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

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Pumped Dry: Global Water Crisis Widespread And Worsening With Continued Depletion Of Groundwater

In Uncategorized on December 11, 2015 at 8:11 pm
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Kansas Farmer Jay Garetson said: “Thinking about Jared and the challenges that his generation faces, that’s what leaves you gasping for air. It kind of leaves you at a loss for what to do next,” he said, wiping a tear.

 

Oldspeak: “Expect this existential crisis to intensify as temperatures rise and conditions worsen. Sustainability tipping points have been passed for 21 of 37 of Earth’s largest aquifers.  I would imagine these figures are not taking into account the incalculable and permanent damage being done to our water supplies by our extractive energy and mineral mining practices. This story focuses on the U.S. but this story is being told worldwide, be sure to click on the link to the original story &  check out the stories documenting the carnage in India, Peru and Morocco at the bottom of the article. Hmm, Less water for what’s expected to be 9 billion humans, what’s the worst that could happen!?” -OSJ

 

Written By Ian James and Steve Reilly @ The Desert Sun:

SUBLETTE, Kansas – Just before 3 a.m., Jay Garetson’s phone buzzed on the bedside table. He picked it up and read the text: “Low Pressure Alert.”

He felt a jolt of stress and his chest tightened. He dreaded what that automated message probably meant: With the water table dropping, another well on his family’s farm was starting to suck air.

The Garetson family has been farming in the plains of southwestern Kansas for four generations, since 1902. Now they face a hard reality. The groundwater they depend on is disappearing. Their fields could wither. Their farm might not survive for the next generation.

At dawn, Jay was out among the cornfields at the well, trying to diagnose the problem. The pump was humming as it lifted water from nearly 600 feet underground. He turned a valve and let the cool water run into his cupped hands. Just as he had feared, he saw fine bubbles in the water.

“It’s showing signs of weakening,” he said sadly, standing in the shoulder-high corn.

“This’ll last another five or 10 years, but not even at the production rate that we’re at here today,” he said. “It’s just a question of how much time is left.”

Time is running out for portions of the High Plains Aquifer, which lies beneath eight states from South Dakota to Texas and is the lifeblood of one of the world’s most productive farming economies. The aquifer, also known as the Ogallala, makes possible about one-fifth of the country’s output of corn, wheat and cattle. But its levels have been rapidly declining, and with each passing year more wells are going dry.

As less water pours from wells, some farmers are adapting by switching to different crops. Others are shutting down their drained wells and trying to scratch out a living as dryland farmers, relying only on the rains.

In parts of western Kansas, the groundwater has already been exhausted and very little can be extracted for irrigation. In other areas, the remaining water could be mostly used up within a decade.

The severe depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer is symptomatic of a larger crisis in the United States and many parts of the world. Much more water is being pumped from the ground than can be naturally replenished, and groundwater levels are plummeting. It’s happening not only in the High Plains and drought-ravaged California but also in places from the Gulf Coastal Plain to the farmland of the Mississippi River Valley, and from the dry Southwest to the green Southeast.

In a nationwide examination of the problem, USA TODAY and The Desert Sun analyzed two decades of measurements from more than 32,000 wells and found water levels falling in nearly two-thirds of those wells, with heavy pumping causing major declines in many areas. The analysis of U.S. Geological Survey data revealed that:

  • Nationwide, water levels have declined in 64 percent of the wells included in the government database during the past two decades.
  • The average decline among decreasing wells has been more than 10 feet, and in some areas the water table has dropped more than 100 feet during that period – more than 5 feet per year.
  • For 13 counties in Texas, New Mexico, Mississippi, Kansas and Iowa, average water levels have decreased more than 40 feet since 1995.
  • Nationally, the average declines have been larger from 2011-2014 as drought has intensified in the West. But water tables have been falling consistently over the years through both wet and dry periods, and also in relatively wet states such as Florida and Maryland.
  • Across the High Plains, one of the country’s largest depletion zones, the average water levels in more than 4,000 wells are 13.2 feet lower today than they were in 1995. In the southern High Plains, water levels have plunged significantly more – in places over 100 feet in just 20 years.

Average water level decrease in US counties

In many counties across the United States, groundwater levels have been dropping.

The problem is especially severe in the region that relies on the Ogallala Aquifer.

Aquifers are being drawn down in many areas by pumping for agriculture, which accounts for nearly two-thirds of the nation’s use of fresh groundwater. Water is also being drained for cities, expanding development and industries. Across much of the country, overpumping has become a widespread habit. And while the symptoms have long remained largely invisible to most people, the problem is analogous to gradually squandering the balance of a collective bank account. As the balance drops, there’s less of that resource to draw on when it’s needed.

At the same time, falling groundwater levels are bringing increasing costs for well owners, water utilities and society as a whole. As water levels drop, more energy is required to lift water from wells, and those pumping bills are rising. In areas where aquifers are being severely depleted, new wells are being drilled hundreds of feet into the earth at enormous cost. That trend of going deeper and deeper can only go on so long. When groundwater levels fall to precarious lows and wells are exhausted, farming businesses can suffer. And in particularly hard-hit communities, such as parts of California, homeowners have been left relying on tanker trucks to deliver their water.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, the United States is estimated to have lost more than 1,000 cubic kilometers of water from the nation’s aquifers – about 28 times the amount of water that can be held in Lake Mead, the country’s largest reservoir.

That estimate of water losses from 1900 through 2008, calculated by USGS scientist Leonard Konikow, shows the High Plains has accounted for 35 percent of the country’s total depletion. California’s Central Valley accounted for more than 14 percent, and other parts of the country have depleted the remainder, about half of the total.

In places, water that seeped underground over tens of thousands of years is being pumped out before many fully appreciate the value of what’s lost. The declines in groundwater in the United States mirror similar decreases in many parts of the world.

NASA satellites have allowed scientists to map the changes underground on a global scale for the first time, putting into stark relief a drawdown that has long remained largely out of sight. The latest satellite data, together with measurements of water levels in wells, reveal widespread declines in places from Europe to India, and from the Middle East to China.

“Groundwater depletion is this incredible global phenomenon,” said Jay Famiglietti, a professor of earth system science at the University of California, Irvine, and the senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “We never really understood it the way we understand it now. It’s pervasive and it’s happening at a rapid clip.”

Famiglietti and his colleagues have found that more than half of the world’s largest aquifers are declining. Those large-scale losses of groundwater are being monitored from space by two satellites as part of the GRACE mission, which stands for Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment.

Since 2002, the orbiting satellites have been taking detailed measurements of Earth’s gravity field and recording changes in the total amounts of water, both aboveground and underground. Using that data, the researchers have created a global map showing areas of disappearing water as patches of yellow, orange and red. Those “hotspots” mark regions where there is overpumping of water or where drought has taken a toll.

The map shows that, just as scientists have been predicting due to climate change, some areas in the tropics and the higher latitudes have been growing wetter, Famiglietti said, while many dry and semi-arid regions in the mid-latitudes have been growing drier. In those same dry regions, intensive agriculture is drawing heavily on groundwater. And with little rain to recharge the aquifers, their levels are dropping.

“Many of these resources are finite,” Famiglietti said. “It took tens of thousands of years to accumulate this water, and we’re burning through it in a matter of decades.”

In many regions, government agencies and water districts have studied the problem but haven’t taken sufficient steps to manage aquifers or prevent declines.

Alongside climate change, groundwater depletion has become another human-caused crisis that could bring devastating consequences. As aquifers are pushed far beyond their natural limits, water scarcity is battering farms, undermining economies and intensifying disputes over water.

In parts of the southern High Plains, farmers are feeling the effects. Some counties have seen small decreases in population as people have moved away. Local leaders have been expressing concerns about what sorts of businesses can help sustain their economies as water supplies dwindle.

The Kansas Geological Survey has mapped out how much longer the aquifer can support large-scale pumping. It projects that some places still probably have more than a century of water left, but that large patches of western Kansas will go dry in less than 25 years. Some areas will likely run out faster, within a matter of years.

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The green circles of center-pivot irrigation systems stand out in areas where farms rely on water from the High Plains Aquifer. (Photo: Ian James, The Desert Sun)

The Ogallala Aquifer’s decline shows what the world can expect in other areas where groundwater is being quickly depleted, Famiglietti said. “The fact that they’re running out of water means that we will no longer be growing food there, and so where will that food come from?”

In Haskell County, Kansas, windswept fields of sorghum and corn stretch to the flat horizon in a swaying sea. The huge farms, many of them in the thousands of acres, still appear lush and productive. But driving along the arrow-straight country roads, Jay Garetson can point out spots where wells have gone dry – both on his family’s land and other farms.

All that’s left at one of his decommissioned wells is a round metal cover on a concrete slab, with a rusty Frigidaire lying on its side next to it. His grandfather once used the refrigerator to store oil for the pump.

Opening the well’s metal lid, Jay dropped in a rock. It pinged off the steel casing. More than five seconds later, there was faint splash.

“Now the only water it finds is a couple three feet at the very bottom of the well that the pumps can’t effectively access anymore,” Jay said, his voice echoing in the empty well.

He and his brother, Jarvis, drilled this well in the early 2000s when a shallower well failed. It lasted less than a decade, and then it went dry in 2012, forcing them to drill again – this time 600 feet deep, down to the bedrock at the bottom of the aquifer. It’s hard to say how long that well might last.

If the water keeps dropping about 5 feet per year, he said, it might be finished in as few as 10 years.

“Very simply, we’re running out, and it’s happening far faster than anybody anticipated,” he said. “And as optimistic as I’d like to be about the future, the window for that optimism is closing very quickly.”

He put the cover back on the old well, pointing out a tag that was placed on it by a state regulatory agency.

“We’re documenting very well the demise of the aquifer, but we’re not making the real-world changes in the way we manage the aquifer to really do the serious things that need to happen,” Jay said. “We seem to be unwilling to take the necessary steps to actually reduce water usage.”

Jay is an influential farmer and a longstanding member of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture who has been appointed by both Democratic and Republican governors. He has many ideas about how to extend the life of the aquifer, including mandatory water cutbacks that would be shared by farmers. But he has faced resistance from those who oppose mandatory limits.

Over the past five years, the pumping capacity of the Garetsons’ wells has decreased by about 30 percent as the water table has fallen. They’ve been forced to plant less corn and instead more wheat and sorghum, which use less water and bring in smaller earnings.

When Jay’s grandparents drilled wells in the mid-20th century, they were told the water supply was inexhaustible. They had clung to their land through the hardships of the Dust Bowl, when blowing drifts of soil and grit decimated crops and sent many others packing. In the decades that followed, they built a successful business on the water they pumped from the ground.

Since then, numerous studies have shown that the status quo is far from sustainable. Starting in 1986, Congress directed the USGS to monitor and report on changes in the levels of the Ogallala Aquifer, recognizing its economic importance. An estimated 30 percent of the groundwater used for irrigation in the country is pumped from the aquifer. Researchers have projected that without action to slow the losses, the portion of the aquifer in Kansas will be nearly 70 percent depleted within 50 years.

“What frustrates me is with all this knowledge and all this information, we still collectively refuse to act,” Jay said. “I don’t understand how we can all be so lacking in courage when we all can clearly see this is a train wreck happening in slow motion.”

The costs of inaction are visible just down the road, at a farmhouse where Jay lived as a young boy. Today the white house is abandoned. Weeds have grown around the front steps. Scraps of wood lie in a pile on the porch like logs on a campfire.

When the well went dry two years ago, a farm employee was forced to move out. The Garetsons drilled test holes but found no more water to tap.

In the yard, Jay pointed out the spot beneath a dying elm tree where he used to play on the swings. “It’s probably seen its last swing set in the yard,” he said wistfully.

“It’s something I used to read about and study, you know, the Dust Bowl. And you would see these abandoned farmsteads, and now I’m actually seeing it in my own lifetime,” he said. “Now we’re kind of at the end of the tracks here, and the only thing left to do is decide whether we should go ahead and push the house in and burn it, or probably the most painful option in my mind is to stand back and watch time just slowly melt it down.”

The worst-case scenario, he said, is that within a decade many more homes in the area could look just like this one – dry and deserted.

Jay Garetson checks on a well that is starting to weaken as the Ogallala Aquifer declines. Steve Elfers, Ian James

The United States, along with India and China, is one of the largest users of groundwater in the world.

The federal government has estimated that in 2010, the country used 76 billion gallons of fresh groundwater per day. That’s 117,000 cubic feet per second, roughly comparable to Niagara Falls. Wells across the country are pumping out as much water – even slightly more – than the average flow of approximately 100,000 cubic feet per second that tourists see plunging from the top of Niagara Falls.

When groundwater is pumped from wells, some of it is soaked up by plants, some evaporates, some courses through pipes to cities, and some soaks back into the ground. Part of it ends up flowing into the oceans, adding to the global problem of rising seas as glaciers and ice sheets melt.

Most of the planet’s available freshwater lies underground. Aquifers store water like sponges, holding it in the spaces between rocks, sand, gravel and clay. So much water is now being sucked from some aquifers that those underground spaces are collapsing and the surface of the Earth has been permanently altered.

The ground has sunk in parts of California, Texas, Arizona and Nevada, cracking the foundations of houses, leaving fissures in the ground, and damaging roads, canals and bridges. As layers of aquifers gradually subside, their water-storing capacity is irreversibly decreasing.

