Atlantis will be a reality

Back in the early 1970s, an interesting and different song by Donovan called “Atlantis” hit the airwaves. It spoke of the destroyed world consumed by the sea. As sea level rises, the city of Miami will become a future Atlantis.

Earlier this week, on a PBS Newshour piece called “Will climate change turn Miami into a future Atlantis?”, Henry Briceno, a research scientist from Florida International University, used the phrase to define his city, “we are doomed.” Sadly, this is the second scientist I have heard define Miami’s future demise.

Hurricanes have caused Miami planners to build for strong winds. Yet, they have not paid enough attention to the encroaching seas. Miami is built on porous limestone, so sea water can more easily come in. Sunny day flooding has occurred more frequently and pumps and pipes attempt to take the water back out to the bay. It is even worse during the spring and fall when the moon’s impact on tides is stronger.

Miami’s Dade County and three adjacent counties are investing $200 million to recycle the water back to the bay. Yet, It is not enough and maybe too late. New Orleans is taking advice from Denmark on their water management lessons, but Miami’s limestone is a huge problem. Plus, the sea water will find its way into the Biscayne aquifer which will cause drinking water issues.

This is no longer a future issue. Sunny day flooding causes the streets of Miami Beach to be several inches deep in sea water quite often. Other coastal cities are seeing more sunny day flooding, as well.

Future models show an alarming picture for Miami and the Everglades. Sadly, too many are turning a blind’s eye. In the sequel to “An Inconvenient Truth,” Al Gore and the Miami Beach mayor were standing in flooded streets, while the governor would not take their calls after asking staff to never use the term climate change. You would think the governor of a state surrounded on three sides by water would be concerned about climate change.

Donovan’s song may need to be re-released. Or, maybe the words can be updated for new coastal cities like Miami.

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Don’t mess around with water problems

Many home owners have had an unfortunate history with water problems. Hopefully, the problems were confined or discovered and remedied before major catastrophe. In our extended family, we have had our share of both.

In the past few weeks, we discovered a pooling of water in my 3 1/2  foot crawl space (we have a humidity tarp down under). Was it rain seeping in or a pipe issue? We have remedied both issues in the past three years. In this case, the primary culprit was the degradation in the glued PVC pipes in the Jack-n-Jill bathroom at the front of the house, Two previous issues had been resolved during the past three years.

Yet, in this case, our plumber said the PVC pipes were twisting inside the bathroom, meaning a potential leak into the wood work and more. As he frankly put it, you may have this issue throughout the house as the same plumber did all of the work when the house was built. He said you may want to call your insurance company. It should be noted, he was not looking for revenue as he said a problem this big is beyond his resources.

So, we had the whole house replumbed. And, the plumbers did find two pipes (one from the washing machine) where the glue had disintegrated (but fortunately not leaked). It should be noted this was not a PVC issue that has led to class action lawsuits from homes built before 1990 -those PVC piped cracked and fell apart). The glue was either inferior or insufficiently applied. Now, the glue is primed first which is visible by a purple color left behind. It should be noted, the builder has long been out of business after its founder passed and the housing recession hit.

So, we avoided a catastrophe (knock on wood). We did have a major water issue in a previous house while we were out of the house, which is why we have a healthy respect for water problems. My mother lived in Florida in a house which sat on a concrete slab – the water has nowhere to go when it leaks. She had three separate water problems, the last one being concentrated in a closet causing mold, which is a dangerous exposure issue.

It should be noted insurance companies usually do not pay for plumbing. They pay for loss and restoration of furniture, walls, ceilings, framing, etc. So, the re-plumbing is on our nickel, but well worth it. The insurer  will pay for a certain portion of sheetrocking, respainting, and labor.

Yet, if a major problem occurred, we would have had water everywhere even coming through the ceiling from upstairs. Now, that would have been a huge expense for us and the insurance company.

Hopefully, this does the trick, again knock on wood. If you have a home, you likely have a water story. Feel free to share for newer home owner readers. As you don’t want to mess around with water problems.

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.

 

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.