Get the antidepressants ready. I’m going above and beyond my normal reading about water crises and brushing up on the next mass extinction, which some scientists consider to be in progress at this very moment. My wife saw me eyeing Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History in a Geneva bookshop this morning and bought it for me, despite knowing that I will probably blather on about it for weeks to come. Essentially, the theory is that another mass extinction, where most life on the planet goes the way of the dinosaurs (they were famously wiped out in the fifth and most recent mass extinction), is coming — and humans have greatly accelerated it by causing climate change. Looks like it’ll be a hoot! But seriously, hide the whiskey.
Monthly Archives: May 2014
Imagine that: One moment you’re focusing on the tiny rigging adjustments that may help qualify you for sailing events in the upcoming Rio Olympics, and the next you’re swimming in sewage because your boat hit a submerged sofa that someone threw away.
Olympic sailing hopefuls are reporting that Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay, site of the 2016 Summer Olympics’ sailing and windsurfing events, is truly fouled by raw sewage and garbage. One Brazilian athlete says he’s come across four human corpses while sailing on the bay.
Brazil is making major efforts to clean up the site, but many critics fear it’s too little, too late. This is just the latest take on a familiar Olympics story: huge construction costs and delays, allegations of managerial incompetence, corruption, and human rights violations, and a sense of sinking dread over misplaced priorities. But you can’t argue with the TV ratings.
Note to Olympic Sailors: Don’t Fall in Rio’s Waters – The New York Times
Rio 2016 Olympics: Sailors Warned Over Sewage-Infested Waters – The Independent
Rio Official: Water Pollution Targets Won’t Be Met by Olympics – Sports Illustrated
Before too long, much of South Florida could be underwater. Alaskan forests could die at increasing rates as melting permafrost releases methane into the atmosphere. Rising oceans could make storm surges even more devastating to East Coast cities, even as drought and wildfires torment the Southwest. Those are just a handful of examples among many. The new National Climate Assessment came out on Tuesday in the U.S., bringing alarming news of how climate change, unless curbed by drastic changes in human behavior — if that’s even possible at this point — will wreak havoc on different regions in different ways. About 300 scientists from academia, government and the private sector contributed to the report.
Climate Disruptions, Close to Home – The New York Times Editorial Board
U.S. National Climate Assessment – U.S. Global Change Research Program (GlobalChange.gov)
Realizing that access to clean water and adequate sanitation should be a human right helped inform my decision to take on the role of head of communication for a Geneva, Switzerland-based international NGO I’ve written about in the past, WaterLex.* This blog will remain independent from the organization, but there are times when the goals of each will overlap, given the story in question, and especially pertaining to what “the human right to water” actually means.
Here’s one theoretical example of a situation, among many, where WaterLex might step in and I might be moved to write about it here: A country insists it complies with the 2010 Human Right to Water and Sanitation because some of its citizens have a source for clean water within 200 meters of their homes. In discussions, it becomes clear that those citizens are in urban and suburban areas, not rural ones. In rural areas, where most poor residents are concentrated, houses are more separated by space and geographical structures, such as hills and valleys. Given that reality, the country’s regulators assume a policy of allowing more than 1,000 meters between homes and a freshwater source is adequate. However, that assumption violates protocols governing the human right to water and sanitation.
The mission of WaterLex is to make the human right to water and sanitation central to countries’ law and policy frameworks, by educating lawmakers and pursuing other measures. Ultimately, the mission works toward alleviating situations of chronic water stress for future generations. You’ll see more about that on these pages as well as those at waterlex.org and other sources.
*(Please note: Every mention of WaterLex will carry a note of affiliation. e.g., the author is head of communication for WaterLex.)