Category Archives: Climate Change

California Dreaming: New Study Pushes Massive Water-Conservation Effort

Image courtesy of Calif. Dept. of Water Resources

Image courtesy of Calif. Dept. of Water Resources

If California really tried, it could keep a reserve amounting to as much water all of its cities use in a year — about 14 million acre feet. That’s according to a new analysis conducted by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Pacific Institute. It’s the “trying” that could prove difficult for the drought-ridden state, because it would take an aggressive, across-the-board effort to save water, reuse water, and capture lost stormwater. Widespread use of available but underused efficiency methods would have to be implemented in the state’s massive agricultural industry, which uses about 80% of allocated water, and throughout urban areas, which use about 20%. That will take strong political will, a lot of cooperation, and financial investment. But it’s worth it, because it will make a huge difference, and you can’t just keep throwing new plans for billion-dollar desalination plants at the problem.

Read more:

Issue Brief: The Untapped Potential of California’s Water Supply: Efficiency, Reuse, and Stormwater – NRDC and Pacific Institute

California Water Security Attainable, Study SuggestsThe Desert Sun

Related posts:

Past, Present and Future: California’s Epic Struggle With Water

Serious Water Conservation Requires Layered Approach and Emotional Commitment

California’s State-of-the-State Address: Brown’s Drought Plan in Broad Strokes

Civilization Lost? California’s 500-Year Drought Potential

To the Rescue in California? Solar-Powered Desalination

Over-Salted: The Trouble(s) With Desalination

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Filed under Climate Change, Conservation, Desalination, Drought, North America, Technology, Water Resources, Water Shortage

Are We in the Midst of the Next Mass Extinction?

The Sixth ExtinctionGet 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.

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Filed under Books, Climate Change, Extinction, Pollution, Research, Science

A Grim Climate-Change Forecast for the U.S.

Image: ClimateWizard.org

Image: ClimateWizard.org

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.

Read more:

Climate Disruptions, Close to HomeThe New York Times Editorial Board

Obama Administration Releases Third National Climate Assessment for the United States – NOAA

U.S. National Climate Assessment – U.S. Global Change Research Program (GlobalChange.gov)

Related posts: 

Environmentalists See Coming Collapse, Push ‘Uncivilisation’ in an ‘Age of Ecocide’

Water’s Place Among Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals

At the Point of Peak Water, Our Foreseeable Future Grows Shorter

Civilization Lost? California’s 500-Year Drought Potential

Study: Freshwater Shortage Will Double Climate Change’s Impact on Agriculture

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Filed under Climate Change, Drought, Environment, Industry, Natural Disasters, North America, Pollution, Research, Water Resources

Environmentalists See Coming Collapse, Push ‘Uncivilisation’ in an ‘Age of Ecocide’

Image: dark-mountain.net

Image: dark-mountain.net

I spent Earth Day 2014, April 22, enlarging my carbon footprint and contemplating mass extinction. I didn’t manage to write anything that day, as I was exhausted from the red-eye flight overnight from New York City to Geneva, Switzerland — hence the heavier footprint — and distracted by apocalyptic visions. And not a metaphorical apocalypse, with yet-more zombies overrunning TV and cinema screens worldwide. Now we have frank discussions of “the end of the world” in mainstream media. And by “the world” we tend to mean not the planet but self-obsessed human civilization, which a growing number of people believe the Earth will eventually shake off like a human shakes off the virus that causes the common cold.

I brought The New York Times Magazine from Sunday’s paper to read during the fuel-intensive flight. It contained an article about the English environmental activist and author Paul Kingsnorth and his conclusion, six years ago, that the environmental movement had failed and societal collapse had become inevitable. That led to a thoughtful manifesto written by Kingsnorth and Dougald Hine, “Uncivilisation,” which became the starting point for a network of writers and artists called The Dark Mountain Project. Its name comes from the last line of American poet Robinson Jeffers’ “Rearmament.”

The project’s primary goal is to provide cultural responses that reflect the realities of our ecological, social and political crises rather than deny them. It holds a popular annual festival in August and regularly publishes anthologies of “Uncivilised writing and art” that take an ecocentric view of the world and reject “ephemeral promises of growth, progress and human glory.” (Not to be too glib, but only humans could come up with such anti-human sentiments … as well they should, to remind us that not everything is about us, and to effectively promote environmentalism by implying it’s dead, or might as well be, in what amounts to an “age of ecocide” that is our doing and will be our undoing.)

