Archive for the ‘Water Shortages’ Category

The fight to get aboard Lifeboat UK

Sunday, February 8th, 2009

– James Lovelock, again, tells it like it is.  What he says here is what I’ve felt for a long time without being able to articulate it nearly so well as he has.  Indeed, it is why I’ve secured the right of permanent residency in New Zealand; as a hedge against the future he’s painting.

– I see people drawing word pictures of the world around us at all levels.   The local and the mundane, the national and the global.   But most of their pictures are fragments at best; partial renderings of realities far more complex and dark than they’ve drawn or imagined.

– Lovelock paints the canvas behind all their canvases.   They are, perhaps, the projected moving pictures on the screen.  Whereas, his is the screen upon which theirs cavort.  In rings speak, ‘One vision to rule them all’.

– There are big changes, nearly unimaginably big changes, coming.   And most of us, if we are not in denial, are engaged in building sandcastles in a losing battle to stem the sea.   His analogies about 1939 are so apt.   And time is getting so late.

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Last week she played in the snow, but what will Britain be like when she grows up? James Lovelock, the Earth guru, foresees a land where blizzards are long forgotten and national survival depends on a new Winston Churchill

When someone discovers, too late, that they are suffering from a serious and probably incurable disease and may have no more than six months to live, their first response is shock and then, in denial, they angrily try any cure on offer or go to practitioners of alternative medicine. Finally, if wise, they reach a state of calm acceptance. They know death need not be feared and that no one escapes it.

Scientists who recognise the truth about the Earth’s condition advise their governments of its deadly seriousness in the manner of a physician. We are now seeing the responses. First was denial at all levels, then the desperate search for a cure. Just as we as individuals try alternative medicine, so our governments have many offers from alternative business and their lobbies of sustainable ways to “save the planet”, and from some green hospice there may come the anodyne of hope.

Should you doubt that this grim prospect is real, let me remind you of the forces now taking the Earth to the hothouse: these include the increasing abundance of greenhouse gases from industry and agriculture, including gases from natural ecosystems damaged by global heating in the Arctic and the tropics. The vast ocean ecosystems that used to pump down carbon dioxide can no longer do so because the ocean turns to desert as it warms and grows more acidic; then there is the extra absorption of the sun’s radiant heat as white reflecting snow melts and is replaced by dark ground or ocean.

Each separate increase adds heat and together they amplify the warming that we cause. The power of this combination and the inability of the Earth now to resist it is what forces me to see the efforts made to stabilise carbon dioxide and temperature as no better than planetary alternative medicine.

Do not be misled by lulls in climate change when global temperature is constant for a few years or even, as we have seen in the UK in the past week, appears to drop and people ask: where is global warming now?

However unlikely it sometimes seems, change really is happening and the Earth grows warmer year by year. But do not expect the climate to follow the smooth path of slowly but sedately rising temperatures predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), where change slowly inches up and leaves plenty of time for business as usual. The real Earth changes by fits and starts, with spells of constancy, even slight decline, between the jumps to greater heat. It is ever more at risk of changing to a barren state in which few of us can survive.

The high-sounding and well-meaning visions of the European Union of “saving the planet” and developing sustainably by using only “natural” energy might have worked in 1800 when there were only a billion of us, but now they are a wholly impractical luxury we can ill afford.

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– research thanks, again, to Robin S.

Thinking about a thousand-year depression

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

– An excellent piece from The Automatic Earth; a Blog I’ve just started following.

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Cyclical terms like “recession” and “depression” are looking less appropriate by the day. It’s like calling the period between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance a “depression”.

I know the our situation is vastly different from the state of the world in Roman times, but the idea that we could be on the brink of a fundamental reset of civilization is intriguing, to say the least.

I’ve been convinced for several years that we are looking at the convergence of a set of wicked interlocking global problems — ecological problems (climate chaos, the death of the oceans, fresh water shortages etc.), energy shortages due to fossil fuel depletion, and overpopulation with the resulting pressure on the global food supply. This convergence is happening under the umbrella of the current global financial collapse that constrains our ability to respond to any of these problems individually, let alone any further problems that might emerge from interactions between them.

