Reflections on the Surface

August 20, 2008

Virtual Water

London, England

The average UK resident uses a staggering 4650 litres of water a day!
Now before you fall off your chair in disbelief, perhaps look at this fact for the truth of what it is.

Writing in the UK’s Guardian, (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/aug/20/water.food1) Felicity Lawrence cogently introduces us to the concept of ‘virtual water’ usage.
Accepting that immediate water usage is in the region of about 150 litres per day per person, the other 4100 litres is accounted for in the supply chain of all that we consume: the production of food, textiles, goods and everything else we take for granted.
You can imagine what the statistics for the USA might show.

If we are to even begin to entertain the concept of sustainability of water resources, each and every one of us will need to wake up to our precious dependence on water.

The warning signs are there for us to see and hear: shifting jetstream flows in the South West of America are irrevocably changing mountain snowpack in the Rockies and the Sierras; Spain risks becoming a partial desert and in India and China glaciers are disappearing fast so that water resources for billions are threatened; The Murray Darling river basin in Australia is headed for catastrophe…
This is climate change.

Its not just peak oil we need be concerned with, but peak water.
Unbridled thoughtless consumerism robs the future of hope.
We are all standing at the edge of the labryinth, a descent into a darkness that could destroy civilization and end the lives of billions.

Or, perhaps not. Perhaps we can change. Perhaps we can placate the monsters of consumerist demand before it is too late. Perhaps the very soul of our existence as a race might be challenged to change…
Or, perhaps not.

It will be a long way down.

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July 29, 2008

Plumbing the Depths

Lake Baikal, Russia

Breaking News.

Russian divers have just broken the record for the deepest freshwater dive into the abyss of Lake Baikal.
Containing more water than all of North America’s lakes put together, Lake Baikal is home to a rich, bountiful ecology, teeming with biodiversity.
It is the same team who, earlier this year, succeeded in planting a Russian Flag on the Arctic sea bed, underneath the North Pole.

Russia assures us that the Lake Baikal dive is just for ‘Scientific’ purposes. You know, they just ‘checking up’ on the largest body of fresh water on Earth, that sort of thing.

Oh, and, by the way, there’s a suggestion of possible oil and gas reserves down there.
We are told that Lake Baikal is safe and its ecology will never be damaged by oil and gas exploration.

Now sit back and wait for the sound of hollow laughter when those Russian assurances echo back from the depths of the future: when Lake Baikal is damaged beyond repair by corporate greed, by climate change and by the ever further reaching grasp of mankind.
Or, perhaps not.

Perhaps this wonder of wonders will still be safe in fifty, one hundred, perhaps five hundred years time.

But you can be sure that whenever Peak Oil hits, those sound assurances will be swiftly forgotten and the divers’ monumental achievements will be cast in stone.

July 16, 2008

The Hubris of King Canute

London, England

The Wilkin’s ice shelf in Antarctica is hanging on by a thread. Alarmingly, scientists are seeing it crumble almost daily. And its not even Summer down there. The process seems inexorable.
At the other end of the globe, Arctic Foxes are next on the list of endangered Polar species as their habitat is degraded far sooner than earlier climate models had predicted.
And, only this week, climate scientists are predicting that snowmelt patterns in the Rockies are set to change dramatically in the coming decades with catastrophic implications for water resources in much of the Western USA.
And the beat goes on.
Now that the 2 Degree tipping point not far away for the planet, Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall centre argues that we “mitigate for 2°, but adapt for 4°”.
It will be ‘The beginning of the End’.
To quote Mark Lynas: ‘Adapting to 4°C of warming would be quite a challenge. With this level of temperature change, we can expect a huge increase in drought-prone zones, a mass extinction of half or more of the life on earth, hundreds of millions of refugees from areas deprived of fresh water or inundated by rising seas, and widespread starv ation due to food and water shortages.”

The complancy of the Bush Administration seems staggering, as news emerges that the USA’s  Clean Air Act legislation was bypassed in a gross cover up of the key projections of climate science.
You can picture GW sat there on his throne, down by the beach, determined to see off the tide.

But history will prove this unconscionable madness utterly wrong when the planet gasps into the last decades of the 21st century.
And all those ridiculous sceptics out there will only be remembered for the turpitude of their beliefs.

