t going to be enough to around.

As the biosphere continually adds more billions of humans (the UN projects there will be another 3.5 billion people on the planet, a greater than 50% increase, by 2050 before a natural plateau really starts to dampen growth), the demand for clean water has the potential to far outstrip dwindling supplies. If that comes to pass, the result will be catastrophic. People around the world are already suffering and dying en masse from lack of access to something drinkable… and the problems look poised to get worse long before they get better.

Searching for a Way Out

With a problem of this magnitude, there is no such thing as a comprehensive solution. Instead, it will have to be addressed by chipping away at the problem in a number of ways, which the world is starting to do.

With much water not located near population centers, transportation will have to be a major part of the solution. With oil, a complex system of pipelines, tankers, and trucking fleets has been erected, because it’s been profitable to do so. The commodity has a high intrinsic value. Water doesn’t – or at least hasn’t in most of the modern era’s developed economies – and thus delivery has been left almost entirely to gravity. Further, the construction of pipelines for water that doesn’t flow naturally means taking a vital resource from someone and giving it to someone else, a highly charged political and social issue that’s been known to lead to protest and even violence. But until we’ve piped all the snow down from Alaska to California, transportation will be high on the list of potential near term solutions, especially to individual supply crunches, just as it has been with energy.

Conservation measures may help too, at least in the developed world, though the typical lawn-watering restrictions will hardly make a dent. Real conservation will have to come from curtailing industrial uses like farming and fracking.

But these bandage solutions can only forestall the inevitable without other advances to address the problems. Thankfully, where there is a challenge, there are always technology innovators to help address it. It was wells and aqueducts that let civilization move from the riverbank inland, irrigation that made communal farming scale, and sewers and pipes that turned villages into cities, after all. And just as with the dawn of industrial water, entrepreneurs are developing some promising tech developments, too.

Given how much water we use today, there’s little doubt that conservation’s sibling, recycling, is going to be big. Microfiltration systems are very sophisticated and can produce recycled water that is near-distilled in quality. Large-scale production remains a challenge, as is the reluctance of people to drink something that was reclaimed from human waste or industrial runoff. But that might just require the right spokesperson. California believes so, in any case, as it forges ahead with its Porcelain Springs initiative. A company called APTwater has taken on the important task of purifying contaminated leachate water from landfills that would otherwise pollute the groundwater. This is simply using technology to accelerate the natural process of replenishment by using energy, but if it can be done at scale, we will eventually reach the point where trading oil or coal for clean drinking water makes economic sense. It’s already starting to in many places.

Inventor Dean Kamen of Segway fame has created the Slingshot, a water-purification machine that could be a lifesaver for small villages in more remote areas. The size of a dorm-room refrigerator, it can produce 250 gallons of water a day, using the same amount of energy it takes to run a hair dryer, provided by an engine that can burn just about anything (it’s been run on cow dung). The Slingshot is designed to be maintenance-free for at least five years.

Kamen says you can “stick the intake hose into anything wet – arsenic-laden water, salt water, the latrine, the holding tanks of a chemical waste treatment plant; really, anything wet – and the outflow is one hundred percent pure pharmaceutical-grade injectable water.”

That naturally presupposes there is something wet to tap into. But Coca-Cola, for one, is a believer. This September, Coke entered into a partnership with Kamen’s company, Deka Research, to distribute Slingshots in Africa and Latin America.

Ceramic filters are another, low-tech option for rural areas. Though clean water output is very modest, they’re better than nothing. The ability to decontaminate stormwater runoff would be a boon for cities, and AbTech Industries is producing a product to do just that.

In really arid areas, the only water present may be what’s held in the air. Is it possible to tap that source? “Yes,” say a couple of cutting-edge tech startups. Eole Water proposes to extract atmospheric moisture using a wind turbine. Another company, NBD Nano, has come up with a self-filling water bottle that mimics the Namib Desert beetle. Whether the technology is scalable to any significant degree remains to be seen.

And finally, what about seawater? There’s an abundance of that. If you ask a random sampling of folks in the street what we’re going to do about water shortages on a larger scale, most of them will answer, “desalination.” No problem. Well, yes problem.

