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

Posts Tagged ‘Environmental Protection’

Survey Finds 97% Of Climate Science Literature Agree Human Activity Is Driving Global Warming

In Uncategorized on May 21, 2013 at 2:53 pm
Hacked climate science emails : Porters Descending with Ice Core Samples

Porters carry cores of ancient glacial ice down from the 6542m summit of Mt Sajama in Bolivia. 97% of scientific papers taking a position on climate change say it is man-made. Photograph: George Steinmetz/Corbis

Oldspeak: “In the wake of the most recent tragic devastating American natural disaster my heart goes out to the victims. As predicted for decades, natural disasters are becoming more frequent, more intense and less predictable. This is yet ANOTHER sign of what’s to come, while we continue to ignore the devastating impact our species is having on our environment, our environment is having a devastating impact on us.  Its simple physics. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. “32.4 million people were forced to flee their homes last year due to natural disasters such as floods, storms and earthquakes. Climate change is believed to play an increasingly significant role in global disasters. …According to the 2012 Special Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 98% of those uprooted were displaced by climate- and weather-related events” Untold habitats, and the life they support is being wiped out by human activity. In tandem, human habitats and the life they support are being wiped out as well. Yet still, in the face of all this devastation, locally and globally our response has been as it usually is. Reactive. Tepid. Nibbling around the edges. Continuing to dump vital resources into the  extractive-energy systems that are causing the problems, while failing to ramp up & largely ignoring regenerative and sustainable energy systems which could help mitigate the problems… The research is clear. Man is causing these calamities. Yet there is little questioning or debating the efficacy of the systems in place that are accelerating global ecological destruction. Our leaders are barely speaking about and making inconsequential actions to counter climate change. Obama will soon be giving a major speech about the U.S. drone assassination program. While important, it is inconsequential when compared to the health of our planet. He’s promised to “respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.  Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.  The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.  But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it” Continuing to subsidize extractive energy sources like oil, gas and radioactive is not leading. It’s not a logical response.  Some argue, he’s already given up on dealing with climate change, with no definitive climate related actions outlined and a 3.5% cut to the Environmental Protection Agency in his latest budget. A Leading, logical response  would be making a major policy speech to herald America’s transition from dirty energy to clean energy on a national scale.  Expending the same effort that was expended in response to World War 2, because make no mistake, This is an actual war to save our World.  We need to start acting like it. Changing whole industries to support the war effort. Requiring all polluters to drastically reduce their toxic emissions and waste.  Banning petrochemical based products. Localizing food and energy production. Recycling EVERYTHING. Converting all gasoline powered car plants to produce clean energy powered vehicles. Using all available idle, underutilized, and obsolete energy producing factories to produce solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal power plants, and other regenerative energy systems. Putting solar panels on top of every building in the country. Embedding them in every paved road.  Retrofitting all extractive energy using systems for regenerative energy use…. Etc, etc, etc… . Greening our infrastructure. Transformative, and radically different policy is what we need. Not nibbling. The time for grand action is now. ”

By John Abraham & Dana Nuccitelli @ The U.K. Guardian:

Our team of citizen science volunteers at Skeptical Science has published a new survey in the journal Environmental Research Letters of over 12,000 peer-reviewed climate science papers, as the Guardian reports today. This is the most comprehensive survey of its kind, and the inspiration of this blog’s name: Climate Consensus – the 97%.

The survey

In 2004, Naomi Oreskes performed a survey of 928 peer-reviewed climate papers published between 1993 and 2003, finding none that rejected the human cause of global warming. We decided that it was time to expand upon Oreskes’ work by performing a keyword search of peer-reviewed scientific journal publications for the terms ‘global warming’ and ‘global climate change’ between the years 1991 and 2011.

Our team agreed upon definitions of categories to put the papers in: explicit or implicit endorsement of human-caused global warming, no opinion, and implicit or explicit rejection or minimization of the human influence, and began the long process of rating over 12,000 abstracts.

We decided from the start to take a conservative approach in our ratings. For example, a study which takes it for granted that global warming will continue for the foreseeable future could easily be put into the implicit endorsement category; there is no reason to expect global warming to continue indefinitely unless humans are causing it. However, unless an abstract included language about the cause of the warming, we categorized it as ‘no opinion’.

Each paper was rated by at least two people, and a dozen volunteers completed most of the 24,000 ratings. The volunteers were a very internationally diverse group. Team members’ home countries included Australia, USA, Canada, UK, New Zealand, Germany, Finland, and Italy.

We also decided that asking the scientists to rate their own papers would be the ideal way to check our results. Who knows what the papers say better than the authors who wrote them? We received responses from 1,200 scientists who rated a total of over 2,100 papers. Unlike our team’s ratings that only considered the summary of each paper presented in the abstract, the scientists considered the entire paper in the self-ratings.

The results

Based on our abstract ratings, we found that just over 4,000 papers took a position on the cause of global warming, 97.1% of which endorsed human-caused global warming. In the scientist self-ratings, nearly 1,400 papers were rated as taking a position, 97.2% of which endorsed human-caused global warming. Many papers captured in our literature search simply investigated an issue related to climate change without taking a position on its cause.

Our survey found that the consensus has grown slowly over time, and reached about 98% as of 2011. Our results are also consistent with several previous surveys finding a 97% consensus amongst climate experts on the human cause of global warming.

Consensus growth over time The growth of the scientific consensus on human-caused global warming in the peer-reviewed literature from 1991 to 2011

Why is this important?

Several studies have shown that people who are aware of scientific consensus on human-caused global warming are more likely to support government action to curb greenhouse gas emissions. This was most recently shown by a paper just published in the journal Climatic Change. People will generally defer to the judgment of experts, and they trust climate scientists on the subject of global warming.