July 9, 2008

Shooting at the Sky

Beijing, China

With only a few weeks to go before the 2008 Olymics, officials in Beijing have ordered the Home Guard to fire Silver Iodide into the smoggy air above the capital in a desperate attempt to seed rain clouds.
Air Quality is so bad here that these antiquated anti-aircraft guns have been hauled out of their dust sheets to do a job that seems almost impossible.
But the problems are only just beginning for Beijing. For within a generation, Beijing will ‘cease to exist,’ according to China’s leading environmentalist Dai Qing. To quote:
“We won’t have the ancient capital any longer and the ugly modern Beijing would disappear too. Unfortunately, government officials and Beijing residents are equally unaware of how serious the water crisis is.”

Much of the available information about this pending crisis is top secret of course, but there is an underlying theme here. Available water resources will not match demand. Period.
Climate changes are upon us all, with the Far East set to become beset with water wars.
Sadly, the G8 summit is becoming an annual bureaucratic hand-squeeze, with little to offer the planet save for a mediocre resolution about halving greenhouse emissions by 2050.

Too little too late.
One can only feel sorry for the athletes who compete in Beijing this year as their lungs struggle to cope with a particulate soup that is likely to harm them. The gold medals will come with a health warning.
Mankind simply cannot continue belching out cloud-loads of effluent into the atmosphere without consequences, and seeding clouds with silver iodide will be unlikely to clear the air for long.

June 23, 2008

Polar Cities and Diamond Trees

News comes today, courtesy of the National Geographic, that the North Pole may well be ice-free this summer. Ice that has formed is thin, unstable and likely to disappear within several months.
But this news is not in itself unexpected.
Lets think longer term, to the year 2500 when, according to James Lovelock and others, the Earth will be almost uninhabitable, save for Polar Cities (otherwise known as Sustainable Polar Retreats). They might be Humanity’s last refuge on a devasted Earth where Civilization clings on by its fingernails…
Meanwhile, Freemon Dyson is confident that technology will come riding to the rescue in the form of genetically engineered tree-forests where trees will absorb gigaloads of carbon dioxide and shower the ground with diamonds. Humankind will be saved he declares, not so much by the coordinated efforts of Governments, but by science, pure science and more.
Picture the forest floors, glittering and glinting in the sunlight; a veritable Midas touch of silver that is no gold. It would be a beautiful sight for those who might see it.

What is interesting about all this is that Freemon Dyson’s idea has been commented on in the mainstream media, but the concept of Polar Cities has been shunned. Are editors too scared of the bleak side? Are newspaper proprietors muzzled by corporate interests so as not to scare their readers?

All of this asks questions about humanity’s capacity for long term thinking; and, as for the gaggle of climate change denialists out there such as Christopher Booker of the Daily Telegraph, Viscount Monckton, Lord Lawson and any number of complacent egg-heads you can think of, lets hope that their mouths will be stuffed with diamonds when the time comes.
So that they can rest easy in their graves.

June 9, 2008

Water, Water, Everywhere?

San Diego, California

California is experiencing a statewide drought, with Sierra snowpack drastically reduced.
It is time for the South West US to get to grips with this elephant in the room before it is too late. Profligate use of water must cease; taking it all for granted must cease.
It is soon to be time for stark choices: between conservation and unchecked expansion; between deep-rooted changes in attitudes and ‘couldn’t give a damn’ laissez faire.
Governor Schwarzenegger is right to call for a 20% cut in water demand, but will his request be heard?
Lets face it: the problem of water shortages is only just beginning for the Western US: the Ogallala aquifer in the Mid-West USA is being depleted beyond all measure by a combination of poor planning and reductions in rainful (current weather excepted).

Climate change is happening to the US whether we like it or not, and it is time to get real and to admit that the elephant is about to suck the boreholes dry.

December 5, 2007

A cooler sun?

London, England

 Astronomers have detected that the solar sunspot cycle has ground to a halt. With an expected return of activity 12 months ago, the sun’s internal circulation is still quiescent. Now, it is believed, we may have to wait until 2009 for the sun to gear up its systems for a return to more or less normal. And, importantly, this may cool the Earth.
Meanwhile, George Monbiot writing in the UK’s Guardian argues that ifwe are to avoid runaway global warming we will require 100% cuts in emissions by 2050.
Humanity has to face up to this sort of unpredictability right now. On the one hand we face catastrophe through overheating; on the other, we may be spared global warming for a while.
Are we capable of responsible change? Do we care?
Or will the human race simply consume itself into oblivion?

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