Archive for the ‘Water Shortages’ Category

Four billion people face severe water scarcity, new research finds

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

Water shortages affecting two-thirds of world’s population for a month every year and the crisis is far worse than previously thought

At least two-thirds of the global population, over 4 billion people, live with severe water scarcity for at least one month every year, according to a major new analysis.

The revelation shows water shortages, one of the most dangerous challenges the world faces, is far worse previously than thought.

The new research also reveals that 500m people live in places where water consumption is double the amount replenished by rain for the entire year, leaving them extremely vulnerable as underground aquifers run down.

Many of those living with fragile water resources are in India and China, but other regions highlighted are the central and western US, Australia and even the city of London.

These water problems are set to worsen, according to the researchers, as population growth and increasing water use – particularly through eating meat – continues to rise.

In January, water crises were rated as one of three greatest risks of harm to people and economies in the next decade by the World Economic Forum, alongside climate change and mass migration. In places, such as Syria, the three risks come together: a recent study found that climate change made the severe 2007-2010 drought much more likely and the drought led to mass migration of farming families into cities.

“If you look at environmental problems, [water scarcity] is certainly the top problem,” said Prof Arjen Hoekstra, at the University of Twente in the Netherlands and who led the new research. “One place where it is very, very acute is in Yemen.”

Yemen could run out of water within a few years, but many other places are living on borrowed time as aquifers are continuously depleted, including Pakistan, Iran, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia.

Hoekstra also highlights the Murray-Darling basin in Australia and the midwest of the US. “There you have the huge Ogallala acquifer, which is being depleted.” He said even rich cities like London in the UK were living unsustainably: “You don’t have the water in the surrounding area to sustain the water flows” to London in the long term.

The new study, published in the journal Science Advances on Friday, is the first to examine global water scarcity on a monthly basis and at a resolution of 31 miles or less. It analysed data from 1996-2005 and found severe water scarcity – defined as water use being more than twice the amount being replenished – affected 4 billion people for at least one month a year.

“The results imply the global water situation is much worse than suggested by previous studies, which estimated such scarcity impacts between 1.7 billion and 3.1 billion people,” the researchers concluded. The new work also showed 1.8 billion people suffer severe water scarcity for at least half of every year.

Farming is the biggest user of water and the growing global population requires more food. Furthermore, changing diets are having a major impact, as people with rising incomes eat more meat.

“Taking a shorter shower is not the answer” to the global problem, said Hoekstra, because just 1-4% of a person’s water footprint is in the home, while 25% is via meat consumption. It takes over 15,000 litres of water to make 1kg of beef, with almost all of that used to irrigate the crops fed to the cattle.

Another unique aspect of the new research was that it included environmental water requirements, ie the water needed to ensure that life survives in the rivers and lakes. Fish can be important sources of food for people, who also use waterways for transport.

Even just one month of severe water scarcity can have a devastating impact on the health of a river, said Hoekstra: “An empty river is not a river.” Rivers that run dry before they reach the end of their course, or come close to doing so, include the Colorado river in the western US and the Yellow river in China.

David Tickner, chief freshwater adviser at WWF-UK, said: “This paper is another pointer to the urgency of this challenge. Billions of people, and many economies, are increasingly suffering because of water-related risks which could be better managed. The same risks are causing a collapse in aquatic wildlife around the globe.”

Hoekstra said caps on water use should be put in place for all river basins, companies should be transparent about how much water is needed to make their products and look to reduce it while investors should incorporate water sustainability into their decision-making.

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The California Drought Is Just the Beginning of Our National Water Emergency

Friday, August 21st, 2015

For years, Americans dismissed dire water shortages as a problem of the Global South. Now the crisis is coming home

The United Nations reports that we have 15 years to avert a full-blown water crisis and that, by 2030, demand for water will outstrip supply by 40 percent. Five hundred renowned scientists brought together by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that our collective abuse of water has caused the earth to enter a “new geologic age,” a “planetary transformation” akin to the retreat of the glaciers more than 11,000 years ago. Already, they reported, a majority of the world’s population lives within a 30-mile radius of water sources that are badly stressed or running out.

Climate change threat must be taken as seriously as nuclear war – UK minister

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015

In foreword to Foreign Office report, Baroness Joyce Anelay highlights holistic risks of global warming, including food security, terrorism and lethal heat levels

The threat of climate change needs to be assessed in the same comprehensive way as nuclear weapons proliferation, according to a UK foreign minister.