This unfortunate collision makes the future of our civilization very murky indeed. Writers like James Howard Kunstler, John Michael Greer, Carolyn Baker and Sharon Astyk (along with people like Stoneleigh and Ilargi at The Automatic Earth) have been warning about the possibility of a generalized, unrecoverable collapse of modern civilization for a while now. They have generally been derided by the mainstream as millennialist prophets of doom — driven more by their own subconscious fears and dark desires, their research full of confirmation bias.

The events unfolding around us now, however, cast their optimistic mainstream critics in a somewhat different light. None of them — even the Roubinis and Krugmans – have fully appreciated the severity of the world’s financial predicament. Their comforting bromides (and even their more pessimistic utterances) have been overwhelmed by events on a weekly basis. It has become clear that for all their careful analysis of trunks and tails, nobody truly understood the shape of the entire elephant.

This evident failure of comprehension brings their entire analysis into disrepute. And that should make us ask – if they failed to comprehend the underpinnings of a calamity in their own domain, what does that say about the possibility that they also failed to understand the dangers being trumpeted by the doomers they have derided?

After all, we are seeing the same outcome in the climate crisis as in the financial one – the trends are uniformly negative, and are unfolding much faster than the professionals in either field predicted. There are new signs from world bodies like the International Energy Agency that the same situation is developing with respect to the world’s oil supply – the more pessimistic members of the Peak Oil crowd appear to be heading for vindication.

So, following a “major, rapid contraction” (aka collapse), could our civilization end up staying on the mat, unable to rise from the ashes of our former glory? That’s unknowable of course, but hardly inconceivable. Several factors give that speculation some foundation.

The first confounding factor is the spectre of irreversible climate change. That could irreparably damage the world’s food production capacity through shifts in rainfall and the reduction of snow and glacial cover that supplies much of the world’s fresh water for agriculture.

The second factor is the permanent depletion of the compact, high-density, transportable energy supply represented by fossil fuels. We’re putting a lot of effort into developing electrical alternatives, of course. There are two major challenges in the way, though. The first is the relative infancy of the industry, and the fact that it will require both capital and fossil fuels to enable its continued growth. The second longer term problem is that the use of electricity requires a higher level of technology in the infrastructure needed to manufacture, distribute, store and convert it into work. This may not seem like much of a a problem today, but if our global industrial civilization goes into a decline, growing parts of the world may find the maintenance of such infrastructure increasingly difficult.

A third factor that may get in the way of recovery is the depletion of easily-recoverable resources such as metals. The decline in the average quality of various ores being mined today is well documented, and is likely to continue. While recycling can recover much of the metal currently discarded as waste, recycling facilities capable of producing enough output to feed our civilization’s needs do not yet exist. They would face the same hurdles as the build-out of electrical supplies I described above.

You might think that such a situation will take so long to develop that we will be able to address the situation before it gets quite that dire.

One consideration that works against that hope is that human beings are not, for all their cleverness, fully rational creatures. Research has shown that most of our “rational” decisions are made at a deeply unconscious level, to be dressed up with rational justifications only upon their emergence into the conscious mind some time later. The truth of this proposition can be seen all around us in the competition between environmental remediation and economic imperatives, in the obstruction of alternative energy development, in our repeated creation of financial bubbles — in all the myriad ways in which we as a society work tirelessly against our own best interests as individuals and as a species.

Even worse, events have recently shown a terrifying ability to outstrip our expectations, in both speed and severity. We may not have nearly as much time left as we think. A lack of time coupled with an inability to respond rationally (or even to accept the evidence of our eyes) does not bode well for the future of this civilization.

It’s conceivable that our current civilization will never regain its feet after this storm has burst upon us. We will endure as a species no matter what happens, of course, and it’s even probable that we will rise to new heights. It’s also quite possible that the rebirth of this Phoenix will take a long, long time and that those new heights will be unrecognizable to someone raised in today’s world of 401(k)’s, Credit Default Swaps, automobiles and gigantic concrete cities.

– To the original:

– Research thanks to Kael for this.

Drought in southern Australia declared ‘worst on record’

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

If you want to know what the U.S. southwest faces in the coming decades if we don’t reverse greenhouse gas emissions trends quickly, just look to Australia:

David Jones, the head of climate analysis at the Bureau of Meteorology, said the drought affecting south-west Western Australia, south-east South Australia, Victoria and northern Tasmania “is now very severe and without historical precedent”.