However, vested interests have long realized this and engaged in a campaign to misinform the public about the scientific consensus. For example, a memo from communications strategist Frank Luntz leaked in 2002 advised Republicans,

“Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate

This campaign has been successful. A 2012 poll from US Pew Research Center found less than half of Americans thought scientists agreed humans were causing global warming. The media has assisted in this public misconception, with most climate stories “balanced” with a “skeptic” perspective. However, this results in making the 2–3% seem like 50%. In trying to achieve “balance”, the media has actually created a very unbalanced perception of reality. As a result, people believe scientists are still split about what’s causing global warming, and therefore there is not nearly enough public support or motivation to solve the problem.

Check our results for yourself

We chose to submit our paper to Environmental Research Letters because it is a well-respected, high-impact journal, but also because it offers the option of making a paper open access, free for anyone to download.

We have also set up a public ratings system at Skeptical Science where anybody can duplicate our survey. Read and rate as many abstracts as you like, and see what level of consensus you find. You can compare your results to our abstract ratings, and to the author self-ratings.

Human-caused global warming

We fully anticipate that climate contrarians will respond by saying “we don’t dispute that humans cause some global warming.” First, there are a lot of people who do dispute that humans cause any global warming. Our paper shows that their position is not supported in the scientific literature.

Most papers don’t quantify the human contribution to global warming, because it doesn’t take tens of thousands of papers to establish that reality. However, as noted above, if a paper minimized the human contribution, we classified that as a ‘rejection’. For example, if a paper were to say “the sun caused most of the global warming over the past century,” that would be included in the less than 3% of papers rejecting or minimizing human-caused global warming.

Many studies simply defer to the expert summary of climate science research put together by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which says that most of the global warming since the mid-20th century has been caused by humans. And according to recent research, that statement is actually too conservative. Of the papers which specifically examine the contributors to global warming, they virtually all conclude that humans are the dominant cause over the past 50 to 100 years.

Results of eight global warming attribution studies Summary of results from 8 studies of the causes of global warming.Most studies simply accept this fact and go on to examine the consequences of this human-caused global warming and associated climate change.

Another important point is that once you accept that humans are causing global warming, you must also accept that global warming is still happening. We cause global warming by increasing the greenhouse effect, and our greenhouse gas emissions just keep accelerating. This ties in to the fact that as recent research has showed, global warming is accelerating. If you accept that humans are causing global warming, as over 97% of peer-reviewed scientific papers do, then this conclusion should not be at all controversial. Global warming cannot have suddenly stopped.

Spread the word

Given the importance of the scientific consensus on human-caused global warming in peoples’ decisions whether to support action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the public lack of awareness of the consensus, we need to make people aware of these results. To that end, design and advertising firm SJI Associates generously created a website pro-bono, centered around the results of our survey. The website can be viewed at TheConsensusProject.com, and it includes a page where consensus graphics can be shared via social media or email. Skeptical Science also has a new page of consensus graphics.

Quite possibly the most important thing to communicate about climate change is that there is a 97% consensus amongst the scientific experts and scientific research that humans are causing global warming. Let’s spread the word and close the consensus gap.

If The Oceans Die – We Die

In Uncategorized on May 10, 2013 at 3:18 pm

View from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, situated at 11,135 feet above sea level.

Oldspeak: “As the world’s oceans absorb more and more CO2, they become more and more acidic, and, according to a new study released yesterday by the Norwegian Institute for Water Research at the International Conference on Arctic Ocean Acidification, the rapid acidification of the Arctic Ocean has pushed us beyond “critical thresholds.” It’s likely, they say, that widespread impacts will be felt across the world’s oceans for “tens of thousands of years” – even if we stopped all carbon emissions today.” –Thom Hartmann.” It’s really that simple. There is no more wiggle room. We are all Nero’s Guests. Laughing, smiling, partying, consuming, instagraming, facebooking, tweeting, while our planet burns and dies around us. Global CO2 levels are approaching 400 parts per million, way beyond the 350 recommended by climate scientists to ensure our continued existence. We have to stop polishing the brass on The titanic and look for ways, fundamentally changed ways to avoid the giant iceberg we’re hurtling toward. “

By Thom Hartmann @ Truthout:

As lawmakers in Washington continue to ignore the most pressing issue facing our planet today – climate change – we are about to pass a very disturbing environmental milestone.

The CO2 levels at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii will reach 400 ppm any day now, which could spell further disaster for our planet.

Since measurements started at Mauna Loa in 1958, there has been a steady increase in CO2 concentration, known as the “Keeling Curve.”

Named after Charles Keeling, who started measuring CO2 air concentrations in 1858, the Keeling Curve measures the concentration of CO2 in the air in parts per million.

Since 1960, the CO2 concentration at Mauna Loa has increased by almost 28%.

Thanks to our society’s toxic addiction to fossil fuels, unprecedented levels of CO2 are being pumped into our environment each and every day.

But why have CO2 concentrations increased so much over the past few decades?

Part of it has to do with increased industrialization and reliance on dirty fossil fuels, but part of it also has to do with the world’s oceans.

According to Richard Bellerby, Research Scientist at the Norwegian Institute for Water Research, the oceans have “been performing a huge climate service over the last 200 years.”

That’s because oceans have the ability to absorb CO2, which prevents it from escaping into the atmosphere. By holding the CO2 in the oceans, they’ve been slowing, or at least postponing, the speed of global climate change.

In fact, the world’s oceans, especially the coldest waters, have absorbed about 50 percent of the CO2 that we’ve emitted, and continue to take up about a quarter of the CO2 that we produce every day now.

But the oceans and the ecosystems within them are now paying a steep price for taking in all that CO2.

As the world’s oceans absorb more and more CO2, they become more and more acidic, and, according to a new study released yesterday by the Norwegian Institute for Water Research at the International Conference on Arctic Ocean Acidification, the rapid acidification of the Arctic Ocean has pushed us beyond “critical thresholds.”

It’s likely, they say, that widespread impacts will be felt across the world’s oceans for “tens of thousands of years” – even if we stopped all carbon emissions today.