Baroness Joyce Anelay, minister of state at the Commonwealth and Foreign Office, said the indirect impacts of global warming, such as deteriorating international security, could be far greater than the direct effects, such as flooding. She issued the warning in a foreword to a new report on the risks of climate change led by the UK’s climate change envoy, Prof Sir David King.

The report, commissioned by the Foreign Office, and written by experts from the UK, US, China and India, is stark in its assessment of the wide-ranging dangers posed by unchecked global warming, including:

  • very large risks to global food security, including a tripling of food prices
  • unprecedented migration overwhelming international assistance
  • increased risk of terrorism as states fail
  • lethal heat even for people resting in shade

The world’s nations are preparing for a crunch UN summit in Paris in December, at which they must agree a deal to combat climate change.

Monday’s report states that existing plans to curb carbon emissions would heighten the chances of the climate passing tipping points “beyond which the inconvenient may become intolerable”. In 2004, King, then the government’s chief scientific adviser, warned that climate change is a more serious threat to the world than terrorism.

“Assessing the risk around [nuclear weapon proliferation] depends on understanding inter-dependent elements, including: what the science tells us is possible; what our political analysis tells us a country may intend; and what the systemic factors are, such as regional power dynamics,” said Anelay. “The risk of climate change demands a similarly holistic assessment.”

The report sets out the direct risks of climate change. “Humans have limited tolerance for heat stress,” it states. “In the current climate, safe climatic conditions for work are already exceeded frequently for short periods in hot countries, and heatwaves already cause fatalities. In future, climatic conditions could exceed potentially lethal limits of heat stress even for individuals resting in the shade.”

It notes that “the number of people exposed to extreme water shortage is projected to double, globally, by mid century due to population growth alone. Climate change could increase the risk in some regions.”

In the worst case, what is today a once-in-30-year flood could happen every three years in the highly populated river basins of the Yellow, Ganges and Indus rivers, the report said. Without dramatic cuts to carbon emissions, extreme drought affecting farmland could double around the world, with impacts in southern Africa, the US and south Asia.

Areas affected by the knock-on or systemic risks of global warming include global security with extreme droughts and competition for farmland causing conflicts. “Migration from some regions may become more a necessity than a choice, and could take place on a historically unprecedented scale,” the report says. “It seems likely that the capacity of the international community for humanitarian assistance would be overwhelmed.”

“The risks of state failure could rise significantly, affecting many countries simultaneously, and even threatening those that are currently considered developed and stable,” says the report. “The expansion of ungoverned territories would in turn increase the risks of terrorism.”

The report also assesses the systemic risk to global food supply, saying that rising extreme weather events could mean shocks to global food prices previously expected once a century could come every 30 years. “A plausible worst-case scenario could produce unprecedented price spikes on the global market, with a trebling of the prices of the worst-affected grains,” the report concludes.

The greatest risks are tipping points, the report finds, where the climate shifts rapidly into a new, dangerous phase state. But the report also states that political leadership, technology and investment patterns can also change abruptly too.

The report concludes: “The risks of climate change may be greater than is commonly realised, but so is our capacity to confront them. An honest assessment of risk is no reason for fatalism.”

– to the original article:

 

The 1847 lecture that predicted human-induced climate change

Monday, February 16th, 2015

“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”

Ecclesiastes 1:9

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A near-forgotten speech made by a US congressman warned of global warming and the mismanagement of natural resources

When we think of the birth of the conservation movement in the 19th century, the names that usually spring to mind are the likes of John Muir and Henry David Thoreau, men who wrote about the need to protect wilderness areas in an age when the notion of mankind’s “manifest destiny” was all the rage.

But a far less remembered American – a contemporary of Muir and Thoreau – can claim to be the person who first publicised the now largely unchallenged idea that humans can negatively influence the environment that supports them.

George Perkins Marsh (1801-1882) certainly had a varied career. Here’s how Clark University in Massachusetts, which has named an institute in his memory, describes him:

Throughout his 80 years Marsh had many careers as a lawyer (though, by his own words, “an indifferent practitioner”), newspaper editor, sheep farmer, mill owner, lecturer, politician and diplomat. He also tried his hand at various businesses, but failed miserably in all – marble quarrying, railroad investment and woolen manufacturing. He studied linguistics, knew 20 languages, wrote a definitive book on the origin of the English language, and was known as the foremost Scandinavian scholar in North America. He invented tools and designed buildings including the Washington Monument. As a congressman in Washington (1843-49) Marsh helped to found and guide the Smithsonian Institution. He served as US Minister to Turkey for five years where he aided revolutionary refugees and advocated for religious freedom. He spent the last 21 years of his life (1861-82) as US Minister to the newly United Kingdom of Italy.