Desalination (sometimes shortened to “desal”) plants are already widespread, and their output is ramping up rapidly. According to the International Desalination Association, in 2009 there were 14,451 desalination plants operating worldwide, producing about 60 million cubic meters of water per day. That figure rose to 68 million m3/day in 2010 and is expected to double to 120 million m3/day by 2020. That sounds impressive, but the stark reality is that it amounts to only around a quarter of one percent of global water consumption.

Boiling seawater and collecting the condensate has been practiced by sailors for nearly two millennia. The same basic principle is employed today, although it has been refined into a procedure called “multistage flash distillation,” in which the boiling is done at less than atmospheric pressure, thereby saving energy. This process accounts for 85% of all desalination worldwide. The remainder comes from “reverse osmosis,” which uses semipermeable membranes and pressure to separate salts from water.

The primary drawbacks to desal are that a plant obviously has to be located near the sea, and that it is an expensive, highly energy-intensive process. That’s why you find so many desal facilities where energy is cheap, in the oil-rich, water-poor nations of the Middle East. Making it work in California will be much more difficult without drastically raising the price of water. And Nevada? Out of luck. Improvements in the technology are bringing costs of production down, but the need for energy, and lots of it, isn’t going away. By way of illustration, suppose the US would like to satisfy half of its water needs through desalination. All other factors aside, meeting that goal would require the construction of more than 100 new electric power plants, each dedicated solely to that purpose, and each with a gigawatt of capacity.

Moving desalinated water from the ocean inland adds to the expense. The farther you have to transport it and the greater the elevation change, the less feasible it becomes. That makes desalination impractical for much of the world. Nevertheless, the biggest population centers tend to be clustered along coastlines, and demand is likely to drive water prices higher over time, making desal more cost-competitive. So it’s a cinch that the procedure will play a steadily increasing role in supplying the world’s coastal cities with water.

In other related developments, a small tech startup called NanOasis is working on a desalination process that employs carbon nanotubes. An innovative new project in Australia is demonstrating that food can be grown in the most arid of areas, with low energy input, using solar-desalinated seawater. It holds the promise of being very scalable at moderate cost.

The Future

This article barely scratches the surface of a very broad topic that has profound implications for the whole of humanity going forward. The World Bank’s Ismail Serageldin puts it succinctly: “The wars of the 21st century will be fought over water.”

There’s no doubt that this is a looming crisis we cannot avoid. Everyone has an interest in water. How quickly we respond to the challenges ahead is going to be a matter, literally, of life and death. Where we have choices at all, we had better make some good ones.

From an investment perspective, there are few ways at present to acquire shares in the companies that are doing research and development in the field. But you can expect that to change as technologies from some of these startups begin to hit the market, and as the economics of water begin to shift in response to the changing global landscape.

We’ll be keeping an eye out for the investment opportunities that are sure to be on the way.

While profit opportunities in companies working to solve the world’s water woes may not be imminent, there are plenty of ways to leverage technology to outsized gains right now. One of the best involves a technology so revolutionary, its impact could rival that of the printing press.

Message from Mexico: U.S. Is Polluting Water Reservoirs It May Someday Need to Drink From

In Uncategorized on January 29, 2013 at 5:29 pm

Oldspeak:”U.S. environmental regulators have long assumed that reservoirs located thousands of feet underground will be too expensive to tap. So even as population increases, temperatures rise, and traditional water supplies dry up, American scientists and policy-makers often exempt these deep aquifers from clean water protections and allow energy and mining companies to inject pollutants directly into them. the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued more than 1,500 permits for companies to pollute such aquifers in some of the driest regions. Frequently, the reason was that the water lies too deep to be worth protecting. –Abrahm Lustgarten. From the Department of Galatically Stupid Policy Planning. The U.S. government has allowed ancient, unspoiled sources of an essential building block of life crucial to our survival;  water,  to be poisoned by short-sighted, profit-polluted energy corporations.  These industries ironically use untold trillions of gallons of water, to extract refine death energy. This despite devastating droughts through the summer of 2012 that rendered half of U.S. counties “natural” disaster areas. Despite reports of perpetual drought becoming an increasingly intractable problem in the coming decades, with scientists predicting the devastating conditions of “The Dust Bowl” in the 1950 becoming the new normal. The U.S. President takes every oppurtunity he gets to tout 100 years of energy independence to be gained from drilling for “natural” gas, but never mentions how much precious and irreplaceable water is lost to secure this “independence”. What will it take for policy makers to understand that they’re lining their pockets with riches begotten of  devolution, death, destruction? What will it take to make them understand that there is no prosperity, no power, no prestige, on a dead planet? “Ignorance Is Strength”, “Profit Is Paramount”