Dr Jones said Victoria had had “the driest multi-year period on record, but also by far the hottest….”

He said temperatures were running at about one degree “above any previous comparable drought. That is substantially hotter, and that one degree is a global warming signal.”

He said the data suggests that for every one degree of warming, there is a 15 per cent decline in run-off, or river flow, in the Murray Darling Basin….

He said a similar drying pattern had been observed in Europe’s Mediterranean, and the south-west in the USA….

The highlighted point is key. Previously, droughts around the world were either cold-whether droughts or warm-weather droughts. In the future, virtually all droughts will be hot weather droughts, which are obviously the worst kind.

He said the current dry was at the extreme end of what the climate models had predicted.

Most of the major predicted climate impacts the planet is now experiencing are at the extreme end of what the models had predicted (see “Are Scientists Overestimating — or Underestimating — Climate Change, Part I“).

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Greenland ice loss soars: Bad for you, great for bottled water biz

Sunday, October 26th, 2008

A new study in Geophysical Research Letters (subs. req’d) led by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory finds:

… the ice sheet was losing 110 ± 70 Gt/yr [billion tons/year] in the 1960s, 30 ± 50 Gt/yr or near balance in the 1970s–1980s, and 97 ± 47 Gt/yr in 1996 increasing rapidly to 267 ± 38 Gt/yr in 2007.

How much is 267 billion metric tons of water? It’s enough to supply the city of Los Angeles with fresh water for more than 50 years. Hmm. That gives me — or at least the Greenland Home Rule government — an idea.

Yes, why should all that water only go to submerging the great coastal cities of the world when (a tiny fraction of) it could go to slaking the thirst of all the people who live in the great cities of the world that don’t get submerged.

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CENTRAL ASIA: AGREEMENT ON REGIONAL WATER-MANAGEMENT PACT REMAINS ELUSIVE

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

When it comes to trying to resolve vital water-management issues in Central Asia, regional leaders seem to be stuck in mud.

Yet another gathering to discuss water-issues — a meeting of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea, held in Dushanbe on October 9 — ended in futility. The meeting had hoped to lay the groundwork for a regional water doctrine to govern the long-term use of Central Asian resources, but the failure of Uzbek officials to show up, along with ongoing disagreements, caused the assembly to end without finding a general consensus. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Experts had hoped to have the regional water doctrine finalized for approval in 2009.

The water management issue constitutes a major source of tension in Central Asia. Most water originates in the eastern mountains of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Downstream neighbors Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan rely on the water for extensive irrigation. Upstream countries want to build more hydropower dams to harvest the energy potential of the major river systems, blocking water the downstream countries would like allocated for irrigation. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

Discord is costing the Central Asian states a fortune, some experts say. Dyushen Mamatkanov, director of the Kyrgyz National Water and Hydropower Institute, told participants that every year the region squanders $2 billion due to poor water management. Highlighting that waste, each country builds its own electricity transmission lines, rather than share them, leading to extra expenditures and the inefficient transmission of power.

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A dire warning on water

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008

Countries across the world will have to dramatically increase investment in dams, pipes and other water infrastructure to avoid widespread flooding, drought and disease even before climate change accelerates these problems, experts have warned.

Investment needs to be at least doubled from the current level of US$80 billion a year, an international congress was told in early September, and one leading authority said spending needed to rise to 1.5% of gross domestic product just “to be able to cope with the current climate” — one thousand times the current level.

The warnings follow months of dramatic events, from hurricane flooding in the Caribbean and the United States to desperate measures in drought-stricken Mediterranean countries, including importing water by ship.

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Bags packed for doomsday

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

– I’ve been on for sometime about New Zealand, as any long term reader of this Blog knows.   Indeed, my wife and I have secured resident visas for NZ as a sort of insurance policy.  

– This means that we now have the permanent right to live there, if we want to for the rest of our lives.  And, we may well do so when we’re ready to retire. 

– If the world begins to crumble as a result of the numerous threats that I an others have detailed, then moving there will certainly look like a good move.

– We’re not the only folks to think so.   I came across a reference to the article, below, on a friend’s Blog and I found it interesting reading, indeed.