In other words, he kept himself busy. But I would argue his defining moment came on 30 September, 1847, when, as a congressman for the Whig party (a forerunner of the Republican party), he gave a lecture to the Agricultural Society of Rutland County, Vermont. (The speech was published a year later.) It proved to be the intellectual spark that led him to go on and publish in 1864 his best-known work, Man and Nature: Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action.

More than 160 years on, it really does pay to re-read his speech as it seems remarkably prescient today. It also shows that he was decades ahead of most other thinkers on this subject. After all, he delivered his lecture a decade or more before John Tyndall began to explore the thesis that slight changes in the atmosphere’s composition could cause climatic variations. And it was a full half a century before Svante Arrhenius proposed that carbon dioxide emitted by the “enormous combustion of coal by our industrial establishments” might warm the world (something he thought would be beneficial).

Yes, in his speech, Marsh talks about “civilised man” and “savages” – and the language is turgid in places – but let’s cut him a little slack: this was 1847, after all. It’s about half way through he gets to the bit that matters most to us today:

Man cannot at his pleasure command the rain and the sunshine, the wind and frost and snow, yet it is certain that climate itself has in many instances been gradually changed and ameliorated or deteriorated by human action. The draining of swamps and the clearing of forests perceptibly effect the evaporation from the earth, and of course the mean quantity of moisture suspended in the air. The same causes modify the electrical condition of the atmosphere and the power of the surface to reflect, absorb and radiate the rays of the sun, and consequently influence the distribution of light and heat, and the force and direction of the winds. Within narrow limits too, domestic fires and artificial structures create and diffuse increased warmth, to an extent that may effect vegetation. The mean temperature of London is a degree or two higher than that of the surrounding country, and Pallas believed, that the climate of even so thinly a peopled country as Russia was sensibly modified by similar causes.

Some of the terminology he uses is clearly a little archaic to our ears today, but, broadly speaking, his hunch has subsequently proved to be correct. You can see him grappling with concepts that we now know as the urban heat island effectand greenhouse effect.

But in the speech he also called for a more thoughtful approach to consuming natural resources, despite the apparent near-limitless abundance on offer across the vast expanses of northern America. As the Clark University biography notes, he wasn’t an environmental sentimentalist. Rather, he believed that all consumption must be reasoned and considered, with the impact on future generations always kept in mind: he was making the case for what we now call “sustainable development”. In particular, he argued that his audience should re-evaluate the worth of trees:

