Category Archives: Environment

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

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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

In Landmark Case, Fracking Company Ordered to Pay Texas Family $2.95 Million

fracking

In a case thought to be the first of its kind, a jury in Texas returned a verdict Tuesday ordering an oil and gas producer to pay a family claiming to be sickened by its operations near their home. In a 5-1 vote, the jury found that Plano, Texas-based Aruba Petroleum Inc. “intentionally created a private nuisance” and should pay the Parr family, whose 40-acre plot of land near Decatur sits atop the Barnett Shale close to 22 hydraulic fracturing wells run by Aruba, $2.95 million for loss of property value, past and future pain and suffering, and mental anguish.

The Parrs filed the civil suit in 2011, alleging air pollution from the wells exposed them to hazardous chemicals and industrial waste, leading to symptoms such as chronic nosebleeds, irregular heartbeat, muscle spasms and open sores. Aruba disputed the verdict, saying it followed legal guidelines.  The company is expected to file an appeal.

This is believed to be the first civil jury verdict involving fracking, but it probably won’t be the last. According to Wall Street Journal research conducted last year, more than 15 million people live within a mile of a fracking well.

Read more: 

Lisa and Robert ‘Bob’ Parr v. Aruba Petroleum Inc. and Encana Oil and Gas (USA) Inc. – Dallas County Court

Jury awards Texas family nearly $3 million in fracking caseLos Angeles Times

In landmark ruling, jury says fracking company must pay $3 million to sickened family – Climate Progress

$3 million awarded to North Texas family in fracking lawsuit – StateImpact Texas (NPR)

Related posts:

As Fracking Booms, Wastewater Concerns Grow

Fracking Compounds Worries Over Water Shortages

U.S. Shale Map: Could Be a Lot of Fracking Drilling in the Lower 48

Fracking Debate: How Once-Cooperative Attitudes Died

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Environment, Fracking, Industry, Law, North America, Pollution

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

Another Voice for Water in the Blogosphere

SIWI logo

Another water blog online means another hopeful drop in the bucket for a wet and fruitful future. The Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), one of the first organizations added to this blog’s Water Resources page, has launched a water blog that, in the word’s of SIWI’s executive director, Torgny Holmgren, is aimed at “sharing knowledge to realize a water wise world.”

In the blog’s “welcome” post, on Feb. 24, Holmgren said the fast-growing SIWI enables knowledge-sharing and networking among scientists, businesses, policy makers and civil society workers. As such, Holmgren wrote, the organization’s blog will “host opinions, commentary, photos and videos … as we deliver collaborative projects to solve water issues around the globe.” Read his post.

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Filed under Environment, Europe, Law, NGOs, Water Resources

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

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

Image courtesy of Ca.gov

Image courtesy of Ca.gov

Alexis C. Madrigal’s new piece in The Atlantic, which he tweeted is his most ambitious yet, is a good read. It has great descriptions of California’s ongoing, larger-than-life efforts to stay hydrated in a place where nature simply won’t cooperate. The article centers on Gov. Jerry Brown’s $25 billion Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which proposes to dig two tunnels under the entire Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. If built, they’ll be longer than the Chunnel connecting England and France under the English Channel.

Read more:

American Aqueduct: The Great California Water Saga
A $25 billion plan, a small town, and a half-century of wrangling over the most important resource in the biggest state
Alexis C. Madrigal, The Atlantic

Recent related posts:

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

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Filed under Agriculture, Conflicts, Conservation, Dams and Hydropower, Drought, Environment, Groundwater, Industry, North America, Rivers and Watersheds, Technology, Water Shortage

Restoring Rivers: American Rivers Announces 51 Dam Removals in 2013, Builds New Interactive Map

dam removal

On Wednesday the nonprofit group American Rivers announced its list of outdated or unsafe U.S. dams removed in 2013 to restore rivers, tallying 51 projects undertaken by communities in 18 states working with nonprofit groups and state and federal agencies.

American Rivers says it had a hand in 25 of the 2013 dam removals, but tracks all removals, and is the only organization to do so. According to the group, the top states for dam removal last year were Pennsylvania (12), Oregon (eight), New Jersey (four), and, with three apiece, Maine, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Vermont.  About 1,150 dams have been removed since 1912, with most of those deconstructions occurring in the past 20 years.

