Environment

To shield tech executives, California’s biggest water users are secret – Katharine Mieszkowski and Lance Williams

April 24, 2015 // 0 Comments

In the midst of a historic drought, Californians have no way of knowing who’s guzzling the most water. That’s not an accident. It’s by design, thanks to an obscure 1997 measure that weakened one of the state’s chief open government laws, the California Public Records Act. For the source of this legislation, look no further than Silicon Valley, where the city of Palo Alto decided it needed to do more to protect the privacy of the tech elite. “Palo Alto, even then, was home to a number of very high-profile tech-­related residents,” said Ariel Calonne, who was the city attorney at the time. “We had fairly extensive databases that covered a lot of sensitive information for a lot of noteworthy people, and that became a concern for our utility managers.” In the name of privacy and security, the city of Palo Alto backed legislation sponsored by Byron Sher, the local state senator. It allowed utilities to keep secret their customers’ “utility usage data” – that is, how much water and power they were using. Read

Our Own Health or Our Ecosystem? – J. Morris Hicks

April 23, 2015 // 0 Comments

My guess is that most people would answer that “our own health” is most important. Not because they’re selfish or uncaring about the environment, but because they probably don’t know what’s at stake should our ecosystem no longer be able to sustain us. And they don’t know the most powerful action we can take to promote ecological health. My answer to the title question is that NOTHING is more important than the sustainability of our ecosystem. That’s because without a healthy ecosystem, our civilization will collapse, making life a hell on Earth for those few of us who survive. And, when that happens, what good is being healthyif we don’t have enough food, water, shelter and clean air? As for environmental health, most people think it’s a matter of recycling, taking shorter showers, driving electric cars, installing solar panels, etc. All good things to be sure, but only a drop in the bucket when it comes to preserving our ecosystem’s ability to sustain us. Read

Ocean currents impact methane consumption

April 23, 2015 // 0 Comments

Large amounts of methane – whether as free gas or as solid gas hydrates – can be found in the sea floor along the ocean shores. When the hydrates dissolve or when the gas finds pathways in the sea floor to ascend, the methane can be released into the water and rise to the surface. Once emitted into the atmosphere, it acts as a very potent greenhouse gas twenty times stronger than carbon dioxide. Fortunately, marine bacteria exist that consume part of the methane before it reaches the water surface. Geomicrobiologists and oceanographers from Switzerland, Germany, Great Britain and the U.S. were able to show in an interdisciplinary study that ocean currents can have a strong impact on this bacterial methane removal. The international scientific journal Nature Geoscience has published the study. The data was collected during an expedition in the summer of 2012 aboard the research vessel MARIA S. MERIAN. At that time, the international research team was studying the methane seeps off the west coast of the Norwegian Svalbard archipelago. “Already then, we were able to see that the level of activity of the methane consuming bacteria changed drastically over very short time spans, while at the same

In 1970, Environmentalism Was Poised to ‘Bring Us All Together.’ What Happened? – Zoë Carpenter

April 23, 2015 // 0 Comments

Since its founding in 1865, The Nation has been a home for writers instigating, reporting on and arguing about struggles for social and economic justice. We have held fast to our “Nation Ideals”— from racial justice to feminism, from a fair economy to civil liberties, from environmental sustainability to peace and disarmament—throughout our 150-year history. During our anniversary year, TheNation.com will highlight one Nation Ideal every month or two. We’ll celebrate by asking prominent contemporary Nation voices to read and respond to important pieces from our archive. Below, Zoë Carpenter reflects on two 1970 Nation articles on the emergence of the environmental movement. Learn more about our 150th anniversary events and special contenthere. * * * Louisiana is not a place that usually inspires hope for the environment. Nearly a century of oil and gas activity has cut the state’s swamps and bayous into vanishing ribbons. Hundreds of millions of gallons of oil have been spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. Underground caverns hollowed out by petrochemical companies are collapsing and creating sinkholes, some swallowing entire communities. Industry has fouled state politics, too, such that elected leaders reward corporations with $1.8 billion a year in subsidies and tax breaks, while starving healthcare, education, and other public services. Several months ago I

Dana Durnford’s Post-Fukushima Odyssey: Documenting Ecocide on Canada’s West Coast – Robert Snefjella

April 23, 2015 // 0 Comments

Homer’s Odyssey is a fable 3000 years old, first recited when civilization was of middling age, that is, well – or not so well – underway, neither young nor terminal. As Homer put it, via W.H. D. Rouse’s translation, “This is the story of a man, one who was never at a loss.” And “he endured many troubles and hardships in his struggle to save his own life and to bring his men back safe to their homes. He did his best, but he could not save his companions. For they perished by their own madness….” Resourceful was much challenged Odysseus, on his long journey, told in Homer’s plain language. In the 20th century, Thor Heyerdahl sailed the oceans in archaic sea craft, some of which were so ancient in design as to predate Homer by many years. Heyerdahl’s adventurous voyages were, among other things, attempts to reveal aspects of the will o’ the wisp of the time when civilization was young. Indeed Heyerdahl gave the subtitle ‘In Search Of Our Beginnings’ to his book The Tigris Expedition. Resourceful was Heyerdahl. Heyerdahl built vessels based on thousands-years-old drawings of Sumerian and Egyptian reed/papyrus ships. He found them – despite his