The increasing value of timber and fuel ought to teach us that trees are no longer what they were in our fathers’ time, an incumbrance. We have undoubtedly already a larger proportion of cleared land in Vermont than would be required, with proper culture, for the support of a much greater population than we now possess, and every additional acre both lessens our means for thorough husbandry, by disproportionately extending its area, and deprives succeeding generations of what, though comparatively worthless to us, would be of great value to them.
The functions of the forest, besides supplying timber and fuel, are very various. The conducting powers of trees render them highly useful in restoring the disturbed equilibrium of the electric fluid; they are of great value in sheltering and protecting more tender vegetables against the destructive effects of bleak or parching winds, and the annual deposit of the foliage of deciduous trees, and the decomposition of their decaying trunks, form an accumulation of vegetable mould, which gives the greatest fertility to the often originally barren soils on which they grow, and enriches lower grounds by the wash from rains and the melting snows.
The inconveniences resulting from a want of foresight in the economy of the forest are already severely felt in many parts of New England, and even in some of the older towns in Vermont. Steep hill-sides and rocky ledges are well suited to the permanent growth of wood, but when in the rage for improvement they are improvidently stripped of this protection, the action of sun and wind and rain soon deprives them of their thin coating of vegetable mould, and this, when exhausted, cannot be restored by ordinary husbandry. They remain therefore barren and unsightly blots, producing neither grain nor grass, and yielding no crop but a harvest of noxious weeds, to infest with their scattered seeds the richer arable grounds below.
But this is by no means the only evil resulting from the injudicious destruction of the woods. Forests serve as reservoirs and equalizers of humidity. In wet seasons, the decayed leaves and spongy soil of woodlands retain a large proportion of the falling rains, and give back the moisture in time of drought, by evaporation or through the medium of springs. They thus both check the sudden flow of water from the surface into the streams and low grounds, and prevent the droughts of summer from parching our pastures and drying up the rivulets which water them.
On the other hand, where too large a proportion of the surface is bared of wood, the action of the summer sun and wind scorches the hills which are no longer shaded or sheltered by trees, the springs and rivulets that found their supply in the bibulous soil of the forest disappear, and the farmer is obliged to surrender his meadows to his cattle, which can no longer find food in his pastures, and sometime even to drive them miles for water.
Again, the vernal and autumnal rains, and the melting snows of winter, no longer intercepted and absorbed by the leaves or the open soil of the woods, but falling everywhere upon a comparatively hard and even surface, flow swiftly over the smooth ground, washing away the vegetable mould as they seek their natural outlets, fill every ravine with a torrent, and convert every river into an ocean. The suddenness and violence of our freshets increases in proportion as the soil is cleared; bridges are washed away, meadows swept of their crops and fences, and covered with barren sand, or themselves abraded by the fury of the current, and there is reason to fear that the valleys of many of our streams will soon be converted from smiling meadows into broad wastes of shingle and gravel and pebbles, deserts in summer, and seas in autumn and spring.
The changes, which these causes have wrought in the physical geography of Vermont, within a single generation, are too striking to have escaped the attention of any observing person, and every middle-aged man, who revisits his birth-place after a few years of absence, looks upon another landscape than that which formed the theatre of his youthful toils and pleasures. The signs of artificial improvement are mingled with the tokens of improvident waste, and the bald and barren hills, the dry beds of the smaller streams, the ravines furrowed out by the torrents of spring, and the diminished thread of interval that skirts the widened channel of the rivers, seem sad substitutes for the pleasant groves and brooks and broad meadows of his ancient paternal domain.
If the present value of timber and land will not justify the artificial re-planting of grounds injudiciously cleared, at least nature ought to be allowed to reclothe them with a spontaneous growth of wood, and in our future husbandry a more careful selection should be made of land for permanent improvement. It has long been a practice in many parts of Europe, as well as in our older settlements, to cut the forests reserved for timber and fuel at stated intervals. It is quite time that this practice should be introduced among us.
After the first felling of the original forest it is indeed a long time before its place is supplied, because the roots of old and full grown trees seldom throw up shoots, but when the second growth is once established, it may be cut with great advantage, at periods of about twenty-five years, and yields a material, in every respect but size, far superior to the wood of the primitive tree. In many European countries, the economy of the forest is regulated by law; but here, where public opinion determines, or rather in practice constitutes law, we can only appeal to an enlightened self-interest to introduce the reforms, check the abuses, and preserve us from an increase of the evils I have mentioned.

A footnote: it is 150 years ago this year since Marsh was personally appointed by Abraham Lincoln to be the US’s first ambassador to Italy. (Marsh was buried in Rome.) Just three years later, Lincoln approved the legislation which would lead to the creation of Yosemite National Park in California. This acted as a precedent across the world for federal and state governments to purchase or secure wilderness areas so they could be protected in perpetuity from development or exploitation. It’s speculation, of course, but I’ve always wondered whether Marsh and Lincoln ever discussed such matters, be it in person or in correspondence. Perhaps, there’s a keen historian out there who knows the answer?

– To the Original:  

– Research thanks to:  Piers L.

Warming Pushes Western U.S. Toward Driest Period in 1,000 Years

Friday, February 13th, 2015

Study Warns of Unprecedented Risk of Drought in 21st Century

During the second half of the 21st century, the U.S. Southwest and Great Plains will face persistent drought worse than anything seen in times ancient or modern, with the drying conditions “driven primarily” by human-induced global warming, a new study predicts.

The research says the drying would surpass in severity any of the decades-long “megadroughts” that occurred much earlier during the past 1,000 years—one of which has been tied by some researchers to the decline of the Anasazi or Ancient Pueblo Peoples in the Colorado Plateau in the late 13th century. Many studies have already predicted that the Southwest could dry due to global warming, but this is the first to say that such drying could exceed the worst conditions of the distant past. The impacts today would be devastating, given the region’s much larger population and use of resources.

“We are the first to do this kind of quantitative comparison between the projections and the distant past, and the story is a bit bleak,” said Jason E. Smerdon, a co-author and climate scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, part of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. “Even when selecting for the worst megadrought-dominated period, the 21st century projections make the megadroughts seem like quaint walks through the Garden of Eden.”

