Water – the real crisis facing us

While Americans are distracted and consumed by the routine chaos out of the White House, we are letting huge problems go unaddressed. One of the major problems is the current and growing global water crisis. For several years, the World Economic Forum has voted the global water crisis as the greatest risk facing our planet over the longer term, defined as ten years. But, this is not just a future problem, the city of Cape Town in South Africa is in severe water crisis and continues to ration pushing forward their Day Zero as long as they can

Per The Guardian in an article this week, the United Nations warns that water shortages “could affect 5 billion people by 2050 due to climate change, increased demand and polluted supplies, according to a UN report on the state of the world’s water. The comprehensive annual study warns of conflict and civilisational threats unless actions are taken to reduce the stress on rivers, lakes, aquifers, wetlands and reservoirs.

The World Water Development Report – released in drought-hit Brasília – says positive change is possible, particularly in the key agricultural sector, but only if there is a move towards nature-based solutions that rely more on soil and trees than steel and concrete.

‘For too long, the world has turned first to human-built, or ‘grey’, infrastructure to improve water management. In doing so, it has often brushed aside traditional and indigenous knowledge that embraces greener approaches,’ says Gilbert Houngbo, the chair of UN Water, in the preface of the 100-page assessment. ‘In the face of accelerated consumption, increasing environmental degradation and the multi-faceted impacts of climate change, we clearly need new ways of manage competing demands on our freshwater resources.’

Humans use about 4,600 cubic km of water every year, of which 70% goes to agriculture, 20% to industry and 10% to households, says the report, which was launched at the start of the triennial World Water Forum. Global demand has increased sixfold over the past 100 years and continues to grow at the rate of 1% each year.

This is already creating strains that will grow by 2050, when the world population is forecast to reach between 9.4 billion and 10.2 billion (up from 7.7 billion today), with two in every three people living in cities.

Demand for water is projected to rise fastest in developing countries. Meanwhile, climate change will put an added stress on supplies because it will make wet regions wetter and dry regions drier.

Drought and soil degradation are already the biggest risk of natural disaster, say the authors, and this trend is likely to worsen. ‘Droughts are arguably the greatest single threat from climate change,’ it notes. The challenge has been most apparent this year in Cape Town, where residents face severe restrictions as the result of a once-in-384-year drought. In Brasília, the host of the forum, close to 2m people have their taps turned off once in every five days due to a unusually protracted dry period.”

Here in the states, we exacerbate our drought and other water problems with bad piping and fracking, which waste or use huge amounts of water. But, with our vast agriculture, we need water to produce our and much of the world’s crops. We must manage it better. Two books are very illuminating. “Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization” by Steven Solomon is a terrific look back and ahead. He is the coiner of the phrase “water is the new oil.” The other book is called “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman” by Miriam Horn that details the struggles of these professions and two others with climate change and its impact on water and other things they do.

Folks, this is a major problem. We must address it now before we all have our own Day Zeroes. If this is not enough to raise concern, one of the financial experts who forewarned us of the pending financial crisis, has a new concern – water.



Project management and execution matter

Business, philanthropy and government are littered with people with good (and not so good) ideas, but have little comprehension of how to execute them. The importance of project managers who can get those ideas to the finish line cannot be overstated.

My friend D is one of those people. My favorite story about D will reveal much about her thought process. During a major project, I was curious why she was having a multi-sectional report on our findings and recommendations produced in a haphazard fashion. She said simply we can produce the Introduction, Appendices and Sections 6, 7 and 8 as they are completed now. We will do the other sections summarizing our findings and results when they are completed.

This is a simple example as she and other project managers work with multiple entities and people to get things done. What complicates it further is people have other things to do. I describe my old kind of work as juggling while walking forward. The key is to keep walking, while trying not to drop any balls. D made this happen.

I was thinking of this today as we have leaders throwing out ideas, without any funding to get things done. Or, the solutions are inconsistent with a recognition that past funding cuts may have contributed to a problem occurring.