Groundwater levels have changed relatively little in some of the country’s wetter areas, as rainfall and snowmelt have offset the amounts pumped out. But even in pockets of the Northeast and upper Midwest, there have been significant declines. Average water levels in Cumberland County, N.J., for instance, decreased nearly 6 feet over the past two decades. In Outagamie County, Wis., there was a decline of 6.1 feet.

Elsewhere, there has been significant depletion across entire regions, largely driven by agriculture. Average water levels fell by 5.7 feet across the Mississippi River Valley aquifer system, by 12.6 feet in the Columbia Plateau basaltic rock aquifers of the Pacific Northwest, and by 17.8 feet in some of the Snake River Plain’s aquifers of southern Idaho.

As the nation’s population grows, expanding cities and suburban development are also having an effect. Total U.S. water use has decreased in recent years due to improvements in efficiency and conservation, but the cumulative strains on groundwater have continued to build.

Big drops in water tables have occurred in many parts the country. The U.S. Geological Survey’s data show that individual monitoring wells with water level decreases of more than 100 feet in the past two decades are located in a long list of states: California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Maryland, Washington, Oregon, Kansas, Iowa, Arkansas, Idaho, Arizona, Louisiana, Colorado, Wyoming and Mississippi.

Saltwater has been seeping into declining aquifers along portions of the Atlantic coast in places such as Hilton Head, S.C. and Savannah, Ga., and beneath coastal cities in Florida such as Jacksonville, Miami and Tampa. When saltwater intrusion taints supplies of drinking water, it can force water districts to use different wells or invest in other costly solutions.

In parts of the desert Southwest and the Great Plains, natural springs that used to gush from the ground have dried up.

There have also been long-term declines in groundwater levels around urban areas including Chicago, Milwaukee, Wis., Long Island, N.Y., Baton Rouge, La., Memphis, Tenn., and Houston.

In each state, the use of groundwater falls under different laws. In many areas, though, the agencies charged with managing water supplies have allowed aquifers to fall into a state of perpetual overdraft, with water levels receding deeper by the year. Even where groundwater regulations exist, pumping often remains largely unchecked.

“Like your bank account, you can’t keep depleting it forever. That’s a non-sustainable condition,” the USGS scientist Konikow said. “Society will have to do something about it. Some areas, they are doing things about it. Other areas, it’s going to kind of slap them in the face at some point as a wake-up call.”

In the farm country of Grant County, Kansas, where grain silos tower over fields that stretch out to a flat horizon, the chamber of commerce hosts an annual dinner that has been a tradition for 53 years. Hundreds of people line up while volunteers dish out local food: barbecued beef, sweet corn, candied squash and prized doughnuts made with milo, another name for sorghum.

The dinner consistently attracts top state politicians. This September, when Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer gave a speech to a packed auditorium, he emphasized the importance of water.

“We all know here that the lifeblood of our land is that Ogallala Aquifer below us,” Colyer said. “We’ve got to rely on that water.”

He said that’s why Gov. Sam Brownback recently launched an effort to develop a “50-year water vision” for the state. Colyer said southwestern Kansas is working to preserve its water, and he pointed to the large cattle industry and the fast-growing dairy business as signs of a bright economic future.

Those applauding at the long tables included Jay Garetson, his wife, Jill, and two teenage sons. But while Jay credits the state government with doing more than ever to focus on water, he’s concerned the consensus-building approach and the voluntary measures being promoted aren’t enough.

In his office, he rolled out a map to explain why. The map is marked with patches of orange and red denoting areas that have relatively little water left. In one of those spots, “right in the bull’s eye,” he pointed to the family’s hometown of Sublette.

The biggest problem, he said, is that no one can slow down the decline alone. And those who try to use less water will have the aquifer pumped out from beneath them by neighbors.

“Everybody’s got a straw in the same soda,” Jay said. “When you have a common resource, and the individual motivations are to accelerate the use rather than to stretch it out over a period of time, the net result is everybody loses.”

The economics of the profit-driven status quo are driving the depletion, he said, and that points to a need for the state and the regional groundwater district to intervene – like a referee in a sporting event that has deteriorated into a free-for-all. He said the referee should “call a timeout.”

Then, he said, “we need to sit down and think about changing the rules.”

Wells have been drawing out less water and going dry in places from eastern Colorado and the Texas Panhandle. Northern portions of the aquifer in Nebraska still have more water remaining, but parts of the southern High Plains have been left with parched fields.

In areas where little water remains, people have been turning to dryland farming, relying on the rains to grow wheat and other crops. That switch leads to sharply reduced earnings per acre. It requires farmers to use much bigger acreages to turn a profit. It means the land will support far fewer farms, and that could bring hard economic times.

Jay’s brother Jarvis explained how profound those changes could be, pausing from his work after changing a flat tire on a center-pivot irrigation system.

“It’s tough to think about what’s been in my family for well over a hundred years not being here in 20. It may mean that my kids or my nephews don’t come back, may not even have a chance if that’s their desire,” he said, his voice quavering. “It’s just tough to think about it not being there. I mean, it’s a way of life.”

Trying to make the aquifer last longer, some farmers have been adopting water-saving irrigation systems. A sign on one highway reads: “Make Every Drop of Water Count.”

Marieta Hauser, a dryland farmer who is director of the Grant County Chamber of Commerce, said she’s concerned about what sorts of businesses could take the place of irrigated farming, which drives the economy.

“Ideally we all want the aquifer to last forever. It’s not going to. We realize that. So what’s the best way to go forward and maintain the viability of our communities and our businesses?” Hauser said. “Those are the discussions that I hear more than anything, is ‘What’s going to happen to our communities when irrigation is not viable?’”

Some towns, such as Ulysses and Johnson City, have been buying water rights from farmers to secure enough drinking water supplies to keep the taps flowing.

One experiment aimed at slashing water use on farms is underway in Sheridan County, in northwestern Kansas, where the state’s first “Local Enhanced Management Area,” or LEMA, was established in 2013. Through that five-year plan, farmers are trying to keep within a “budget” that calls for a 20 percent reduction in water use.

Even as that strategy is showing signs of working, water managers acknowledge it’s not coming close to halting declines in the aquifer. It’s simply buying a bit more time.

Mark Rude, executive director of the Southwest Kansas Groundwater Management District No. 3, can put a specific number on the gap between the amounts of water pumped and the quantities of rainfall that recharge the aquifer in an average year: “We’re only about 9 percent sustainable.”

In other words, the people of southwestern Kansas are pumping out 11 times more than the aquifer’s natural recharge. People are barred from adding new wells in the area. If a new well is drilled, it needs to replace another well that is shut down.

In practice, the water rights system doesn’t limit pumping at all. In fact, farmers are using much less than they would be permitted under the system of appropriated groundwater rights, which was established decades ago when water seemed plentiful and flood irrigation was the norm.

“Ultimately, I think, budgeting the aquifer is where any area has to start. How much do you have and how much are you willing to see consumed? That’s always a difficult step,” Rude said. When the water district has held meetings and asked farmers whether they’re in favor of developing a water budget, some have been apprehensive about restrictions or mandates.

While some keep pumping, others are leaving. Within the traditional Mennonite community, elders have begun sending away young couples to settle in other areas such as the Snake River Plain in Idaho, where even though aquifer levels are declining, more water remains. They’re leaving, Rude said, “because as the water supply leaves, the intensity of agriculture leaves, and the job opportunities also leave.”

For every acre that runs out of irrigation water and starts being dry-farmed, the state estimates the economy loses nearly $4,000 a year.

The difference between irrigated fields and dryland farms appears starkly on a large satellite photo on the wall of the water district’s office in Garden City. Patches of brown border the green circles of center-pivot irrigation systems.

Moving a hand across the map, Rude pointed out spots where springs and streams have dried up. One spring was a popular swimming hole half a century ago, he said, and it doesn’t flow anymore.

Decades ago, the Arkansas River used to flow between Garden City and Dodge City. Now all that’s left are scattered patches of reeds in the dry riverbed.

Jay Garetson’s wife Jill, who is a teacher, lived near the flowing river as a child. She has watched it disappear, drained by diversions upstream and the declining water table. As a girl, she used to follow her father into cornfields while he fixed sprinklers. Now he’s out of water and relying on several oil wells for income.

“I don’t think we can continue to do things the way we’re doing them,” she said. “Some serious action has to be taken quickly.”

The Garetsons’ 17-year-old son, Jared, is cautiously assessing the future and thinks it may be difficult to return home to farm after college.

Every year he helps out during the corn harvest, and as a hobby he flies a drone to film the harvester mowing down golden rows. But he said the aquifer now seems like a gas tank with its gauge approaching “E.”

“If we lose the aquifer, we lose probably 80 percent of our crops out here,” Jared said. “If our water supply is shut off, that’s a huge amount of food that we’re going to have to find elsewhere.”

They are a close-knit family, and stories of their farming history are woven into conversations around the kitchen table. It’s a legacy that may be slipping away for Jared.

“I’ve thought, why don’t we just pack up, sell the farm and leave? And we’ll find somewhere else that’s got water and that’s going to continue to have water, where we can build?” Jared said. But that’s a difficult idea for his parents and grandparents to accept. “It’s been our home for 113 years now, and for all that to go away and just stop that, that hundred-year-old investment, and that’d be really hard to just pack up and say goodbye to everything.”

As for Jared’s future, he said in order to make long-term investments in farming, it would be crucial to secure enough water for the next 40 years.

“Until we’ve got our water issue taken care of, then I basically have no future here,” Jared said. “It’s kind of sad, but it’s the harsh reality.”

Large rice farms in the Mississippi River Valley depend heavily on water pumped from wells. So do fields of cotton, soybeans and corn across portions of Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri. The farms are drawing out significantly more than is naturally replenished, and the valley’s alluvial aquifer system has been declining.

“Here, we actually get a lot of rain so you tend to not think of it as being in danger of running low on water,” said Brian Clark, a USGS hydrologist in Little Rock, Arkansas. “But just the sheer amount of use kind of poses that issue.”

Officials in Arkansas, which is the country’s top rice-producing state, are updating the state’s water plan with proposals for coping with a growing “groundwater gap” in the eastern portion of the state. They’ve recommended building infrastructure to make surface water the primary irrigation source for areas that now depend on a declining supply of groundwater.

Other proposed regulatory changes aimed at addressing strains on groundwater are being debated elsewhere, in wet regions as well as dry regions of the country.

In Arizona, state lawmakers have been under increasing pressure to consider groundwater regulations for some of the same rural areas that fought off restrictions about 35 years ago. Some farmers and residents in southeastern Arizona are concerned that unregulated pumping is drawing down groundwater levels, and have been pushing the legislature for action to limit the expansion of irrigated farmlands and begin charging fees for groundwater use.

In Wisconsin, where some people are concerned about farms’ wells drawing down streams and lakes, a bill pending in the legislature would allow state regulators to establish “groundwater protection areas” where there would be tighter permitting rules for new high-capacity wells in order to prevent environmental impacts. The proposed measures would also ease the permitting process for redrilling or repairing existing wells.

In Iowa, growing demands are being placed on the Jordan Aquifer as water is pumped for cities, farms, and industries such as ethanol plants. In June, the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission approved a new rule aimed at limiting pumping. The measures divide wells into tiers based on how much water levels have declined, and lay out procedures for reductions in water use in areas where the aquifer has dropped significantly.

Florida has also faced problems with groundwater declines as expanding development has strained water supplies. As the vast Floridan Aquifer has been drawn down, the amounts of water flowing from some of the state’s natural springs have decreased significantly, altering the sensitive environments where fish, turtles and other wildlife have long flourished.

“We have springs that are going silent because they’re not bubbling with the artesian pressure that they did in the past,” said Robert Knight, president of the Gainesville-based Florida Springs Institute, which advocates reducing the extraction of groundwater to safeguard the natural springs. He pointed out that much of the water pumped from wells is being sprayed on lawns.

As freshwater is pumped out, more seawater has been moving inland underground. And water managers across Florida have been tracking the problem and investing in remedies, including more desalination plants.

The Tampa Bay area built a seawater desalination plant that can churn out 25 million gallons of drinking water a day. The Tampa Bay Water plant, which has been operating since 2008, has helped reduce the stresses on the area’s groundwater supplies. But that has come at a price, with cost of construction alone totaling $158 million.

As the Ogallala Aquifer has declined beneath their land, Jay and Jarvis Garetson have been locked in a bitter dispute with a neighboring landowner over water.

They’re suing the company American Warrior, which owns adjacent farmland, in a case that could set a legal precedent in Kansas.

The case revolves around one of the Garetsons’ wells. They own a vested water right that is one of the oldest in the area, and they have priority under the state’s “first-in-time, first-in-right” system. They’ve claimed “impairment” of that well by two of the company’s nearby wells.

American Warrior holds junior water rights, and a judge issued an injunction temporarily barring the company from using the wells while the case proceeds.

Mike O’Brate, vice president of the family-owned American Warrior, accused the Garetsons of suing out of “greed” and said a lawsuit isn’t the right way to settle the dispute. He said if the Garetsons win, it will set a bad precedent and more suits will follow.

“Everybody will want to file these to shut off their neighbors,” O’Brate said. “Attorneys are going to get filthy rich in a fight over water. It’s not a good thing.”

