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Monthly Archives: June 2012

Before I start, allow me to get this out of my system:

The horrible fires in Colorado and other western states are the responsibility of the fossil fuel industry. There is no doubt that our warming climate made these fires inevitable and the fossil fuel industry has spent millions of dollars on disinformation and lobbying campaigns designed to prevent our government from taking any meaningful action.

We are devastated by what we are seeing on the news and our prayers go out to those who have lost everything. We hope that America will finally begin to take seriously the consequences of our inaction.

Unfortunately, we can expect more such disasters as time goes on. Welcome to the new normal.

As I said in my last post, Much of the US’s agriculture is in areas which are classically dry. The central valley of California, the Texas panhandle and the Great Plains states just north of it are pretty inhospitable in their natural state. How do we grow all these crops there? Do we pipe in water from elsewhere? Sometimes, but usually there’s an aquifer that can be tapped.

Aquifers are basically big underground lakes and they contain most of Earth’s available fresh water. This is why people dig wells. There’s a lot of water sloshing around under ground. Some aquifers are larger than several states and contain millions of cubic feet of water. in fact, the aquifer under the Texas panhandle and the seven states north of it is arguably the worlds largest: the Ogallala aquifer. It covers more thanĀ  174,000 square miles of ground under parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, South Dakota and New Mexico. 27 % of the irrigated land in the US is over this aquifer and it provides more than 80 % of the drinking water for people living within its boundaries.

There are two kinds of aquifers. Rechargeable and Paleo. The rechargeable aquifers are exactly as their names suggest; rechargeable. When we draw water out, new water seeps in to fill the void. The water that seeps in has filtered its way down through soil and rocks and has been conveniently cleaned and purified by soil microbes, trees, rock formations, etc. This is a really neat process and it helps keep the life running around above the soil (us and other critters) healthy and happy.

The other type of aquifer is the Paleo aquifer. Otherwise known as Fossil Aquifers. They are also as their name suggests: ancient. The difference with these is that they don’t recharge. They are filled with water that’s been trapped and removed from Earth’s water cycle for thousands if not millions of years by geological processes. Basically, Mother Nature covered the swimming pool and forgot where she put it.

As I said; two types of aquifers. Rechargeable and not rechargeable. They both however, have the same weaknesses: depletion and pollution.

In the case of the Paleo or Fossil Aquifers, they can be pumped dry and once they’re gone, they’re gone. Period. No matter how big they are–and they can be the size of a small country–they can be emptied.

In the case of the rechargeable aquifer, they can also be pumped dry by using more water than the aquifer can recharge in a reasonable amount of time. Sure, it’ll recharge, but it could take centuries.

Up until we invented motor driven pumps, it was pretty much impossible for us to empty an aquifer regardless of how we were using it. Now, we have pumps that can move thousands of gallons per minute and we’re using them all over the world.

And all over the world, water tables are falling. Fast. India, China, Pakistan, the US. Everywhere. And it’s causing quiet a bit of alarm, though not a lot of it is making its way into the news you read every day.

For example: ever wonder why China has such a hard time leaving Tibet alone? Water. Asia’s seven largest rivers originate on the Tibetan Plateau. China needs the water because they are over-pumping their aquifers and polluting their lakes and rivers in a way that is truly unforgivable. Unfortunately, all the other countries the rivers pass through need the water as well.

What’s a country to do? Pick a fight and start a big, messy, wasteful war? Maybe, but that still might not get you the water.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that certain large, multinational corporations have been watching this trend toward fresh water scarcity for a long time. Decades in some cases. In some cases the very companies that are using up and polluting the groundwater are the ones looking to cash in on the short supply. Hey, it’s the new oil.

It’s also the perfect product. No one can live more than a few days without it, and it falls out of the sky (in some places, anyway). Side step the regulations for ensuring its purity (bottled water isn’t regulated the way your tap water is) and it’s nearly free to produce. Just fill up the bottles with whatever you have, convince the public that what comes our of their faucets is filthy and it’ll sell like hotcakes.

17 year old Brittany Trilford of NZ addressed world leaders at the Rio20 Earth Summit today and asked them if they were going to ensure her future and the future of her unborn children and grandchildren.