Dubbed “climate change’s evil twin,” acidification of ocean surface waters has increased by around 30 percent over the last 200 years, with the highest levels of acidification occurring in the Arctic and the rest of the world’s coldest waters.

Richard Bellerby, the chief scientist on the report, said that, “Arctic ocean acidification is happening at a faster rate than found in other global regions. This is because climate change such as warming and freshening of the oceans is acting in tandem with the enormous oceanic uptake of C02.”

And Bellerby told BBC News that “continued rapid change is a certainty.”

Another researcher on the study, Sam Dupont of the University of Gothenburg, told the conference that, “something really unique is happening. This is the first time that we as humans are changing the whole planet; we are actually acidifying the whole ocean today.”

Dupont also said that, “Within a few decades, by the end of this century, the ocean will be two times more acidic. And we also know that it might be even faster in the Arctic.”

As the oceans become more acidic, they’re less able to absorb CO2, which means more of what we’re blowing out our tailpipes and smokestacks will stay in our atmosphere and speed up global warming and climate change.

But more importantly, ocean acidification leads to mass ocean species extinction.

One example of a possible species extinction that the scientists at the conference gave was of the brittle star.

When exposed to the ocean acidification conditions that can be expected in the decades to come, the eggs of the brittle star die within days.

If the brittle star dies off, than the species that feed on it could die off as well and there would be a massive chain reaction of oceanic species extinctions.

And if the oceans die, we die.

It’s that simple.

The bottom-line here is that our addiction to fossil fuels, throwing into the atmosphere carbon that’s been stored deep in the earth for millions of years, is not only polluting our skies and wreaking havoc on our climate, it’s also destroying our oceans and the species in them.

It’s time to ditch fossil fuels, make the switch to cleaner and greener forms of energy, and save the world’s oceans, before they die and we go with them.

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.

Nearly 3 Years Later The Oil Is Still There. New 7 Mile Oil Slick Observed At Site Of BP’s Massive 2010 Oil Spill Goes Unreported By Major Media Outlets

In Uncategorized on January 29, 2013 at 2:06 pm

https://i0.wp.com/www.wggb.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/BP-Oil-Spill.jpgOldspeak: “While oil company BP and Gulf Coast states paint a picture of sparkling beaches, booming businesses, smiling fishermen and waters bursting with fresh seafood with their disingenuous propaganda films -errr, commercials, touting the progress and safety of the Gulf of Mexico, Significant amounts of oil is still present in the area of the disaster. This calamity is ongoing. This vital ecosystem is continuously being polluted, at multiple sites, and it’s largely being ignored.  Safety, transparency, and reality are not considered. Profit once again is paramount.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6lW8qPK6_A&feature=player_embedded

By Washington’s Blog:

Wings of Care provided new photos of an oil slick in the area of the Gulf oil spill, noting:

Here is the large surface slick that has been sitting over the Macondo area since last autumn, with as yet no explanation from BP or the US Coast Guard as to its origin. Its persistence, even after the weeks of rough weather we have had in recent weeks and months, suggests that its flow is substantial. Scientists who have sampled it have found evidence of manmade products such as drilling mud.

Wings of Care provided an update yesterday:

The most troubling vision today was the Macondo area itself. The slick that we had first noticed last fall, which was spreading over the area within a half-mile or so of the scene of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, was huge today. It stretched over 7 nautical miles in the south-north direction and was almost a mile wide in some spots. There were some patches of rainbow sheen and even some weathered oil (brownish “mousse”), although overall it remained a light surface sheen.

***

There are patches of rainbow and weathered “mousse” in it as well, which we have not seen out there for many months.

Stuart Smith provides context:

In Louisiana, we are blessed to have a one-woman environmental protection agency by the name of Bonny Schumaker. A retired NASA physicist and pilot, Schumaker has found a way to merge her love of all creatures and her passion for flying to create an amazing operation called On Wings Of Care. She flies animal rescue missions but since 2010 has also devoted a lot of her energy toward helping her fellow citizens learn the truth about the aftermath of BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster.

When the authorities wanted to restrict the public’s access to the site of the massive spill, Schumaker and her flights have documented both the scope of the spill and the extent of damage to marine life — and she hasn’t let up. In August 2011 and again in October 2012, her photographic evidence has forced BP, the U.S. Coast Guard, and other agencies to acknowledge and to investigate new sightings of fresh oil sheens near where BP’s rig blew up and sank. We’re still not satisfied with BP’s response to the problem, and we’re concerned that the oil may actually be coming from fissures under the sea.

One thing is undeniably clear from the photographic evidence: The oil is still there, 33 months after the explosion.

***

Massachusetts Rep. Edward Markey (who may win election to the U.S. Senate later this year) said of the ongoing problems at the site: “Back in 2010, I said BP was either lying or incompetent. Well, it turns out they were both. This is the same crime scene, and the American public today is entitled to the same information that BP was lying about in 2010 so that we can understand the full dimension of the additional environmental .”

Background: the ongoing leak; BP’s criminal liability.

How Germany Is Getting to 100 Percent Renewable Energy

In Uncategorized on November 19, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Oldspeak: “This is a very American idea, we got this from Jimmy Carter.” –Arne Jungjohann. “Germany adopted and continued Carter’s push for energy conservation while the U.S. abandoned further efforts. The death of an American Energiewende solidified when President Ronald Reagan ripped down the solar panels atop the White House that Carter had installed.” –Thomas Hedges. Shamefully, Germany is showing the “greatest democracy in the world” how it’s done.  Public administration, government regulation, decentralization and democratization of energy resources.  All being implemented with goal of providing the greatest good to the most people. As long as Big Energy corporations, ‘self-regulate’, write industry regulations and control politicians who write energy policy, energy democracy will not come to the U.S. The U.S. will continue to proceed toward it’s goals, stated by President Obama, of increasing domestic production of oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear. No matter how much water is poisoned, no matter how much air is polluted, no matter how much soil is contaminated. Private owenership and profit will continue to come before the greater good. Climate and ecosystem be damned. And we’ll all suffer as a result.