Study links swarm of quakes in Texas to natural gas drilling – Seth Borenstein

April 22, 2015 // 0 Comments

With real-time monitors, scientists have linked a swarm of small earthquakes west of Fort Worth, Texas, to nearby natural gas wells and wastewater injection. In 84 days from November 2013 to January 2014, the area around Azle, Texas, shook with 27 magnitude 2 or greater earthquakes, while scientists at Southern Methodist University and the U.S. Geological Survey monitored the shaking. It’s an area that had no recorded quakes for 150 years on faults that “have been inactive for hundreds of millions of years,” said SMU geophysicist Matthew Hornbach. When the volume of injections decreased significantly, so did the shaking. The scientists concluded that removing saltwater from the wells in the gas production process and then injecting that wastewater back underground “represent the most likely cause” for the swarm of quakes, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications. The scientists determined this based on where and when the earthquakes happened; computer models that track pressure changes; and company data from nearby wells. Hornbach said the timing and location of the quakes correlates better to the drilling and injection than any other possible reason. Read

Glyphosate Is Spreading Like A Cancer Across The U.S. – Mary Ellen Kustin

April 22, 2015 // 0 Comments

American growers sprayed 280 million pounds of glyphosate on their crops in 2012, according to U.S. Geological Survey data. That amounts to nearly a pound of glyphosate for every person in the country. The use of glyphosate on farmland has skyrocketed since the mid-1990s, when biotech companies introduced genetically engineered crop varieties (often called GMOs) that can withstand being blasted with glyphosate. Since then, agricultural use of the herbicide has increased 16-fold. This image shows the year-to-year change in glyphosate use on American farmland from 1992 to 2012. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup, Monsanto’s widely used weed killer, which according to the World Health Organization is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Public interest groups are asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take into full account in its deliberations this new assessment by the world’s leading authority on public health. Read

Phytoplankton, reducing greenhouse gases or amplifying Arctic warming?

April 22, 2015 // 0 Comments

Phytoplankton, commonly known as plant plankton that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis, are potentially a key driver of Arctic warming under greenhouse warming, a study reveals. Scientists with Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH), Max Planck Institute for Meteorology (MPI-M), and Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology (KIOST), presented on Monday, April 20, in Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) Online, the geophysical impact of phytoplankton that triggers positive feedbacks in the Arctic warming when the warming-induced melting of sea ice stimulates phytoplankton growth. The paper is titled “Amplified Arctic warming by phytoplankton under greenhouse warming.” When the Arctic sea ice melts away due to greenhouse warming, the ocean surface albedo inevitably decreases, reducing the amount of solar energy reflected back from the earth and ultimately resulting in warmer ocean surface. As phytoplankton growth is subject to factors such as temperature, light, and nutrients, the explosive growth of phytoplankton follow when both the warming-induced melting and shortwave radiation penetrating the ocean increase. The new study has confirmed that it is the beginning of the geophysical feedback by which chlorophyll and the related pigments in phytoplankton absorb solar radiation and in turn raise the sea surface temperature

China’s struggle for water security – Giles HEWITT

April 22, 2015 // 0 Comments

Way back in 1999, before he became China’s prime minister, Wen Jiabao warned that water scarcity posed one of the greatest threats to the “survival of the nation”. Sixteen years later, that threat looms ever larger, casting a forbidding shadow over China’s energy and food security and demanding urgent solutions with significant regional, and even global, consequences. The mounting pressure on China’s scarce, unequally distributed and often highly polluted water supply was highlighted in a report released at the World Water Forum this week in Daegu, South Korea. Published by the Hong Kong-based NGO, China Water Risk (CWR), it underlined the complexity of the challenge facing China as it seeks to juggle inextricably linked and often competing concerns over water, energy supply and climate change. “There are no one-size-fits-all solutions to China’s water-energy-climate nexus,” the report said. “More importantly, China’s energy choices do not only impact global climate change, but affect water availability for Asia,” it said, warning of the danger of future “water wars” given China’s upstream control over Asia’s mightiest rivers. The Qinghai-Tibetan plateau is essentially the world’s largest water tank and the origin of some of Asia’s most extensive river systems including the Indus, Brahmaputra and Mekong.

Rural Rebellion in Northern California – SHEPHERD BLISS

April 22, 2015 // 0 Comments

Rural folk from four Northern California counties came in mid-April to a magical juncture where the life-giving Russian River empties into the majestic Pacific Ocean. Though the small, unincorporated village of Jenner is a popular recreational destination, pleasure was not the intention. Our mission was to preserve agrarian lifestyles and environments from further colonization by industrial wineries. Large corporate wineries–owned mainly by outside investors–were the main target. Water and California’s worsening drought were discussed. Some reported that wells had gone dry after large wineries dug as much as 1000 feet into the ground to extract precious, limited water for their factories. It takes about 30 gallons of water to make one glass of wine. “Our water is being exported,” reported one person. “Save water, drink wine” bumper stickers appear on cars and as signs outside wine tasting rooms. Given the large amount of water it takes to make wine, this advertisement is not true. From Agriculture to Monoculture Sonoma County currently has 70,000 acres (and growing) of wine grapes and only 12,000 acres of food crops. As grapegrower Bill Shortridge says, “We’ve gone from an agriculture that benefitted all, to a monoculture that benefits a few.” Modifying an old statement,
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