By proxy, she was asking for your children and grandchildren as well as mine.

If she asked each of us her questions, how would we answer? Hopefully, we could say that we are at least trying.

I wonder how the world leaders she addressed will respond? Will they consider the approaching precipice and act or shrug it off and go back to arguing for their rights to continue polluting? If they do, this is what they will leave as a legacy:

An issue of water

Scientists tell us that adding energy (in the form of heat) to any large, dynamic system (like the atmosphere) eventually causes it to become unstable. It will tend to swing back and forth between extremes as it struggles to find equilibrium, or a point of balance. In the case of our atmosphere, those extremes will be hot and cold, wet and dry. These are the first signs of chaotic behavior. For example, the winters of 2009 and 2010, were brutally cold with a lot of snow. Winter of 2011? Strangely warm and strangely dry except for a freak October snow storm.

Now, if nothing else changed, the atmosphere would eventually find an area of equilibrium, a new range of normal behaviors. The trouble is, everything keeps changing. We’re pumping millions of tons of heat trapping gases into the atmosphere every day. We’re making it worse, driving it farther and farther away from any equilibrium and into dangerous chaos.

What will be the effect of that?

According to scientists, overall rainfall will increase because more and more of the water in and on the ground will evaporate as the climate gets hotter and hotter. A good case in point is the cyclone approaching Taiwan as I write this. It’s expected to dump up to 1500mm of rain.

Yes, you read that correctly. 1500mm. That’s 59 inches of rain. Almost 5 feet! That 5 feet will fall over about 48 hours.

That’s biblical. Tie that to what recently happened in Pensacola, Florida and Nashville in 2010, and you start to see a pattern. A lot of water is falling out of the sky. Way too much. Rain like that washes away everything. Homes, farms, crops, livestock, highways. Name it. Gone. It causes sewers to back up and spreads disease. We can’t drink it or use it. Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.

But the problem of water and climate isn’t simply too much rain. It cuts both ways. The other edge of the blade is drought.

While its true that more water will be falling out of the sky during these extreme precipitation events, where it falls–and where it doesn’t–will be the problem. As the amount of water in the atmosphere increases, the distribution of rainfall changes, but in a weird way. Instead of moving the rain around, Areas that are wet will get more rain and areas that are dry will get even less. So, the northeast of the US will get a lot wetter and the west, south and southwest of the US will be getting a lot hotter and a lot drier.

Now comes the irony. Much of the US’s agriculture in the west, south and southwest is in areas that are classically dry. The central valley of California, the Texas panhandle and the Great Plains states just north of it.

Before you shrug off those areas (assuming you don’t live there), be reminded that a great deal of the country’s produce comes from those very areas. Most of those areas are desert reclaimed by irrigation. Many of our other vital crops are grown in the south of the eastern third of the country.

The northeast, where the rain will be falling, doesn’t have anywhere near the agricultural capacity the south and west have. It’s too built up now.

So, in one sense (excluding sea level rise) climate change is an issue of water. It is energizing the earth’s hydrological cycle. Speeding it up. Making it more intense.

Water is the key to life and the blade that can end it. We can’t live without it. In fact, life as we know it cannot exist without it. Whenever we ponder whether another world might also be a home to life, the first question NASA asks is always: is there liquid water? Aside from some sort of a breathable atmosphere, water is the vital ingredient. It’s in everything. It’s part of every cell, every plant, every natural process, every living being on Earth. Without it, a human has about four days to live.

And we take it for granted that we control it at our faucets.

The trouble is, one day there won’t be enough on or in the ground to go around. In many parts of the world, the situation is already dire. Do we really think we will be spared? There are already ongoing fights over water in this country. I’ll get to those in later posts.

So, the question is: how much would you pay for clean water? There are those who really want to know.

For all you dads out there:

They’re going to need it.

Scientists are saying that environmental collapse is now a serious and credible threat.

How do we shield our children and grandchildren from that?!

When considering what to do about the mess we’re in, we need to realize that while we can each do many things in our own lives, these things are only a smallĀ  part of the solution. Sure, there are lots of us and if we each do something or a few things , these things will add up according to the sheer weight of humanity in this country and on this planet, but the real problems are the companies who are fighting change and our government which lets them run rampant.

