28 October 2015

This Week in Water

After last week's change in format in which we laid out what may be two of the BIGGEST news items in human history (no joke: [1] an extinction event that may include us + [2] evidence of possible extraterrestrial life) plus one of the greatest frauds ever perpetrated on the world, we return to aggregating links about our planet's most precious resource—and there are plenty!

Scientists are finding further evidence of how Greenland is melting. [The Times link has amazing drone video and remarkable graphics.] Why does this matter? Greenland's ice sheets sit on land, so when they melt they cause the oceans to rise—unlike, say, a melting iceberg which is the example climate change denialists always cite, claiming that melting ice is like an ice cube in a glass of water and does not contribute to rising sea levels.

Permafrost warming in Alaska is 'accelerating', threatening to release dangerous levels of the greenhouse gas methane into the environment. Researchers worry that this could cost the world's economies trillions of dollars more in damages.

This year's snowpack in the High Sierras was the worst in the past 500 years, and the snow's water content was only 5% of its historical average over the same period.

Hurricane Patricia, the most powerful cyclone ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere, struck land on the west coast of Mexico bringing torrential rainfall and flooding as far north as Michigan.

The recent flooding in South Carolina is the result of at least the 6th 1-in-a-1000-year rain event in the U.S. since 2010.

This year's 'dead zone' in the Gulf of Mexico, a result of excess rainfall and nutrient runoff from the Mississippi River, is larger than average and much larger than expected.

Iran's Lake Urmia, once the planet's sixth largest salt lake (larger than Utah's Great Salt Lake) has dried up to a mere 10% of its size, similar to what happened to the Aral Sea in Central Asia, exposing a vast salt desert.

The Obama administration has created two new marine sanctuaries in the U.S., the first such in 15 years, one in a portion of Lake Michigan and the other in the Potomac River.

In a 2-1 ruling, a panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has blocked U.S. efforts to keep its streams and wetlands clean.

U.S. Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Science Committee, has launched a wide-ranging, open-ended inquisition into climate scientists' recent findings that global warming is not in some sort of pause or hiatus, subpoenaing email records and other communications of internal deliberations from NOAA and the National Centers for Environmental Information. There are currently no allegations of corruption or wrongdoing.

Oxybenzone, an ingredient in most sunscreen brands, is killing coral, causing DNA damage in both adults and larval stage animals. This only adds to the effects of warmer water temperatures on delicate coral marine life, i.e., "coral bleaching" that is happening world wide.

No one is quite sure how to solve the world's water problems, but there is much work to be done.

A Dutch company called Elemental Water Makers is working to use 100% renewable energy to desalinate seawater with a pilot project in the British Virgin Islands—the type of solution this blog has been advocating for years.

19 October 2015

This Week in Water

As the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris approaches, I want to change the format for this week's TWIW post and interject an argument and some editorial opinion. Normally, TWIW is a news aggregator replete with interesting links to issues and news about our planet's most important resource. If you want to take a look at past posts, simply click on the "This Week in Water" link in the "Labels" below.

Sometimes there is so much news that it becomes difficult to see the forest for the trees—or the ocean for the waves as the case may be. As with the last post about the discovery of evidence of flowing water on Mars, this week brings us three VERY BIG items and, in this instance, they deserve some discussion and thought.

Item #1—Exxon Evidence. Evidence has come to light that Exxon has had specific internal knowledge about the drastic, deleterious effects of man-made global warming since the 1980s—to wit, melting glaciers and polar ice and rising sea levels. Yet, internal documents show that the company used its vast marketing and political power not only to conceal this fact from the world but has been actively lying about it to its shareholders, the public, and regulators. In the meantime, it has used this knowledge to figure out how to improve its extraction of even more damaging fossil fuels from the earth. "Genocidal Behavior" and "Sociopathic Greed" hardly begin to describe this concerted series of potentially planet-murdering actions. In a truly free market with valid 'price discovery mechanisms', these costs would/should necessarily have to be borne by the company and figured into its balance sheet; yet Exxon-Mobil (and other fossil fuel extraction-based companies and their suppliers and supporters) continues to receive billions of dollars in U.S. tax breaks and subsidies and to profit from its criminally insane behavior while ignoring the public costs of their business. Questions about the viability of possible legal and/or political remedies are, hopefully, arising globally, though the damage may be irreparable. And the fact is there may be no specific laws to punish and remediate these companies' actions.

Item #2—Extinction Event. The planet is currently facing what scientists are calling its Sixth Great Extinction Event, and some are asking whether humans can survive this catastrophe. This results partially from a collapse of the food chain originating in our ocean ecosystems due to rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and warming global climate.

Item #3—Extra-terrestrials? Back in 2010 I posted a piece about so-called Kardashev civilizations. [Go on, read it; it's pretty cool. It'll open in a new window. Besides, this post isn't going anywhere.] Now, astronomers have discovered an anomalous star in our galaxy some 1500 light years away that shows some signs that might be indicative of an alien civilization approaching a Type II Kardashev civilization, namely one which is able to harness the energy of a star to fuel its development. (By contrast, earth's civilization is ~0.7 on the Kardashev scale because we are barely beginning to capture solar, wind, hydro, and tidal power) One explanation for the behavior of light from this star is that there are advanced life forms constructing a Dyson Sphere around their sun. Of course, there are plenty of other hypotheses to be eliminated before anyone can claim this for certain. Still, it's potentially HUGE news—I mean, the biggest news in human history. (How does this relate to water, you might ask? If there is such a civilization, they must certainly have some form of watery world resources. Okay, it's tenuous, but it's such a huge piece of news I couldn't resist.)

One fairly straightforward conclusion to draw from these Items is that our planet's continued reliance on fossil fuels (due, mostly, to the economic and political power of the extraction industries) is killing us, and if we want to advance and perhaps even to survive as a civilization and possibly a species we need to change our behavior radically, moving to sustainable energy practices before it's too late. How this can seem even remotely controversial continues to baffle me.