Category Archives: Environment

Study Finds We Vastly Underestimate Water Management’s Depletion of Freshwater

dam-reservoir

Here’s a frightening word of the day: “evapotranspiration.” It simply refers to water lost to the atmosphere by evaporation, or after being consumed and released into the air by plant life. It wasn’t so ominous last week, but it is this week because a new study in the journal Science puts it in a new context: unsustainable human use of freshwater.

Essentially, the study finds human have used 18 percent more of the planet’s freshwater than we previously thought, because we’ve underestimated the impact of our water-management systems, such as irrigation, dams and reservoirs. They cause more water to be lost to the atmosphere than would occur naturally, effecting precipitation patterns. Gather a lot of water in one place, like a reservoir, for instance, and more of it evaporates across the greater surface area exposed to air. The researchers studied the ratio of evapotranspiration to precipitation between 1901 and 2008, finding a significant increase in the latter half of the time period.

The additional 18 percent tips our water use into the unsustainable category given the increasing human population, the researchers warn. As Chelsea Harvey writes in her article about the study in The Washington Post, “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 [study co-author Fernando] Jaramillo noted that the current effects of human water management ‘are even larger and more recognizable than the effects of atmospheric climate change.’”

Read more:

Alarming research finds humans are using up far more of Earth’s water than previously thought – The Washington Post

Local flow regulation and irrigation raise global human water consumption and footprint – Science

Related posts:

World Water Day: UN World Water Development Report Warns of Global Crisis by 2030

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

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 Agriculture, Climate Change, Conservation, Dams and Hydropower, Drought, Environment, Groundwater, Rivers and Watersheds, Science, Sustainability, Water Resources, Water Shortage

World Water Day: UN World Water Development Report Warns of Global Crisis by 2030

Image: UN-Water

Image: UN-Water

The way water is managed now, or not managed as the case may be, will lead to a global crisis in 15 years, a new UN report warns, unless an array of sustainable water-management practices are adopted. Within that decade and a half, the report predicts a much larger human population will have only 60% of the freshwater it needs.

Many parts of the world are suffering water stress to varying degrees now; in 15 years the stress will be more severe and more widespread, amounting to a life-threatening crisis in water-poor regions. But, as outlined in the United Nations World Water Development Report 2015, released in advance of World Water Day (today, March 22), there is hope. Read the report: Water for a Sustainable World (The report was released by UNESCO on behalf of UN-Water, or which my employer, WaterLex, is a member.)

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Filed under Climate Change, Conservation, Drought, Environment, Groundwater

Citing Health Risks, Cuomo Bans Fracking in New York State

 

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December 18, 2014 · 9:41 am

When Smog Killed Thousands, 62 Years Ago This Week

smog-policeman-with-mask

Dec. 4th: On this day in 1952, a heavy blanked of smog settled over London. Before it cleared, about four days later, it caused respiratory illness so severe that up to 12,000 people died, according to estimates. The weather had been cold, so home furnaces burning coal added a lot of extra smoke and soot to factories’ and vehicles’ output. When cold air moving in from the west collided with a high-pressure air mass arriving from the east, the pollution was temporarily trapped over the city.

If you were walking down the street on Dec. 7 that year, you could see as little as 15 feet in any direction, thanks to the heavy haze. Unfortunately, you can still have that experience today, in places like Beijing. The Great Smog of ’52, aka the Big Smoke, contributed to the creation and passage of the UK’s Clean Air Act of 1956 and other measures that reduced coal burning. Nevertheless, another series of really bad air days followed, exactly 10 years later, in Dec. 1962, killing about 750 Londoners.

Read more:

Great Smog — Wikipedia

The Great Smog of 1952 — Met Office Education

11 Incredible Pictures From the Great Smog of 1952 — The Huffington Post

Air Pollution ‘Kills 7 Million People a Year‘ – The Guardian

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Filed under Environment, Pollution

War Is Hell, Part 941: The Environment

burning oil fields

In case you missed it, the United Nations’ (UN) International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict was Thursday, Nov. 6. Its point is to educate people about the damaging effects of armed conflict on the environment. Natural resources are often military targets — poisoned wells, torched crops and oil reserves, tainted soil —  and often remain ruined long after the battle is over, compromising ecosystems. The UN General Assembly first declared the day on Nov. 5, 2001, and it has remained not-exactly-famous ever since.

“We must use all of the tools at our disposal, from dialogue and mediation to preventive diplomacy, to keep the unsustainable exploitation of natural resources from fueling and financing armed conflict and destabilizing the fragile foundations of peace,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. So true.

Read more:

International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict – timeanddate.com

Event Page – United Nations

What’s the Environmental Impact of Modern War? – The Guardian

 

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Filed under Conflicts, Environment, Europe, Events, Human rights, Industry, United Nations, Water Resources

Set Heading for World Water Week in Stockholm

4951481766_c8dced02ba_z

In a couple of days I’ll join colleagues from WaterLex at one of the most prominent events in the world of water-related agencies, NGOs, services, and the like — World Water Week in Stockholm, which runs Aug. 31 – Sept. 5 in the Swedish capital, under the auspices of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI). The theme this year, for this and other events around the world, is “energy and water,” two vital forces that are always interconnected.

WaterLex will exhibit in a booth shared with other organizations in the Swiss Water Partnership, and we’ll also put on a lunchtime side event on Monday, Sept. 1: Water & Energy Nexus: Smart Investments to Help Realize Human Rights. Co-convened with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the event’s panel discussion will explore how wastewater reuse for energy production can serve populations’ rights to adequate sanitation and a safe and healthy environment, while also making for a valuable investment in sustainability. Check out the speakers and topics. I’ll be the guy “moderating” (more like trying to keep up) or running around with a camera, taking photos for the press materials.

It will be my first time in Stockholm, so I hope to get around town a bit. A colleague recommended the Vasa Museum, the only preserved 17th century ship in the world. It heeled over and sank only minutes into its maiden voyage in 1628, and was raised in 1961. And of course there’s a museum dedicated to Abba.

Related posts:

WaterLex: A New Role for Me, Working on Water Law and Human Rights

If You Could Advise the UN on Water, What Would You Say?

WaterLex Helps Put the Human Right to Water Into New Legal Frameworks

Water’s Place Among Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals

The Intersection of Environmental Issues and Human Rights

 

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Filed under Environment, Europe, Events, Human rights, Law, NGOs, Rivers and Watersheds, Sustainability, Technology, United Nations, Wastewater Treatment, Water Resources

Mapping the Spread of Drought Across the U.S.

Image: ClimateWizard.org

Image: ClimateWizard.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slightly more than a third of the United States suffered moderate or worse drought as of July 22, and about 40% of the country has been abnormally dry in recent months, according to research cited in The New York Times. Climate change is intensifying drought and changing patterns. While the West dries out, especially California and southwestern states, more rain than usual has been falling east of the Mississippi River. Look at the mapping on NYT Interactive’s The UpShot.

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Filed under Climate Change, Drought, Environment, North America, Research, Water Resources

Heading for Foul Waters at the 2016 Rio Olympics

Image: sailworld.com

Image: sailworld.com

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.

Read more: 

Note to Olympic Sailors: Don’t Fall in Rio’s WatersThe New York Times

Rio 2016 Olympics: Sailors Warned Over Sewage-Infested Waters – The Independent

Rio Official: Water Pollution Targets Won’t Be Met by OlympicsSports Illustrated

Related posts:

Water’s Place Among Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Environment, Human rights, Oceans, Pollution, South America

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