Read More:

It’s the End of the World as We Know It … and He Feels FineThe New York Times Magazine

The Dark Mountain Project website

Uncivilisation: The Dark Mountain Manifesto

Annual Uncivilisation festival

Related Posts:

At the Point of ‘Peak Water,’ Our Foreseeable Future Grows Shorter

The Intersection of Environmental Issues and Human Rights

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Filed under Climate Change, Environment, Europe, Events

Water’s Place Among Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals

Image: GWP.org

Image: GWP.org

I attended the recent briefing, “Targeting water in the post-2015 development agenda,” at the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. Co-organized by UN-Water, the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), and the Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation, the event hosted international mission staff as well as members of the press, academics and others. It focused on how water issues are being addressed within the evolving debate on potential sustainable-development goals (aka SDGs), in the framework of the post-2015 development agenda. The briefing’s documents and presentations are now available online.

The idea that water should have its own complex SDG, rather than being dispersed among other goals, seemed to be widely held and agreed upon at the event. Incorporating water issues into other goals without having a separate item for it could result in water-related issues evaporating in the mix.

“Because water is  everywhere, water ends up being nowhere,” said panelist Jack Moss, senior water advisor at AquaFed: The International Federation of Private Water Operators. Water’s fearsome power in nature is not reflected in its (lack of) strength as a factor in economies, he added.

Panelists agreed that water is too often taken for granted, and not often-enough planned for in proactive and constructive ways. In other words, you consider it separately to help ensure it gets paid for.

“Any time an issue is cross-cutting, like water, you can be sure that some of your targets will be lost in other targets,” said Lesha Witmer, a steering committee member and co-coordinator of The Butterfly Effect coalition of NGOs. “If you have a dedicated goal, it can’t *not* be represented in a country’s national budget.”

The UN-Water paper “A Post-2015 Global Goal for Water: Synthesis of key findings and recommendations from UN-Water” was also presented during the event. In the 41-page report, you can see the goal taking shape. The goal, “securing sustainable water for all,” becomes mightily complex when put in the context of the world, its growing human population, economic development, pollution, climate change, public health and myriad other factors.

The Swiss government has taken a leading role on water issues, and its Swiss Position Paper on Water in the Post-2015 Agenda advocating for an explicit water goal was also presented at the briefing.

See documents and presentations from the briefing.

Related posts:

At the Point of ‘Peak Water,’ Our Foreseeable Future Grows Shorter

UNICEF Says Put Down Your Cell Phone for a Few Minutes to Help Kids Get Water

Mapping the World’s Most Water-Stressed Countries

Unchecked Emissions Will Drain Water Resources, Warns Leaked UN Report

The Intersection of Environmental Issues and Human Rights

 

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Filed under Africa, Asia, Caribbean, Climate Change, Conservation, Environment, Europe, Events, Human rights, Middle East, NGOs, North America, Oceania, Research, South America, Sustainability, United Nations, Water Resources

Happy World Water Day 2014: Be an Advocate

Image: UN Water

Image: UN Water

World Water Day (WWD) falls annually on March 22. However, because that date is a Saturday this year, many activities will take place on Friday, March 21. This year’s theme is “water and energy.” The oft-repeated phrasse “water-energy nexus” refers to the numerous interdependencies between water and energy; the two are inextricably linked and heavily influenced by climate change.

UN-Water, the United Nations’ inter-agency coordinating mechanism for all matters related to water and sanitation, has prepared a vast array of educational materials for WWD, including an in-depth advocacy guide with myriad tips on how to share key facts and messages. The day’s main celebrations are being held in Tokyo, Japan. Among the festivities, the World Water Development Report 2014 on Water and Energy will be launched, and the UN-Water “Water for Life” Best Practices Award will be given.

Overarching messages:

  • Water requires energy and energy requires water.
  • Supplies are limited and demand is increasing.
  • Saving energy is saving water; saving water is saving energy.
  • The “bottom billion” urgently need access to both water and sanitation services, and electricity.
  • Improving water and energy efficiency in all sectors is imperative, as are coordinated, coherent and concerted policies.

Read more:

UPDATE: Officially launched: World Water Development Report 2014 on Water and Energy

UPDATE: 2014 UN-Water ‘Water for Life’ Best Practices Award goes to India and Singapore

World Water Day 2014 website

World Water Day 2014 Documents and Information Sources

UN-Water homepage

Related posts:

At the Point of ‘Peak Water,’ Our Foreseeable Future Grows Shorter

UNICEF Says Put Down Your Cell Phone for a Few Minutes to Help Kids Get Water

Mapping the World’s Most Water-Stressed Countries

Unchecked Emissions Will Drain Water Resources, Warns Leaked UN Report

The Intersection of Environmental Issues and Human Rights

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Filed under Africa, Agriculture, Asia, Caribbean, Climate Change, Conservation, Europe, Events, Human rights, Industry, Middle East, NGOs, North America, Oceania, Research, South America, Sustainability, United Nations, Water Resources, Water Shortage

At the Point of ‘Peak Water,’ Our Foreseeable Future Grows Shorter

Watercyclesummary

The world has a finite supply of accessible freshwater. By some estimates, less than 1% of the naturally occurring freshwater on earth is accessible to humans; the rest is locked up in ice or too deep and dispersed in the ground for us to get. The phrase “peak water” refers to the point at which we’re consuming available freshwater faster than it can be replenished by nature through the hydrologic water cycle to the usual sources, such as lakes, rivers, and shallow underground aquifers, many of which are already dangerously depleted.