The Garetson brothers said the 2012 lawsuit was necessary to defend their family’s livelihood.

“The fact of the matter is, we have a vested right to their junior rights, and Kansas water law is very clear,” Jarvis said. “And the sad thing is we had to get the courts involved to make it happen.”

Jay said that in addition to pressing the state to enforce its laws, they hope to call attention to the urgent need for action to preserve the aquifer.

“I guess our family’s decided we’d rather call a question and force everybody to make an informed decision one way or the other than to be complicit in the death of something that didn’t have to go out this way,” he said.

After the lawsuit was filed, the Garetsons faced hostility – even death threats.

As aquifers decline, more legal conflicts are likely to flare up in places across the country. Many disputes have already ended up in the courts.

Mississippi, for instance, is in a long-running legal battle with Tennessee and the city of Memphis, claiming the neighboring state is taking groundwater that belongs to Mississippi. In California, where many aquifers have been divvied up by courts, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians is suing two Coachella Valley water districts in a fight over rights to groundwater.

In Kansas, the state Water Office and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have studied a proposal to build an aqueduct that would carry water from the Missouri River to the High Plains, and have estimated the cost at $18 billion.

When Jay and his family start talking about water, the conversation touches on mega-fixes, such as the idea of building a wind-powered pipeline from the Mississippi River.

In the meantime, Jay holds out hope there is still time to save what’s left and extend the use of the aquifer. “But it’s going to take immediate action and it’s going to take mandatory action, and that’s something that is hard for most of us out here, who are pretty individualistic and self-reliant, to contemplate.”

Any imposed cutbacks would be painful for everyone, though the pain could be spread around, he said. And water credits could be traded, creating a market that would help deal with scarcity and put the limited water toward high-value uses.

Jay sometimes wonders if roadside billboards would help increase the sense of urgency. He envisions signs with cross-section drawings of the aquifer “that show the reservoir declining and force people to admit at least, if we’re not going to act, that it was an informed decision not to act.”

Driving down a dirt road through farmland, Jay talked about what losing the aquifer would mean for his family.

“Thinking about Jared and the challenges that his generation faces, that’s what leaves you gasping for air. It kind of leaves you at a loss for what to do next,” he said, wiping a tear.

Jay said he and his brother keep trying to gain five or 10 years by using a new crop or new irrigation technologies. He said their father, Jesse, encourages them to “keep pushing” and keep praying.

“We’ll succeed somewhere. I just always thought it would be here,” he said as he pulled into his gravel driveway next to a cornfield.

He stood beside the mud-splattered pickup, petting his dog.

“In spite of everything I do and we do, it’s still not enough,” he said, sniffling softly. “My boys and my nephews will never have the … they won’t have the same opportunity.”

He paused, keeping his composure.

“If they stay here, it’ll be a salvage operation. It won’t be an expansion or a growth or an improvement. It’ll be a salvage operation,” he said. “That’s the mentality they’ll have to have – unless everybody can come together. The problem is everybody won’t come together, in my experience, until it’s too late.”

As he began to cry, he walked away.

Ian James reported from Kansas and Steve Reilly reported from McLean, Virginia.

Steve Elfers of USA TODAY, Caitlin McGlade of The Arizona Republic and Chad Gillis of The News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla., contributed to this report.

This special report was produced with a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. 

Alarming Research Finds Humans Are Using Up Far More Of Earth’s Water Than Previously Thought

In Uncategorized on December 11, 2015 at 7:17 pm

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Oldspeak: “How bout that. Our unsustainable, infinite growth and resource incinerating “civilization” is not only depleting Earth’s largest sources of freshwater at ever more unsustainable rates worldwide, its doing it 2o PERCENT FASTER THAN PREVIOUSLY THOUGHT. And to add insult to injury, human activity with all its “innovation”, “progress”, “technological advancement” and “development” is literally fucking up Earth’s water cycle. Oh those pesky little unintended consequences, they always come back to bite us in the ass one way or the other… Anywho, everyone paid to bloviate on infotainment streams is paying attention to what Trump said…” -OSJ

 

Written By Chelsea Harvey @ The Washington Post:

Freshwater is one of the planet’s most precious resources — and as the global population grows and our demand for water rises, so does the need to carefully monitor its use and availability. Numerous studies have attempted to calculate the amount of freshwater humans consume globally from year to year. But in a worrying new study in the journal Science, scientists argue that we’ve been significantly underestimating our water footprint — in fact, their research raises the estimate of our global water consumption by nearly 20 percent and suggests that we may have crossed an unsustainable threshold in our water use.

Authors Fernando Jaramillo and Georgia Destouni of Stockholm University focused their research on the effects of flow regulation and irrigation — essentially, building dams and reservoirs for human use — on the water cycle, and found that previous studies have significantly underestimated their influence. Notably, they found a significant increase in water consumption — thousands of cubic kilometers worth — in the latter half of the twentieth century due to human water management.

These practices can have an important influence on what scientists call “evapotranspiration,” which is water that is lost to the atmosphere by either evaporating from the Earth’s surface or being taken up by plants and later released into the air through their leaves. Such factors can add up to a very significant percentage of global water consumption.

While most people think about “water consumption” as referring to the amount of water humans drink or use for industry, water that evaporates into the atmosphere is actually a major component too, said Jaramillo. This handy blog from the World Resources Institute helps explain the concept: Essentially, water consumption refers to any water that is withdrawn and not immediately returned to its original source.

So when water vaporizes and goes into the atmosphere as a result of human actions, such as irrigation or dam-building, it counts as being consumed by humans — even if it comes back down to the Earth at a later point as rain. It’s important to think about consumption in this way: Water that goes into the atmosphere in one place doesn’t necessarily come back down in the same location or in the same amount . And by engaging in practices that cause more water to be lost into the atmosphere than naturally would, humans are interfering with the natural ratio of evapotranspiration to precipitation — in other words, water out versus water in — and that could lead to increases in water shortages down the road.

“A  scientific motivation for this [study] is that we want to understand what is it that drives changes in the freshwater system on land,” said Destouni, the senior author and a professor of hydrology and water resources at Stockholm University. And as the research was conducted, she said, “we started to see that the landscape drivers of change [including human water management] were actually important nearly everywhere.”

There are a variety of ways that human water management techniques can affect how much water is lost to the atmosphere as water vapor, not all of them well understood. Creating reservoirs means there’s a larger surface area of standing water, which can increase evaporation rates. Additionally, irrigation can increase the number of plants in an area, which then draw in more water and release it into the air through their leaves, the process known as transpiration.

The authors decided to determine the global impact of flow regulation and irrigation on the water cycle in order to figure out how much water is being consumed, or lost to the atmosphere, just as a result of these practices. They selected 100 large water basins from around the world to use as a sample, choosing basins “that were more representative and had long-term consistent data on climate and water change and long-term data on water use and land use,” Jaramillo said.

They then used these data to figure out the ratio of evapotranspiration to precipitation — essentially, water out versus water in — between 1901 and 2008. In the past, studies examining the influence of flow regulation and irrigation on the water footprint have used global-scale models, which the authors argue have underestimated the effects on the water cycle. Their study is the first to take a global look at these practices using observed historical data.

“What is really novel and exciting about what Dr. Jaramillo and Destouni did was they took observational data, so measured flow data, on major watersheds, and they were able to detect a signal of a specific human impact,” said Shannon Sterling, an associate professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at Dalhousie University, who was not involved with this paper. “And that’s remarkable.”

After conducting their analysis, the researchers found that between the period from 1901 to 1954 and the period from 1955 to 2008, there was an increase in the average loss of freshwater to the atmosphere of more than 3,500 cubic kilometers, or about 850 cubic miles, of water. Altogether, they estimate that the current level of human freshwater consumption is about 4,370 cubic kilometers, or close to 1,050 cubic miles, per year.

These calculations raise the estimated total human water footprint — that’s all water consumed, freshwater or otherwise — by a whopping 18 percent, bringing it up to about 10,688 cubic kilometers per year.

The authors note that previous papers have proposed a “planetary boundary” of 4,000 cubic kilometers of freshwater consumption per year. Beyond that point, some scientists say that water consumption becomes unsustainable for the Earth’s growing population. Notably, this new study brings the total estimated freshwater consumption above the proposed planetary boundary.

“Whether this actually is a real boundary, of course there’s huge uncertainty related to that,” Destouni said, but added that the study’s results are concerning either way.

“It’s very serious that with such a relatively straightforward thing as water, freshwater — all of us use it all the time — we don’t keep track of what changes we have made and how these changes actually relate to what the planet can withstand,” she said.

Sterling also pointed out that the paper suggests human activities have a particular influence in already water-stressed regions.

“Another important implication of what they found [is that] the biggest reductions in available water from these human activities of dam building and irrigation are in areas that are already arid,” she said. “In these areas, they probably built dams and irrigation to address an existing water stress in the first place.”

The study highlights a critical need for better monitoring of our freshwater use and the ways our management techniques can affect the water cycle, as Jaramillo noted that the current effects of human water management “are even larger and more recognizable than the effects of atmospheric climate change.”

As climate change is predicted to become an increasing threat to water security worldwide, the persistent impacts of human activity on the water cycle will only be compounded by the effects of global warming in the future — making the need for better management techniques an even higher priority.

“That’s another future direction our society needs to take — to go towards greater resource efficiency,” Destouni said. “And if we don’t keep track of how we use water, we cannot reach that efficiency, or even understand what that efficiency means for the future.”

—————————————————————————————————————————————-

Chelsea Harvey is a freelance journalist covering science. She specializes in environmental health and policy.

 

The Global Water Crisis Is Getting Harder To Ignore: California’s Water Crisis Is Coming Soon To The Rest Of America

In Uncategorized on May 18, 2015 at 2:37 pm
Trinity Lake drought California

Trinity Lake, a (former) major water reservoir.

Oldspeak: “Vice TV recently did a great piece on India’s Water Crisis, that’s worth a watch. India is most definitely in a fucked up situation that’s due in to part to cultural norms, poor resource management and overpopulation. The story gets really interesting around the 7 minute mark, when they start talking to scientists and the U.N. Deputy Secretary General, and they extrapolate the Indian problem to the global level. A couple interesting quotes: “Irrespective of countries, if water is polluted, if water is not pure, then nobody can survive on earth” –Dr. B.D. Tripathi. “In 10 years, 2 billion people will be in regions with absolute water scarcity. 2/3s of the world will live under water-stress conditions” –Jan Eliasson, U.N. Deputy Secretary General. And what was spoken about in that Vice report is echoed in the article to follow. “While the rest of the US hasn’t been ordered to reduce water use, that doesn’t mean we have a free pass to use as much water as we want. Many states — 4o out of 50 according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office — have at least one region that’s expected to face some kind of water shortage in the next 10 years.” I have a strong suspicion that these estimates are significantly underestimated. Distinguished scientists are observing that climate change is rapidly accelerating. Major cities worldwide are in the throes of drought right now. It’s only logical to expect that this accelerating change will only become more rapid as temperatures increase and business as usual industrial civilization plunders on. Add to that the deliberate and widespread poisoning of fresh water supplies by humans via energy and agricultural production, and the water scarcity situation is very dire indeed. It will only be possible to ignore this life-altering reality for so much longer.” –OSJ

By Ellie Kinkaid @ Business Insider:

Americans tend to take it for granted that when we open a tap, water will come out.

Western states have been dealing with water problems for a while, but they won’t be alone for long.

As drought, flooding, and climate change restrict America’s water supply, demands from population growth and energy production look set to increase, according to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

These two changes squeeze our natural water reserves from both directions. The stress is becoming clear and will soon manifest as water scarcity problems all over our country.

The California problem

Over the last four years, Californians have gotten a big wake-up call, as drought forces them to reconsider water as a scarce commodity.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the region’s water supplier, will deliver 15% less water to cities in the greater Los Angeles area starting in July. The supplier won’t cut off delivering water if demand is more than the quota, but it’ll charge local utility companies that sell residents water up to four times more than the normal rate for the excess. And naturally, the utility companies will pass the cost on to their customers.

The water companies’ cuts are a reaction to California Governor Jerry Brown’s executive order that cities throughout the state reduce the amount of water they use by 25% — a groundbreaking mandate from the Governor’s office to limit water use for the first time ever.

A looming national issue

While the rest of the US hasn’t been ordered to reduce water use, that doesn’t mean we have a free pass to use as much water as we want. Many states — 4o out of 50 according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office — have at least one region that’s expected to face some kind of water shortage in the next 10 years.

Here’s what that looks like:

GAO estimate of water shortages

Government Accountability Office Water managers in 40 our of 50 states expect shortages in some part of their state within the next 10 years.

In some cases, shortages happen when there’s not enough fresh water suitable for human use in the lakes, rivers, reservoirs, and aquifers we can access. Rain and snowfall does replace the water we take from these sources, but that refill takes time and depends on actually getting precipitation. Drought-stricken California, for example, has a much reduced snowpack this year compared to 2010, its last near-normal year. Less snowpack means less snow to melt and refill the state’s reservoirs with fresh water people can use.

According to Tim Davis, the Montana Water Resources Division administrator, a water shortage could strike any part of the state in any given year, Elaine S. Povich reports for the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Water demand in Montana just keeps increasing, the state’s 2015 State Water Plan says, while the amount of water available changes from year to year, and even within a year, depending on precipitation. The discrepancy between demand and availability means the state is likely going to encounter a water crisis in the next few years. The state is already making contingency plans for potential drought conditions in the future, Davis told Povich.