These industries are responsible for the overwhelming majority of greenhouse gases destroying our atmosphere. Fossil fuel, commercial air flight, shipping and power generation are the really huge sources of greenhouse gases, and those industries have a lot of really well-heeled lobbyists on Capitol Hill where there are plenty of congress critters who are willing to take their money at our expense.

Let the implications of that bit sink in: “. . . take their money at our expense.”

They don’t work for us anymore. They haven’t worked for us for a very long time. They work for huge companies who buy their compliance and votes. They do what these companies want them to do at our expense, at the expense of our children and at the expense of our grandchildren, ad infinitum.

What these companies don’t want is any form of regulation that will cost them money. They claim it will hurt their profits and cause them to limit jobs and hiring. They make a lot of claims, but zero in on that word; profits. These regulations, which would help toward leaving a sustainable future for our descendants, would not put these companies in the red. They wouldn’t cause these companies to lose money nor endanger their success, nor threaten their existence. They would hurt their profits.

I don’t know about you, but when I hear about the billions of dollars in profits some of these companies report every quarter, it’s pretty difficult for me to be compassionate about their fears. Especially, when I take into account how little tax they’re paying and how we are subsidizing them.

BP and the Gulf of Mexico come to mind. It’s largely fallen out of the news cycle, but a little digging will turn up some ugly truths. The sea floor around the well is compromised and leaking oil because of the way BP tried to seal it. Tons of fish and shrimp are rejected for sale each week due to deformities, tumors and toxicity and the fishermen cannot recoup the money they spent to bring in the tainted catch. Tourism for the area is largely destroyed and BP . . . ?

. . . looking at drilling in the arctic with a Russian oil company. Gulf of Where?

They will probably be fined. They will probably settle with the locals for an undisclosed sum and they wont admit any wrongdoing. No, it won’t even approach the cost of the damage they caused.

How many times have we seen this? How long will we go along with it just because the news tells us that this is the way it is?

If someone from one of these companies pointed a gun at our children’s heads, we’d damn sure step in front of it.

Isn’t that exactly what they are doing by destroying the climate, the land, the sea, the food chain?

Suicide by Profit
it’s all about the money
our future has been mortgaged
against our present gluttony.
Madness grips our leaders
and delusion hems them in
locked in lust for profit
they doom us with their sin
Our climate is unstable
and it fills us all with fear
they insist it’s just a fable
as they close their fiscal year.

from Suicide by Profit, lyrics MADurstewitz/Christine Hull. Music by Mario Renes. Performed by Madmen and Dreamers.

For all intents and purposes, that’s what we’re doing: profit at any cost.

We see a lot of things around us that inform our choice of stories. The Children of Children was brought about by watching those around us with children of divorce and seeing those events echo through their lives. We thought that by writing about it we could make people think before they act, before they speak harsh words, before they yanked the rug of home and security out from under their kids. The story we are working on now is no less informed and important.

We’re concerned parents as well as writers and musicians. We have children. Grown children. There are even a couple of grand kids in the mix. We are not happy that we’re leaving them a world rapidly spinning out of control because we are so blinded by the acquisition of wealth that we won’t see the consequences of endless growth.

When we were kids, we knew nothing of climate change. We went to school, played outside, swam, rode our bikes and our sleds and even ice-skated on the local lakes, ponds and rivers. Yes, in those days even the rivers froze, and no, it wasn’t that long ago.

It started to change for us, here in New Jersey, in the 70s. Although the winters were still pretty cold, they were losing their bite. On the day my daughter came home from the hospital in 1977, it was nearly 80 degrees. She was born a few days earlier, on December 2nd. Things had already begun swinging back and forth.

We still didn’t know anything was up with the climate. That realization came slowly as more and more events we grew up with became rare.

In the 60s, 70s and even on and off in the early 80s it was possible to see a motorcycle race on Greenwood Lake in New York State in the winter. Hell, they used to race cars on it now and again! In Pompton Lakes, where i grew up, no one raced cars or motorcycles on the lake. Someone did drive a car on it once, though. The cops took a dim view of it. I can still remember being in a middle school class and watching this guy slide his car around on the ice. It brought the entire class to a stop. Even the teacher watched his long, sliding turns and donuts. We got back to work when the cops showed up. Never knew who was driving the car.