Why remove dams? There are tens of thousands of them in the U.S., and quite a few are old, unsafe or no longer serve their intended purpose. As former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt once said, “on average, we have constructed one dam every day since the signing of the Declaration of Independence.” Removing them, especially those that no longer do enough for us (e.g., generating adequate amounts of reasonably clean hydropower), can restore river health, clean water, and fish and wildlife, and improve public safety and recreation. See a more complete list of reasons here.

To accompany the 2013 list, American Rivers launched an interactive map that includes all known dam removals in the United States as far back as 1936. The map features the name of the dam and river, location, year the dam was removed, and a description.

“For the first time ever, we have an interactive map that shows every dam removal that has ever happened in the U.S.,” said Devin Dotson, American Rivers’ associate director of communications. “There aren’t many things that have such a big impact on a river as a dam. They block a river, they can hurt clean water, they can hurt fish, they can hurt wildlife. American Rivers has pioneered a science-based approach to the removal of outdated dams.”

Read more from AmericanRivers.org:

51 dams removed to restore rivers in 2013

New interactive map: all known U.S. dam removals since 1936

Why we remove dams

Making hydropower safe for rivers

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Filed under Conservation, Dams and Hydropower, Environment, NGOs, North America, Rivers and Watersheds, Technology, 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

Over-Salted: The Trouble(s) With Desalination

Image: Sierra Club, Angeles Chapter

Image: Sierra Club, Angeles Chapter

It’s tempting to see desalination as an eventual cure-all for parched places like California — something that is expensive to implement and run because of energy costs, but worth prioritizing someday. Someday, that is, when there is no other way to get enough freshwater. Many countries have turned to it.  Unfortunately, cost is not the only reason to put off desalination projects. Their byproducts, or waste, are bad for the environment and difficult to deal with safely. And in California, critics of seawater desalination would add that far more should be done through conservation before turning to drastic measures.

I recently wrote about solar-powered desalination as an alternative to traditional methods that might help California with its record-breaking drought, focusing on WaterFX and its solar distillation of agricultural run-off water for re-use. On Tuesday, The Guardian‘s Oliver Balch picked up on the story in some depth, referring to renewable desalination projects all over the world, but focusing on WaterFX. That prompted a thoughtful article by environmental journalist Chris Clarke for Southern California’s KCET.org. He asked an obvious and very important question: What about all the salt and other stuff we take out of the water?

At the end of any kind of desalination process, you get leftover piles of salt and buckets of super-salty brine. (Use any measurement metaphor you like, appropriate to scale: piles and buckets; hills and lakes; mountains and oceans.) You get a little freshwater and a lot of leftover crap, some potentially useful and some not, and there’s only so much you can do with it. With WaterFX’s solar distillation, you get brine laced with chemicals and solids from the soil, from fertilizers, motor oil and other sources. The company says it can sell the byproducts, but there’s room for skepticism (and leaky landfills standing by). With seawater, desalination projects tend to filter brine back into the ocean, where it dissolves over time. But brine waste, heavier than seawater, can smother sea life on the ocean floor. And, looking ahead, if huge coastal desalination projects continue to spring up all over the world, how much additional salinity can sea life tolerate? Even in the oceans, a little too much salt can kill.

One thing is relatively clear: Powering desalination with renewable energy should bring down long-term energy costs while providing freshwater. But questions and problems remain. In addition to pollution worries, the timing of when to make the big investment can be tricky. As Clarke points out, a large desalination plant opened in Santa Barbara, Calif., in 1992 because of a drought. But the drought ended, and the plant just sat there because it was too expensive to run in the absence of a crippling water shortage. After its test runs, it never produced a drop of potable water. Now, the largest  desalination plant in the western hemisphere is slated for 2016 completion in Carlsbad, near San Diego, at a cost of $1 billion.

Read more:

UPDATE: Desalination could help California — but only if it’s done right – Los Angeles Times

UPDATE: California drought prompts first-ever “zero water allocation” – Los Angeles Times

In talk of solar desalination, there’s a salty elephant in the room – KCET.org

Is solar-powered desalination the answer to water independence in California?The Guardian

California identifies 17 communities that could run dry within 100 days – CA.org

Carlsbad desalination plant construction on track to meet 2016 goal – KPBS San Diego

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 Agriculture, Conservation, Desalination, Drought, Environment, Industry, North America, Oceans, Pollution, Technology, Wastewater Treatment, Water Resources, Water Shortage