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Is the end really, finally nigh? And if it is, what are you going to do about it? John McCrone meets some South Islanders who are getting ready for the end of the world as we know it.

The ‘twin tsunamis’ of global warming and peak oil could spell TEOTWAWKI – the end of the world as we know it – and already, quietly, some people are getting prepared because they believe we are talking years rather than decades.

Helen, a petite 42-year-old Nelson housewife, is racing to build her own personal TEOTWAWKI lifeboat.

Earlier this year, she and her American husband cashed-up  to buy a 21ha farm in a remote, easily defensible, river valley backing onto the Arthur Range, north-west of Nelson.

The site ticks the right boxes. Way above sea level. Its own spring and stream. Enough winter sun. A good mix of growing areas. A sprinkling of neighbouring farms strung along the valley’s winding dirt-track road.

The digger was to arrive this week to carve out the platform for an adobe eco-house. A turbine in the stream will generate power. A composting toilet will deal with sewage.

Then there is the stuff that could really get her labelled as a crank (and why she would prefer to remain relatively anonymous, at least until she is completely set up). Back at her rented house in Nelson, Helen shows the growing collection of horse-drawn ploughs, wheat grinders, treadle sewing machines and other rusting relics of the pre-carbon era, she believes she will need the day the petrol pumps finally run dry.  here is the library of yellowing books from colonial times, telling how to make your own soap, spin candlewicks, care for clydesdale horses.

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– research thanks to Brian C.

Glaciers shrinking in Southern Alps

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

New Zealand’s glaciers are showing the lowest total ice mass on record with more than twice the volume of Rangitoto Island melting away in a year.

Research released yesterday by the National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research showed the Southern Alps glaciers had lost over 2.5cu km (2.2 billion tonnes) of permanent ice from April 2007 to March this year.

That is the fourth highest annual loss since monitoring started, leaving the glaciers with the lowest total ice mass on record of just 44.9cu km.

Niwa principal scientist Jim Salinger told the Herald that was an 18 per cent loss since 1976 when 54cu km was recorded.

The 2.2 billion tonnes loss from last year to the end of March was “very significant”, he said.

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“Water Mafias” Put Stranglehold on Public Water Supply

Thursday, September 4th, 2008

Worldwide corruption driven by mafia-like organizations throughout water industries is forcing the poor to pay more for basic drinking water and sanitation services, according to a new report.

If bribery, organized crime, embezzlement, and other illegal activities continue, consumers and taxpayers will pay the equivalent of U.S. $20 billion dollars over the next decade, says the report, released this week at the World Water Week conference in Stockholm, Sweden.

The water sector is one of most corrupt after health and education, added HÃ¥kan Tropp, chair of the Water Integrity Network (WIN), an advocacy group and report co-author.

That’s because the poor often don’t have a voice in strategic water policy decisions, said Christian Poortman, head of the anticorruption group Transparency International (TI), which collaborated with WIN on the study.

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Melting glacier leaves no room for doubt

Thursday, September 4th, 2008

Huge ice fields in western China’s Tian Mountains are diminishing because of global warming. Jonathan Watts went to Urumqi No1 to see how the local people are being affected.

Up close, the sound of global warming at the face of the Urumqi No1 Glacier is a simple, steady drip, drip, drip. Just 30 metres from the main wall, the flood of meltwater becomes so powerful that it cuts a tunnel under the floor of grey ice, leaving only a blotchy, wafer-thin crust on the surface. [See Guardian video here.]

Compared with the collapse of ice shelves in the Antarctic, the melting of the mountains in China’s far west is one of the less spectacular phenomena of global warming, but it is a more immediate cause of concern and hope.

There is concern because this glacier — more than almost any other in China — is a natural water regulator for millions of people downstream in the far western region of Xinjiang. In winter, it stores up snow and ice. In summer, it releases meltwater to provide drinking and irrigation supplies to one of the country’s most arid regions. It brings hope because its rapid shrinkage is helping to set off climate-change alarm bells in a country that emits more greenhouse gases than any other.

The Urumqi No1 Glacier is so named because it was the first ice field to be measured in China. Since 1953, scientists have been monitoring its thickness and length, analysing traces of pollution and tracking changes in temperature at this 3,800-metre altitude. The results leave no room for doubt that this part of the Tian (Heaven) mountain range is melting.

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