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.

 

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Drawdown – a detailed guide to reducing climate impact

Paul Hawken is an optimist about battling our climate change crisis. He is also active in planning to do something about it. But, who is he? Hawken is an author, advocate and businessman who is the Executive Director of Project Drawdown, based his book “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Priposed to Reverse Global Warming.”

The book is based on the concept of drawing down the amount of carbon that is getting dangerously present in our atmosphere and warming the planet. It summarizes 100 solutions noting their cost, long term savings and estimated impact. Project Drawdown has an impressive Board of Directiors and research staff offering a seriousness of purpose.

Rather than list all 100, let me note the top ten solutions, which are interesting and makes one think holistically. And, some of these have small price tags.

1. Refrigeration Management: While the hydrocarbons that were hurting the ozone were banned, their replacement (HFCs) is warming our planet, much of it released in the last few years of life of the refrigerator. There is a plan to phase out HFCs from new refrigerators. It is also key to decommission old refrigerators earlier to prevent the greater release.

2. Offshore Wind Turbines: With the heavy ocean breezes, the offshore turbines have a huge upside on savings and impact. As with onshore wind energy, the cost has dramatically declined and wind energy is ready to replace even more fossil fuel energy sourcing. Offshore wind energy is being used significantly by other countries, with the first US development opening last December off Rhode Island.

3. Reduced Food Waste: Of all the issues, with relative little cost, we can make a huge dent in emissions from unused, rotting food. Between supermarkets, restaurants and homes, this wastage could be minimized with some concerted efforts which would not compromise taste. Better labeling on best-by dates, using imperfect looking food, better food planning at home, better gleaning of unpacked crops, using local produce more, etc. would produce dividends.

4. Plant Rich Diet: If cows were a country, they would be third largest abuser of the climate change impact. By shifting to more plant rich diets, we can reduce the amount of emissions leaked into the atmosphere and improve our own health.

5. Tropical Forests: We have greatly reduced our carbon eating forests, which has changed the equation dramatically. The planet used to be covered 12% by tropical forests, but it has declined to 5%. By replenishing tropical forests, the trees can have a positive impact on the environment and absorb more carbon.

6. Educating Girls: I have been an advocate of this for civil rights and economics, but it has a significant impact on climate. Hawken notes through education, girls can enter womanhood on their own terms. Now, too many girls are married at very young ages and never have a chance to consider a career. The younger they are married, the more children they have. Also, more educated women, means more intellectual capital to solve problems.

7. Family Planning: This goes hand in hand with the education of women. Larger family size is highly correlated with increased poverty. It is also highly correlated with a larger carbon footprint. Our planet also does not have unlimited resources, so we need to use what we have more efficaciously. If all people consume like the average North American, we have 2X too many people already.

8. Solar Farms: The cost of solar has dropped dramatically and jobs are growing  at an annual double digit rate for the past several years. Solar farms are much cheaper to build than a power plant and will continue their growth rate as battery storage improves.

9. Silvopasture: What does this mean? It is an ancient practice of integrating trees and pastures for crops and livestock. The symbiosis of the two better controls carbon absorption in a sustainable way.

10. Rooftop Solar: Putting solar panels on rooftops scares utility companies as it changes their model. Solar energy need not be done only through big projects to be effective. It can be very decentralized, Utilities are pushing back in several states to buy surplus electricity at a lower rate than they sell it when you need it at night. As battery storage improves, solar power will be even more integrated and expansive.

Hawken says we need to be alarmed by what is happening by climate change, but we should plan to act and then act. While discouraged by the US pulling out of the Paris Climate Change Accord, he said the positive is far more Americans are aware of climate change and cities, states and businesses are acting in lieu of the void caused by the federal government.

I have been encouraged by this renewed vigor in addressing climate change. There are many good things occurring in the US and abroad. We can no longer wait and should celebrate, focus and leverage these solutions.

 

 

Sunday morning muses

First and foremost, best wishes to our friends, family and folks in the path of Hurricane Irma. This juggernaut has already wreaked havoc in the Caribbean and is poised to do more.

Second, continued best wishes for those dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey here in the states and those abroad who are being flooded in other parts of the world. This will be a long haul, as will recovering from Irma.

Third, best wishes to the forest fire fighters in the West who continue to battle unending blazes. These tireless heroes are a huge line of defense.

Fourth and finally, best wishes to the families and friends of earthquake victims in Mexico. For those who also lost their homes, may you find cover and shelter as you rebuild or relocate.

Disasters bring us closer as they reveal our petty differences are just that. I greatly applaud all of those who have stepped up to help through donations of time, energy, goods and money.

As we rebuild, we must be mindful of what the future holds – more powerful storms, more flooding, more drought in drought stricken areas and more forest fires. We must rebuild to withstand, prevent and manage water, wind, heat and fire. I am happy to see consultants from The Netherlands here to advise some cities on managing ocean flooding given their hundreds of years of experience as a country below sea level.

For now, let’s do our part to help others withstand, survive and get back on their feet.

Is it thrifty or environmentally friendly

I have mentioned in the past I am both a tree hugger and capitalist. On the latter, I like to spend money wisely. But, it goes hand-in-hand with being environmentally friendly, as conserving resources is both cost effective and good for the environment.

My wife laughs at me as I will eat leftovers for several days. She will usually join in for one more meal, but she will abstain from further meals. It gives me satisfaction to finish food off. This is especially true as we as a country throw so much food away. And, I hate to throw food away.

We are also doing our best to drink filtered tap water. My wife tells folks my husband won’t let me buy plastic bottled water. She likes to tease me about things like this as many spouses do. However, I can assure you my wife won’t do anything unless she agrees with it. She understands this will keep from adding to the floating plastic in the Pacific.