Related Story:

We’re on pace for 4°C of global warming. Here’s why that terrifies the World Bank.

Related Video:
Climate Change Is Simple

By Thomas Hedges @ Truthdig:

There is no debate on climate change in Germany. The temperature for the past 10 months has been 3 degrees above average and we’re again on course for the warmest year on record. There’s no dispute among Germans as to whether this change is man-made, or that we contribute to it and need to stop accelerating the process.

Since 2000, Germany has converted 25 percent of its power grid to renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and biomass. The architects of the clean energy movement Energiewende, which translates to “energy transformation,” estimate that from 80 percent to 100 percent of Germany’s electricity will come from renewable sources by 2050.

Germans are baffled that the United States has not taken the same path. Not only is the U.S. the wealthiest nation in the world, but it’s also credited with jump-starting Germany’s green movement 40 years ago.

“This is a very American idea,” Arne Jungjohann, a director at the Heinrich Boll Stiftung Foundation (HBSF), said at a news conference Tuesday morning in Washington, D.C. “We got this from Jimmy Carter.”

Germany adopted and continued Carter’s push for energy conservation while the U.S. abandoned further efforts. The death of an American Energiewende solidified when President Ronald Reagan ripped down the solar panels atop the White House that Carter had installed.

Since then, Germany has created strong incentives for the public to invest in renewable energy. It pays people to generate electricity from solar panels on their houses. The effort to turn more consumers into producers is accelerated through feed-in tariffs, which are 20-year contracts that ensure a fixed price the government will pay. Germany lowers the price every year, so there’s good reason to sign one as soon as possible, before compensation falls further.

The money the government uses to pay producers comes from a monthly surcharge on utility bills that everyone pays, similar to a rebate. Customers pay an additional cost for the renewable energy fund and then get that money back from the government, at a profit, if they are producing their own energy.

In the end, ratepayers control the program, not the government. This adds consistency, writer Osha Gray Davidson says. If the government itself paid, it would be easy for a new finance minister to cut the program upon taking office. Funding is not at the whim of politicians as it is in the U.S.

“Everyone has skin in the game,” says Davidson. “The movement is decentralized and democratized, and that’s why it works. Anybody in Germany can be a utility.”

The news conference the foundation organized with InsideClimate News comes two weeks after one of the biggest storms in U.S. history and sits in the shadow of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would unlock the world’s second-largest oil reserve in Canada. The event also comes one day after a report that says that the U.S. is on track to become the leading oil and gas producer by 2020, which suggests that the U.S. has the capability to match Germany’s green movement, but is instead using its resources to deepen its dependency on fossil fuels.

Many community organizers have given up on government and are moving to spark a green movement in the U.S. through energy cooperatives.

Anya Schoolman is a D.C. organizer who has started many co-ops in the district although she began with no experience. She says that converting to renewable energy one person at a time would not work in the U.S. because of legal complexities and tax laws that discourage people from investing in clean energy.

Grid managers in the U.S., she explains, often require households to turn off wind turbines at night, a practice called “curtailment.”

“It’s a favor to the utility companies,” she says, which don’t hold as much power in Germany as they do in the United States.

Individuals and cooperatives own 65 percent of Germany’s renewable energy capacity. In the U.S. they own 2 percent. The rest is privately controlled.

The largest difference, panelists said, between Germany and the U.S. is how reactive the government is to its citizens. Democracy in Germany has meant keeping and strengthening regulatory agencies while forming policies that put public ownership ahead of private ownership.

“In the end,” says Davidson, who spent a month in Germany studying the Energiewende, “it isn’t about making money. It’s about quality of life.”

EPA Links Tainted Water In Wyoming To Hydraulic Fracturing For Natural Gas

In Uncategorized on December 10, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Oldspeak:”‘Chemicals used to hydraulically fracture rocks in drilling for natural gas in a remote valley in central Wyoming are the likely cause of contaminated local water supplies, federal regulators said Thursday. The energy industry has long stressed that fracking and water contamination have never been definitively linked,’ despite mountains of evidence to the contrary. Thanks to a recent report, all those bullshit Exxon and Chevron commercials espousing the virtues of natural gas drilling can be exposed for what they are. Bright, shining lies. Hopefully this new information will help the Obama administration decide to put the kibosh on energy industry plans to drill in the fragile Marcellus Shale which if approved, will in all probability contaminate the drinking water of 15 million people from Delaware , New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Recent history suggests he’ll vote yes. God help us all.

Related Stories:

Fracking With Food: How The Natural Gas Industry Poisons Cows And Crops

Two Big Decisions Loom On The Fate Of Drinking Water For 15,800,000 People Living Near The Marcellus Shale In Northeast U.S.

By Kirk Johnson @ The New York Times:

Chemicals used to hydraulically fracture rocks in drilling for natural gas in a remote valley in central Wyoming are the likely cause of contaminated local water supplies, federal regulators said Thursday.

The draft report, after a three-year study by the Environmental Protection Agency, represents a new scientific and political skirmish line over whether fracking, as it is more commonly known, poses a threat in the dozens of places around the nation where it is now being used to extract previously unreachable energy resources locked within rock.

The study, which was prompted by complaints from local residents about the smell and taste of their water, stressed that local conditions were unusual at the site, called the Pavillion field, in that the gas wells were far shallower than in many other drilling areas around the country. The shallow depth means that natural gas itself can seep upward naturally through the rock, and perhaps into aquifers.

But the suite of chemicals found in two test wells drilled at the site, the report said, could not be explained entirely by natural processes. The agency’s analysis of samples taken from deep monitoring wells in the aquifer indicated the presence of synthetic chemicals, like glycols and alcohols consistent with gas production and hydraulic fracturing fluids, benzene concentrations well above standards in the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act standards, and high methane levels.