Whether we’re nearing the point of peak water, already there, or well past it is a question under ongoing discussion. One point of confusion is that water volume and use vary widely by region. Some areas are nearing or past peak water, others aren’t. Another factor is that climate change is throwing the status quo of water abundance or scarcity by region into flux. Look at the 2013 research showing that heavy pollution from the U.S. and Europe from the 1960s into the 1980s effectively changed weather patterns, becoming a primary cause of Africa’s long, widespread, and deadly Sahel Drought. What will happen because of today’s pollution from the world’s most prolific sources? (e.g., China).

And those who don’t see water and climate change as parts of the same series of problems should note: “The hydrologic cycle is the climate cycle,” says hydro-climatologist Dr. Peter Gleick, co-founder of the Pacific Institute, in a video interview that lays out overlapping problems. Water, climate change, and energy production are all inextricably linked. In fact, links between water and energy make up the theme of this year’s World Water Day, coming up on March 22.

It’s worth noting that water scarcity is a crucial element of the resource crises cited in the upcoming NASA-funded study predicting a “perfect storm” within a few decades that could end global civilization. The study looked closely at the fall of previous complex societies, such as the Mayans and Romans, and found parallels with our unsustainable overuse of resources — particularly the massively unequal use by wealthy versus poor.

However close to “peak” we may be, no sustained sense of urgency over water scarcity is apparent in mainstream media. In part this is because water supplies are local or regional, not global, and in part it’s because these problems take a long time — and a much longer attention span than a 24-hour news cycle has — to address. So you see localized articles about regional droughts and potential conflicts over resources, though rarely anything that puts the worldwide water crisis in perspective and looks ahead to cross-cutting solutions (e.g., large-scale renewable-energy power production that requires much less water than nuclear or fossil-fuel-based power, combined with modern and far-reaching conservation measures addressing agricultural, industrial, and residential water use and re-use).

Compared to today’s world, our near-future planet will have double the human population, even more-severe climate change, and yet the same old freshwater, redistributed. Perhaps it’s too easy to push off the worry, as we think we’ll get serious about conservation before it’s too late. Or that governments and industry will join together to provide desalinated water wherever necessary — somehow without the troubling environmental costs of today’s practices — before vast human populations must migrate or die.  Or that those fresh and brackish aquifers recently discovered under the oceans will push the point-of-no-return a few decades further into the future. Well, someday, after the fights over the rights, maybe somebody will throw billions at drilling into those aquifers. Because someday they’ll have no choice. And then those reserves will be sucked dry, too.

You might say we have no choice other than to better manage our freshwater.

Read more:

UPDATE: CHARTS: How power generation threatens water supplies, and climate change threatens both – ClimateProgress

UPDATE: NASA-funded study: Industrial civilisation headed for “irreversible collapse”? Natural and social scientists develop new model of how “perfect storm” of crises could unravel global systemThe Guardian

Are we on the path to peak water? – Climate Central (with infographic)

Peak water is here – Daily Kos (links to video interview with Dr. Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute)

Peak water (background) – Wikipedia

Pollution in Northern Hemisphere helped cause 1980s African drought – Washington University

Related posts:

Mapping the World’s Most Water-Stressed Countries

Serious Water Conservation Demands Layered Approach and Emotional Commitment

Over-Salted: The Trouble(s) With Desalination

Study: Freshwater Shortage Will Double Climate Change’s Impact on Agriculture

Unchecked Emissions Will Drain Water Resources, Warns Leaked U.N. Report

Study Describes Vast Reserves of Water Under Ocean Floors

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Filed under Africa, Agriculture, Climate Change, Conservation, Desalination, Drought, Europe, Groundwater, Industry, North America, Pollution, Research, Rivers and Watersheds, Sustainability, Technology, United Nations, Wastewater Treatment, Water Resources, Water Shortage

Canada’s Biggest Coal Power Plant Is First to Bury its Carbon in Saline Aquifer

Trailblazing power plant is first to bury its carbon – environment – 5 March 2014 – New Scientist

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Filed under Climate Change, Environment, Industry, North America, Technology

Water Resources Spotlight: Green Growth Knowledge Platform

Image: piazzaffari.info

Image: piazzaffari.info

Last month the launch of the Green Growth Knowledge Platform (GGKP) coincided with the opening of the organization’s office at the International Environment House in Geneva, Switzerland, on Jan. 22. It was a stellar opportunity for me to get out of the house, but I missed it. So I doubled back and talked by phone with the group about its efforts.