We also live in an area of the city which is a couple of miles away from three shopping areas of various sizes. As I like to walk, I often will become a pedestrian shopper. It saves on gas emissions and gets me some needed exercise. And, since most car accidents occur within a mile from home, it helps me with the odds.

I mention these three things as they are easy things to do to save money and the environment.  I am sure each of us have things we could do that would save on both. What are some of your actions?

So, it is more than OK to be a little thrifty. Of course, my wife threatens me to not to turn into her mother who raised five kids on her father’s salary.

Nicaragua, Syria and the USA

The company you keep matters. Rather than be in the company of other world leaders to help save the planet, the President of the United States decided to be in the company of Nicaragua and Syria. It should be noted Nicaragua wanted the Paris deal to go further. So, we are joined at the hip with Syria.

Going against the wishes of the majority of Americans and even a majority in his own party, the current incumbent in the White House decided to withdraw the United States of America from an agreement it helped forge with China.

Rather than work with others under the Paris Climate Change Accord, the President has decided the children and grandchildren of the world do not matter. He has decided that reneging on a major step forward is better than working with others. His reasons ring hollow, especially when he speaks of his actions to help the environment and trying to save an industry that market forces are diminishing the demand.

I feared this decision from well before the election. Fortunately, we are passed the tipping point on renewable energy as costs continue to fall. Fortunately, businesses are telling him they are not changing forward moving plans because that is what their customers want.

What is most interesting about the timing, two days ago, over 62% of Exxon-Mobil shareholders overruled a management recommendation and said they must report to shareholders the impact climate change is having on their business. This follows similar votes at Occidental Petroleum and PPL, a Pennsylvania based utility. So, owners of companies are making a statement as are customers.

It is a pity that this President has cemented his legacy with such a horrible decision for our country and planet. He will not be remembered well and it has already begun. He should have listened to his daughter, whose children will have to hear how their grandfather harmed the planet.

An old shell on the beach

The Guardian reported today that an interesting shell has been discovered on the beach. A twenty-six minute documentary film produced by Shell Oil Company in 1991 has been rediscovered. This prescient film was made for educational purpose for students discussing the key concerns over climate change.

In the film, Shell scientists speak about sea level rise, flooding, drought and forest fires due to climate change. The reporters for The Guardian note the film is highly relevant today and was made twenty-five years ago.

The article also notes the lack of business ethics of Shell that led them to double down on fracking and off-shore drilling since that time. This is not dissimilar to the activities of Exxon-Mobil who is under investigation for securities fraud in misrepresenting the impact of climate change on their business to shareholders. Like Shell, Exxon-Mobil has been aware of their impact on climate change for quite awhile.

The past actions of these two fossil-fuel companies are extremely relevant. They both have known the concerns of climate change for many years. Their knowledge flies directly in the face of the arguments of climate change deniers. And, with respect to Exxon-Mobil, if it is proven that they misled shareholders, that is a crime whether it was intentional of not.

A key reason I left the Republican Party in 2006 is their failure to admit and speak to one of the greatest threats to our planet in climate change. The World Economic Forum cites the failure to address climate change as the second greatest risk (following our global water crisis) over the next ten years.  Doubling down on fossil fuels as advocated by our President is extremely poor stewardship.

The wind is at our backs now, with red states leading the way

While our President is not a fan of wind energy (having unsuccessfully sued the Scottish government to stop an offshore development) and has made some climate change is a hoax comments, rather quietly, renewable energy continues to move up the charts. Solar energy is going like gangbusters with double-digit growth in production and jobs, but wind energy has surpassed hydro energy as the largest form of renewable energy in the US. What is interesting, most of the growth in wind energy is occurring rather quietly in mostly red states.

From an American Energy News article last week:

Texas has more than 20 MW of installed wind capacity, or nearly a quarter of the market. Iowa is the second-biggest wind state, and Oklahoma overtook California for third place at the end of 2016.

 The first offshore wind project in the United States also came online in the fourth quarter, the 30 MW Block Island wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island.

More than 10,000 MW of wind is under construction in the United States, about half of which is in Texas. New Mexico’s wind industry is growing rapidly, with 1,300 MW under construction. Once completed, those projects will double the size of New Mexico’s installed wind capacity.”

Per Reuters from an article this week, in 2016, Texas has 12.8% of its energy produced by wind energy, something our new energy secretary and former Texas governor has been fairly silent about. And, as noted above it will continue to grow.

And, from an article from the US Energy Information and Administration last October:

In 2015, 11 states generated at least 10% of their total electricity from wind. As recently as 2010, only three states had at least a 10% wind share. Iowa had the largest wind generation share, at 31.3%, and South Dakota (25.5%) and Kansas (23.9%) had wind generation shares higher than 20%. Two additional states, Texas and New Mexico, are on track to surpass a 10% wind generation share in 2016, based on data through July. Wind generation in Texas, the highest wind electricity-producing state, made up 24% of the national total wind generation and 9.9% of Texas’s total electricity generation in 2015.

At the national level, wind’s share of total U.S. electricity generation has risen every year since 2001. Wind facilities produced 190,927 gigawatthours (GWh) of electricity in 2015, accounting for 4.7% of net U.S. electric power generation. This level represents a doubling of wind’s generation share since 2010, when the share was 2.3%. Based on monthly data through July, wind has provided 5.6% of U.S. generation in 2016.”

Both of these quoted articles can be linked to below. As I have said several times, while the President can slow the progress down, the train has left the station on renewable energy due to reduced production pricing coupled with much less maintenance, acquisition, transport and litigation costs.

This is the news that needs to be shouted from the roof tops. And, the benefactors of this progress will not just be our children and grandchildren, it will impact us all now.

 

http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=28512

http://theamericanenergynews.com/energy-news/wind-surpasses-hydro-largest-us-renewable-energy-source