“The surprising thing to us was really how consistent the response was over these regions, nearly regardless of what model we used or what soil moisture metric we looked at,” said lead author Benjamin I. Cook of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “It all showed this really, really significant drying.”

The new study, “Unprecedented 21st-Century Drought Risk in the American Southwest and Central Plains,” will be featured in the inaugural edition of the new online journal Science Advances, produced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which also publishes the leading journal Science.

Today, 11 of the past 14 years have been drought years in much of the American West, including California, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona and across the Southern Plains to Texas and Oklahoma, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a collaboration of U.S. government agencies.

The current drought directly affects more than 64 million people in the Southwest and Southern Plains, according to NASA, and many more are indirectly affected because of the impacts on agricultural regions.

Shrinking water supplies have forced western states to impose water use restrictions; aquifers are being drawn down to unsustainable levels, and major surface reservoirs such as Lake Mead and Lake Powell are at historically low levels. This winter’s snowpack in the Sierras, a major water source for Los Angeles and other cities, is less than a quarter of what authorities call a “normal” level, according to a February report from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. California water officials last year cut off the flow of water from the northern part of the state to the south, forcing farmers in the Central Valley to leave hundreds of thousands of acres unplanted.

“Changes in precipitation, temperature and drought, and the consequences it has for our society—which is critically dependent on our freshwater resources for food, electricity and industry—are likely to be the most immediate climate impacts we experience as a result of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Kevin Anchukaitis, a climate researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Anchukaitis said the findings “require us to think rather immediately about how we could and would adapt.”

Much of our knowledge about past droughts comes from extensive study of tree rings conducted by Lamont-Doherty scientist Edward Cook (Benjamin’s father) and others, who in 2009 created the North American Drought Atlas. The atlas recreates the history of drought over the previous 2,005 years, based on hundreds of tree-ring chronologies, gleaned in turn from tens of thousands of tree samples across the United States, Mexico and parts of Canada.

For the current study, researchers used data from the atlas to represent past climate, and applied three different measures for drought—two soil moisture measurements at varying depths, and a version of the Palmer Drought Severity Index, which gauges precipitation and evaporation and transpiration—the net input of water into the land. While some have questioned how accurately the Palmer drought index truly reflects soil moisture, the researchers found it matched well with other measures, and that it “provides a bridge between the [climate] models and drought in observations,” Cook said.

The researchers applied 17 different climate models to analyze the future impact of rising average temperatures on the regions. And, they compared two different global warming scenarios—one with “business as usual,” projecting a continued rise in emissions of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming; and a second scenario in which emissions are moderated.

By most of those measures, they came to the same conclusions.

“The results … are extremely unfavorable for the continuation of agricultural and water resource management as they are currently practiced in the Great Plains and southwestern United States,” said David Stahle, professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Arkansas and director of the Tree-Ring Laboratory there. Stahle was not involved in the study, though he worked on the North American Drought Atlas.

Smerdon said he and his colleagues are confident in their results. The effects of CO2 on higher average temperature and the subsequent connection to drying in the Southwest and Great Plains emerge as a “strong signal” across the majority of the models, regardless of the drought metrics that are used, he said. And, he added, they are consistent with many previous studies.

Anchukaitis said the paper “provides an elegant and convincing connection” between reconstructions of past climate and the models pointing to the risk of future drought.

Toby R. Ault of Cornell University is a co-author of the study. Funding was provided by the NASA Modeling, Analysis and Prediction Program, NASA Strategic Science, and the U.S. National Science Foundation.

– To the Original:  

Planetary Boundaries 2.0 – new and improved

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

As Science publishes the updated research, four of nine planetary boundaries have been crossed

Four of nine planetary boundaries have now been crossed as a result of human activity, says an international team of 18 researchers in the journal Science (16 January 2015). The four are: climate change, loss of biosphere integrity, land-system change, altered biogeochemical cycles (phosphorus and nitrogen).

Two of these, climate change and biosphere integrity, are what the scientists call “core boundaries”. Significantly altering either of these “core boundaries” would “drive the Earth System into a new state”.

“Transgressing a boundary increases the risk that human activities could inadvertently drive the Earth System into a much less hospitable state, damaging efforts to reduce poverty and leading to a deterioration of human wellbeing in many parts of the world, including wealthy countries,” says Lead author, Professor Will Steffen, researcher at the Centre and the Australian National University, Canberra. “In this new analysis we have improved our quantification of where these risks lie.”

Other co-authors from the Centre are Johan Rockström, Sarah Cornell, Ingo FetzerOonsie Biggs, Carl Folke and Belinda Reyers.