Also complicating the inquiry is the Pavillion field’s long history. The oldest wells there were drilled 40 years ago or more, and chemicals that might have been used were not required to be listed or reported to anyone.

The energy industry has long stressed that fracking and water contamination have never been definitively linked.

“When considered together with other lines of evidence, the data indicates likely impact to ground water that can be explained by hydraulic fracturing,” the draft study said. And perhaps just as crucially, the evidence also suggested that seepage of natural gas itself had increased around the drilling sites. Natural gas is often mixed with other elements, including methane, which can taint water supplies.

“Data suggest that enhanced migration of gas has occurred within ground water at depths used for domestic water supply,” said the draft study, which will now be sent for scientific peer review and public comment.

A spokesman for Encana Oil & Gas (USA), which bought the Pavillion field in 2004 and drilled some of the approximately 169 wells there, said the E.P.A.’s science was inconclusive. Encana’s parent company is based in Calgary.

“What we have here is not a conclusion, but a probability — and based on the facts, not a good probability,” said Doug Hock, the company’s spokesman. He said that enhanced migration of gas as a result of drilling was unlikely in the Pavillion field, since drilling had reduced pressure in the underlying rock, thus reducing forces that can lead to gas seepage. And finding methane and benzene in two deep test wells drilled for the study, he said, is what you would expect in a gas-rich zone.

“Encana didn’t put those there, nature did,” he said.

The governor of Wyoming, Matt Mead, also said in a statement that the E.P.A.’s conclusions were “scientifically questionable” and not based on enough data. Mr. Mead, a Republican, called for more testing by the E.P.A., in conjunction with a state group of residents, state and federal agencies, and Indian tribes already at work looking into questions about Pavillion’s water supply.

Wyoming, which is dependent on oil and gas drilling, along withcoal mining, as anchors of its economy, will also be among the peer reviewers of the E.P.A.’s draft, the governor’s statement said. The chairman of a local Pavillion residents’ group — about 200 people, mostly involved in farming and ranching, who live in proximity to the drilling sites — expressed gratitude to the E.P.A., and perhaps a bit of veiled doubt about the zeal of local and state regulators.

“This investigation proves the importance of having a federal agency that can protect people and the environment,” said John Fenton, the chairman of Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens. “Those of us who suffer the impacts from the unchecked development in our community are extremely happy the contamination source is being identified.”

Gas drilling, using both hydraulic fracturing to release gas and horizontal drilling techniques that can snake underground far from the actual bore holes, is now moving into closer proximity to American population centers than in the past.

From the suburbs of Denver to Pennsylvania and Oklahoma, natural gas reserves, known about but previously unreachable for economic and technological reasons, are being tapped, and anxieties about the hydraulic injection process and its consequences are growing. Wyoming, in 2010, became one of the first states to require petroleum companies or their contractors to disclose the ingredients in their specially formulated fracking fluids. The E.P.A. has also begun a national study on the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources.

Happy World Population Day! Celebrate By Not Having Babies!

In Uncategorized on July 13, 2011 at 9:52 am

Oldspeak: What’s THE best way to save the Earth? Stop having babies. Baby-Free Living is the ultimate means to Go Green! Seriously. “A study by statisticians at Oregon State University concluded that in the U.S., the carbon legacy and greenhouse gas impact of an extra child is almost 20 times more important than some of the other environmentally sensitive practices people might employ their entire lives – things like driving a high mileage car, recycling, or using energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs.” To all my childless folks out there; good job, keep up the good work!  And to all the parents; wrap it up today for a better tomorrow. 😀 The reality that no one wants to talk about is the world we are living on has a finite amount of resources to support life. We are currently taxing many of those resources to their limits. The earth was not meant to support 6 BILLION (and counting) humans, and certainly not 6 billion humans who generate as much environmentally toxic waste and pollution as we do. When humans lived naturally in harmony with the planet and didn’t artificially extend lifespan, it was cool to be baby factories. But with the advent of the Industrial Revolution ‘Modern Medicine’ and other life saving and extending technology, human population exploded to the detriment of many of our fellow earth dwellers and hasn’t let up since.  At some point we have to make serious efforts as a species to curb our biological imperative to procreate because at this point it’s not helping. It’s hurting. If we continue our current unfettered path, with billions already starving as I type,  expect to see more and more widespread food, water and resource shortages.

By Lisa Hymas @ Grist:

Happy World Population Day! You could solemnly mark the occasion by reading commentary and watching videos from the U.N. Population Fund and then writing a letter to the editor calling for improved global access to voluntary family planning.

Or you could watch comedian Doug Stanhope’s lewd, crude, misanthropic take on the issue. Did I mention it’s NSFW?

(He wasn’t making it up about the Oregon State University research; here’s the study [PDF] and a press release about it.)

The Planet Strikes Back: Why We Underestimate Mother Earth And Overestimate Ourselves

In Uncategorized on April 22, 2011 at 4:26 pm

Oldspeak: “The civilization that you live in, that you were born in, is fueled by death. That’s not hyperbole. Why do they call them fossil fuels? Because they’re living? Or because they’re dead? We take oil, a substance that has been dead for 60 million years, and we pull it out of the ground. We take coal, which has been dead for 300 million years, and we dig holes to pull it out of the ground. We pull out of the ground death, and we burn it in our engines. And we burn death in our power plants, without ceremony. And then we act shocked when, having pulled death out of the ground and burned it—we act shocked when we get death from the skies in the form of global warming and death on our oceans in the form of oil spills and death in our children’s lungs in the form of asthma and cancer. Let’s stop fueling our society based on death and start using living things. Let’s start using living things now.” -Van Jones. We keep poking the earth with oil, gas, and coal mining, poking the sky with HAARP, poking the water with incessant dumping of our waste. Sooner or later Earth will poke back. And it won’t be pretty.”

