Category Archives: Industry
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.
Event Page – United Nations
What’s the Environmental Impact of Modern War? – The Guardian
New research shows that China’s wealthier and wetter southern provinces are draining already-scare water supplies from arid northern provinces, exacerbating shortages and increasing risk of crisis conditions.
The study, conducted by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) with the University of Maryland and published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, uses the economic concept of “virtual water.” That refers to water tracked through trade of goods that require water to produce, as most do. The researchers say it is the first study to take water scarcity into account rather than treating all water as equal in the analysis.
The researchers say the study helps lay the groundwork for better water-resource management. One upshot is the idea that it might be smarter on the whole not to import water-intensive goods from the dry north to the wet south, even as the country gears up massive efforts to divert water in the other direction because of the shortages.
The study: Virtual Scarce Water in China – Environmental Science & Technology
Following China’s water: a threat of scarcity – Nature World News
China’s hidden water footprint – Phys.org
Virtual water highlights China’s hidden water footprint – Science 2.0
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)
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.
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 case – Los Angeles Times
$3 million awarded to North Texas family in fracking lawsuit – StateImpact Texas (NPR)
The Guardian, known for some of the best environmental reporting coming out of the U.K., posed a question to a bevy of experts in honor of World Water Day 2014, on March 22: “What one piece of advice would you give the UN on water?” More specifically, how should water fit into the post-2015 development agenda? Following up on my recent World Water Day posts below, here’s a link to the answers given by the water wonks from the worlds of business, NGOs and government.
There’s broad agreement among the experts that there should be specific water and sanitation Sustainable Development Goals, just as there was enthusiastic agreement at the UN briefing I recently attended at the WMO in Geneva, Switzerland. Water will be frequently mentioned among other goals because it connects everything, but mere mentions here and there won’t be enough to give the world the clean water and effective sanitation that so many people lack.
What one piece of advice would you give the UN on water? – The Guardian Water hub
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.
- 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.
Temporary waters are waterways that don’t always have a visible connection to nearby surface waters, such as rivers and lakes, during the course of a year. Nevertheless, that dry stream bed or marsh area is part of the larger water network. A study released earlier this month in the journal Science outlines the value of temporary waters and describes how numerous countries do not include such waterways in their legal frameworks. Leaving temporary waterways outside of the law also leaves them vulnerable to human activity, like development and pollution, which can damage the surrounding water network. The study’s authors point out that the numbers of temporary waterways are underestimated in various parts of the world, and that their frequency will increase due to climate change.
Temporary waters and intermittent streams at risk: International scientists urge science-based policy – National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center
Why should we care about temporary waterways? – Science
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.
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 system – The 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