So, in all these kinds of organizations, ideas are important, but we need to have people that can make them happen and maintain the solution once implemented. And, they require funding.

Let me leave you with a true story. There is a neat movie called “Einstein and Eddington.” You likely have not heard of the latter, but may not know the former without his contribution. Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, at much personal and legal risk, collaborated with a Albert Einstein, a German scientist when his government forbid it due to the Great War. What did he do? He proved Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Einstein was the idea man, but needed someone to demonstrate through a specific effort that he was right.

Blessed are the doers and those who organize and manage their efforts. Without them, our ideas may remain as only that. And, blessed are those who realize the doers need funding.




A couple of climate clues

I am reading a great book called “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman” by Miriam Horn. She focuses her attention on people in these professions (plus a few others) and how they work the earth and its waterways. They see what is happening with climate change and environmental degradation and have adapted over time what they do to continue their livelihood. The book has a subtitle of “Conservation Heroes of the American Heartland.”

A quote from a mentor to Justin Knopf, the farmer, is compelling. “Dr. Gary Pierzynski, head of the Kansas State University agronomy department describes…‘We have no doubt that climate change is happening. But we recognize that talking directly about it raises issues with some of our elected officials, who remain unconvinced and don’t support investing state resources to study it. So we emphasize our focus on challenges like extending the life of the Ogallala aquifer; we don’t disguise it but take away the climate change message.'”

It should not be lost on anyone that this man is about as far away from the coast as possible, but speaks of the impact on climate change on the agro economy and water sources. As an example, Knopf has used his experience to realize that using “no-till” farming is ideally suited for growing wheat and other products in his neck of the woods. When tilled, more of the topsoil is washed and blown away. When untilled, the ground keeps more of the creatures that naturally fertilize and break down the soil. It also aborbs more carbon.

He notes farmers continually experiment and share ideas, so what works there may be less suited elsewhere. I will write more on the book later, but what is fascinating is how these folks see what is happening first hand and adapt over time. Sometimes what they try fails and often it takes a few seasons for changes to fully be realized.Their livelihoods depend on it, so it is done with seriousness of purpose and observation.

On a different note, I saw a news report about Kodiak Island in Alaska. They are close to 100% renewable energy powered, using hydro and wind energy with battery storage. They switched when the diesel fuel got too expensive to shore up the hydro power when the demands increased. Also, a creative solution was used in the ship docks where they send and receive freight. Using a fly wheel concept, as one of the freight containers is lowered by the crane, it creates energy that is stored and used to lift the next container. The process continues as the containers are loaded and unloaded.

It should be noted the fly wheel concept is getting a lot of attention due to its elegance. In computer vernacular, elegance means the simplest and most effective solution. It also should be noted the cost of energy for the Island is more predictable and is lower than it was ten years ago. I highlight this cost statement as this is the new norm for renewable energy versus fossil fuel energy. The city of Georgetown, Texas came to the same conclusion when they signed a twenty-five contract for wind and solar energy rather than a shorter fossil fuel contract.

On the ground, local leaders, farmers, ranchers and fisherman are seeing what is happening first hand. They are making informed decisions that impact their future. It would be nice if our President, EPA director, Energy director and Congressional Republican leadership would make informed decisions. We could use their help and not their obstinance. The world is passing them by and they are not allowed to notice it.

Coastal collaborations

One good, one bad. One founded on truth, one founded to perpetuate a lie. Two recent articles in The Charlotte Observer shed a spotlight on the coastal threat of man-influenced climate change and these two collaborations.

First, the bad. North Carolina realtors who sell coastal properties have banded together to fight those who want to plan for climate change induced sea rise. They have successfully lobbied the passage of a law in the General Assembly that repeals the requirement that builders reflect the impact of climate change on their structures and placement.