Vandana Shiva and Maude Barlow on the Rights of Mother Earth:

“Hold Both Parties to High Standards”: Van Jones, Obama’s Ex-Green Jobs Czar:

By Michael T. Klare @ Grist:

This essay was originally published onTomDispatch and is republished here with Tom’s kind permission.

In his 2010 book Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, environmental scholar and activist Bill McKibben writes of a planet so devastated by global warming that it’s no longer recognizable as the Earth we once inhabited. This is a planet, he predicts, of “melting poles and dying forests and a heaving, corrosive sea, raked by winds, strafed by storms, scorched by heat.” Altered as it is from the world in which human civilization was born and thrived, it needs a new name — so he gave it that extra “a” in “Eaarth.”
The Eaarth that McKibben describes is a victim, a casualty of humankind’s unrestrained consumption of resources and its heedless emissions of climate-altering greenhouse gases. True, this Eaarth will cause pain and suffering to humans as sea levels rise and croplands wither, but as he portrays it, it is essentially a victim of human rapaciousness.With all due respect to McKibben’s vision, let me offer another perspective on his (and our) Eaarth: as a powerful actor in its own right and as an avenger, rather than simply victim.

It’s not enough to think of Eaarth as an impotent casualty of humanity’s predations. It is also a complex organic system with many potent defenses against alien intervention — defenses it is already wielding to devastating effect when it comes to human societies. And keep this in mind: We are only at the beginning of this process.

To grasp our present situation, however, it’s necessary to distinguish between naturally recurring planetary disturbances and the planetary responses to human intervention. Both need a fresh look, so let’s start with what Earth has always been capable of before we turn to the responses of Eaarth, the avenger.

Overestimating ourselves

Our planet is a complex natural system, and like all such systems, it is continually evolving. As that happens — as continents drift apart, as mountain ranges rise and fall, as climate patterns shift — earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, typhoons, prolonged droughts, and other natural disturbances recur, even if on an irregular and unpredictable basis.

Our predecessors on the planet were deeply aware of this reality. After all, ancient civilizations were repeatedly shaken, and in some cases shattered, by such disturbances. For example, it is widely believed that the ancient Minoan civilization of the eastern Mediterranean collapsed following a powerful volcanic eruption on the island of Thera (also called Santorini) in the mid-second millennium B.C. Archaeological evidence suggests that many other ancient civilizations were weakened or destroyed by intense earthquake activity. In Apocalypse: Earthquakes, Archaeology, and the Wrath of God, Stanford geophysicist Amos Nur and his coauthor Dawn Burgess argue that Troy, Mycenae, ancient Jericho, Tenochtitlan, and the Hittite empire may have fallen in this manner.

Faced with recurring threats of earthquakes and volcanoes, many ancient religions personified the forces of nature as gods and goddesses and called for elaborate human rituals and sacrificial offerings to appease these powerful deities. The ancient Greek sea-god Poseidon (Neptune to the Romans), also called “Earth-Shaker,” was thought to cause earthquakes when provoked or angry.

In more recent times, thinkers have tended to scoff at such primitive notions and the gestures that went with them, suggesting instead that science and technology — the fruits of civilization — offer more than enough help to allow us to triumph over the Earth’s destructive forces. This shift in consciousness has been impressively documented in Clive Ponting’s 2007 volume, A New Green History of the World. Quoting from influential thinkers of the post-Medieval world, he shows how Europeans acquired a powerful conviction that humanity should and would rule nature, not the other way around. The 17th-century French mathematician René Descartes, for example, wrote of employing science and human knowledge so that “we can … render ourselves the masters and possessors of nature.”

It’s possible that this growing sense of human control over nature was enhanced by a period of a few hundred years in which there may have been less than the usual number of civilization-threatening natural disturbances. Over those centuries, modern Europe and North America, the two centers of the Industrial Revolution, experienced nothing like the Thera eruption of the Minoan era — or, for that matter, anything akin to the double whammy of the 9.0 earthquake and 50-foot-high tsunami that struck Japan on March 11. This relative immunity from such perils was the context within which we created a highly complex, technologically sophisticated civilization that largely takes for granted human supremacy over nature on a seemingly quiescent planet.

But is this assessment accurate? Recent events, ranging from the floods that covered 20 percent of Pakistan and put huge swaths of Australia underwater to the drought-induced fires that burned vast areas of Russia, suggest otherwise. In the past few years, the planet has been struck by a spate of major natural disturbances, including the recent earthquake-tsunami disaster in Japan (and its many powerful aftershocks), the Jan. 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the Feb. 2010 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, the March 2011 earthquake in Burma, and the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake-tsunami that killed more than 230,000 people in 14 countries, as well as a series of earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions in and around Indonesia.

If nothing else, these events remind us that the Earth is an ever-evolving natural system; that the past few hundred years are not necessarily predictive of the next few hundred; and that we may, in the last century in particular, have lulled ourselves into a sense of complacency about our planet that is ill-deserved. More important, they suggest that we may — and I emphasize may — be returning to an era in which the frequency of the incidence of such events is on the rise.

In this context, the folly and hubris with which we’ve treated natural forces comes strongly into focus. Take what’s happening at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex in northern Japan, where at least four nuclear reactors and their adjoining containment pools for “spent” nuclear fuel remain dangerously out of control. The designers and owners of the plant obviously did not cause the earthquake and tsunami that have created the present peril. This was a result of the planet’s natural evolution — in this case, of the sudden movement of continental plates. But they do bear responsibility for failing to anticipate the potential for catastrophe — for building a reactor on the site of frequent past tsunamis and assuming that a human-made concrete platform could withstand the worst that nature has to offer. Much has been said about flaws in design at the Fukushima plant and its inadequate backup systems. All this, no doubt, is vital, but the ultimate cause of the disaster was never a simple design flaw. It was hubris: an overestimation of the power of human ingenuity and an underestimation of the power of nature.