Request publication

What’s new?
The new paper is a development of the Planetary Boundaries concept, which was first published in 2009, identifying nine global priorities relating to human-induced changes to the environment. The science shows that these nine processes and systems regulate the stability and resilience of the Earth System – the interactions of land, ocean, atmosphere and life that together provide conditions upon which our societies depend.

The research builds on a large number of scientific publications critically assessing and improving the planetary boundaries research since its original publication. It confirms the original set of boundaries and provides updated analysis and quantification for several of them, including phosphorus and nitrogen cycles, land-system change, freshwater use and biosphere integrity.

Though the framework keeps the same processes as in 2009, two of them have been given new names, to better reflect what they represent, and yet others have now also been assessed on a regional level.

“Loss of biodiversity” is now called “Change in biosphere integrity.” Biological diversity is vitally important, but the framework now emphasises the impact of humans on ecosystem functioning. Chemical pollution has been given the new name “Introduction of novel entities,” to reflect the fact that humans can influence the Earth system through new technologies in many ways.

“Pollution by toxic synthetic substances is an important component, but we also need to be aware of other potential systemic global risks, such as the release of radioactive materials or nanomaterials,” says Sarah Cornell, coordinator of the Planetary Boundaries research at the Centre. “We believe that these new names better represent the scale and scope of the boundaries,” she continues.

In addition to the globally aggregated Planetary Boundaries, regional-level boundaries have now been developed for biosphere integrity, biogeochemical flows, land-system change and freshwater use. At present only one regional boundary (South Asian Monsoon) can be established for atmospheric aerosol loading.

Nine planetary boundaries
1. Climate change
2. Change in biosphere integrity (biodiversity loss and species extinction)
3. Stratospheric ozone depletion
4. Ocean acidification
5. Biogeochemical flows (phosphorus and nitrogen cycles)
6. Land-system change (for example deforestation)
7. Freshwater use
8. Atmospheric aerosol loading (microscopic particles in the atmosphere that affect climate and living organisms)
9. Introduction of novel entities (e.g. organic pollutants, radioactive materials, nanomaterials, and micro-plastics).

– More:

Nasa-funded study: industrial civilisation headed for ‘irreversible collapse’?

Monday, March 17th, 2014

“With the enemy’s approach to Moscow, the Moscovites’ view of their situation did not grow more serious but on the contrary became even more frivolous, as always happens with people who see a great danger approaching.

At the approach of danger there are always two voices that speak with equal power in the human soul: one very reasonably tells a man to consider the nature of the danger and the means of escaping it; the other, still more reasonably, says that it is too depressing and painful to think of the danger, since it is not in man’s power to foresee everything and avert the general course of events, and it is therefore better to disregard what is painful till it comes, and to think about what is pleasant.”

– Leo Tolstoy – War and Peace

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Natural and social scientists develop new model of how ‘perfect storm’ of crises could unravel global system

A new study sponsored by Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilisation could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution.

Noting that warnings of ‘collapse’ are often seen to be fringe or controversial, the study attempts to make sense of compelling historical data showing that “the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history.” Cases of severe civilisational disruption due to “precipitous collapse – often lasting centuries – have been quite common.”

The research project is based on a new cross-disciplinary ‘Human And Nature DYnamical’ (HANDY) model, led by applied mathematician Safa Motesharri of the US National Science Foundation-supported National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, in association with a team of natural and social scientists. The study based on the HANDY model has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed Elsevier journal, Ecological Economics.

It finds that according to the historical record even advanced, complex civilisations are susceptible to collapse, raising questions about the sustainability of modern civilisation:

“The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent.”

By investigating the human-nature dynamics of these past cases of collapse, the project identifies the most salient interrelated factors which explain civilisational decline, and which may help determine the risk of collapse today: namely, Population, Climate, Water, Agriculture, and Energy.

These factors can lead to collapse when they converge to generate two crucial social features: “the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity”; and “the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or “Commoners”) [poor]” These social phenomena have played “a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse,” in all such cases over “the last five thousand years.”

Currently, high levels of economic stratification are linked directly to overconsumption of resources, with “Elites” based largely in industrialised countries responsible for both:

“… accumulated surplus is not evenly distributed throughout society, but rather has been controlled by an elite. The mass of the population, while producing the wealth, is only allocated a small portion of it by elites, usually at or just above subsistence levels.”