This adversarial relationship with science has followed a history of the GOP led General Assembly toward climate change. The more memorable moment was the General Assembly’s refusal to accept a peer reviewed scientific report that said sea levels would rise by 39 inches by the end of the century, accepting one that looked backwards limiting the increase to 8 inches. The former report had been accepted by Virginia and Louisiana. Stephen Colbert ridiculed the NCGA on one of his shows for the absurdity in NC.

Realtors are supposed to tell the truth, although there are some who embellish too much. Yet, to try to hold back the ocean with paperwork is not good business. When leaders hide the truth, people suffer. I encourage buyers to do research with reputable sources, including their ability to insure their potential properties. Owners on NC’s Bald Head Island realized the hard way what happens when property is built too close and without buffers.

Now, the good. In response to an executive order by the current White House incumbent to do seismic testing in advance of offshore oil development off our Atlantic Coast, a building bipartisan coalition has formed. Six coastal states’ governors (two Republican) have joined with numerous mayors and business people to fight this oil exploration.

They estimate the coastal tourism business is about $95 Billion per year. Then, there is the fishing industry which is exposed. And, we should not lose sight of homebuyers who want to retire or have property near the ocean. It should be noted that the Florida and Georgia governors are silent on these issues, which is viewed as a positive by this group.

Climate change is a real threat that is no longer futuristic. Miami is the most at risk city in the world in terms of assets and sees daily flooding even without hurricanes. The latter are now more severe  in strength, while droughts and forest fires are more in number and extremity. These are predicted in climate change models.

I am disappointed in these coastal realtors, the NC General Assembly and the White House. Ignoring scientific experts on this topic puts people in harm’s way. We must plan accordingly. I praise highly the courage and wisdom of these governors, mayors and business people. They see climate change as a threat and offshore fossil fuel development as a risk.

Monday, Monday

With a shout out to the Mamas and the Papas, I borrow their song title to share a few miscellaneous thoughts this Monday.

Kim and Trump scare me as they see who has the longest private part. I hope cooler and more rational heads prevail. I keep thinking neither man is that stupid to launch a nuclear warhead, but the probability is higher than it was a year ago.

Just to make sure the White House incumbent does not understand the risk climate change poses, even after Hurricane Harvey was made worse as a result, he appoints another climate change denier to head NASA. It is one thing to not having scientists in positions that should likely have them – Departments of Energy, EPA and NASA- but they should at least not pretend they know more than scientists do. Their arguments ring shallow.

The White House incumbent will be telling us this week what he plans to do with kids of undocumented parents who were brought here. These over 800,000 kids and young people have the backing of business leaders and Congressional leaders. Speaker Paul Ryan says leave this to Congress, but he fails to recall Obama acted because Congress would not, even after a bipartisan Senate bill was passed. The business leaders see this as an intellectual capital issue as well as a fairness issue. Trump has been all over the place on this issue, so who knows.

Thank goodness the waters are subsiding in Texas and Louisiana. It will be a long, arduous struggle to repair and rebuild. Someone mentioned earlier said it would be quick, which are just words. I hope our Congress can help in funding. And, I wish FEMA, HUD and the EPA well in helping these people.

Have a safe week. If you are religious, say a little prayer for wise actions by incumbent heads of state and helpful public servants for those in need.




Climate of Hope

One of the positives of the US President pulling out of the Paris Climate Change Accord is it has galvanized the many who see the need to act to save our planet. Coupling the US exit with the President placing climate change deniers and fossil fuel supporters in key cabinet roles, he has placed the US government at the kids table, while the adults talk about solving the world’s problems.

Fortunately, even the President’s actions cannot stop the momentum as a tipping point on renewable energy and other efforts have been reached. As reported in the book “Climate of Hope,” by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Executive Director of the Sierra Club Carl Pope, cities, businesses and citizens have been leading the way. This is important as cities are significant contributors to climate change and can therefore make a huge dent in ameliorating its effect. And, they are sharing their successes formally and informally.

Some of these efforts include:

– Restoring and renovating older buildings into green buildings. Bloomberg touts the renovation of the 1931 built Empire State as a key example.