In coastal areas of the US, rising sea levels taint fresh water coastal aquifers with salt water, which means that water can’t be consumed anymore without expensive desalination treatment. This is a looming threat for eastern and southern Maryland, according to the Government Accountability Office report.

Those worries are compounded by population growth in central and southern Maryland, which is putting pressure on the water supplies there. Though water managers in Maryland don’t anticipate statewide shortages, they told the GAO some areas may struggle to find enough water for everyone moving in, because there isn’t a feasible way to dramatically increase the amount of water available. So even those of us who live in parts of the country not experiencing drought could stand to put less stress on our water supplies.

In Colorado, officials told the Government Accountability Office they’re keeping an eye on the effects of fracking on the state’s water supply. Using water for fracking could contribute to local shortages in the drought-prone state, which only gets 12-16 inches of precipitation every year. Plus, a previous GAO report highlighted the risk that fracking can contaminate the water supply so people can’t use even the water they normally could.

Also out West, the U.S. Census Bureau projects the populations of Nevada and Arizona will more than double between 2000 and 2030. But those two states get some of the nation’s lowest amounts of precipitation, so more people will be vying to use water resources that already aren’t plentiful.

Everybody’s problem

While any given person may not be directly causing these water issues, everyone plays a role in how much drinkable water there is in the US. The U.S. Geological Survey estimated that the average American used 88 gallons of water per day in 2010, the latest year it surveyed water use.

The entirety of humanity in America uses 27,400 million gallons per day around the house, for stuff like preparing food, washing clothes, flushing toilets, and watering lawns.

The map below from the U.S. Geological Survey shows how that breaks down by state on a daily basis, which doesn’t even include the water that goes into producing the energy, food, and products we use. (For example, it takes over a gallon of water to grow a single almond.)

total domestic water use 2010 USGS

U.S. Geological Survey A map of domestic water use by state, 2010.

This isn’t just a US problem, either. The water crisis is even worse in many other countries, especially those without good infrastructure to get water from rivers and aquifers. The UN estimates a fifth of the world’s population lives in an area where water is scarce, and another fourth of the world’s people don’t have access to water because countries lack the infrastructure to distribute it.

By 2030, nearly half of everyone in the world will be living in countries highly stressed for water, according to UN predictions. Bank of America Merrill Lynch reports that water scarcity is our biggest problem worldwide, and projects that climate change will only make it worse.

Ready access to water is not something everyone in the world can take for granted, and Americans may not be able to much longer.

This Is Absolutely Terrifying: “There Are Really Only Two Big Patches Of Intact Forest Left On Earth.”

In Uncategorized on March 26, 2015 at 12:24 am

Oldspeak: “So at the same time ever increasing amounts of CO2 are being spewed into the atmosphere, forests which play a crucial role in maintaining the global carbon budget; worldwide, sucking up 2.4 billion metric tons of carbon each year, are facing a triple whammy. They’re being clear cut at unsustainable rates, dying at faster rates ever year, and cut up into smaller and smaller fragments by more and more by roads, that lead to more habitat killing activities like industrial agriculture, wildfires, mining & poaching. This news is especially worrying given that the Amazon, home to one of those 2 big patches is dying, and losing it’s ability to sequester carbon.  Converting from a carbon sink to a carbon emitter. Forest cover is shrinking every year. Yet another irreversible non-linear positive feedback loop in play, courtesy of industrial civilization. Can’t see this turning out well.” -OSJ

Lindsay Abrams @ Salon:

A new study uncovers the ruinous consequences, to plant and animal species, of our increasingly fragmented forests.

Can a forest that exists only in the spaces between roads and patches cleared for human settlement and agricultural development truly be called a forest?

Not so much, say researchers studying the growing, global problem of forest fragmentation. And the “persistent, deleterious and often unpredicted” consequences of human activity, finds a new study conducted by a team off 24 international scientists, and funded by the National Science Foundation, may be ruinous for plant and animal life.

“There are really only two big patches of intact forest left on Earth — the Amazon and the Congo — and they shine out like eyes from the center of the map,” lead author Nick Haddad, a professor at North Carolina State University, told the New Yorker.

“Nearly 20 percent of the world’s remaining forests are the distance of a football field — or about 100 meters — away from forest edges,” he elaborated in a statement. “Seventy percent of forest lands are within a half-mile of forest edges. That means almost no forests can really be considered wilderness.”

And the consequences of that forest loss, the researchers discovered, may be more profound than we’ve previously realized. To figure that out, they looked at the results of seven experiments, which took place on five different continents, that aimed to simulate the impacts of human activity on forests. Several of the studies have been going on for decades, and the results, in aggregate, were striking: fragmented habitats, they found, can reduce plant and animal diversity by anywhere from 13 to 75 percent.

In general, the studies showed that when patches of forest become smaller and more isolated, the abundance of birds, mammal, insects and plants decreases in kind — those pressures, the authors write, reduced the species’ ability to persist. Areas surrounded by a higher proportion of edges, they also found, were a boon to predators that target birds, which is arguably good, in the short-term, for the predators, although not so much for the birds. Fragmented forests experienced a decline in their core ecosystem functions, as well: they were less able to sequester carbon dioxide, an important element of mitigating climate change, and displayed reduced productivity and pollination.

Increasing Global Overpumping Of Groudwater Is Contributing To Sea Level Rise

In Uncategorized on March 23, 2015 at 9:29 pm
irrigation

Irrigation in California’s San Joaquin Valley GomezDavid/iStock

Oldspeak: “Perfect example of Humans as the mother of all feedback loops. Human activities created the conditions for mega-droughts, glacial melting and sea level rise. As a result of mega-droughts and glacial melting, humans have to pump more and more unsustainable levels of groundwater out of ancient aquifers that are rapidly running dry. The ever increasing over pumping is in turn contributing to the sea level rise that is already submerging some coastal cities. Seems like we’re on a hamster wheel of doom.” -OSJ

By Tom Knudson @ Reveal:

Pump too much groundwater and wells go dry—that’s obvious.

But there is another consequence that gets little attention as a hotter, drier planet turns increasingly to groundwater for life support.

So much water is being pumped out of the ground worldwide that it is contributing to global sea level rise, a phenomenon tied largely to warming temperatures and climate change.

It happens when water is hoisted out of the earth to irrigate crops and supply towns and cities, then finds its way via rivers and other pathways into the world’s oceans. Since 1900, some 4,500 cubic kilometers of groundwater around the world—enough to fill Lake Tahoe 30 times—have done just that.

“Long-term groundwater depletion represents a large transfer of water from the continents to the oceans,” retired hydrogeologist Leonard Konikow wrote earlier this year in one article. “Thus, groundwater depletion represents a small but nontrivial contributor to SLR [sea-level rise].”

Sea levels have risen 7 to 8 inches since the late 19th century and are expected to rise more rapidly by 2100. The biggest factors are associated with climate change: melting glaciers and other ice and the thermal expansion of warming ocean waters.

Groundwater flowing out to sea added another half-inch—6 to 7 percent of overall sea level rise from 1900 to 2008, Konikow reported in a 2011 article in Geophysical Research Letters. “That really surprised a lot of people,” he said in a recent interview with Reveal.

Konikow also has reported that 1,000 cubic kilometers—twice the volume of Lake Erie—were depleted from aquifers in the US from 1900 to 2008, and the pace of the pumping is increasing.

In California, so much groundwater has been pumped from aquifers in parts of the San Joaquin Valley that the land itself is starting to sink like a giant pie crust, wreaking havoc with roads, bridges and water delivery canals.

Not only is groundwater growing scarce, but we’re pumping out older and older water. In parts of California, cities and farms are tapping reserves that fell to Earth during a much wetter climatic regime—the ice age, a phenomenon that Reveal covered earlier this month and which raises questions about future supplies as the climate turns drier.

Last week, NASA senior water scientist Jay Famiglietti warned that “the state has only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs, and our strategic backup supply, groundwater, is rapidly disappearing.”

According to Konikow, groundwater overdraft in the US accounted for about 22 percent of global groundwater depletion from 1900 to 2008, contributing about an eighth of an inch to global sea level rise.

The “Mega-Drought Future,” The Disappearance Of Coral Reefs And The Unwillingness To Listen

In Uncategorized on March 12, 2015 at 11:44 pm
Since 2011, destruction of the oceans has not only continued, but it has increased dramatically. A World Resources report states that all coral reefs will be gone by 2050 "if no actions are taken," a study published in BioScience states that oysters are already "functionally extinct" since their populations are decimated by overharvesting and disease, and the "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico, and others around the globe, continue to break size records. (Photo via Shutterstock)

Since 2011, destruction of the oceans has not only continued, but it has increased dramatically. (Photo: Dead Coral Reef via Shutterstock)

Oldspeak:” More from bad to worse news from intrepid reporter Dahr Jamail on the ongoing global ecological collapse and fastest ever mass extinction. All you oyster lovers, get em while you can, scientists have classified them as “functionally extinct”. They won’t be around much longer. Wild Atlantic Salmon that we all love so much, enjoy that while you can as it too faces extinction. All you california grown food lovers, enjoy while you can, California is in the throes of a 1,200 year drought, that is only going to get worse with global warming set to accelerate to rates not seen in 1,000 years in the near future. Farmers know all too well the grim reality of now.  “No water = No food.” Many fields are fallow right now. Some farmers have lost two-thirds of their crop. The mega city Sao Paolo, Brazil is experiencing water scarcity dry taps as a result of rapidly melting glaciers and water sources. The “Deadly Trio” of ocean warming, acidification and deoxegenation seen in earths previous 5 mass extinctions is accelerating. Trees are losing their ability to remove carbon from the air. The change is beyond linear at this point, and beyond mitigation. And astoundingly the denial abounds in the face of incontrovertible and ever more evident physical evidence.,.” -OSJ

By Dahr Jamail @ Truthout:

Scientists are now mapping a world that is changing rapidly in often-terrifying ways. Climate disruption and world leaders’ unwillingness to act have put us at risk of experiencing mega-droughts, the disappearance of coral reefs and other ecological impacts of an anthropogenically warming planet.

The UN World Meteorological Organization recently announced that 14 of the 15 hottest years ever recorded have occurred since 2000. Ponder that for a moment before reading further.

In what is perhaps eerily prophetic timing, this February marked the 50th anniversary of US President Lyndon B. Johnson’s warning about carbon dioxide. In a 1965 special message to Congress, he warned about the buildup of carbon dioxide and said, in what would become the harbinger warning of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD):

Air pollution is no longer confined to isolated places. This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through radioactive materials and a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.

The potential consequences of this warming are also multiplying, as witnessed by a recent NASA study that shows that the United States is “at risk of [a] mega-drought future.” The research shows that the Southwest and Central Plains are both on course for super-droughts, which have not been witnessed in over 1,000 years.

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

In this month’s climate dispatch, we document a wide range of research along similar lines: Scientists are now mapping a world that is changing rapidly in often terrifying ways.

Earth

After the single worst mountaineering accident in history took place last summer on Mount Everest, the standard climbing route for that mountain has become off limits. Many mountaineers, including this writer, credit ACD with making the section of the route where the deadly accident occurred more dangerous than ever before.

An increasing number of reports now demonstrate that ACD is leading to new disease outbreaks around the world. In fact, many scientists fear that ACD is already creating the ecological basis for infectious deadly diseases to spread to both new places and new hosts as the planet’s atmosphere changes.

Other scientists are warning of a coming “climate plague,” and say that exotic diseases like Ebola, SARS and West Nile virus will become “increasingly common” as ACD progresses. Less dramatically but equally pertinent, recent studies are already linking ACD to longer and more intense hay fever seasons in the United States.

Wildlife is reflecting the changes to the climate as well. Grizzlies in Yellowstone National Park emerged several weeks early from their winter hibernation due to the arrival of spring-like weather, with warmer temperatures and rain falling instead of the usual snow, according to a park spokesperson.

Madagascar’s lemur species, most of them already imperiled, are now being severely impacted by the effects of ACD, which will cause an average of half of their current habitats to be removed over the next 70 years.

Although it’s not as though we needed any further evidence that ACD is real and progressing rapidly, a study recently published in Nature, drawn from evidence taken from ancient plankton fossils drilled from the ocean floor, supports current predictions about ACD, as it verifies what we are seeing today, and where it will lead, since it has happened in the past.

On the human front, a recent report shows how disasters resulting from ACD are pushing India’s poorest children further into poverty and sometimes human trafficking, as parents are displaced.

Lastly, researchers at an annual American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in the United States reported that the dramatic acceleration of ACD and its impacts on agriculture mean that “profound” societal changes are needed in order to feed the world’s ever-growing population. One example of these changes is the fact that, according to one of the scientists at the conference, in order to feed the planet between 2000 and 2050, agricultural output would have to produce the same amount of food as was produced in the last 500 years.

Water

As usual, the impact of ACD is extremely clear when it comes to water and water-related issues around the globe.

In Alaska, the annual Iditarod sled dog race is in increasing jeopardy, as warmer temperatures and dwindling snow cover are making it more challenging to run the race. Mushers are having to skirt open-water sections of previously frozen rivers, run their teams and sleds over long sections of bare ground, and run their dogs at night because daytime temperatures are sometimes too warm.