By Abrahm Lustgarten @ Pro Publica:

Mexico City plans to draw drinking water from a mile-deep aquifer, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. The Mexican effort challenges a key tenet of U.S. clean water policy: that water far underground can be intentionally polluted because it will never be used.

U.S. environmental regulators have long assumed that reservoirs located thousands of feet underground will be too expensive to tap. So even as population increases, temperatures rise, and traditional water supplies dry up, American scientists and policy-makers often exempt these deep aquifers from clean water protections and allow energy and mining companies to inject pollutants directly into them.

As ProPublica has reported in an ongoing investigation about America’s management of its underground water, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued more than 1,500 permits for companies to pollute such aquifers in some of the driest regions. Frequently, the reason was that the water lies too deep to be worth protecting.

But Mexico City’s plans to tap its newly discovered aquifer suggest that America is poisoning wells it might need in the future.

Indeed, by the standard often applied in the U.S., American regulators could have allowed companies to pump pollutants into the aquifer beneath Mexico City.

For example, in eastern Wyoming, an analysis showed that it would cost half a million dollars to construct a water well into deep, but high-quality aquifer reserves. That, plus an untested assumption that all the deep layers below it could only contain poor-quality water, led regulators to allow a uranium mine to inject more than 200,000 gallons of toxic and radioactive waste every day into the underground reservoirs.

But south of the border, worsening water shortages have forced authorities to look ever deeper for drinking water.

Today in Mexico City, the world’s third-largest metropolis, the depletion of shallow reservoirs is causing the ground to sink in, iconic buildings to teeter, and underground infrastructure to crumble. The discovery of the previously unmapped deep reservoir could mean that water won’t have to be rationed or piped into Mexico City from hundreds of miles away.

According to the Times report, Mexican authorities have already drilled an exploratory well into the aquifer and are working to determine the exact size of the reservoir. They are prepared to spend as much as $40 million to pump and treat the deeper water, which they say could supply some of Mexico City’s 20 million people for as long as a century.

Scientists point to what’s happening in Mexico City as a harbinger of a world in which people will pay more and dig deeper to tap reserves of the one natural resource human beings simply cannot survive without.

“Around the world people are increasingly doing things that 50 years ago nobody would have said they’d do,” said Mike Wireman, a hydrogeologist with the EPA who also works with the World Bank on global water supply issues.

Wireman points to new research in Europe finding water reservoirs several miles beneath the surface — far deeper than even the aquifer beneath Mexico City — and says U.S. policy has been slow to adapt to this new understanding.

“Depth in and of itself does not guarantee anything — it does not guarantee you won’t use it in the future, and it does not guarantee that that it is not” a source of drinking water, he said.

If Mexico City’s search for water seems extreme, it is not unusual. In aquifers Denver relies on, drinking water levels have dropped more than 300 feet. Texas rationed some water use last summer in the midst of a record-breaking drought. And Nevada — realizing that the water levels in one of the nation’s largest reservoirs may soon drop below the intake pipes — is building a drain hole to sap every last drop from the bottom.

“Water is limited, so they are really hustling to find other types of water,” said Mark Williams, a hydrologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “It’s kind of a grim future, there’s no two ways about it.”

In a parched world, Mexico City is sending a message: Deep, unknown potential sources of drinking water matter, and the U.S. pollutes them at its peril.