The study challenges those who argue that technology will resolve these challenges by increasing efficiency:

“Technological change can raise the efficiency of resource use, but it also tends to raise both per capita resource consumption and the scale of resource extraction, so that, absent policy effects, the increases in consumption often compensate for the increased efficiency of resource use.”

Productivity increases in agriculture and industry over the last two centuries has come from “increased (rather than decreased) resource throughput,” despite dramatic efficiency gains over the same period.

Modelling a range of different scenarios, Motesharri and his colleagues conclude that under conditions “closely reflecting the reality of the world today… we find that collapse is difficult to avoid.” In the first of these scenarios, civilisation:

“…. appears to be on a sustainable path for quite a long time, but even using an optimal depletion rate and starting with a very small number of Elites, the Elites eventually consume too much, resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society. It is important to note that this Type-L collapse is due to an inequality-induced famine that causes a loss of workers, rather than a collapse of Nature.”

Another scenario focuses on the role of continued resource exploitation, finding that “with a larger depletion rate, the decline of the Commoners occurs faster, while the Elites are still thriving, but eventually the Commoners collapse completely, followed by the Elites.”

In both scenarios, Elite wealth monopolies mean that they are buffered from the most “detrimental effects of the environmental collapse until much later than the Commoners”, allowing them to “continue ‘business as usual’ despite the impending catastrophe.” The same mechanism, they argue, could explain how “historical collapses were allowed to occur by elites who appear to be oblivious to the catastrophic trajectory (most clearly apparent in the Roman and Mayan cases).”

Applying this lesson to our contemporary predicament, the study warns that:

“While some members of society might raise the alarm that the system is moving towards an impending collapse and therefore advocate structural changes to society in order to avoid it, Elites and their supporters, who opposed making these changes, could point to the long sustainable trajectory ‘so far’ in support of doing nothing.”

However, the scientists point out that the worst-case scenarios are by no means inevitable, and suggest that appropriate policy and structural changes could avoid collapse, if not pave the way toward a more stable civilisation.

The two key solutions are to reduce economic inequality so as to ensure fairer distribution of resources, and to dramatically reduce resource consumption by relying on less intensive renewable resources and reducing population growth:

“Collapse can be avoided and population can reach equilibrium if the per capita rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion.”

The NASA-funded HANDY model offers a highly credible wake-up call to governments, corporations and business – and consumers – to recognise that ‘business as usual’ cannot be sustained, and that policy and structural changes are required immediately.

Although the study is largely theoretical, a number of other more empirically-focused studies – by KPMG and the UK Government Office of Science for instance – have warned that the convergence of food, water and energy crises could create a ‘perfect storm’ within about fifteen years. But these ‘business as usual’ forecasts could be very conservative.

– To the original article:  ➡

 

The Ayn Rand-Worshipping Sears CEO That Blew Up His Multibillion Dollar Empire

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

The invisible hand waves goodbye to America’s most delusional CEO.

 

Once upon a time, hedge fund manager Eddie Lampert was living a Wall Street fairy tale. His fairy godmother was Ayn Rand, the dashing diva of free-market ideology whose quirky economic notions would transform him into a glamorous business hero.

For a while, it seemed to work like a charm. Pundits called him the “ Steve Jobs of the investment world.” The new Warren Buffett. By 2006 he was flying high, the richest man in Connecticut, managing over $15 billion thorough his hedge fund, ESL Investments.

Stoked by his Wall Street success, Lampert plunged headlong into the retail world. Undaunted by his lack of industry experience and hailed a genius, Lampert boldly pushed to merge Kmart and Sears with a layoff and cost-cutting strategy that would, he promised, send profits into the stratosphere. Meanwhile the hotshot threw cash around like an oil sheikh, buying a $40 million pad in Florida’s Biscayne Bay, a record even for that star-studded county.

Fast-forward to 2013: The fairy tale has become a nightmare.

Lampert is now known as one of the worst CEOs in America — the man who flushed Sears down the toilet with his demented management style and harebrained approach to retail. Sears stock is tanking. His hedge fun is down 40 percent, and the business press has turned from praising Lampert’s genius towatching gleefully as his ship sinks. Investors are running from “Crazy Eddie” like the plague.

That’s what happens when Ayn Rand is the basis for your business plan.

Crazy Eddie has been one of America’s most vocal advocates of discredited free-market economics, so obsessed with Ayn Rand he could rattle off memorized passages of her novels. As Mina Kimes explained in a fascinating profile in Bloomberg Businessweek, Lampert took the myth that humans perform best when acting selfishly as gospel, pitting Sears company managers against each other in a kind of Lord of the Flies death match. This, he believed, would cause them to act rationally and boost performance.