In the Pacific Northwest, a possibly record-setting bad snow year is in full swing, as mountain snowfalls remain at record low levels, and forecasts for the rest of the season are calling for more of the same. By way of example, the snowpack in the Olympic Mountains is at only 8 percent of its usual level.

A recent report revealed that anthropogenic air pollution in the northern hemisphere is reducing rainfall over Central America. Scientists explained that sun-masking pollution cools the northern hemisphere where most global industry is based. This then pushes the intertropical convergence zone (a rain band that encircles the globe) south because it moves toward the warmer hemisphere.

Researchers from the University of Arizona have shown that melting ice is causing the land to rise up in Iceland, and possibly elsewhere. The result of this could be a dramatic increase in the number of volcanic eruptions around the globe – yet another unintended consequence of ACD.

While it’s no secret that glaciers are melting in Antarctica and Greenland, a recently published study provided new evidence that the carbon from melting glaciers is impacting the downstream food chains and having a significant impact on those ecosystems. This means substantial changes to the base of the food web, changes that will have clear ramifications for global fisheries and ultimately, humans’ ability to feed themselves.

A recent study published in the journal PLOS ONE, titled “Smothered Oceans: Extreme Oxygen Loss in Oceans Accompanied Past Global Climate Change,” revealed that abrupt, extensive loss of oxygen occurred in the oceans when the global ice sheets melted approximately 10,000 to 17,000 years ago. These findings explain similar changes that are already occurring in the oceans right now.

New analysis of thousands of temperature measurements taken during deep ocean probes confirmed that the planet is experiencing “unabated planetary warming” when one includes the vast amounts of greenhouse-trapped heat in the oceans.

Life in the oceans is being impacted in what are increasingly obvious ways. Rutgers University professor Malin Pinsky, who studies the effects of ACD on fisheries, recently announced a study showing species redistribution (having to move to new areas due to temperature changes) of fluke, which are being pushed north toward cooler waters. Pinsky has already studied a similar phenomenon happening with flounder.

In California, nearly 1,000 sea lions have been washed ashore this year in what rehabilitation centers state is a growing crisis for the animals. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials are blaming warming ocean temperatures for the problem.

It’s important to place this distressing news for the planet’s oceans in a larger – and even more distressing – context. Now is a good time to recall an alarming 2011 report, in which the International Program on the State of the Ocean warned of mass extinction, based on the then-current rate of marine distress. The expert panel of scientists warned that a mass extinction event “unlike anything human history has ever seen” was coming, if the multifaceted degradation of the world’s oceans continues.

Since 2011, destruction of the oceans has not only continued, but it has increased dramatically. A World Resources report states that all coral reefs will be gone by 2050 “if no actions are taken,” a study published in BioScience states that oysters are already “functionally extinct” since their populations are decimated by overharvesting and disease, and the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, and others around the globe, continue to break size records.

Other water-related effects of climate disruption abound.

The massive snowfall in Boston this winter set all-time records for snow within 14, 20, and 30-day periods, and has been tied to ACD.

ACD-fueled drought continues to plague the planet, as the major vacillations between extreme dryness and floods grow increasingly common.

Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest and wealthiest city that typically has access to one-eighth of the fresh water on the planet, is now seeing its taps run dry as the region struggles to cope with “an unprecedented water crisis.” And in the United States, California’s drought continues to make front-page news, as usual. The state suffered one of its driest Januarys on record, indicating that, without a doubt, the state is headed into a fourth straight year of drought.

Also in California, scientists are seeing that state’s shrinking snowpack as a harbinger of things to come. They are expecting the snowpack to shrink by at least one-third as the climate continues to warm in the coming decades, and expect that by the end of this century, more than half of what now functions as a massive natural freshwater reservoir could be gone.

Indeed, a recent NASA study warns us of an “unprecedented” North American drought, and shows that California is currently in the midst of its worst drought in more than 1,200 years. The study also shows how things are only going to get worse.

Meanwhile, the distress signals from the Arctic continue to make themselves known, in the form of melting ice.

A study recently published in the Journal of Climate shows that the amount of ice already lost in the Arctic dwarfs any of the ice gains that have occurred around Antarctica. ACD deniers had pointed toward increasing ice buildup in parts of the Antarctic as a sign that ACD was not happening, but this study blows that “argument” out of the water. “I hope that these results will make it clear that, globally, the Earth has lost sea ice over the past several decades, despite the Antarctic gains,” wrote study author Claire Parkinson, a sea ice researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

Seattle-based urban planner Jeffrey Linn produced a series of maps that show what is going to occur as sea levels continue to rise and major cities are submerged in hundreds of feet of water. They are worth looking at closely.

A study just published in the journal Nature Communications shows that sea levels north of New York City “jumped by 128mm (5 inches)” in just two years. This is an unprecedented rate in the history of tide gauge records. The US scientists who authored the study warned that coastal areas now need to prepare for “short term and extreme sea level events.”

Lastly, on the subject of rising sea levels, researchers recently reported that rising sea levels are already impacting Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the historic and iconic launch pads 39A and 39B are under threat as nearby beachfront is washing away at an alarming rate.

Fire

A recent state-commissioned study in the US projects between a 2.5 to 5.5-degree Fahrenheit temperature increase by 2050, which would bring more disease, crop damage and wildfires to the state of Colorado, along with other states in the center of the country.

To make matters worse, another recent report makes it clear that wildfire season in the United States, which used to be confined to the months of July and August, has grown two and a half months longer in the last 40 years – and continues to expand.

Beyond the US, a recent study in the New Scientist revealed that ACD-augmented wildfires could begin releasing radioactive material locked in contaminated forest soils around Chernobyl, allowing them to spread all over Europe.

Air

A recent study published in Scientific Reports reveals that the forests’ ability to suck carbon from the atmosphere is likely slowing down. The ramifications for this are obvious: With forests’ ability to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere compromised, the impacts of ACD speed up dramatically.

Climate Central recently published an interactive tool called Winter Loses Its Cool, which allows you to see how daily low temperature projections for US cities are being impacted by ACD.

A modeling study published in LiveScience in February shows how ACD is spawning even more tornadoes in the US Southeast.

Another report – which shouldn’t surprise anyone living in the frigid northeastern US – shows how ACD is clearly shifting the jet stream that drives the weather for that region. This has been evident throughout most of February, where record-breaking bitterly cold air from Siberia wracked the region, along with the eastern half of Canada, with incredibly low temperatures and record snowfalls. It is obvious that something is amiss with the planet’s atmosphere when the US Northeast is getting weather, regularly now, that used to be found only within the Arctic Circle. As global temperatures slowly equalize as a result of ACD, the jet stream is no longer contained to its previous patterns.

January 2015 showed that worldwide temperatures are showing little sign of relenting from 2014’s record high levels, as January matched the warmest records for the month in 125 years of data records, according to Japan’s Meteorological Agency.

Lastly, the giant craters in Siberia that are believed to have been caused by methane gas eruptions in melting permafrost are now sparking fears of the unfolding of an Arctic natural disaster. That disaster would look like increasingly escalating temperatures that cause self-reinforcing feedback loops to kick in, and cause the permafrost in the Arctic to continue melting, hence releasing the rest of the trapped methane.

Denial and Reality

There is some big news on the ACD-denial front this month, as it was recently revealed how the deniers’ favorite scientist, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics’ Wei-Hock Soon, has been taking cash from corporate interests – and the documents are there to prove it. He has accepted more than a cool $1.2 million in money from the fossil fuel industry, and opted not to disclose that minor conflict of interest in the vast majority of his so-called scientific papers.

Nevertheless, others who are taking massive amounts of cash from the fossil fuel industry, like the infamous Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), continue to spout on about how only God can cause climate change.

A recently published op-ed in LiveScience asks the question, “Is it safe to be a climate scientist?” given how aggressive and even dangerous the pushback has been against scientists for simply doing their jobs.

It’s a legitimate question because given the fact that 2014 was the hottest year on record and all the other overwhelming evidence that ACD is in full swing and accelerating by the day, the denial movement has began to reach new heights of lying and propagandizing. By way of example, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s top business advisor Maurice Newman says that he believes ACD is a “myth.”

Meanwhile, talk of “geoengineering” as a “solution” for ACD continues to grow in frequency and volume, to the extent that the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recently issued two firmly pessimistic reports on the subject. The NAS refused to call it “geoengineering,” however, instead calling it “climate intervention.” The NAS panel rejects the use of the term “geoengineering” because, “We felt ‘engineering’ implied a level of control that is illusory,” according to Dr. Marcia McNutt, who led the report committee.

Another, little-noticed factor that may be driving denial: noise pollution. A senior US scientist recently expressed concerns about how human-created noise is making us oblivious to the sound of nature. Rising background noise in some areas threatens to make people deaf to the sounds of birds, flowing water and wind blowing through trees, and the problem is exacerbated by people opting to use iPods during their hikes. “We are conditioning ourselves to ignore the information coming into our ears,” the scientist said. Along with the fact that the majority of the global population now lacks regular access to wilderness, it is becoming ever easier for people to avoid thinking about ACD, since they are out of touch with the planet.

There have been important recent developments on the reality front for this section.

As a mitigation option, a recent Reuters story reminds us, “Giving more women who want it access to birth control to limit their family size, in both rich and poor countries, could be a hugely effective way to curb climate change, according to experts.”

Truthout also recently published an analytical piece on this topic, noting that there are 225,000 people at the dinner table tonight who weren’t there last night – and that the vast majority of carbon emissions are coming from so-called developed countries, rather than poorer “developing” countries.

In an action geared toward raising global awareness, Catholics in 45 countries aim to send an ACD message through their Lenten chain of fasting this year. In addition, Pope Francis’ scheduled address to a joint session of Congress this fall is aiming to put Republican lawmakers who are ACD deniers square on the hot seat.

Given recent reports and events, let us remember the shockwaves caused in the global scientific community when, in 2010, Australian emeritus professor of microbiology Frank Fenner, who helped eradicate smallpox from the planet, predicted the human race would be extinct within the next 100 years. Believing humans will be unable to survive the ongoing twin-headed dragon of unbridled population explosion and overconsumption, Fenner stated unequivocally, “It’s an irreversible situation. I think it’s too late. I try not to express that because people are trying to do something, but they keep putting it off.”

On that note, researchers at Oxford University recently compiled a “scientific assessment about the possibility of oblivion” that predicts various scenarios of how human civilization will most likely end.

With ACD listed as the No. 1 most likely way we perish, the list goes on to include other possibilities like global thermonuclear war, a global pandemic, ecological catastrophe and global system catastrophe. Only two of the 12 scenarios – major asteroid impact and a super volcano – were not anthropogenic.

Regarding ACD, the researchers believe the possibility of global coordination to mitigate the impacts to be the largest controllable factor in whether or not catastrophe can be prevented. However, they also warned that the impact of ACD would be strongest in poorer countries, and that large human die-offs stemming from migrations and famines would cause major global instability.

“Limits To Growth” Published In 1972 Proved Correct: New Research Indicates We’re Nearing Global Collapse

In Uncategorized on September 14, 2014 at 7:32 pm

Piles of crushed cars at a metal recycling site in Belfast, Northern Ireland.Oldspeak:If the present growth trends in world population, industrialisation, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next one hundred years. The most probable result will be a rather sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity.” –“Limits To Growth”, 1972

Consider that statement in the context of the present reality:

Humanity’s annual demand on the natural world has exceeded what the Earth can renew in a year since the 1970s. This “ecological overshoot” has continued to grow over the years, reaching a 50 per cent deficit in 2008. This means that it takes 1.5 years for the Earth to regenerate the renewable resources that people use, and absorb the CO2 waste they produce, in that same year.  How can this be possible when there is only one Earth? Just as it is possible to withdraw money from a bank account faster than to wait for the interest this money generates, renewable resources can be harvested faster than they can be re-grown. But just like overdrawing from a bank account, eventually the resource will be depleted. At present, people are often able to shift their sourcing when this happens; however at current consumption rates, these sources will eventually run out of resources too – and some ecosystems will collapse even before the resource is completely gone. The consequences of excess greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are also already being seen, like climate change and ocean acidification. These place additional stresses on biodiversity and ecosystems. The decline in biocapacity per capita is primarily due to an increase in global population. More people have to share the Earth’s resources. The increase in the Earth’s productivity is not enough to compensate for the demands of this growing population.” –World Wildlife Foundation, 2014

“So ignore all the chatter about “climate action” and “environmental activism” and the hoopla about the upcoming “People’s Climate March” and UN Summit on Climate Change. It’s all meaningless and masturbatory theater. Our fate was sealed 40 years ago. We are running up against the physical limits of the ecology and have shown no ability or will to stop. Continued growth in population and resource consumption all but guarantee collapse of the ecology and by extension industrial civilization. We’re witnessing the early stages of global collapse right now. We’re seeing the decline in industrial outputs predicted in Limits To Growth to start in 2015, now. The mounting pollution bringing about agricultural and food production failures in addition to cuts health and education services predicted to start in 2020 is happening now.   Infinity growth is impossible on a finite planet. The anthropocene epoch is nearing its end. Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick….” -OSJ

By Graham Turner and Cathy Alexander @ The U.K. Guardian:

The 1972 book Limits to Growth, which predicted our civilisation would probably collapse some time this century, has been criticised as doomsday fantasy since it was published. Back in 2002, self-styled environmental expert Bjorn Lomborg consigned it to the “dustbin of history”.