– Building new structures with an even greener footprint. In India they deploy white rooftops to reflect away the sun to minimize cooling costs, e.g,

– Building more pedestrian areas which provide safer and eco-friendly access to shops, restaurants and businesses. These car free zones actually are part of a solution to reroute traffic to reduce carbon polluting stoppage.

– Building with buffers to allow nature to do its jobs to absorb the pounding of the ocean, since,  so many large cities are coastal cities with some below sea level. We should use nature to provide defenses that stand the test of time.

– Developing master traffic plans embracing car sharing, ride sharing, bike sharing, pedestrian pathways, electric vehicles from buses to taxis, and the elegant use of mass transit based on capital needs and restrictions. Bloomberg is big on measuring things, so installing GPS in New York taxis allowed them to measure success and make modifications to their plans as executed.

– Planting more carbon saving trees in cities and other areas, as well as using other plants such as mangroves in coastal areas as they suck carbon out of the air.

– Conserving food and reducing wastage. We waste huge amounts of food, both before and after it is cooked. Imperfect fruits and vegetables go straight to the dumps unless concentrated efforts prevent it and guide distribution to other users. Buying local saves on transportation costs and emissions, as well.

– Challenging manufacturers for efficient production and distribution. For example, a significant amount of wood goes to pallets that are tossed after one use. Look to more durable pallets that can be reused. Plus, the US does an excellent job of distributing products by rail and can do even better, as the rest of the world improves their efforts. These transmodal distribution centers that marry the efforts of ships, planes, trains and trucks provide huge efficiences and enhance trade.

– Dissuading the building of new coal plants. Active efforts have reduced coal from over 53% market share in 1990 to 30% market share of energy in 2016. Market forces are reducing this further as natural gas became cheaper and renewable energy cost fell to become more on par with coal. If new coal plants must be built, do it in concert with retiring older, less efficient plants.

– Making investment funds available to pay for upfront costs for renewable energy in countries that have fewer capital funding sources. India could do even more with available funding, especially as they electrify more of the country.

The great news is these things are happening. And, they are being shared. Please read this book. It is brief and optimistic. Also, watch the soon to be released sequel to Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.” Then spread the news about what is happening.

To be frank, these actions are positive and smart irrespective of one’s stance on climate change. And, a final note from Bloomberg is the millennials are paying attention. They want to work in places that are doing their part to fight climate change. Think about that as you plan.

Are you sure you want to double down on fossil fuels?

The United Kingdom just announced it will ban sales of combustible engine cars in 2040. Australia announced the same week the planned development of a super highway for electric cars, complete with charging stations.

These announcements come a month after France made a similar decision to the more recent UK one to ban combustible cars and Volvo said they would no longer make combustible cars after 2019. And, not to be outdone, several cities like Paris, Mexico City, Madrid et al, want to ban combustible cars much sooner by 2025.

In fact, as reported in the book “Climate of Hope” by former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Sierra Club ED Carl Pope, cities around the world are leading the way on the climate change fight. They are making huge strides in making buildings more green, improving the time for taxis and cars to move across the city which produces less exhaust, developing more pedestrian and bike areas that improve safety and Eco footprint and migrating to hybrid and electric vehicles among other things. Bloomberg cites large buildings as a huge impact on carbon emissions, so improvements like NYC made with the 1931 built Empire State Building pays dividends.

Lastly, the shareholders of three energy companies – ExxonMobil, Occidental Petroleum and PPL – voted in May to require management to report their climate change impact and plans to reduce such impact to the shareholders. It is not ironic that ExxonMobil is being investigated by three state attorney generals for alleged past misrepresentation to shareholders of the impact of climate change on its business, which would be a securities crime.

So, back to my question in the title which is addressed to the US President, EPA Director and DOE Director, are you sure you want to double down on fossil fuels? Or, would you rather acknowledge the significant movement toward renewable energy and conservation in your own country and invest in the true growth industries and our environment?