What future disasters await us as a result of such hubris? No one, at this point, can say with certainty, but the Fukushima facility is not the only reactor built near active earthquake zones, or at risk from other natural disturbances. And don’t just stop with nuclear plants. Consider, for instance, all those oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico at risk from increasingly powerful hurricanes or, if cyclones increase in power and frequency, the deep-sea ones Brazil is planning to construct up to 180 miles off its coast in the Atlantic Ocean. And with recent events in Japan in mind, who knows what damage might be inflicted by a major earthquake in California? After all, California, too, has nuclear plants sited ominously near earthquake faults.

Underestimating Eaarth

Hubris of this sort is, however, only one of the ways in which we invite the planet’s ire. Far more dangerous and provocative is our poisoning of the atmosphere with the residues of our resource consumption, especially of fossil fuels. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, total carbon emissions from all forms of energy use had already hit 21.2 billion metric tons by 1990 and are projected to rise ominously to 42.4 billion by 2035, a 100 percent increase in less than half a century. The more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases we dump into the atmosphere, the more we alter the planet’s natural climatic systems and damage other vital ecological assets, including oceans, forests, and glaciers. These are all components of the planet’s integral makeup, and when damaged in this way, they will trigger defensive feedback mechanisms: rising temperatures, shifting rainfall patterns, and increased sea levels, among other reactions.

The notion of the Earth as a complex natural system with multiple feedback loops was first proposed by environmental scientist James Lovelock in the 1960s and propounded in his 1979 book Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. (Lovelock appropriated the name of the ancient Greek goddess Gaia, the personification of Mother Earth, for his version of our planet.) In this and other works, Lovelock and his collaborators argue that all biological organisms and their inorganic surroundings on the planet are closely integrated to form a complex and self-regulating system, maintaining the necessary conditions for life — a concept they termed “the Gaia Hypothesis.” When any parts of this system are damaged or altered, they contend, the others respond by attempting to repair, or compensate for, the damage in order to restore the essential balance.

Think of our own bodies when attacked by virulent microorganisms: our temperature rises; we produce more white blood cells and other fluids, sleep a lot, and deploy other defense mechanisms. When successful, our bodies’ defenses first neutralize and eventually exterminate the invading germs. This is not a conscious act, but a natural, life-saving process.

Eaarth is now responding to humanity’s depredations in a similar way: by warming the atmosphere, taking carbon from the air and depositing it in the ocean, increasing rainfall in some areas and decreasing it elsewhere, and in other ways compensating for the massive atmospheric infusion of harmful human emissions.

But what Eaarth does to protect itself from human intervention is unlikely to prove beneficial for human societies. As the planet warms and glaciers melt, sea levels will rise, inundating coastal areas, destroying cities, and flooding low-lying croplands. Drought will become endemic in many once-productive farming areas, reducing food supplies for hundreds of millions of people. Many plant and animal species that are key to human livelihoods, including various species of trees, food crops, and fish, will prove incapable of adjusting to these climate changes and so cease to exist. Humans may — and again I emphasize that may — prove more successful at adapting to the crisis of global warming than such species, but in the process, multitudes are likely to die of starvation, disease, and attendant warfare.

Bill McKibben is right: We no longer live on the “cozy, taken-for-granted” planet formerly known as Earth. We inhabit a new place, already changed dramatically by the intervention of humankind. But we are not acting upon a passive, impotent entity unable to defend itself against human transgression. Sad to say, we will learn to our dismay of the immense powers available to Eaarth, the Avenger.

Michael T. Klare is a professor at Hampshire College and an author, most recently, of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy.

U.S. Committed To Nuclear Power But Wants To Learn From Japan Crisis, Top U.S. Official Says

In Uncategorized on March 16, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Oldspeak: “Some muthafuckas is always tryna ice skate uphill.” –Blade in “Blade” Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima, and a long list of other nuclear accidents worldwide. When will the light go on, that going nuclear is a sho nuff recipe for disaster?”

By Michael Muscal @ The Los Angeles Times:

The United States remains committed to nuclear power, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said on Tuesday even as Japan sought to contain the nuclear danger at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Speaking before a House Appropriations Committee panel that is looking at the department’s budget requests, Chu said his department had sent 34 people and 7,200 pounds of equipment to the scene of the crippled reactors from which radiation had leaked.

The secretary, a Nobel Prize winner in physics, reaffirmed the administration’s position that the United States will learn from Japan’s difficulties but remained committed to safe nuclear power as part of an energy mix.

“The American people should have full confidence that the United States has rigorous safety regulations in place to ensure that our nuclear power is generated safely and responsibly,” Chu said. “Information is still coming in about the events unfolding in Japan, but the administration is committed to learning from Japan’s experience as we work to continue to strengthen America’s nuclear industry.

“To meet our energy needs, the administration believes we must rely on a diverse set of energy sources including renewables like wind and solar, natural gas, clean coal and nuclear power,” he said. “We look forward to a continued dialogue with Congress on moving that agenda forward.”

Chu told the panel that  U.S. officials had included the danger from earthquakes and tsunamis in formulating their energy and safety plans.

The administration is seeking to add $36 billion to the Energy Department’s loan-guarantee authority to help finance the development of the first new U.S. reactors in decades. The Obama administration has pledged an $8.3-billion guarantee to Southern Co. for two planned reactors in Georgia. But that project still needs Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval.

Chu also expressed the administration’s support for Japan’s efforts to deal with last week’s magnitude 9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami.

As part of the U.S. help, Chu said, the department is “positioning Consequence Management Response Teams at U.S. consulates and military installations in Japan. These teams have the skills, expertise and equipment to help assess, survey, monitor and sample areas. They include smaller groups that could be sent out to gather technical information in the area.

“We have sent our Aerial Measuring System capability,” he said, “including detectors and analytical equipment used to provide assessments of contamination on the ground.”