It doesn’t belong there. Research from the University of Melbourne has found the book’s forecasts are accurate, 40 years on. If we continue to track in line with the book’s scenario, expect the early stages of global collapse to start appearing soon.

Limits to Growth was commissioned by a think tank called the Club of Rome. Researchers working out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, including husband-and-wife team Donella and Dennis Meadows, built a computer model to track the world’s economy and environment. Called World3, this computer model was cutting edge.

The task was very ambitious. The team tracked industrialisation, population, food, use of resources, and pollution. They modelled data up to 1970, then developed a range of scenarios out to 2100, depending on whether humanity took serious action on environmental and resource issues. If that didn’t happen, the model predicted “overshoot and collapse” – in the economy, environment and population – before 2070. This was called the “business-as-usual” scenario.

The book’s central point, much criticised since, is that “the earth is finite” and the quest for unlimited growth in population, material goods etc would eventually lead to a crash.

So were they right? We decided to check in with those scenarios after 40 years. Dr Graham Turner gathered data from the UN (its department of economic and social affairs, Unesco, the food and agriculture organisation, and the UN statistics yearbook). He also checked in with the US national oceanic and atmospheric administration, the BP statistical review, and elsewhere. That data was plotted alongside the Limits to Growth scenarios.

The results show that the world is tracking pretty closely to the Limits to Growth “business-as-usual” scenario. The data doesn’t match up with other scenarios.

These graphs show real-world data (first from the MIT work, then from our research), plotted in a solid line. The dotted line shows the Limits to Growth “business-as-usual” scenario out to 2100. Up to 2010, the data is strikingly similar to the book’s forecasts.

limits to growth
Solid line: MIT, with new research in bold. Dotted line: Limits to Growth ‘business-as-usual’ scenario.
limits to growth
Solid line: MIT, with new research in bold. Dotted line: Limits to Growth ‘business-as-usual’ scenario. Photograph: Supplied
limits to growth
Solid line: MIT, and research in bold. Dotted line: Limits to Growth ‘business-as-usual’ scenario. Photograph: Supplied

As the MIT researchers explained in 1972, under the scenario, growing population and demands for material wealth would lead to more industrial output and pollution. The graphs show this is indeed happening. Resources are being used up at a rapid rate, pollution is rising, industrial output and food per capita is rising. The population is rising quickly.

So far, Limits to Growth checks out with reality. So what happens next?

According to the book, to feed the continued growth in industrial output there must be ever-increasing use of resources. But resources become more expensive to obtain as they are used up. As more and more capital goes towards resource extraction, industrial output per capita starts to fall – in the book, from about 2015.

As pollution mounts and industrial input into agriculture falls, food production per capita falls. Health and education services are cut back, and that combines to bring about a rise in the death rate from about 2020. Global population begins to fall from about 2030, by about half a billion people per decade. Living conditions fall to levels similar to the early 1900s.

It’s essentially resource constraints that bring about global collapse in the book. However, Limits to Growth does factor in the fallout from increasing pollution, including climate change. The book warned carbon dioxide emissions would have a “climatological effect” via “warming the atmosphere”.

As the graphs show, the University of Melbourne research has not found proof of collapse as of 2010 (although growth has already stalled in some areas). But in Limits to Growth those effects only start to bite around 2015-2030.

The first stages of decline may already have started. The Global Financial Crisis of 2007-08 and ongoing economic malaise may be a harbinger of the fallout from resource constraints. The pursuit of material wealth contributed to unsustainable levels of debt, with suddenly higher prices for food and oil contributing to defaults – and the GFC.

The issue of peak oil is critical. Many independent researchers conclude that “easy” conventional oil production has already peaked. Even the conservative International Energy Agency has warned about peak oil.

Peak oil could be the catalyst for global collapse. Some see new fossil fuel sources like shale oil, tar sands and coal seam gas as saviours, but the issue is how fast these resources can be extracted, for how long, and at what cost. If they soak up too much capital to extract the fallout would be widespread.

Our research does not indicate that collapse of the world economy, environment and population is a certainty. Nor do we claim the future will unfold exactly as the MIT researchers predicted back in 1972. Wars could break out; so could genuine global environmental leadership. Either could dramatically affect the trajectory.

But our findings should sound an alarm bell. It seems unlikely that the quest for ever-increasing growth can continue unchecked to 2100 without causing serious negative effects – and those effects might come sooner than we think.

It may be too late to convince the world’s politicians and wealthy elites to chart a different course. So to the rest of us, maybe it’s time to think about how we protect ourselves as we head into an uncertain future.

As Limits to Growth concluded in 1972:

If the present growth trends in world population, industrialisation, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next one hundred years. The most probable result will be a rather sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity.

So far, there’s little to indicate they got that wrong.

 

Nestlé Chairman Calls World’s Water Scarcity ‘more urgent’ Than Climate Change– As It Sells Bottled Water From Drought-Ridden California

In Uncategorized on July 17, 2014 at 9:23 pm

A discarded tire is seen stuck in the exposed lake bed of the Almaden Reservoir which is experiencing extremely low water levels due to the ongoing drought, in San Jose. Photo: Michael Short, The Chronicle

Oldspeak: “Only after the last tree has been cut down. Only after the last river has been poisoned. Only after the last fish has been caught. Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten-Cree Proverb

Peter Brabeck-Letmanthe, the chairman and former chief executive of Nestlé, told the Financial Times that the world is “running out of water” and that it needs to become a bigger priority to world leaders.

“Today, you cannot have a political discussion anywhere without talking about climate change,” he said. “Nobody talks about the water situation in this sense. And this water problem is much more urgent.”

Climate change is still an important issue, he argued, but even without it “we are running out of water and I think this has to become the first priority,” he said.

Nestlé’s 383,000 square-foot water bottling plant is located on the Morongo Band of Mission Indians’ reservation in California.

The state declared a drought state of emergency in January this year, in preparation for coming water shortages – especially during the summer months, but Nestlé is reportedly not required to comply with the emergency measures as its plant sits on a Native American reservation.” –Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith

“Woah. Breathtaking Orwellian irony and hypocrisy here. These gems are coming from the same man, who said less than a year ago that basic human rights to water is “an extreme solution”, and “The biggest social responsibility of any CEO, is to maintain and ensure the successful and profitable future of his enterprise. ” How else could one explain how in his mind, the water scarcity that his corporation is helping to create is more important than the ecology upon which his business depends? Once again the land of Native Americans is being raped and pillaged for its most precious lifeblood so this man can maintain the profitable future of his enterprise. He cares nothing about water scarcity. if he did his company would get out of the water selling business, because bottling and selling water requires staggering amounts of water to be wasted and poisoned to be profitable. This is why industrial civilization will inevitably collapse. People like this are running things.  Sociopath, Pathological anthropocentrists. Profit trumps extinction.” -OSJ

By Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith @ The Independent:

But his comments come as his company is slammed for drawing water from drought-ridden areas in California to sell under its Arrowhead and Pure Life bottled water brands.

Peter Brabeck-Letmanthe, the chairman and former chief executive of Nestlé, told the Financial Times that the world is “running out of water” and that it needs to become a bigger priority to world leaders.

“Today, you cannot have a political discussion anywhere without talking about climate change,” he said. “Nobody talks about the water situation in this sense. And this water problem is much more urgent.”

Climate change is still an important issue, he argued, but even without it “we are running out of water and I think this has to become the first priority,” he said.

Mr Brabeck-Lemanthe’s comments may appear confusing to his company’s critics, as Nestlé, one of the world’s largest food companies, faces harsh criticism for its water bottling activities in California as the area suffers one of its toughest droughts on record.

Nestlé’s 383,000 square-foot water bottling plant is located on the Morongo Band of Mission Indians’ reservation in California.

The state declared a drought state of emergency in January this year, in preparation for coming water shortages – especially during the summer months, but Nestlé is reportedly not required to comply with the emergency measures as its plant sits on a Native American reservation.

But local residents are concerned about the amount of water Nestlé is drawing from the area to bottle and export for profit, and how ethical this action is during a drought.

“Why is it possible to take water from a drought area, bottle it and sell it? Linda Ivey, a Palm Desert real estate appraiser, asked The Desert Sun. “It’s hard to know how much water is being taken – we’ve got to protect what little water supply we have.”

The Desert Sun reported that up until 2009 Nestlé’s Water business, Nestlé Waters, submitted annual reports to a group of local water districts showing how much ground water was being extracted from a spring in Millard Canyon, which is where the plant’s wells have been located for more than a decade.

There have been no reports since then, making it difficult to record how much water is being extracted from the area, but reports estimate it could be 244 million gallons a year. The Desert Sun has repeatedly asked for a tour of Nestlé Waters’ plant over the past year, which has not been granted.

Nestlé Waters said in a statement: “We proudly conduct our business in an environmentally responsible manner that focuses on water and energy conservation. Our sustainable operations are specifically designed and managed to prevent adverse impacts to local area groundwater resources, particularly in light of California’s drought conditions over the past three years.”

Why We Couldn’t Care Less About The Natural World

In Uncategorized on May 16, 2014 at 8:58 pm

Greendex survey of consumer attitudes

Oldspeak: “The more we consume, the less we feel. And maybe that doesn’t just apply to guilt.

Perhaps that’s the point of our otherwise-pointless hyperconsumption: it smothers feeling. It might also be the effect of the constant bombardment of advertising and marketing. They seek to replace our attachments to people and place with attachments to objects: attachments which the next round of advertising then breaks in the hope of attaching us to a different set of objects.

The richer we are and the more we consume, the more self-centred and careless of the lives of others we appear to become. Even if you somehow put aside the direct, physical impacts of rising consumption, it’s hard to understand how anyone could imagine that economic growth is a formula for protecting the planet.

So what we seem to see here is the turning of a vicious circle. The more harm we do, the less concerned about it we become. And the more hyperconsumerism destroys relationships, communities and the physical fabric of the Earth, the more we try to fill the void in our lives by buying more stuff.” –George Monbiot

Wherever i travel in the realm of industrial civilization, i encounter human beings who are far less than alive. Body language, facial expression and lack of animation and passion often communicate more than their predictably articulate speech ever could. Most of the time these folks live in their heads, with little indication of sensation below the neck. Consequently their words are not consistent with the actions with which they profess to be engaged. But i am not surprised by the deadening effect of modernity. After all we are socialized into numbness and encouraged to feel almost nothing except short, bursts of happiness – never any emotion that lasts more than 5 minutes. Otherwise we risk being called “Drama Queens”. it seems that only our indigenous friends in tribal cultures know how to feel about their feelings and fully inhabit their bodies. i suspect that as collapse intensifies, we will be compelled to choose whether we will feel our emotions and work consciously with them in the context of our own bodily experience or will we remain numb and therefore perilously at risk of physical and emotional breakdown?…. Domestication may be the most damaging emotional and spiritual catastrophe of enlightenment, which prized lack of emotion, intellect, and a ghastly disowning of the body as inferior to and even perhaps the enemy of the mind. i believe we must commit to radical aliveness if we are to navigate the turbulent times and remain emotionally and spiritually intact. Only if we settle for nothing less than full aliveness will we be able to discover the resonance of a full spectrum outer reality of external chaos with our inner most being.” -Carolyn Baker

“Humans were just puttering along, for millions of years, in perfect balance with our ecology. But when we lost our connection to it, and got the big idea to create industrial civilization, everything went to shit. i thought the distribution on the scatter chart above was fascinating and telling. Most of the oldest, more mature, pre-industrial cultures  have the most guilt about our impact on the environment, while the younger cultures, largely products of industrial civilization are not very guilty. Think about the profound dysfunction of the pathologically anthropocentric, narcissistic, terminally atomized, life-extinguishing greed and growth fueled  planet hyper-consuming happiness machine populated “civilization” we’ve wrought. The symptoms of this dysfunction are everywhere we care to look. Record levels of mental and physical ailments.  Maladaptive, imbalanced and unsustainable  ways of being viewed as normal. Busying ourselves with endless and ever multiplying distractions from actual reality.  Slavishly working ourselves to death, expending our life energy at jobs we can’t stand, rushing home to briefly interact (maybe) with our family before grabbing a few hours of restless sleep and getting up and doing it all over again. ignoring the hopeless emptiness of our corporatocracy managed lives. We have ‘civilized’ the true and authentic being out of humans. As a result of our near exclusive focus on intellect, science, infinite progress and growth,  ecological collapse, including industrial civilization is certain. We’ve triggered Earth’s most devastating extinction event. Our complete and utter lack of regard for our Great Mother has brought about our end.” -OSJ

By George Monbiot @ The U.K. Guardian:

Locals cross flooded railway lines after the river Thames burst its banks in Datchet.

That didn’t take long. The public interest in the state of the natural world stimulated by the winter floods receded almost as quickly as the waters did.

A YouGov poll showed that the number of respondents placing the environment among their top three issues of concern rose from 6% in mid-January to 23% in mid-February. By early April – though the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had just published two massive and horrifying reports – the proportion had fallen back to 11%.

 

CarbonBrief has plotted the results on this graph:

Public response to UK floods. Photograph: /CarbonBrief

Sustaining interest in this great but slow-burning crisis is a challenge no one seems to have mastered. Only when the crisis causes or exacerbates an acute disaster – such as the floods – is there a flicker of anxiety, but that quickly dies away.

Why is it so difficult to persuade people to care about our wonderful planet, the world that gave rise to us and upon which we wholly depend?

And why do you encounter a barrage of hostility and denial whenever you attempt it (and not only from the professional liars who are paid by coal and oil and timber companies to sow confusion and channel hatred)?

The first thing to note, in trying to answer this question, is that the rich anglophone countries are anomalous. In this bar chart (from the New York Times) you can see how atypical the attitudes of people in the US and the UK are. Because almost everything we read in this country is published in rich, English-speaking nations, we might get the false impression that the world doesn’t care very much.

Attitudes to climate change. Photograph: NYT/Pew

This belief is likely to be reinforced by the cherished notion that we lead the world in knowledge, sophistication and compassion. The bar chart puts me in mind of the famous quote perhaps mistakenly attributed to Gandhi. When asked by a journalist during a visit to Britain, “What do you think of western civilization?”, he’s reputed to have replied, “I think it would be a good idea.”

Our erroneous belief that we are more concerned about manmade climate change than the people of other nations informs the sentiment, often voiced by the press and politicians, that there’s no point in acting if the rest of the world won’t play its part. For example, last year the chancellor, George Osborne, remarked:

I don’t want us to be the only people out there in front of the rest of the world. I certainly think we shouldn’t be further ahead of our partners in Europe.

But we’re not “the only people out there in front of the rest of the world.” In fact we’re not in front at all. As this map produced by Oxford University’s Smith School suggests, we are some way behind not only some other rich nations but also a number of countries much poorer than ours.

Oxford University’s Smith School climate change map. Photograph: Oxford University’s Smith School

As for the US, Australia and Canada, they are ranked among the worst of all: comprehensively failing to limit their massive contribution to a global problem. We justify our foot-dragging with a mistaken premise. Our refusal to stop pumping so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is pure selfishness.

Both the map and the bar chart overlap to some degree with the fascinating results of the Greendex survey of consumer attitudes.

For years we’ve been told that people cannot afford to care about the natural world until they become rich; that only economic growth can save the biosphere, that civilisation marches towards enlightenment about our impacts on the living planet. The results suggest the opposite.

As you can see from the following graph, the people consulted in poorer countries feel, on average, much guiltier about their impacts on the natural world than people in rich countries, even though those impacts tend to be smaller. Of the nations surveyed, the people of Germany, the US, Australia and Britain feel the least consumer guilt; the people of India, China, Mexico and Brazil the most.

Greendex survey of consumer attitudes. Photograph: /Greendex

The more we consume, the less we feel. And maybe that doesn’t just apply to guilt.

Perhaps that’s the point of our otherwise-pointless hyperconsumption: it smothers feeling. It might also be the effect of the constant bombardment of advertising and marketing. They seek to replace our attachments to people and place with attachments to objects: attachments which the next round of advertising then breaks in the hope of attaching us to a different set of objects.

The richer we are and the more we consume, the more self-centred and careless of the lives of others we appear to become. Even if you somehow put aside the direct, physical impacts of rising consumption, it’s hard to understand how anyone could imagine that economic growth is a formula for protecting the planet.

So what we seem to see here is the turning of a vicious circle. The more harm we do, the less concerned about it we become. And the more hyperconsumerism destroys relationships, communities and the physical fabric of the Earth, the more we try to fill the void in our lives by buying more stuff.

All this is accompanied in the rich anglophone nations with the extreme neoliberalism promoted by both press and politicians, and a great concentration of power in the hands of the financial and fossil fuel sectors, which lobby hard, in the public sphere and in private, to prevent change.

So the perennially low level of concern, which flickers upwards momentarily when disaster strikes, then slumps back into the customary stupor, is an almost inevitable result of a society that has become restructured around shopping, fashion, celebrity and an obsession with money.

How we break the circle and wake people out of this dreamworld is the question that all those who love the living planet should address. There will be no easy answers.

 

 

Abrupt Climate Change: Happening Now, Impacts Visible, Likely To Be More Extreme Than Projected & Beyond Lifeforms’ Ability To Adapt

In Uncategorized on March 25, 2014 at 3:22 am

The Larsen B ice shelf in Antarctica disintegrated between January and March of 2002. This was a floating ice shelf the size of the state of Massachusetts and 700 feet thick. Melt water, heavier than ice, squeezed its way into cracks and penetrated to the bottom of the ice shelf causing the disintegration.

Oldspeak: “…What we know now is that Earth’s climate normally changes through abrupt shifts. Climate change is mostly not a slow, glacially paced thing. The changes are fast and violent and leave ecosystems shredded in their wake. They start out slowly, but then a threshold is crossed, and the temperature jumps up or down far more radically than the slow and modest warming projected by almost all climate change models today. Universally, these abrupt climate changes dwarf climate change projected by our world’s scientific institutions in their summaries of climate change projections… With this new knowledge about abrupt climate change and the galactically large risks posed by abrupt climate change, the discussion about climate in our society today has become misplaced. Emission and eventual climate change are important, but they are fundamentally not in the same ballpark as abrupt change…abrupt changes in ecosystems, weather and climate extremes and groundwater supplies critical for agriculture are not only more likely than previously understood, but also, impacts are more likely to be more extreme… some abrupt changes have already begun – like the crash of Arctic sea ice…..Other possible abrupt climate impacts include ocean extinction events where hot spikes of weather chaos create widespread conditions beyond the evolution of ocean creatures. It’s the extremes that kill. We’ve seen previews in coral bleaching events across the world already. Seventy-five percent of complex coral reefs in the Caribbean have already been decimated…. Another worrisome abrupt climate impact that is currently taking place has happened to 64 million acres of forest in the Rockies and billions of trees in the Amazon…. Across the American West, the average temperature has been 70 percent greater than the global average… The resulting stress from drought, along with the absence of extreme beetle-killing cold, has allowed a natural pine bark beetle to kill 20 times more trees than any attack ever recorded.  Drought alone killed “several” billion trees in the Amazon and now the Amazon is a net source of CO2, not a sink.  In Texas, the drought has been perpetuated for nearly a decade with greater than average rainfall – more rain and the drought still continues because of increased evaporation. It killed over 300 million mature trees in the 2011 heat wave...” -Bruce Melton

“Our planets’ thermostats and air conditioners are failing. Not 50 or 100 years in the future. Now. Rapidly. We are aggressively and ever faster depleting and poisoning the resources we need to survive and have no viable plans to replace them, while exacerbating the conditions causing our thermostats (ice caps)  and air conditioners (forests) to fail…. We will need 2 to 3 earths to support our current levels of consumption. This is not sustainable. There isn’t much doubt that We are racing headlong to extinction. Our pathological anthropocentricity will be our undoing, as it has overridden our powers of self-preservation.  Globalized inverted corptalitarian kleptocracy trumps Survival.  At some point we’ll have no choice but to recognize and accept what we’ve wrought; the non-human scale devastation to come. The risks are too great to ignore.” -OSJ

By Bruce Melton @ Truthout:

Pine beetle kill in Rocky Mountain National Park. Over 64 million acres have been killed across the Rockies of North America by a native pine beetle gone berserk because of warming. (Photo: Bruce Melton)

Today, we are burning fossil carbon one million times faster than it was naturally put in the ground, and carbon dioxide is increasing 14,000 times faster than anytime in the last 610,000 years (1,2). Climate is now changing faster than it has during any other time in 65 million years – 100 times faster than the Paleocene/Eocene extinction event 56 million years ago see here.(3) However, “climate change” is not the most critical issue facing society today; abrupt climate change is. Climate scientists now have the knowledge necessary to guide us beyond existing climate pollution policy. New policy needs to focus on abrupt climate change, not the relatively slow changes we see in climate models of our future. The social, economic and biological disruptive potential of abrupt climate change is far greater than that of the gradual climate change present policy is predicated upon.

Over about the last 100,000 years, the world has seen about 20 abrupt climate changes, averaging 9 to 14 degrees, including in Greenland, where the temperature changed up to 25 to 35 degrees. These abrupt climate changes happen 10 to 100 times faster than the climate change projections we have all come to know and love. Mostly they happened in several decades or less, but one of the biggest changes happened in just a few years. (4)

The evidence of these abrupt changes is clear in the highly accurate findings from ancient preserved air in ice sheets. They were likely all related to feedbacks and thresholds or tipping points. There are many different kinds of feedbacks and tipping points and the science is still unclear on many of them. Feedbacks are things like the snow and ice feedback loop: snow and ice reflect up to 90 percent of the sun’s energy back into space harmlessly as light, while ocean, rocks, soil, vegetation and etc. reflect only 10 percent back into space, and the rest is absorbed and turned into heat energy that gets trapped by the greenhouse effect. The trapped energy creates more warming, that melts more snow and ice, that absorbs even more energy, changing it into heat, and the loop continues until all the snow and ice are gone.

Tipping points are a little bit more difficult to describe in environmental systems, but can easily be described in other ways. A canoe has a tipping point, beyond which a dry lovely day on the water turns into something quite different. Environmental systems behave in a similar manner. We can dump a lot of water pollution into our lakes and rivers, and nothing major seems to happen. Degradation occurs, but the lake or river generally continues to behave like a lake or river until the pollution levels reach a critical point. Then, as when one leans over just a little too far in a canoe, an algae bloom happens and the lake or river turns green or brown overnight and gets really smelly and bad tasting. This is an ecosystem tipping point. Pollution levels (nutrients from wastewater treatment plants, urban stormwater runoff agriculture, etc.) accumulate over time to a sufficiently high level that finally, an algae population explosion occurs. Then a really devastating thing sometimes occurs if the tipping point is really critical. All the algae die, sink to the bottom and decompose simultaneously. The decomposition uses up all the oxygen in the water and there is a big fish kill on top of the stinky smelly unsightly algal bloom.

Our global environment is no different from a lake or river or even a canoe. Some of these 20 or so abrupt changes happened in direct response to tipping points that preceded them, like a shutdown of the North Atlantic portion of the Gulf Stream. Some of them happened because one or more feedbacks went out of control. Pinning down exact causes of the abrupt changes, however, remains a difficult task.

Unearthing the Evidence

Abrupt climate change wasn’t really a recognized phenomenon until about 20 years ago. Strong evidence of abrupt temperature changes had been found in the 1960s in Greenland ice cores, but they were poorly understood and considered anomalies at the time. Climate change science was dominated by sediment cores from oceans and lakes and slow, glacially paced changes of the 100,000-year cycles of our climate as Earth’s tilt and orbit changed around the sun. As time passed, the early evidence of abrupt change was found again and again in subsequent ice cores. Even in Antarctica, these same abrupt signals were found.

Bubbles of ancient air preserved in Greenland ice. (Photo: Bruce Melton)

Those first records of abrupt climate change from the 1960s at Camp Century were found in ice cores from a WWII nuclear base in the middle of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Camp Century was chosen as one of the first places to drill ice because it was an existing station in a very hostile environment. The Greenland Ice Sheet is over two miles thick and 11,000 feet high. The ice cores seemed to show radical climate jumps in the clearly visible annual layers of snow, in oxygen and methane in the preserved ancient air and dust that increased and decreased dramatically according to temperature.

Over the next two decades and continued ice core drilling, the same signs of abrupt changes were seen, and some confidence began to emerge about the validity of this amazing storehouse of evidence. It was not until the early 1990s, though, that the story became clear. Two identical ice cores were drilled in one of the most stable parts of the ice sheet. The cores were identical down to 100,000 years ago, then close to bedrock, the annual layers became warped and folded. Above the level of ice at 100,000 years ago, the ice cores matched identically. The same volcanic eruptions from across the world were represented by characteristic ash from the different eruptions. Even the same dust from Siberia during really cold dry periods was found in the different ice cores. These abrupt changes were real and they were radical. Why then did sediment cores not reveal abrupt changes?

The reason was biopertubation. Bioperturbation is what happens to sediments when worms eat through organic material on the bottom of a lake or ocean. Dozens and even hundreds of years of sediment deposition per inch are mixed and remixed by the worms. It happens to almost all sediments everywhere. The best resolution in sediments at the time was really a century or more or even thousands of years. The abrupt nature of actual changes in the annual sediment layers was simply wiped out, or eaten up. Then we began to learn of areas of the globe where biopertubation did not exist.

A few areas of the ocean were identified that were stagnant and devoid of oxygen. Worms can’t live without oxygen and in these areas there is no bioperturbation. The same abrupt climate jumps as were found in Greenland were now plain to see. We have also found the same evidence in the annual layers of stalagmites and other cave formations.

It took another decade for science to catch up, but what we know now is that Earth’s climate normally changes through abrupt shifts. Climate change is mostly not a slow, glacially paced thing. The changes are fast and violent and leave ecosystems shredded in their wake. They start out slowly, but then a threshold is crossed, and the temperature jumps up or down far more radically than the slow and modest warming projected by almost all climate change models today. Universally, these abrupt climate changes dwarf climate change projected by our world’s scientific institutions in their summaries of climate change projections.