What’s the point of GGKP? As Benjamin Simmons, the organization’s head. puts it in this succinct-yet-comprehensive overview: “Our aim is straightforward: to give policy makers, academics, experts and other professionals easy access to the most relevant green growth studies, policy analysis, guidance and data.”

It’s all about putting the best information about sustainable development and ways of reaching the goal of a “green economy” in front of the right people.  The link in the previous sentence goes to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), which boils down the definition of green economy to its essence: It’s low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive. 

“The first part of our mission is about catalyzing research in and  around green growth,” said Amanda McKee, GGKP’s communications and outreach officer, based in Washington, D.C. “The second part of our mission is to make all the research acceptable to policy makers and practitioners.”

The data in the platform covers a lot of ground. The resource library contains about 600 publications organized by sector (e.g., water) and cross-cutting theme (e.g., gender), McKee said, adding that data is also organized geographically, representing 193 countries (see the Green Growth Map).

There’s also a collaborative element aimed at filling green-growth knowledge gaps. Currently, committees are looking at four topics: trade and competitiveness, technology and innovation, measurement and indicators, and fiscal instruments.  “If we’re able to generate results from this, we’ll branch out into other topics and launch new committees,” McKee said.

And how will GGKP know if it’s succeeding in its overall mission?

“We’re in the process of developing indicators for measuring success,” McKee said. “In terms of the knowledge-generation aspect, I think the way we’ll measure success is how much of this research is  ultimately picked up by these communities. On the knowledge-management side, a sign of success would be how many policy makers or government officials are making use of resources to put in place green-growth strategies or policies.”

The GGKP was established by the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the World Bank, where it was initially “incubated,” McKee said. Those steering organizations provide in-kind contributions and part-time staffing to GGKP, while strategic funding comes from the government of Switzerland, which is providing 1.6 million CHF over three years.

GGKP’s main event is its annual conference; the next one, organized by UNEP, will take place in February 2015.  The group sometimes stages side-events at major conferences, like the “open-thinking event on the expansion of green-growth knowledge” planned for UNEP’s inaugural Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE) conference coming up in Dubai, UAE, March 4-5, McKee said.

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Filed under Climate Change, Conservation, Environment, Europe, Events, Human rights, NGOs, Pollution, Research, Science, Technology, United Nations, Water Resources

Serious Water Conservation Demands Layered Approach and Emotional Commitment

Image: Vizimac

Image: Vizimac.com

Drought-ridden California is no stranger to water shortages, but it might be able to learn something about making every drop count from an even drier place: Melbourne, Australia.

Threatened by a severe drought, the Melbourne area used 40% less water per person between 2000 and 2010 than it had in the previous decade, contributing more than 200 billion liters per year to supplies,  former state Labor minister John Thwaites recently wrote. Thwaites, currently chairman of the Monash Sustainability Institute, warned against slackening conservation after restrictions were lifted and water-use began to rise.

Thwaites credits a successful “behaviour-change campaign” for the exceptional water-saving that Melbourne sustained for a decade.  “The campaign was backed by rebates on water-saving products, water restrictions and permanent water-saving rules, tiered pricing to reward water-saving, rules requiring major industry to carry out water audits, and a public social marketing campaign,” Thwaites wrote.

All of those layers across the general population and businesses are important, but the “public social marketing” may deserve special mention when it comes to changing behavior. By flooding media with information about the water shortage, Melbourne nurtured an emotional commitment in people to change habits and save water as a normal part of their daily lives. Even a competitive element was added, when water authorities started showing households how much water they used compared with their neighbors. Manipulative? Sure, but it works. As Thwaites wrote, “How many parents had their children criticising them for letting the water run while they brushed their teeth or washed the potatoes?”

Read more:

Melbourne water supplies: Don’t flush successful conservation efforts down the drainSydney Morning Herald

California drought: San Francisco leads state in water conservationSan Francisco Chronicle

100+ ways to conserve water – Water Use It Wisely

35 conservation techniques for agriculture, farming and gardening – Big Picture Agriculture

Related posts:

California’s State-of-the-State Address: Brown’s Drought Plan in Broad Strokes

Civilization Lost? California’s 500-Year Drought Potential

To the Rescue in California? Solar-Powered Desalination

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Filed under Climate Change, Conservation, Drought, Environment, North America, Oceania, Sustainability, Water Shortage