 

 

House Panel Votes To Strip E.P.A. Of Power To Regulate Greenhouse Gases

In Uncategorized on March 13, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Oldspeak: “Because nothing says America like good old fashioned Oligarchy masqurading as Democracy. An oligarchy where ‘Many Republicans… are backed by lobbies representing manufacturers; small businesses; agriculture; and the chemical, coal and oil industries; all of which have a big financial stake in hamstringing the E.P.A.’, and these industries decide on environmental policy that affects us all. Typical tough words and non-action from a president who made many a lofty promise to protect the environment.”

By John M. Broder @ The New York Times:

A House subcommittee voted on Thursday to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its power to regulate greenhouse gases, chipping away at a central pillar of the Obama administration’s evolving climate and energy strategy.

The sharply partisan vote was preordained by the Republican takeover of the House. Republicans and their industry allies accuse the administration of levying taxes on traditional energy sources through costly environmental regulations, threatening the economic recovery and driving jobs overseas.

Many Republicans also argue that global warming is an unproven theory and that no action is needed to combat it, and they are backed by lobbies representing manufacturers; small businesses; agriculture; and the chemical, coal and oil industries; all of which have a big financial stake in hamstringing the E.P.A.

A parallel bill has been introduced in the Senate, although passage remains uncertain. President Obama has vowed to veto such legislation, which would undercut his administration’s policy of encouraging clean energy innovation with billions of dollars in support and rules that make it more costly for industry to keep spewing carbon dioxide.

Some coal state and oilpatch Democrats in both chambers also support the legislation, so it is not certain that the president’s allies could prevent a veto override.

Yet the criticism from early allies who advocate aggressive action to address climate change is in some ways harsher. In their view, Mr. Obama failed to push hard enough for a strong climate change policy last year, when he enjoyed high public standing and large Democratic majorities in the Senate and House.

“We’ll never know what this president could have achieved,” said Joseph J. Romm, a former Department of Energy official who is one of the country’s most influential writers on climate change, “because he didn’t try.”

Dr. Romm, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, which has close ties to the White House, contends that the president’s approach has been too timid and has set back efforts to address climate change by at least a decade.

As he takes heat from both sides, Mr. Obama is moving cautiously. Gone are his calls for sweeping action on climate change by putting a ceiling on greenhouse gas emissions or a price on carbon dioxide.

Today, the president rarely utters the words “climate change” or “global warming,” and instead talks about expanding production from nuclear power, domestic oil and natural gas, “clean coal” and new technologies.

The president acknowledges that the window for comprehensive action on climate change in the United States has closed for the foreseeable future as a result of Republican gains in the midterm elections.

He has said he now intends to pursue a clean energy policy in smaller pieces, through measures intended to increase production of renewable energy, encourage production of domestic energy resources and gradually impose rules that will make the burning of coal, oil and natural gas cleaner.

“The president sees investment in this all-of-the-above energy approach as very important as we head into a dialogue on rising gas prices and where we need to take the nation on energy,” said Carol M. Browner, the White House coordinator on energy and climate change, who has announced that she is leaving the administration.

Ms. Browner acknowledged that the president talks less often now about global warming. “But what’s important is not the words he’s uttering from one day to the next, but developing an energy policy that benefits consumers and makes the country more secure,” she said.

She and other defenders of the administration note that in his first two years in office the president brokered a historic deal to reduce emissions from cars and light trucks, revved up energy efficiency efforts across the federal government and poured tens of billions of dollars into renewable energy programs and infrastructure.

Ms. Browner said that innovation and regulation were not contradictory policies, but complementary means to an end. Requiring greater efficiency and fewer emissions through regulation, she said, drives innovation and brings new technology to the market.

Energy and environmental issues have always carried heavy economic, ideological and regional baggage. Pursuing such a debate in a time of economic stress and rising energy prices is even more difficult, and prospects are dim for any major legislation in the next two years.

The administration’s new strategy grew from the failure of legislation to address global warming through a market-based cap-and-trade system, an approach Mr. Obama had strongly endorsed in his campaign and in his first year in office.

A comprehensive bill passed the House in 2009 but died in the Senate the next year, a victim of united Republican opposition, uncertainty about the economy, bad blood from the health care debate and unease generated by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The Obama White House ceded defeat on climate change midyear without a full-fledged battle.

“In the last Congress, the focus was on trying to do something on climate change, and after the cap-and-trade bill passed the House, there was some expectation we would follow in the Senate,” said Senator Jeff Bingaman, the New Mexico Democrat who leads the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “It was clear to some of us early on that the votes weren’t there to do that.”

Now, Mr. Bingaman said, the administration’s challenge is to protect the regulatory authority it does have to act on greenhouse gases by stopping the Republican anti-E.P.A. steamroller. “I think the votes are there to uphold a presidential veto, if it comes to that,” Mr. Bingaman said. “But I’m not certain.”

After the collapse of climate legislation and the Republican surge last November, Mr. Obama pivoted, declaring in his State of the Union address in January that he would try to move the country away from dependence on dirty fuels over the next 25 years through a shift to cleaner sources of energy.

It is an ambitious goal, but to date there are only piecemeal programs in place to achieve it, many of them in development at the Department of Energy. The president has not proposed legislation to make his vision a reality.

Steven Chu, the secretary of energy and a Nobel laureate in physics, said that achieving the president’s goal of producing 80 percent of the nation’s electricity through low-carbon sources by 2035 would require not only strongly supporting a variety of energy technologies, including nuclear power, but also eventually making it more expensive to burn fossil fuels.

“In actual fact, you need both in the end,” he said in an interview. “The world will have to, in some way in the future, put a price on carbon. And everybody will have to recognize that.”

To get to that point, Mr. Chu added, will require legislation and a major sales job.

“I need to convince Congress, the president needs to convince Congress,” he said, “how important this is.”