Extreme Impacts

With this new knowledge about abrupt climate change and the galactically large risks posed by abrupt climate change, the discussion about climate in our society today has become misplaced. Emission and eventual climate change are important, but they are fundamentally not in the same ballpark as abrupt change.

A new National Academy of Sciences mega-report takes on the prospect of future abrupt climate changes, asking whether changes may take place “so fast that the time between when a problem is recognized and when action is required shrinks to the point where orderly adaptation is not possible?”

The good news is that some of the more popular abrupt climate change scenarios are not likely, according to the report. Popularized and wildly exaggerated in movies like The Day After Tomorrow, a shutdown of ocean currents seems less likely in time frames that matter. Likewise, concern of serious trouble from methane outgassing from melting clathrates on the ocean floor and in permafrost seems unlikely. However, we do need to realize that the climate science consensus process is not flawless. That process told us in 2007 that Antarctica would not begin to lose ice until after 2100, but now tells us in the 2013 IPCC report that Antarctic ice loss has already caught up with Greenland’s. So, when climate change consensus opinion now tells us ocean current shutdown and clathrate off gassing are not very likely, we must understand that this opinion cannot be counted as fact.

Moreover, the mega-report notes that abrupt changes in ecosystems, weather and climate extremes and groundwater supplies critical for agriculture are not only more likely than previously understood, but also, impacts are more likely to be more extreme.(5) The report tells us that there are many more types of abrupt change than temperature and that science is now becoming good enough to help us anticipate some of them, but not all of them. It also tells us that some abrupt changes have already begun – like the crash of Arctic sea ice: “More open water conditions during summer would have potentially large and irreversible effects . . . because the Arctic region interacts with large-scale circulation systems of the oceans and atmosphere, changes in the extent of sea ice could cause shifts in climate and weather around the Northern Hemisphere.”

We have already seen how increasing energy in the Arctic has increased the magnitude of jet stream loops and the speed of those loops across the planet. These loops carry more intense storms (the polar vortex) and because of their retarded movement across the globe, these more intense weather systems stall out, increasing the dry, wet or otherwise extreme conditions associated with them.

New discoveries have shown that it is likely that one of the most abrupt of all climate changes in the last 100,000 years happened 12,000 years ago. It was called the Younger Dryas, and the temperature in Greenland jumped 25 degrees in three years. Some 1,000 years later, it fell 25 degrees in a few decades. This abrupt tipping point is now a prime candidate in the extinction of 72 percent of North American mammals, including large mammals like the saber-toothed cat and mastodon.

There are other types of abrupt changes that can be triggered by slow climate change. They are called abrupt climate impacts. The report gives the example of the mountain pika, one of my favorite alpine animals. (7) The pika is a bunny-sized, rabbit-like mammal with short little mouse-like ears and a peculiar little squeaky nasally call. It gathers grass and wildflowers in its home in the high mountains, mostly above treeline during the short high altitude summer, and stores this “pika hay” in caches in the rocks of scree slopes high on mountainsides.

As temperatures rise, the alpine meadows that the pika evolved with rise up the mountainside in response to warming. The alpine vegetation follows the cool zone up the mountain. At some point this process ends abruptly as the top of the mountain is reached and no place remains for the pika’s hay to grow. The Center for Biological Diversity has petitioned California and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list the pika as endangered because of climate change, but has been turned down by both. Their reasoning is that the pika’s range is not in danger of disappearing in the next several decades. That is exactly what this article is about. Current policy simply does not take abrupt climate change into consideration. The consensus reports all mention it sooner or later, but then they caveat their way out of doing anything about it because too little is known about how these things actually happen. From the summary of “Abrupt Climate Change – Anticipating Surprises”:

Although many projections of future climatic conditions have predicted steadily changing conditions giving the impression that communities have time to gradually adapt, for example, by adopting new agricultural practices to maintain productivity in hotter and drier conditions, or by organizing the relocation of coastal communities as sea level rises, the scientific community has been paying increasing attention to the possibility that at least some changes will be abrupt, perhaps crossing a threshold or ‘tipping point’ to change so quickly that there will be little time to react. This concern is reasonable because such abrupt changes – which can occur over periods as short as decades, or even years – have been a natural part of the climate system throughout Earth’s history.

The Larsen B ice shelf in Antarctica disintegrated between January and March of 2002. This was a floating ice shelf the size of the state of Massachusetts and 700 feet thick. Melt water, heavier than ice, squeezed its way into cracks and penetrated to the bottom of the ice shelf causing the disintegration.

A much quicker example is the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. The last time it happened 120,000 years ago, Earth was about the same temperature as it is today. We saw a similar collapse in 2003 when the Larsen B ice shelf, the size of Massachusetts, disintegrated in two months. Slow warming had created more and more melt on top of the Larsen B. Then a peculiar thing happened. The melt pools on top of the ice sheet became large enough and heavy enough (water is heavier than ice) to force cracks in the ice open. The cracks catastrophically opened all the way to the bottom of the floating ice sheet a thousand or more feet below and the entire thing broke into little bergy bits. We don’t know when this will happen to the Mexico-sized West Antarctic Ice Sheet (the largest remaining marine ice sheet), but we didn’t know a year ahead of time that collapse was going to happen to the Larsen B either. (8)

The current assumption as to how fast the West Antarctic Ice Sheet could collapse is a hundred years minimum. But the similarities in the Larsen B and the West Antarctic are high, and the consensus has wildly underestimated ice processes in Antarctica before.

Other possible abrupt climate impacts include ocean extinction events where hot spikes of weather chaos create widespread conditions beyond the evolution of ocean creatures. It’s the extremes that kill. We’ve seen previews in coral bleaching events across the world already. Seventy-five percent of complex coral reefs in the Caribbean have already been decimated. (9) Polar bears are at risk because their main prey, the ringed seal, rears its young on sea ice. The young ringed seals cannot swim until they mature – creating a large challenge for the perpetuation of that species with the absence of sea ice during the reproduction season. (10)

Another worrisome abrupt climate impact that is currently taking place has happened to 64 million acres of forest in the Rockies and billions of trees in the Amazon. In the Rockies, prolonged drought has been caused by warmer temperatures. Across the American West, the average temperature has been 70 percent greater than the global average and the increase is even greater at elevations where the forests are. This is a long-term shift in relative wetness, shown in the climate models and now being realized. (11) The growing season has increased by 30 days or more in the spring, which is relatively easy to measure because of the onset of snowmelt. (12) In the fall, it is more difficult to measure, but the longer growing season and the hotter temperatures both add to the warming feedback that has perpetuated drought even as normal rainfall has returned to some areas. The resulting stress from drought, along with the absence of extreme beetle-killing cold, has allowed a natural pine bark beetle to kill 20 times more trees than any attack ever recorded. (13)

Drought alone killed “several” billion trees in the Amazon and now the Amazon is a net source of CO2, not a sink. (14) In Texas, the drought has been perpetuated for nearly a decade with greater than average rainfall – more rain and the drought still continues because of increased evaporation. It killed over 300 million mature trees in the 2011 heat wave. (15)

Making Climate Science Real

So, what can we do to prepare for possible abrupt changes in the near future? The mega-report suggests setting up an Abrupt Change Early Warning System (ACEWS). Environmental systems often send out signals that a change of state is near. When weather flickers from cold to hot or wet to dry, it may be a sign that abrupt changes are to come. The ACEWS system would be integrated with a risk management system that takes into consideration the ultimate costs of an abrupt change. Example: coral bleaching events are certainly costly to some ocean systems and economies dependent on those ocean systems. An abrupt sea level jump, however, may not have near the impact on ocean systems, but have much more devastating impacts on global socio-economic factors.

Barring the creation of a full-blown abrupt change early warning system, scientists will continue to monitor ongoing changes and increase the accuracy of their measurements and their modeling efforts to simulate and recreate future and past change events. But as more knowledge on abrupt changes is discovered, one thing is becoming crystal clear: Climate change policy today has become severely dated, and we need to catch up.

Just a few years ago, when the Kyoto Protocol was still a valid way of preventing dangerous climate change, emission reduction strategies were appropriate. We did not know nearly as much about abrupt climate change and abrupt impacts as we do today. The IPCC had not pronounced that greater than 100 percent emissions reductions for a sustained period are required to prevent dangerous climate change. (16) Now we know these things, and now we know we must begin to remove CO2 directly from our atmosphere because no amount of emissions reductions can remove greater than 100 percent of annual emissions.

We also know that once fully industrialized, air capture of CO2 can be done for $25 per ton. This means the removal of 50 ppm of CO2 from the atmosphere can be done for what the US paid for healthcare in 2005 ($2.1 trillion). (17)

Why are we not yet implementing these changes? A large part of the answer is that the perceived debate has masked the facts. Climate science is not real to most people. It doesn’t really affect many of us yet; it’s not a priority, so it is not reported. Humanity needs to be brought up to speed. Once the knowledge is spread around – as crucial scientific facts, not politics – we will make the correct decisions. One only hopes we can spread that crucial knowledge before abrupt changes begin.

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Notes

1. We are using fossil fuels one million times faster than Mother Nature saved them for us . . . Richard Alley, Earth: The Operators’ Manual, Norton Publishing and PBS documentary.

2. 14,000 times faster… Zeebe and Caldeira, Close mass balance of long-term carbon fluxes from ice-core CO2 and ocean chemistry records, Nature Geoscience, Advance Online Publication, April 27, 2008.

3. 100 times faster than anytime in 65 million years . . . Diffenbaugh and Field, “Changes in Ecologically Critical Terrestrial Climate Conditions, Natural Systems in Changing Climates,” Science, Special Climate Edition, Volume 341, August 2, 2013, page 490, first paragraph: “The Pleistocene/Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) encompassed warming of 5 degrees C in less than 10,000 years, a rate of change that is 100-fold slower than that projected by RCP8.5.”

4. Abrupt climate change as fast as a few years. Abrupt Climate Change – Anticipating Surprises, National Research Council of the National Academies of Science, December 2013, Preface, page vii, second paragraph.

9 to 15 degrees across the globe . . . Alley, The Two-Mile Time Machine: Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future, Princeton University Press, 2000, page 119, Figure 12.2.

Data for figure 12.2 is from Cuffey and Clow, “Temperature, accumulation, and ice sheet elevation in central Greenland through the last deglacial Transition,” Journal of Geophysical Research, volume 102(C12), pp 26,383 to 26,396.

Greenland temperature change is twice that of the global average. Chylek and Lohmann, “Ratio of Greenland to global temperature change – comparison of observations and climate models,” Geophysical Research Letters, July 2005. Chylek and Lohmann say the Greenland temperature change is 2.2 times greater than the global average. From Alley’s Figure 12.2 (Cuffey and Clow), the 25 to 35 degree F abrupt changes in Greenland would equal 9 to 15 degrees average across the globe.

Also see: 25 to 35 degrees in “Greenland, National Research Council, Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises,” Committee on Abrupt Climate Change, 2002. Figure 2.5, page 37.

5. More extreme than previously understood. Abrupt Climate Change – Anticipating Surprises, National Research Council, preface, third paragraph.

6. Extinction of 72 percent of North American Mammals, ibid. page 1, second paragraph

7. Pika, ibid. page 118.

8. West Antarctic Ice Sheet, ibid., pages 7, 13, 33, 34, 59, 61, 62, 150, 161.

9. Seventy-five percent of Caribbean reefs destroyed. Alvarez-Philip, Dulvey, et. al., “Flattening of Caribbean coral reefs: Region-wide decline in architectural complexity,” Proceedings of the Royal Society-B, June 2009.

10. “Polar Bears,” Abrupt Climate Change – Anticipating Surprises, National Research Council, page 118.

11. The American West has warmed 70 percent more than the global average. Hotter and Drier, “The West’s Changed Climate,” Rocky Mountain Climate Organization, 2008, Executive Summary, page iv, paragraph 1.

12. Spring is coming 30 days sooner in the American West; 10–30 days over the 1948–2000 period. I. Stewart, D. Cayan, and M. Dettinger, “Changes in snowmelt runoff timing in western North America under a ‘business as usual’ climate change scenario,” Climatic Change 62 (2004): 217-232. Page 223, 4. Results, second paragraph.

13. “Bark Beetle Outbreaks,” Abrupt Climate Change – Anticipating Surprises, National Research Council, page 21.

14. The Amazon has flipped from a carbon sink to a carbon source; Lewis et al., “The 2010 Amazon Drought,” Science, February 4, 2011.

15. 301 million trees killed in Texas in the drought of 2011; Texas A&M Forest Service.

16. IPCC 2013: Greater than 100 percent emissions reductions; IPCC 2013, Summary for Policy Makers, E.8 “Climate Stabilization, Climate Change Commitment and Irreversibility,” p 20, fourth bullet.

17. Lower Limit for Air Capture Costs: $25 per ton CO2 or slightly lower than the suggested minimum price for flue capture; Lackner et al., “The urgency of the development of CO2 capture from ambient air,” PNAS, August 14, 2012, page 13159, paragraph 6.

Bruce Melton

Bruce Melton is a professional engineer, environmental researcher, filmmaker, and author in Austin, Texas. Information on Melton’s new book, Climate Discovery Chronicles can be found along with more climate change writing, climate science outreach and critical environmental issue documentary films on his web sites and http://www.climatediscovery.com Images copyright Bruce Melton 2012, except where referenced otherwise.