I can’t remember the last time I heard of anyone even skating on that lake, let alone driving anything on it. I remember skating on it. I’d lace my skates up and start at the upper end and go all the way to the edge of the falls and back again. Far away from the dozens of kids playing hockey at various places on the thick, black ice. At night, we built bonfires on the ice to stay warm and it never crossed our minds that the ice might not stand up to it. On the contrary; we listened to it groan and buckle as it continued to freeze in the cold night air, heaving itself up in fissures and shoving itself up onto the shore.

When you’re a kid, you don’t have decades of observations as a frame of reference. You exist pretty much in the moment. You remember discrete events from previous years, but not necessarily trends. That’s what parents and grandparents are for: the long term picture. Middle age is the greatest achievement of human evolution in that we can pass this long term picture to our progeny and help ensure their survival. That’s what we’re doing with this blog and our stories.

Things have changed dramatically since I was a kid. I can remember -10 or -15F below zero on many February mornings, and yes I had to walk to school. It wasn’t uphill both ways, but it was cold. I remember one Sunday morning while I was in college and pumping gas for extra money. When I got up at 5am to open the gas station, it was -15. My 1968 beetle wouldn’t start because it was too cold to crank the 30 weight oil in the engine. It made a few pitiful sounds before giving up, the battery so drained that the dash lights wouldn’t even work. I pushed it out if the driveway and walked to work, the snow squeaking painfully under every step. When I got there, the pumps wouldn’t work. They eventually started working after the sun rose and warmed them up a little.

Except for the odd winter blast, it hasn’t been that cold around here for a long time. In those days, it was normal. Now, it would be headline news.

Humidity has changed dramatically as well. It used to be humid during part of the summer, but it’s past ridiculous now. Go to NOAA. org and look it up. 70, 80, 90% humidity every night, regardless of the time of year. That never happened when I was a kid. Maybe a couple of weeks during the dog days of summer, but nothing like this.

Precipitation has changed as well. The rain and snow don’t behave they way they used to. I can remember “normal” rainstorms dropping maybe an inch of rain over a whole day and the problems that caused in Pompton Lakes. I can remember the epic 1984 flood which was the result of 5 inches of rain falling over two days on frozen ground. No one had ever seen anything like it. The entire area was shut down. People were stranded. A house exploded. It was a huge mess and it forced the Army Corps of Engineers to finish a tunnel project that would divert much of the water away from people’s homes.

Now, we get 5 inches of rain from a single thunderstorm (thank God for that tunnel) and it’s happening everywhere. In 2010, Nashville got slammed by a staggering 20 inches of rain in two days. It wasn’t a tropical storm or a hurricane. It was just an unusually energetic line of thunderstorms. Pensacola, Florida just got hit by 21 inches of rain in one day.

We weren’t told anything by the media. Scientists had noticed the trend to be sure, and they were concerned about it, but it didn’t get any play. We still drove our muscle cars and blasted our dirt bikes through the woods and had bonfires and large houses with sooty oil furnaces and cranking air conditioning.

Now, we are in the midst of our climate awakening, our inevitable loss of innocence, and the piper is heading straight at us. We cannot undo the past. What can we do to ensure some reasonable future for our heirs? What should we do? What are we willing to do? Our biology and psychology drives us to protect and nurture our children and grandchildren as our species’ and personal avenue to physical immortality. In the face of a threat, we kick into high gear, stepping in front of any adversary to shield our children of harm. We would step in front of a bus for our children. Why aren’t we doing that right now?

The situation is not without hope. God knows humanity has faced serious existential risks in the past, but we need to wake up and smell the coffee and do something. Each and every one of us. The Internet has opened doors to information and our elected officials impossible to find 30 years ago. There are groups trying to affect change through peaceful, non-violent protest and legislative action. There are ways to reduce your personal pollution footprint. There are countless ways we can each reduce the risks of the penalties facing us.

The question is: what are we willing to do?