If you think that sounds batshit crazy, congratulations. You understand more than most of America’s business school graduates.

Instead of enhancing Sears’ bottom line, the heads of various divisions began to undermine each other and fight tooth and claw for the profits of their individual fiefdoms at the expense of the overall brand. By this time Crazy Eddie was completely in thrall to his own bloated ego, and fancied he could bend underlings to his will by putting them through humiliating rituals, like annual conference calls in which unit managers were forced to bow and scrape for money and resources. But the chaos only grew.

Lampert took to hiding behind a pen name and spying on and goading employees through an internal social network. He became obsessed with technology, wasting resources on developing apps as Sears’ physical stores became dilapidated and filthy. Instead of investing in workers and developing useful products, he sold off valuable real estate, shuttered stores, and engineered stock buybacks in order to manipulate stock prices and line his own pockets.

Eddie’s crazy didn’t stop there. As a Wall Street creature fantastically out of touch with the kind of ordinary folks who shop at Sears, he inserted his love of luxury into the mix, trying to sell Rolex watches and $4,400 designer handbags through America’s iconic budget-friendly brand.

As his company was descending into Randian mayhem, Lampert continued to cheerfully inform stockholders that his revolutionary ideas would soon produce earth-shattering results. Reality: Sears has lost half its value in five years. Since 2010, Sears has closed more than half of its stores. Sears Holdings is financially distressed and Lampert’s own hedge fund has reduced its stake in the company. The Sears store in Oakland, California, open for business with boarded-up windows, has even been cited for urban blight.

– to the original story:  

 

‘Uncomfortable’ climates to devastate cities within a decade, study says

Monday, November 4th, 2013

– This is what John Roach of NBC News has to say on October 9th, 2013

– But this has all been coming, writ large, for a long time.  

-It’s been coming since:

Lyndon Johnson discussed the CO2 we were putting into the atmosphere in 1965.

Since the Club of Rome discussions and their paper on “The Limits to Growth” in 1972.

Since the World Scientists issued their warning to Humanity in 1992.

– But it is only just now beginning to reach the evening news as plausible news.  

– We have just a few greedy, self-centered people and corporations to thank for the fact that their misinformation has been instrumental in delaying humanities waking up on these threats until it is virtually too late.  

Most recently, Naomi Oreskes showed us this in her book, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming

– Some of us remember how Mussolini ended up.   I wonder, when the damages are finally appreciated, if these folks may fare the same.   I won’t cry any crocodile tears for them; that’s for sure.  

-By their actions many, many millions will die, cities and nations will fall, species innumerable will go extinct and most of our descendants will have less than optimal lives to look forward to; if they manage to live through the changes that are coming.

– dennis

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Lesser daysThe world is hurtling toward a stark future where the web of life unravels, human cultures are uprooted, and millions of species go extinct, according to a new study. This doomsday scenario isn’t far off, either: It may start within a decade in parts of Indonesia, and begin playing out over most of the world — including cities across the United States — by mid-century.

What’s more, even a serious effort to stabilize spiraling greenhouse gas emissions will only stave off these changes until around 2069, notes the study from the University of Hawaii, Manoa, published online Wednesday in the journal Nature. The authors warn that the time is now to prepare for a world where even the coldest of years will be warmer than the hottest years of the past century and a half.

“We are used to the climate that we live in. With this climate change, what is going to happen is we’re going to be moving outside this comfort zone,” biologist Camilo Mora, the study’s lead author, told NBC News. “It is going to be uncomfortable for us as humans and it will be very uncomfortable for species as well.”

– To Read More of this article:  

– Still with the doubts, Sweetpea?   Then please read this:

 

As climate change intensifies, the world faces an unpalatable choice: eat or drink

Friday, November 1st, 2013

A quarter of the world’s food crops are now being grown in regions that are highly water-stressed, according to a report released yesterday by the nonprofit World Resources Institute (WRI). It gets worse: Half the planet’s irrigated cropland, which produce 40% of the global food supply, is located in areas facing severe water shortages as climate change exacerbates drought.

Tapping data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and academic studies, WRI researchers overlaid food production with water resources to create an online interactive map that shows where the most water-stressed crops are grown. The WRI defines high water stress as areas where 40% of the renewable water supply is withdrawn annually. In extremely high water stress regions, 80% of the water supply is tapped each year.
– More: