Could climate change herald mass migration? ......to Cleveland???

Submitted by Charles Frost on Mon, 07/23/2007 - 10:09.

Could climate change herald mass migration?

 

"Sticking a straw in the Great Lakes is not a solution to Phoenix's water problems."
Robert Shibley, State University of New York at Buffalo.

Concerns raised as the U. S. Southwest grapples with historic drought, water supply depletion and the creeping sense that things can only get worse

Jul 22, 2007 04:30 AM
Murray Whyte
Staff Reporter
The state of Arizona has more than 300 golf courses, a booming economy, endless sunshine and, at last count, at least five Saks Fifth Avenue department stores — in short, nearly everything the well-heeled sybarite would need.

There’s just one thing missing: rain.

For the past month, not a drop has fallen in Maricopa County, home to greater Phoenix, the state’s economic engine and fastest-growing hub. Over that period, temperatures have hovered five to seven degrees above the 30-year average, at one point holding steady at over 43C for 10 straight days, while hundreds of brush fires burned statewide.
"And they're still building billion-dollar houses, right in the middle of the desert," says Paul Oyashi, incredulous. "It doesn't seem rational, does it?"
In a word, no. Rational, some would say, would be a mass migration from the drought-ravaged American southwest, where Southern California just experienced its driest 12-month period in recorded history, to more verdant climes.
One such place? Cleveland, the battered hub of Cuyahoga County, where Oyashi sits as director of the department of development. "We don't have earthquakes, we don't have brush fires, we've got all the fresh water you could ever want," Oyashi says. "That's logic. But the problem is, it flies in the face of reality."
LOGIC HAS NEVER been the lone – or even dominant – factor in human behaviour. And in Cleveland, much like all the depressed cities of the Great Lakes rust belt, the reality is this: over the past four decades, the population has bled away to less than half, as it has in Buffalo and Detroit.
And the loss continues. Last year, Cuyahoga was sixth among American counties in population loss, trailing only the four counties in the New Orleans area decimated by Hurricane Katrina as well as Wayne County, home to Detroit.
A foreclosure crisis on defaulted mortgages in Cleveland, mirrored all along the rust belt, left about 10,000 of the city's 80,000 homes vacant. "Jaywalking is far too easy in downtown these days," Oyashi says gruffly.
At first glance, the crises of the rust belt and the Southwest would seem unrelated. They are, in fact, inexorably linked. Each has what the other does not. In Phoenix, tremendous affluence; in Cleveland, and in Detroit, Toledo, Youngstown, Buffalo, Rochester, Thunder Bay and Sault Ste. Marie, abundant, near-endless water – in the Great Lakes alone, as much as 25 per cent of the world's supply.
And as the Southwest and parts of the Southeast grapple with historic drought, water supply depletion – earlier this year, Lake Okeechobee in Florida, a primary water source for the Everglades, caught fire – and the creeping sense that, with climate change, things can only get worse, a new reality is dawning: that logic, finally, will have a larger role to play in human migratory dynamics, continent-wide. With it come not just doomsday scenarios, but for certain urban centres left for dead in the post-industrial quagmire, a chance at new life.
"Sticking a straw in the Great Lakes is not a solution to Phoenix's water problems," says Robert Shibley, director of the Urban Design Project at the State University of New York at Buffalo. "Maybe it's time to really think about what constitutes need and stop spending money to build carrying capacity in places that don't have it by nature, and start investing in places that do."
Shibley has long been a champion of Buffalo's dormant potential – a potential reduced by half or more through the latter part of the 20th century, as the population fell below 300,000 from a historic high of more than 700,000.
He suggests that in the Great Lakes basin, where less than half a per cent of the world's population sits within easy reach of a quarter of the planet's fresh water, the opportunity for harmony exists. In a perfect world governed by reason, Shibley says, the only robust economic centre in the region would serve as its heart. And that would be Toronto.
That's an issue for international bureaucrats to solve. But the reality is this: according to the U.S. government, the population of the United States is expected to reach 450 million by 2050 – an increase of almost 50 per cent. The predicted pattern of settlement for these new citizens will take them to the seven most built-out regions of the country – Arizona, Texas, Florida and California among them.
"You're going to have 150 million people living in at least seven of the major regions that don't have water, don't have carrying capacity, can't feed themselves," Shibley says. "It's an ecological disaster waiting to happen. So there's a good reason to think that people should come back to the Northeast, where we have the carrying capacity, and have the water."
Some have already taken notice. Last year, The Economist ranked Cleveland the most liveable city in America (26th in the world) based on five categories: stability, health care, culture and environment, education and infrastructure. Among the booming cities of the Southwest, only Los Angeles and Houston cracked the top 50. Phoenix didn't make the list, falling behind Nairobi, Algiers and Phnomh Penh among the world's top 126 urban centres.
Water is a factor. It is already a significant issue in the major regions Shibley mentions which, not coincidentally, depend on the same diminishing source for much of their hydration.
In 1922, seven states – many of them, like Nevada, Arizona, Texas and California, desperately arid – signed the Colorado River Compact, which divvied up the mighty waterway's seemingly abundant flow.
But recent observation of the river is alarming. Only two per cent of the river's water makes it beyond the U.S. border, where large Mexican cities dependent on its bounty are left with a trickle – much less than they need. With climate change, river flow has been dwindling, due, among other things, to decreasing snowfall and less consequent spring runoff, which forms a significant part of the Colorado River basin's lifeblood.
The river is the main water source for more than 30 million people stretching from Colorado in the north all the way down to the U.S.-Mexico border. By the end of the century, inflow to the river (which includes runoff and tributaries) is expected to drop by as much as 40 per cent.
At the same time, climate change projections show temperatures in the most parched regions of the Southwest increasing between five and seven degrees. That would make Phoenix's hottest days well over 54C.
In Arizona, though, these warnings seem to fall on deaf ears. "The Greater Phoenix region continues to bust at the seams," says Christopher Scott, a research professor of water resource policy at the University of Arizona in Tucson. "People look at this and think, `This can't go on, can it?'"
But it does, and faster than anywhere else in America. From 1990 to 2005, the population of Greater Phoenix grew 47.7 per cent. In Scottsdale, a posh, affluent corner of Greater Phoenix that, despite the lack of moisture, has more golf courses per capita than anywhere else in America, growth was 72.1 per cent over the same period.
Altogether, Greater Phoenix will likely crest at 4 million people some time this year, making it the fourth-largest metropolitan area in America. By mid-century, some estimates suggest it will reach 10 million, leaving Phoenix and Tucson fused in the desert. "We'll basically be one massive urban corridor," Scott says.
Phoenix receives water from the Colorado through canals hundreds of kilometres long, pumped through parched landscapes and small communities along the way that take their fill. It is, essentially, a city that shouldn't be there, so distant is the water supply.
Scott, who has studied water supply issues from India to Mexico to West Africa, has seen no end to water-appropriation schemes in development-crazy Arizona. "Piping in sea water from the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, desalinating it, and then piping the salty brine back into the ocean – that's the kind of hare-brained notion I've heard here," he says. "Do I consider these things tenable? Not at all. But these are proposals people are talking about seriously, in public, and they're getting a lot more play."
Scott worries that technology may well make such things possible, but at a destructive energy cost that simply exacerbates the problem. "We're already starting to ask questions about the larger issues associated with pumping in all that water along those canals – the energy costs, and the carbon impact associated with it," he says. "They may solve the water issue short-term, but they pull the sustainability rug out from under you in the process."
The long-term solution, of course, is to relocate people where they can comfortably exist. (Oyashi certainly knows a place where you can get a decent house on the cheap.) In a free society, of course, forced migration isn't really an option.
But as the sustainability crisis worsens, "usually economic forces will do it for you," says Robert McLeman, a professor of geography at the University of Ottawa. "When cities have to build new infrastructure and to jack up taxes to cope, when the cost of running a household becomes prohibitive, people will move."
McLeman has long studied the impact climate has on migration all over the world. As climate change continues apace, the numbers of potential environmental refugees from such countries as Bangladesh, India and Pakistan are staggering – as many as 50 million in the next five years, according to a U.N. report.
In the U.S., says McLeman, the stresses of climate change will be most keenly felt in the "dry belt" states of the Southwest. Given that many sun belt residents fled the rust belt for warmer climes in the first place, a backtracking isn't out of the question in the climate-changed world.
"Once the heat becomes unbearable, they may find the freezing cold a little more bearable–especially if it's not quite so freezing cold as they remember."
It won't happen without help. In Buffalo, Shibley speaks of a federal urban sustainabilty plan that funnels federal money to the Great Lakes region to help draw population back. It's been more than 30 years since the U.S. had a comprehensive national urban plan. Looming ecological crises in burgeoning urban centers more than justify a revival. "Cities don't grow by topsy, it's not a thing of nature – it's a function of public policy," he says.
But a significant piece is missing, McLeman warns. "These cities will have milder climates, be easier to live in, and cheaper," he says, "but ultimately, they'll have to have the jobs to go with them."
Oyashi is painfully familiar with the concept. Cleveland may have a surfeit of cheap, liveable housing and an abundance of fresh water, but its problems are legion. Abandoned industrial sites litter the area, too big or too expensive to put to other purposes. Small victories pale in the face of greater challenges, like trying to convince Ford not to close two of its three plants in the region. "We've got some dinosaurs walking around here," he says.
But those problems, endemic rust-belt-wide, are just the most visible. High crime rates, languishing schools and spiralling urban poverty plague Cleveland, too. Phoenix, for all its money, can't make it rain any more than Cleveland, with all its water, can print the money it needs.
The difference, Oyashi says, is that the Great Lakes are a viable place to live long term. "The problem is," he says, "that doesn't do anybody any good now."
He lays the responsibility at the federal government's door. "It's not like we have a policy that says, `You know, we should have a national policy that provides incentive for people to live in ecologically sustainable areas,'" he says. "What we have here is `Go wherever you want, do whatever you want, and the government will follow with its chequebook.' You get this haphazard checkerboard of winners and losers, rather than directed development in the regions that can sustain it. It's crisis management."
But the coming crisis, Shibley warns, could well become something no chequebook could manage.

"We're so focused on the cost of keeping large populations in the Southwest," he says, "that we haven't considered anywhere near enough the cost of leaving them out there long term. All of this is going to come home to roost, and as a society, we're going to have to figure out lower-impact ways of delivering quality of life. We can do that right here, right now."

AT WATER'S EDGE
Population and housing prices for some Great Lakes cities:
Toronto

  • 1961 — City: 672,407; Metro Toronto: 1,576,000
  • 2006 — City: 2,503,281; CMA: 5,113,149
  • Average house price: $382,787 (2007)


Detroit

  • 1960 — City: 1,670,144
  • 2006 — City: 871,121; Detroit/Warren/Livonia: 4,488,335
  • Median house price: $160,000 (U.S.) (2005)


Toledo

  • 1960 — City: 318,003
  • 2006 — City: 298,446; Greater metropolitan area: 656,696
  • Median house price: $124,000 (U.S.) (2005)


Cleveland

  • 1960 — City: 876,050
  • 2006 — City: 444,313; Greater metropolitan area: 2,114,155
  • Median house price: $153,000 (U.S.) (2005)


Buffalo

  • 1960 — City: 532,759
  • 2006 — City: 276,059; Greater Buffalo/Niagara Falls: 1,147,711
  • Median house price: $95,000 (U.S.) (2005)

Rochester

  • 1960 — City: 318,611
  • 2006 — City: 208,123; Greater metropolitan area: 1,039,028
  • Median house price: $120,000 (U.S.) (2005)

*Post-amalgamation, equals former area of Metro Toronto.

Compiled by Astrid Lange and Peggy Mackenzie / Toronto Star Library

SOURCES: Statistics Canada, Toronto Real Estate Board, U.S. Census, Money.CNN.com

 

 

From The Toronto Star at: http://www.thestar.com/sciencetech/Environment/article/238555

It's sad that golf courses

It's sad that golf courses take priority over drinking and farming water.

The government really does need to put its foot down and say "Sure, you can live where you want but, the more sustainable place you pick, the more we will help. We will not throw our money away on your indulgences."
________________________
Derek Arnold

Water Crisis Scenarios For The US Southeast

Water Crisis Scenarios For The US Southeast

by John Laumer, Philadelphia on 10.16.07

rainfall%20potential.jpg

The water shortages in the US Southeast are serious now, as Lloyd's post of this morning well points out. Before you go read the New York Times, we suggest you do a little scenario thinking with us.

Here are two equally plausible scenarios for the next year. I named them to make for easy conversation. More scenarios are possible; but lets start with two. Which one do you think most resembles the future direction the Southeast is headed?

Springtime In Dixie
Real rain comes back in the winter and spring of 2008 - at least enough to pull back from the edge of a regional crisis - and life returns to "normal." More big houses get built. The landscape service trucks again block intersections every morning as usual. Power plant expansion plans go back in play. The cries of environmentalists for more water conservation measures fade into the din of traffic shuttling to and from the distant suburbs. Climate change is maybe not so real a threat after all.

Vote For Rain
Because of the return of some rain in the coming winter and spring, a full scale crisis is averted even though the long term trend of drought remains. Vote for Rain is a stalemate between rural and urban life: in late summer of 2008, city folks are getting by; but agriculture, forest product, and water dependent energy sectors are on the verge of collapse. Economic interdependencies of urban and rural life are spoken of in passing.

By the 2008 election season, government is seen as the solution. There are ballot measures to force closure of water intensive industries. Other measures mandate changes to individual behaviors: lawn watering, car washing, water blasting decks, driveway washing, types of toilets permitted by zoning, and so on.

Gubernatorial candidates make a host of promises: pipelines from the Great Lakes; water desalination plants; public ownership of previously privatized water systems; bringing in experts from the US West, formation of inter-state water resources management planning councils, and more. There is even talk of economic development zones based on development of water saving technology.

Candidates for Federal office promise "calling in the National Guard" to haul water and the Army Corps of Engineers to "do something."

Yet, by election day in November 2008, little has changed, as these are all long term solutions. Per capita water consumption, on a steady down slide for months has plateaued by end of summer. Real lifestyle changes are barely discussed in the news. There is a sense that things will get better next year.

Vote for Rain does have a good news component. It gets people talking and thinking about climate change. The linkage between per capita energy consumption and per capita water consumption and climate is made. Vote for rain marks a tipping point in public consciousness, then.

Image credit::WX-Man, Accuweather Forecast from 2005

From: http://www.treehugger.com/

Wave of the Future???

Water on the Brain. We’re Learning. Slowly.
by Warren McLaren, Sydney on 01. 2.08
water-tanks-Australia.jpg
Residents of the driest inhabited continent, Australia, have evidently been cottoning onto the fact that water means life and we need to be more thoughtful in our use of this rather precious resource. Since the year 2000, Australians have managed to reduce their water consumption by 14%. In the most populous city, Sydney, they’ve managed to use less water in 2007 than in 1974, even though the metropolis grew by 1.2 million souls in this period.
Across the country nearly 20% of all households have installed water tanks. That would probably be due, in large part, to the various state governments offering generous rebates. In NSW, for example, where 24,000 households have taken up the offer you can get $1,500 AUD back if you install a 7,000 + litre tank and have it plumbed into your toilet and washing machine. (Another 7,100 households have received water efficient washing machine rebates.)
Greywater use has taken off too. The Australian Bureau of Statistics suggest that its now the second most common source of water in Australia, with over half of the country’s homes reusing water from their washing machines, showers and baths. The state of Victoria leads with 70% embracing greywater, and Queensland, coming close behind with 63%.
Victoria needs all the water help it can get. A controversial desalination plant is slated for the east of the state, as well as a $625 million AUD contract being signed for a pipeline to pump water from the agricultural north of the state over the Great Dividing Range to the capital has drawn calls for community-based non-violent protest and even sabotage.
Up in the northern state of Queensland, some of their dams have been below 20% until recent cyclonic weather just nudged them over this threshold. Sydney’s main dam is only at 56% of its potential capacity.
The country’s ongoing drought has seen more than 95% of the length of the Murray-Darling Basin (the two major river systems that supply the nations ‘food basket’ regarded as ‘degraded.’ Supply of water has become such an issue that hydro-electric power output has dropped 7% in a recent 9 year period for the states of NSW, Victoria and Tasmania. Not good for boosting our uptake of renewable energy in these climate changing times.
But at least the message is getting through about making every drop count.
For information on what more can be done, check out ::Savewater!com.au

Water Running Out in Atlanta

2007droughtgraphic.jpg

by Lloyd Alter, Toronto on 10.16.07

It has been called “the Rodney Dangerfield of natural disasters,” because it gets no respect, compared to floods or hurricanes, but every record in Georgia's history has been broken buy the current one. “People pay attention to hurricanes,” [state climatologist] David Stooksbury said. “They pay attention to tornadoes and earthquakes. But a drought will sneak up on you.” Lake Lanier, the main source of water for Atlanta, could be dry in 90 days.

According to the New York Times, Many had hoped that hurricane season, as it has in the past, would bring several soaking storms to the Southeast to replenish reservoirs that are at or near all-time lows. But the longed-for rains never materialized, and now in October, traditionally the driest month, significant rainfall remains out of the picture.

“We’re in a stressful situation now,” Mr. Crisp said, “but come next spring, if we don’t have substantial rainfall this winter, these reservoirs are not going to refill.”

16drought.600.1.jpg

Michael J. Hayes, director of the National Drought Mitigation Center notes: “Here’s the fly in the ointment,The vulnerability in the Southeast has changed. Population shifts, increased competition and demand for water has increased, so that’s made this drought worse than it might have been.” ::New York Times

We note also that the climate skeptics are using the mild hurricane season as a way of attacking those fighting climate change. They miss the point that what we have is climate disruption, and that sometimes not having a hurricane is as unusual and disruptive as having one.

From: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2007/10/water_running_o.php

Wildfires Causing Further Deterioration of Southern California's

southern california fire

by Jeremy Elton Jacquot, Los Angeles on 10.24.07

As if those of us living in Southern California didn't already have enough to worry about with the rampaging wildfires that have engulfed much of the region and prompted the evacuation of over 500,000 people, health officials are now cautioning residents to remain indoors as the already poor air quality continues to deteriorate. The wave of fires has stirred up large plumes of smoke that have been pumping soot particles into the atmosphere - the tiniest of which are responsible for aggravating several debilitating diseases, including emphysema, asthma and heart disease.

As Michael Kleinman, a professor of community and environmental medicine at UC Irvine noted, those particles "can penetrate deeper in the lungs and have harsher health effects," often causing "tissue damage, inflammation and irritation". The health risks of exposure are particularly acute since this is one of the first times so many Southern Californian cities have been blanketed by a combination of smoke and dust kicked up by stronger winds.

While officials sought to tamp down some of the concern by emphasizing that the smell of smoke alone wasn't reason enough to worry, they did point out that those living close to the wildfires or large areas of soot should be careful because of the risk of exposure to carbon monoxide. Those areas were given "unhealthy" or "very unhealthy" air quality readings by the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

Via ::Los Angeles Times: Windblown soot, gas and dust pose threats (newspaper)

See also: ::Green Basics: Indoor Air Pollution, ::NY Teens to Gauge Air Pollution, ::American Lung Association's 2007 Air Quality Report

Scary

  A really scary scenario--not the mass migration--but the reality of poor environmental monitoring and natural disaster prediction and response management.  You don't have to live at or below sea-level to be concerned.  Global warming affects all of us, wherever and whenever.

Land of Plenty takes loss in stride

  [The] reality on the ground was that while the fires burned in the hills, people went to the malls.

So reassuring that our country does not confuse its priorities (as reported in today's PD from a Washington Post story).

Excellent time for discussion on Katrina

As we look forward to strange PD Editor Kevin O'Brien's annual "Global Warming is a hoax" column, and watch parched Cali burn, being only the most shocking of climatic disasters around the world these days... as we live man's ultimate death-wish dream... it is worth considering how much will change in times post-glacial... as we become the NEO-Tropics... knowing millions and millions of people will die in ways not imagined today... and observe what the washed-up establishment around the world will try to preserve of their palaces and why, as they continue re-arranging deck chairs. Malibu, yes. New Orleans, yes. 9th Ward, no.

Next disaster, please.... what will it be?

Disrupt IT

Atlanta: Watching the Trailer For The Bigger Movie

...in that same vein......

by Lloyd Alter, Toronto on 10.23.0723drought-600.jpg
Val Perry of the Lake Lanier Association walking from his dock last week.

Norm, in that same vein......

by Lloyd Alter, Toronto on 10.23.07

In our interview with Ted Nordhaus, he suggested that it is hard getting through to people who "aren't particularly interested in sacrificing their lifestyles and aspirations in the name of the planet." In Atlanta right now, we are seeing the trailer for the movie that we will all be watching, where people won't sacrifice their lifestyles for anything even if disaster is staring them in the face. As noted in earlier posts, they have been going through the worst drought on record over the last year; yet according to the New York Times,

For more than five months, the lake that provides drinking water to almost five million people here has been draining away in a withering drought. Scientists have warned of impending disaster.

 

The response to the worst drought on record in the Southeast has unfolded in ultra-slow motion. All summer, more than a year after the drought began, fountains sprayed and football fields were watered, prisoners got two showers a day and Coca-Cola’s bottling plants chugged along at full strength. On an 81-degree day this month, an outdoor theme park began to manufacture what was intended to be a 1.2-million-gallon mountain of snow.

 

2007droughtg.jpg

By September, with the lake forecast to dip into the dregs of its storage capacity in less than four months, the state imposed a ban on outdoor water use.

Gov. Sonny Perdue of Georgia declared October “Take a Shorter Shower Month.” And Saturday, Mr. Perdue declared a state of emergency for more than half the state and asked for federal assistance, though the state has not yet restricted indoor water use or cut back on major commercial and industrial users, a step that could cause a significant loss of jobs."

The Times notes that officials have no idea how to plan for the anticipated doubling of the population over the next 30 years, or how to control real estate developers.

“It’s been develop first and ask questions later,” said Gil Rogers, a lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center. ::New York Times

From: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2007/10/atlanta_watchin.php

Good riddance, Atlantis

Can't wait to see old new economies based on hydrocarbons crumble... where this world is going, today's Atlanta has about as much value as Atlantis

Disrupt IT

Great Lakes key front in water wars

Western, Southern states covet Midwest resource

While the West burns and the Southeast bakes, there is little to suggest a large-scale, climatological catastrophe playing out any time soon in the Midwest. In fact, farmers in Iowa and Minnesota had trouble last week harvesting their corn and soybean crops because there had been too much rain.

But potentially huge battles over water are looming in the Great Lakes region as cities, towns and states near and far fight for access to the world's largest body of fresh surface water, all of it residing in the five Great Lakes.

Call them water wars, with the Great Lakes states hunkering down to protect what they see as theirs.


New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democratic candidate for president, gave voice to his water lust early this month by suggesting that water from the Great Lakes could be piped to the rapidly growing -- and increasingly dry -- Southwestern states.

"States like Wisconsin are awash in water," Richardson told the Las Vegas Sun.

Richardson soon backed off after swift protests from the Midwest, including a resounding "No" from Michigan's Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

That won't be the end of it. The fires in Southern California, the prolonged drought in the Southeast and the shrinking flow of the Colorado River, which feeds seven Western states, have underscored the importance of water supplies in rapidly developing regions and the determination of a handful of states to hold on to a resource they see as key to their economic future.

With fresh water supplies dwindling in the West and South, the Great Lakes are the natural-resource equivalent of the fat pension fund, and some politicians are eager to raid it. The lakes contain nearly 20 percent of the world's surface fresh water.

"You're going to see increasing pressure to gain access to this [water] supply," said Aaron Packman, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northwestern University. "Clearly it's a case of different regional interests competing for this water."

Eight Great Lakes-area states, from Minnesota to New York, and two Canadian provinces have proposed a regional water compact that would, among other things, strengthen an existing ban on major water diversions outside the Great Lakes Basin, home to 40 million Americans and Canadians. That proposal still has to work its way through several legislatures, and then it must go to Congress, where the political balance of power has been tilting west and south for decades.

Coveting Great Lakes water is not a recent development. In the past two decades, governors have effectively resisted attempts to divert water outside the Great Lakes Basin. For instance, they joined forces with Canada in 1988 to block an effort by then-Illinois Gov. James Thompson to tap into the Great Lakes to help free up drought-stalled barge traffic in the Mississippi River.

Those are the loud fights, conjuring images of enormously expensive pipelines delivering billions of gallons of water daily to distant, parched lands.

But there also are smaller but no less significant frictions among the states trying to protect the water, notably in the Milwaukee suburb of Waukesha, which wants to pipe Lake Michigan water into its community because its drinking water wells show high levels of cancer-causing radium. The Waukesha conflict stems from the city's being outside the vast Great Lakes Basin, which means the Lake Michigan water it would use would not be returned to the lake; it would be lost, draining into the Fox River and ultimately down the Mississippi and into the Gulf of Mexico.

Waukesha is a small but important example of the potential precedent-setting nature of diverting water to a city or state outside the Great Lakes Basin.

"There's a concern that the thirsty in the Great Lakes region will set the precedent locally, even though they may be 5 or 10 miles outside the basin. But 20, 30 or 50 years from now, that precedent could be used to send water to far-flung reaches of the continent," said Peter Annin, author of "The Great Lakes Water Wars."

"If you make the exception at 15 miles, what about 30 or 50 or 500 miles? That's the fear," Annin said.

Chicago River precedent

Of course, a glaring precedent was set a century ago when Chicago reversed the flow of the Chicago River. The Supreme Court repeatedly upheld the legality of the Chicago diversion and, in 1967, opened the door to Chicago suburbs to receive Lake Michigan water, even though those communities are outside the Great Lakes Basin.

But in an age of water wars, Waukesha may be the most visible line drawn in the sand.

Water levels of the Great Lakes are down substantially, and while that may be part of the historic cycle of ups and downs, water managers argue the region must jealously guard what is here. At the same time, more communities are discovering contamination of their drinking-water supplies, which already has increased the pressure to obtain Great Lakes water. A recent report forecast water shortages in northeast Illinois by 2020.

 

"We are the water belt of the nation, and we have a real opportunity to not only do the right thing environmentally but also have a sustainable management policy that makes tremendous economic sense for the region," said Todd Ambs, water division administrator for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

"I wouldn't say we are awash in water, but there's certainly enough [water] to have a strong economic driver," Ambs said, to lure back businesses that left the region.

In Michigan, Granholm fought with Nestle Waters North America over the company's pulling millions of gallons from Lake Michigan for its Ice Mountain bottled-water franchise. The state has negotiated limits on the amount the company can pump.

'We're going to be stealing it'

When he was House majority leader, then-U.S. Rep. Dick Armey (R-Texas) warned a gathering in Michigan that federal control of Great Lakes water would not be in the state's interest.

"We're not going to be buying it. We're going to be stealing it," Armey said in 2000. "You're going to have to protect your Great Lakes."

That's the incentive behind the proposed water compact. David Naftzger, executive director of the Council of Great Lakes Governors, said he is optimistic that the water compact will be adopted by the eight states and approved by Congress.

"It's our water, and there's an interest in ensuring that it is used sustainably," Naftzger said. "If we don't have a good framework in place, we'll start to see shortages and conflict."

Noah Hall, who specializes in environmental and water law at Wayne State University, said there is an urgency to get the compact to Congress before the next census, because the eight states involved could lose 10 to 15 seats in Congress.

Hall said Congress is inclined to approve regional water compacts, but noted there is "no way for the Great Lakes states to prevent the U.S. government from taking the water if the federal government wants to do so."

Northwestern's Packman said the issue that needs to be addressed is "how many people do you want living in those [water-short] areas and how much agriculture do you want to support?"

History suggests that question will be ignored in favor of scrambling for new sources of water.

"It doesn't make economic sense to send Great Lakes water to the High Plains or the Southwest," Annin said, "but we know the thirsty will be calling."

----------

tmjones [at] tribune [dot] com

Man killed in water-rage attack in Australia

Man killed in water-rage attack in
Australia

 

Thu Nov 1, 2007 12:42am EDT

 

SYDNEY (Reuters) - A man has been charged with murder in
Australia after an elderly man who was watering his garden was bashed to death in an apparent case of suburban water-rage.

 


Australia is in its sixth year of severe drought and most towns and cities have imposed strict limits on household water use, prompting a rise in suburban arguments and neighbors informing authorities about those who waste water.

 

In the latest incident, police said 66-year-old Ken Proctor was using a hose to water the front lawn of his suburban
Sydney home when a man walking past made a remark about water waste.

 

Proctor then turned the hose on the passer by, prompting a fight. He was knocked the ground and was punched and kicked. He was treated by ambulance officers, but died later in hospital.

 

Authorities said Proctor was not in breach of water restrictions, as he was using a hand-held hose and was watering his lawn on his allocated day. A 36-year-old man charged with Proctor's murder appeared briefly in a
Sydney court on Thursday. He was denied bail and will remain in jail until his next court appearance on November 15.

 

Most of Australia, apart from parts of the island state of
Tasmania and towns in the tropical north, have banned garden sprinklers, made it illegal to hose down cars and pavements, and allow gardens only to be watered on set days.

 

© Reuters2007All rights reserved

 


From: http://www.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUSSYD21064820071101?feedType=RSS&feedName=worldNews&rpc=22&sp=true

Drought Stricken Atlantans Get Conflicting Advice On Gray Water

by John Laumer, Philadelphia on 11.27.07

 

We've just learned that thirteen US states allow for regulated gray-water re-use; but,
Georgia, suffering from a record drought, does not. Or maybe it does - we're not sure. The coverage of this topic is contradictory. (Even scientists in drought stricken
Australia seem conflicted about the advisability of of gray water re-use.) No wonder folks in
Georgia are resorting to praying for rain.

 

A
University of
Georgia scientist says that bath, shower and laundry water is NOT safe for reuse because it might contain bacteria or other contaminants.

 

As the state's historic drought drags on, people are wondering whether they can safely and legally use ``gray water'' on outdoor plants. While 13 states have laws that allow regulated gray water use,
Georgia does NOT. U-G-A hydrology professor Todd Rasmussen says that toilet and dishwater -- considered ``black water'' -- is unsafe for human contact and should always be discarded.

 

Though gray water is less dangerous than black water, it could still contain traces of fecal matter, blood, or other contaminants. And if a person carries an infectious disease, the water could be dangerous for humans to contact on a lawn.

 

The same guy quoted in an 11ALive Story gets balanced by a little investigative reporting.

 

“Well, grey water certainly has its place in conserving potable water use inside of a household," said Bryan Wagoner of the
Georgia Association of Water Professionals. "And it can be a significant amount of water savings, if it's done properly."

 

An average home can realize huge water savings with a grey water system installed by a licensed plumber.

 

“With proper disinfection and backflow prevention devices," explained the GAWP’s Wagoner. "(It) can save an average household up to 250 gallons a week just by using washing machine and bath water."

 

And you can still use grey water without a professionally installed system.

 

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division said that collecting grey water this way -- from a shower for instance -- is not likely to be harmful because of contamination or bacteria. The people who are collecting it and using it are the same people who are generating it. Your water is not likely to hurt you.

 

According to the
Georgia Association of Water Professionals, there are no documented cases of illness from a properly installed grey water system. Before installing one in your house, be sure to check with your county health department.

 

To be safe, if you are collecting grey water and not using it the same day, put in a few drops of bleach. The bleach will kill the germs, the water will be fine for your plants, and you won't have to toss anything out with the bathwater.

 

So...is it legal in
Georgia? Do the rules get set at the County level? (That seems crazy.) Is gray water reuse safe, if properly managed? We still don't know.

 

Amazing that something this important gets left wide open in the face of a crisis. There must be published epidemiology and best practices descriptions for graywater management. Anyone have a freely down loadable reference or two for us?

 

Via::Access North Georgia, "Scientist cautions against gray water use as drought drags on" Image credit::Beach Cast, Fecal Coliform

From: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2007/11/drought_stricke_1.php

Big Steps in Building: Install Gray Water Recovery Everywhere

Big Steps in Building: Install Gray Water Recovery Everywhere
by Lloyd Alter, Toronto on 11.27.07
John notes in an earlier post that gray water re-use is, well, a gray area. However in fact it has been studied and documented, and is accepted in the IPC, or International Plumbing Code. Most municipalities use this or the Universal Plumbing Code, (UPC) as their standards, and neither is international or universal, but that is an aside. According to Ecospace:
The details: Basically what the IPC is now saying is that water coming from bathtubs, showers, lavatories (read sinks), and clothes washers are no longer required to discharge into the sewer main. This gray water is now considered collectable for the use of flushing toilets, (and subsurface landscape irrigation) if the proper procedure is followed.
In essence, you would be required to have a sensible storage tank (at least 50gal) that won’t leak connected up with appropriate piping. Additionally, they stipulate that the water must be disinfected, be stored no longer than 72 hours, and be died either blue or green with vegetable dye. (code notes here)
So it's not such a big deal; properly installed, nobody is going to be drinking green water from the tap, and it is unlikely kids are going to be playing in gray water sprinklers. Our big step in building: Put a gray water recovery system in every new house and retrofit any house where the owner wishes to have a lawn irrigation system. ::Ecospace via ::After Gutenberg

From: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2007/11/big_steps_in_bu_5.php  (with a diagram)

Drought? What drought? They've got plenty of water

Clayton County creates an oasis
Drought? What drought? They've got plenty of water

By mmatteucci [at] ajc [dot] com
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 11/16/07
Tucked behind the empty car washes and waterless fountains of Clayton County is a place where water gurgles down rocks, and herons lounge in lush wetlands.
It's a place where fishermen don't see dry banks, and residents don't have to worry about dry faucets.
 Clayton County officials say their area is the only one in Metro Atlanta not struggling with severe drought.
"It's raining every day in Clayton County," said Michael Thomas, general manager of the Clayton County Water Authority. "We're putting 10 million gallons of water a day back in."
Drought fears struck Clayton more than 20 years ago, and county officials started to think ahead. The result: an elaborate series of 21 man-made wetlands and reservoirs that allows the county to collect 10 million gallons of wastewater a day and eventually convert it to drinking water.
While Atlanta residents may have less than 80 days left of water from Lake Lanier, Clayton citizens are well beyond 250 days, Thomas said.
"At some point, if it doesn't start raining, we may have trouble, but not any time soon," Thomas said. "Because the treated water is coming in at a constant rate, the wetlands are not affected by the lack of rain."
The county's two reservoirs — which have a capacity of 4.2 billion gallons — are at 78-percent capacity, Thomas said Friday.
"Clayton County never had a lot of water to begin with. Most of the Atlanta area was pulling from Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee, but we got ours from the Flint River and some creeks," Thomas said. "These little creeks would dry up in the summertime, so they built reservoirs as the only way to provide for themselves and start treatment of wastewater."
That forward thinking has not only minimized drought fears, but also led other communities to take notice of the small metro county known more for strip malls than environmental practices.
This week, the Georgia Association of Water Professionals recognized Clayton County as having the best distribution and collection systems in the state.
"Clayton County Water Authority is without question one of the top municipality leaders in our state. They have taken the initiative to aggressively manage their infrastructure, and it's now paying off," said Bryan Wagoner, the association's spokesman.
"With the current 10 percent water reduction mandate from the governor's office, it is even more important for municipalities to follow the example set by CCWA," Wagoner said. "Clayton has an exceptional leak-detection program that has saved literally millions of gallons of water for their customers. Our current drought conditions warrant this type of performance for all municipalities across Georgia."
Clayton maintains its system is a work in progress.
It started in the 1980s, when the county began digging ponds to store wastewater. Clayton purchased a 4,000-acre forest and laid 300 miles of pipeline. The county then installed 20,000 sprinklers throughout the forest. The sprinklers sprayed wastewater, soaking the soil and letting the water flow into two man-made reservoirs — Shamrock and Blalock.
At the time, Clayton was considered one of the nation's leading systems for water technology. But by 2000, that technology could not keep up with growth.
The forest, wedged between Jonesboro and Lovejoy, was running out of room to expand, and the sprinklers were not enough to soak the ground to restore water to the system.
The county replaced the maze of pipes with a 48-inch pipe that runs about 6.6 miles under Freeman Road. It purchased another 400 acres of hilly land and began digging small ponds and planting. Today, cattails, bulrush, water lilies and prickle weeds fill the area.
The water now flows from the wastewater plant to man-made wetlands, a series of 21 vegetation-filled ponds that are strategically placed along the graded preserve.
The water runs its natural course through the wetlands and then enters two man-made reservoirs, where it is collected, chemically treated and sent back to residents' faucets, Thomas said.
The process takes two years.
"The environmental exposure — the plants, soil and bacteria — helps get rid of the yuck factor of drinking wastewater," Thomas said.
Every day, Clayton uses 24 million gallons of water and pumps 10 million gallons back into its system. The county still relies on several hundred sprinklers to irrigate part of that forest. Officials say they will remove all of the sprinklers by 2010 when a fourth phase of the wetland project is complete.
"At that point, we'll have enough capacity to stop irrigating. We'll be able to have a capacity of 24 million gallons a day," Thomas said. "And we'll have more space."
In addition, Thomas said, Clayton will supplement its system with rain and water from the Flint River, which the county rarely does now because of the drought.
Construction of the wetlands has cost Clayton about $15 million in bond money.
The county will spend $10 million on the fourth phase, but that will come from water and sewer fees, which have been increased for next year.
Thomas says those fees are saving taxpayers in the end. The wetlands not only take up less land, they require less work. Since building the wetlands, the water authority has cut its maintenance staff from 13 to 5. Workers previously had to check 20,000 sprinkler heads daily; now, they take an occasional sample and mow grass twice a year.
The wetlands also have reduced the water authority's monthly electric bill by 60 percent. Officials say they will save another $25,000 on monthly electric costs once the fourth wetland phase is finished.
"It's all natural. Nothing is pushing the water, so there's no power," Thomas said. "It all flows from gravity."
Thomas now spends his days now giving tours. He has helped officials from Augusta to Australia — and even Philip Morris Tobacco — model their systems after Clayton.
"Our project is already under way. It is indeed modeled after Clayton County, Ga.," said David Sutton, spokesman for Philip Morris USA. "It's the biggest environmental project of this type in Virginia."
With the drought, the Clayton tours have become more frequent. And every time, the comments are the same.
"Everyone is amazed our reservoirs are full. It doesn't look like Lake Lanier," Thomas said. "It's our little hidden secret."
From: http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/stories/2007/11/16/claywater_1117.html

Where Cleveland Leads, will the suburbs follow?

"Cities move from grey to green systems"

A good article by the GCBL Staff:

"Cities like Cleveland looking for more sustainable—and cheaper— solutions to handling storm water are slowly replacing big, expensive grey with lots of smaller green infrastructure. Green infrastructure refers to best management practices for storm water, such as rain gardens, vegetated swales, permeable pavements, rain barrels, and green roofs that mimic the natural capacity of the landscape to absorb precipitation where it falls. Its benefits include allowing storm water to infiltrate into soil instead of rushing into sewers and streams with a toxic brew of oils or heavy metals."

The rest is over @ Green City Blue Lake. Definitely worth a mouse click… with a nice photo of a NEO rain garden: http://www.gcbl.org/blog/gcbl-staff/cities-move-from-grey-to-green-systems

North Carolina Collectively Cuts Water Consumption By a Third

November 26, 2007,  2:48 pm
By Melissa Lafsky
Last week, the data-aggregating site Swivel (which we’ve discussed before) posted a chart showing the recent and dramatic drop in North Carolina’s water demand. The reduction occurred after Governor Mike Easley, in the face of a state-wide drought, issued a plea to North Carolina residents in mid-October, asking them to cut their water consumption in half by Halloween. He then asked public water systems to record the amount of water used daily in their regions, and compare them to average use for the same periods in August. On November 8, Easley announced the results of the experiment in a press release, which stated that:
…water utilities representing 72 percent of the 6.8 million customers served by public water systems responded to his call to provide information on water use. Early indications, based on an analysis of information from the 25 largest systems in the state, show an average drop in daily water use of nearly 30 percent from the month of August compared to the last week of October.
It’s true that the data may have been skewed somewhat by timing; the demand for water during hot North Carolina summers may automatically drop off as the weather cools and residents close their swimming pools, etc. Still, some regions saw dramatic declines, including Union County, which reported a nearly 48 percent decrease in water use between August and late October. For a state with a population of almost nine million, these results are impressive enough to warrant attention, and could be an indicator of an even more impressive trend: that people are willing, under the right circumstances, to act decisively and make sacrifices on behalf of the public good.

Amid Water Shortage, Australia Looks to the Sea

 

 

SALT FREE
Amid Water Shortage, Australia Looks to the Sea
By PATRICK BARTA
March 11, 2008; Page A1
PERTH, Australia -- As global water shortages loom, this remote city on Australia's parched western coast is giving desalination -- the arduous process of removing salt from sea water -- new clout.
Opened in late 2006, Perth's $360 million desalination plant sucks in roughly 50,000 gallons of the Indian Ocean every minute. It then runs that water through special filters that separate out the salt, yielding some 25,000 gallons of drinkable water -- enough to meet nearly a fifth of Perth's current demand.

 
Patrick Barta
Perth is pushing desalination as a way to feed the city's water needs and keep parks -- including Kings Park, above -- green.

For decades, critics dismissed desalination as a costly boondoggle that burns colossal amounts of energy, including dirty fuels like coal. Technologically complex, it's also far more expensive than tapping other water sources. The few major desalination plants that did make it to fruition went up mainly in the Middle East, which had energy -- and money -- to burn.
Perth's facility squarely tackles both environmental and financial concerns. It gets around the issue of noxious emissions by harnessing power from a wind farm. By relying primarily on renewable energy -- a recent trend in desalination -- the plant releases fewer dangerous greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Upgraded systems remove salt more efficiently than past processes, making operating costs less daunting.
Despite higher water bills for consumers, officials here deem the project so successful that they plan to build a second, $875 million desalination plant. Once online, it will allow Perth to source as much as a third of its water from the ocean and significantly cut its dependence on rain-fed reserves.
Not long ago, "desalination was something you'd do only when you didn't have any other choice," says Jim Gill, chief executive of Water Corp., Perth's state-owned water supplier. Now, "there just aren't that many sources left."

 
 

Perth's plunge into desalination comes at a critical time, when water is emerging as the world's next major natural-resources challenge. Water use, like oil, is surging as economic growth takes off in China, India and elsewhere. According to the International Water Management Institute in Sri Lanka, about a fifth of the world's population, or more than 1.2 billion people, already lives in areas with insufficient supply.
Due to changing rainfall patterns linked to climate change, many places -- including parts of Australia, the American Southwest, India and Western Europe -- are getting as much as 10% less rain than they used to. There's also a global push to expand agriculture, the world's biggest guzzler of water, to meet growing food and alternative energy demand.
As many as 75 major desalination projects are in various stages of development world-wide, including a $300 million facility north of San Diego. Although large-scale desalination is still unpopular in the U.S., local officials and private investors are pressing to build plants in other states such as Texas and Massachusetts.
Several Australian cities are adding massive desalination plants. The largest, near Melbourne, carries a price tag of more than $2.5 billion. Similar facilities are envisioned in Spain and India. And London is planning a $400 million plant along the River Thames.
Combined Impact
Environmentalists worry that the combined impact of these plants will be devastating, especially if they run on power generated by cheap coal. Big desalination plants can burn through enough electricity annually to power more than 35,000 homes a year.
Last June, WWF, the international conservation organization, released a major report challenging the desalination boom. It cited a potentially "major misdirection of public attention, policy and funds."
Yet WWF staffers acknowledge there could be a place for some desalination plants -- so long as certain criteria are met. First, however, they want cities to exhaust other options, such as water recycling. If plants are eventually called for, the WFF wants to see them built like the one in Perth.
"Perth is going to be the model for desalination in the developed world," says Tom Pankratz, an industry consultant in Houston. Although other facilities might not employ the same renewable sources for power, most of the newer ones are trying to address the issue of greenhouse gas emissions, says Mr. Pankratz, including the latest plants in London and Sydney. "Everyone is thinking that's going to be the way of the future."
Surrounded by desert, this remote Western Australia city is booming as a center for mining iron ore and other valuable commodities. By some estimates, Perth is attracting as many as 750 families a week, and now has a population in excess of 1.3 million.
But in recent years, water supplies have shrunk as rainfall levels declined -- possibly due to factors related to global warming. In the 1980s, annual inflows into reservoirs fell to less than 300 billion liters a year; by the late 1990s, the figure was down to fewer than 150 billion liters.
Leading the charge for desalination was Mr. Gill, 61 years old, a self-taught expert on climate change. A native Australian, he received a master's degree in public administration from Harvard and worked for many years at Western Australia's railway system before joining the Water Corp., the state-owned company, in the mid-1990s. His hobbies include trekking deep into the Australian Outback to see aboriginal rock paintings in their original setting.
He says he noticed the sharp drop-off in available water after studying historical charts at Water Corp. Then, in 2001, Perth had one of its worst droughts ever. Reservoirs were less than 25% full and officials worried the city would run out of water completely.
Water Corp. executives ordered residents to restrict garden sprinkler use to two days a week. One scuttled idea involved towing, and melting down, an iceberg from Antarctica.
Officials also mulled the case for desalination. Mr. Gill's engineers had studied it before as part of a long-term planning process, and had concluded the method was viable. But they didn't think it would be needed until 2020 at the earliest.
At first analysis, the cost seemed "horrifying," Mr. Gill recalls. According to David Lloyd Owen, a water expert at United Kingdom-based consulting firm Envisager, even the cheapest desalinated water can cost eight times more than traditional groundwater sources, which can be tapped for as little as five cents per cubic meter.
Mr. Gill changed his mind after desalination experts in Germany and elsewhere acquainted him with the latest technological improvements. He also saw that other water sources were becoming more expensive to exploit -- making desalination look more attractive.
Most modern facilities use a process known as reverse osmosis. This involves pushing water under high pressure through porous membranes that filter out the salt. Energy is needed to raise the pressure and then force the water through the membranes.
In recent years, engineers have developed better membranes that capture salt more effectively than before, and they've improved "pre-treatment" methods to remove large particles from water before it goes through the process. Newer facilities also use "energy recovery devices" that allow them to recycle as much as 90% of the energy that's expended.
Working to Convert
By 2003, Mr. Gill was working to convert a dubious public. Homeowners fretted over potentially higher water bills, which stood to rise by as much as 12%. Environmentalists warned that saline discharge would turn a nearby bay into a giant salt lake.
Perth's newspapers blasted the project in editorials and cartoons. Critics insisted the idea didn't address Perth's long-term water problems, which they say require more efforts to promote conservation.
Desalination "is exactly like taking an aspirin for a tumor," says Jorg Imberger, director of the Centre for Water Research at the University of Western Australia in Perth. He believes people are simply using too much water. While the Perth plant was under consideration, he says, he phoned the state premier directly to voice his complaints.
Mr. Gill, meanwhile, responded to naysayers by warning that Water Corp. might impose a total sprinkler ban if water supplies didn't improve.
To counter environmental opposition, his team considered planting thousands of trees to offset greenhouse gas emissions.
But the real breakthrough came with a plan to use renewable power from a $165 million wind farm. The project's developers, which include private investors and a government-owned power company, had wanted to build the facility for years, but needed a big customer.
Making sure the desalination plant didn't burn fossil fuels was necessary to "defuse one of the key arguments against" it, Mr. Gill says. The eco-friendly design "also suited our values."
Mr. Gill cultivated unusual allies, including members of Perth's gardening industry. He also circulated charts and diagrams to the public showing the huge drop in water supply -- an effort that won over Geoff Gallop, then the state premier. Government officials approved the plant in late 2004.
"I wanted to make sure we had water security," says Mr. Gallop, now a professor at the University of Sydney.
The plant was up and running by late 2006. Situated in a bland industrial park 45 minutes south of the city, it includes a first-stage facility that removes silt and other impurities from water that's piped in from the adjacent, azure-blue sea. The water is then moved into a giant building the length of a football field where it is pressurized and sent through membranes in high-tech vessels.
The resulting water is treated with chlorine to meet health standards and piped into a reservoir that feeds into the local water supply. Leftover salt is flushed back into the ocean, where it disperses.
The facility even includes a tap where visitors can take a quick slurp. "Tastes better with whiskey," says project manager John Stansfield. When the process is finished, the water has a salt-free taste.
The Facility's Value
Some Perth residents still question the facility's value. Advocates for the poor say that lower-income citizens, including many Aboriginals, can't afford to pay more for water.
"Why are we building desalination plants to help wealthy people have gardens?" asks Irina Cattalini, director of social policy at the Western Australian Council of Social Service, an advocacy group.
Other desalination foes worry that Perth's success may be inspiring other cities to follow suit, but with lesser regard for any environmental toll.
At the Garden Affair, a small garden center in one of Perth's wealthier neighborhoods, some patrons indicated they have no intention of cutting back their water use -- even if the additional supply comes at a higher price.
"In the long run, we have to have the water, don't we?" said Lorraine Cook, a 65-year-old retiree who was shopping there one recent afternoon.
"I'd rather have a garden that uses more water" than have to give up azaleas, roses and other such plants, said Joanna Gage, a 45-year-old compliance manager at a financial-services company.
Even some of the country's biggest critics of desalination have warmed up to the Perth facility -- including, to a degree, Mr. Imberger of the University of Western Australia. Desalination "gives you security," he acknowledges. And he's pleased about the use of renewable energy.
Mr. Gill and others agree that desalination isn't perfect. "The price of water will probably go up over time, but it's scarce -- I think people realize that," says Mr. Gallop, the former state premier. "We're in a new world now."
Write to Patrick Barta at patrick [dot] barta [at] wsj [dot] com
 

The Prophet of Climate Change: James Lovelock

URL: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/16956300/the_prophet_of_clima...

Rollingstone.com

Back to The Prophet of Climate Change: James Lovelock

The Prophet of Climate Change: James Lovelock

One of the most eminent scientists of our time says that global warming is irreversible — and that more than 6 billion people will perish by the end of the century

At the age of eighty-eight, after four children and a long and respected career as one of the twentieth century's most influential scientists, James Lovelock has come to an unsettling conclusion: The human race is doomed. "I wish I could be more hopeful," he tells me one sunny morning as we walk through a park in Oslo, where he is giving a talk at a university. Lovelock is a small man, unfailingly polite, with white hair and round, owlish glasses. His step is jaunty, his mind lively, his manner anything but gloomy. In fact, the coming of the Four Horsemen -- war, famine, pestilence and death -- seems to perk him up. "It will be a dark time," Lovelock admits. "But for those who survive, I suspect it will be rather exciting."

In Lovelock's view, the scale of the catastrophe that awaits us will soon become obvious. By 2020, droughts and other extreme weather will be commonplace. By 2040, the Sahara will be moving into Europe, and Berlin will be as hot as Baghdad. Atlanta will end up a kudzu jungle. Phoenix will become uninhabitable, as will parts of Beijing (desert), Miami (rising seas) and London (floods). Food shortages will drive millions of people north, raising political tensions. "The Chinese have nowhere to go but up into Siberia," Lovelock says. "How will the Russians feel about that? I fear that war between Russia and China is probably inevitable." With hardship and mass migrations will come epidemics, which are likely to kill millions. By 2100, Lovelock believes, the Earth's population will be culled from today's 6.6 billion to as few as 500 million, with most of the survivors living in the far latitudes -- Canada, Iceland, Scandinavia, the Arctic Basin.

By the end of the century, according to Lovelock, global warming will cause temperate zones like North America and Europe to heat up by fourteen degrees Fahrenheit, nearly double the likeliest predictions of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations-sanctioned body that includes the world's top scientists. "Our future," Lovelock writes, "is like that of the passengers on a small pleasure boat sailing quietly above the Niagara Falls, not knowing that the engines are about to fail." And switching to energy-efficient light bulbs won't save us. To Lovelock, cutting greenhouse-gas pollution won't make much difference at this point, and much of what passes for sustainable development is little more than a scam to profit off disaster. "Green," he tells me, only half-joking, "is the color of mold and corruption."

If such predictions were coming from anyone else, you would laugh them off as the ravings of an old man projecting his own impending death onto the world around him. But Lovelock is not so easily dismissed. As an inventor, he created a device that helped detect the growing hole in the ozone layer and jump-start the environmental movement in the 1970s. And as a scientist, he introduced the revolutionary theory known as Gaia -- the idea that our entire planet is a kind of superorganism that is, in a sense, "alive." Once dismissed as New Age quackery, Lovelock's vision of a self-regulating Earth now underlies virtually all climate science. Lynn Margulis, a pioneering biologist at the University of Massachusetts, calls him "one of the most innovative and mischievous scientific minds of our time." Richard Branson, the British entrepreneur, credits Lovelock with inspiring him to pledge billions of dollars to fight global warming. "Jim is a brilliant scientist who has been right about many things in the past," Branson says. "If he's feeling gloomy about the future, it's important for mankind to pay attention."

Lovelock knows that predicting the end of civilization is not an exact science. "I could be wrong about all this," he admits as we stroll around the park in Norway. "The trouble is, all those well-intentioned scientists who are arguing that we're not in any imminent danger are basing their arguments on computer models. I'm basing mine on what’s actually happening."

When you approach Lovelock's house in Devon, a rural area in southwestern England, the sign on the metal gate reads:

COOMBE MILL EXPERIMENTAL STATION

SITE OF NEW NATURAL HABITAT

PLEASE DO NOT TRESPASS OR DISTURB

A few hundred yards down a narrow lane, beside the site of an old mill, is a white, slate-roofed cottage where Lovelock lives with his second wife, Sandy, an American, and his youngest son, John, who is fifty-one and mildly disabled. It's a fairy-tale setting, surrounded by thirty-five wooded acres -- no vegetable garden, no manicured rosebushes. "I detest all that," Lovelock tells me. Partly hidden in the woods is a life-size statue of Gaia, the Greek goddess of the Earth, whom Lovelock named his groundbreaking theory after.

Most scientists toil at the margins of human knowledge, adding incrementally to our understanding of the world. Lovelock is one of the few living scientists whose ideas have touched off not only a scientific revolution but a spiritual one as well. "Future historians of science will see Lovelock as a man who inspired a Copernican shift in how we see ourselves in the world," says Tim Lenton, a climate researcher at the University of East Anglia, in England. Before Lovelock came along, the Earth was seen as little more than a cozy rock drifting around the sun. According to the accepted wisdom, life evolved here because the conditions were right -- not too hot, not too cold, plenty of water. Somehow bacteria grew into multicelled organisms, fish crawled out of the sea, and before long, Britney Spears arrived.

In the 1970s, Lovelock upended all this with a simple question: Why is the Earth different from Mars and Venus, where the atmosphere is toxic to life? In a flash of insight, Lovelock understood that our atmosphere was created not by random geological events but by the cumulative effusion of everything that has ever breathed, grown and decayed. Our air "is not merely a biological product," Lovelock wrote, "but more probably a biological construction: not living, but like a cat's fur, a bird's feathers or the paper of a wasp's nest, an extension of a living system designed to maintain a chosen environment." According to Gaia theory, life is not just a passenger on Earth but an active participant, helping to create the very conditions that sustain it. It's a beautiful idea --life begets life. It was also right in tune with the post-flower-child mood of the Seventies. Lovelock was quickly adopted as a spiritual guru, the man who killed God and put the planet at the center of New Age religious experience.

Lovelock is not an alarmist by nature. In his view, the dangers of nuclear power are grossly overstated. Ditto mercury emissions in the atmosphere, genetic engineering of food and the loss of biodiversity on the planet. The greatest mistake in his career, in fact, was not claiming that the sky was falling but failing to recognize that it was. In 1973, after being the first to discover that industrial chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons had polluted the atmosphere, Lovelock declared that the buildup of CFCs posed "no conceivable hazard." As it turned out, CFCs weren't toxic to breathe, but they were eating a hole in the ozone. Lovelock quickly revised his view, calling it "one of my greatest blunders," but the mistake may have cost him a share in a Nobel Prize.

At first, Lovelock didn't view global warming as an urgent threat to the planet. "Gaia is a tough bitch," he often said, borrowing a phrase coined by a colleague. But a few years ago, alarmed by rapidly melting ice in the Arctic and other climate-related changes, Lovelock became convinced that Gaia's autopilot system -- the giant, inexpressibly subtle network of positive and negative feedbacks that keeps the Earth’s climate in balance -- is seriously out of whack, derailed by pollution and deforestation. Lovelock believes the planet itself will eventually recover its equilibrium, even if it takes millions of years. What's at stake, he says, is civilization.

"You could quite seriously look at climate change as a response of the system intended to get rid of an irritating species: us humans," Lovelock tells me in the small office he has created in his cottage. "Or at least cut them back to size."

Lovelock's cottage in the woods is a world away from South London, where he grew up with coal soot in his lungs, coughing and pale and working-class. His mother was an early feminist; his father grew up so desperately hungry that he spent six months in prison when he was fourteen for poaching a rabbit from a local squire’s estate. Shortly after Lovelock was born, his parents passed him off to his grandmother to raise. "They were too poor and too busy to raise a child," he explains. In school, he was a lousy student, mildly dyslexic, more interested in pranks than homework. But he loved books, especially the science fiction of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.

To escape the grime of urban life, Lovelock's father often took him on long walks in the countryside, where he caught trout by hand from the streams and gorged on blueberries. The freedom and romance Lovelock felt on these jaunts had a transformative effect on him. "It's where I first saw the face of Gaia," he says now.

By the time Lovelock hit puberty, he knew he wanted to be a scientist. His first love was physics. But his dyslexia made complex math difficult, so he opted instead for chemistry, enrolling at the University of London. A year later, when the Nazis invaded Poland, Lovelock converted to Quakerism and soon became a conscientious objector. In his written statement, he explained why he refused to fight: "War is evil."

Lovelock took a job at the National Institute for Medical Research in London, where one of his first assignments was to develop new ways to stop the spread of infectious diseases. He spent months in underground bomb shelters studying how viruses are transmitted -- and shagging nurses in first-aid stations while Nazi bombs fell overhead. "It was a hard, desperate time," he says. "But it was exciting! It's terribly ironic, but war does make one feel alive."

As a result of his research in the bomb shelters, Lovelock ended up inventing the first aerosol disinfectant. A few years later, as a pioneer in the field of cryogenics, he became the first to understand how cellular structures respond to extreme cold, developing a means to freeze and thaw animal sperm -- a method still in use today. "Thanks to Lovelock," says biologist Lynn Margulis, "they don't have to send the entire bull to Australia."

But Lovelock's most important invention was the Electron Capture Detector, or ECD. In 1957, working at his kitchen table, Lovelock hacked together a device to measure minute concentrations of pesticides and other gases in the air. The instrument fit into the palm of his hand and was so exquisitely sensitive that if you dumped a bottle of some rare chemical on a blanket in Japan and let it evaporate, the ECD would be able to detect it a week later in England. The device was eventually redesigned by Hewlett-Packard: If Lovelock had retained the patent, he would have been a rich man. "Jim has never cared much for money," says Armand Neukermans, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and old friend of Lovelock, "except to buy himself freedom as an independent scientist."

As it turned out, Lovelock's invention roughly coincided with the publication in 1962 of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, which alerted the world to the dangers of pesticides like DDT. By the time her book appeared, scientists were already using the ECD to measure pesticide residue in the fat of Antarctic penguins and in the milk of nursing mothers in Finland, giving hard evidence to Carson's claims that chemicals were impacting the environment on a global scale. "If it hadn't been for my ECD," Lovelock says, "I think critics in the industry would have dismissed the whole thing as wet chemistry -- 'Oh, you can't measure this stuff accurately, can't extrapolate.' And they would have been right."

A decade later, Lovelock made an even more important discovery. In the late 1960s, while staying at an isolated vacation house in Ireland, he took a random sample of the haze that drifted into the area and found it laced with chlorofluorocarbons. CFCs are man-made compounds used as a refrigerant and as a propellant in aerosol cans -- a sure sign of man-made pollution. If CFCs are in remote Ireland, Lovelock wondered, where else might they be? Hitching a ride on a research vessel for a six-month voyage to Antarctica, he used a jury-rigged ECD to detect the buildup of CFCs in the atmosphere. But Lovelock failed to grasp the danger that they posed; two other scientists won the Nobel Prize for correctly hypothesizing that CFCs would burn a hole in the stratosphere, allowing dangerous levels of ultraviolet light to reach the Earth. As a result, CFCs were banned. "If Lovelock hadn't detected those CFCs," says Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich, "we'd all be living under the ocean in snorkels and fins to escape that poisonous sun."

If you type "gaia" and "religion" into Google, you'll get 2,360,000 hits -- Wiccans, spiritual travelers, massage therapists and sexual healers, all inspired by Lovelock's vision of the planet. Ask him about pagan cults, though, and Lovelock grimaces -- he has no interest in soft-headed spirituality or organized religion, especially when it puts human existence above all else. At Oxford, he once stood up and admonished Mother Teresa for urging an audience to take care of the poor and "leave God to take care of the Earth." As Lovelock explained to her, "If we as people do not respect and take care of the Earth, we can be sure that the Earth, in the role of Gaia, will take care of us and, if necessary, eliminate us."

Lovelock came up with the Gaia theory during a rough time in his life. In 1961, he was forty-one and working at a research center in London. It was a good job, decent pay, plenty of freedom, but he was bored. He had four kids at home, including John, who was born with a birth defect that left him brain-damaged. In addition, Lovelock’s mother -- cranky, demanding, aged -- was driving him nuts. He smoked, he drank. Today, we'd call it a midlife crisis.

One day, a letter from NASA arrived in Lovelock's mailbox, inviting him to join a group of scientists who were about to explore the moon. He had never heard of the space agency -- but within a few months he had dumped his job, packed up the family and moved to America to join the space race. Before long, though, he concluded that, scientifically speaking, the moon wasn't a very interesting place. The real excitement was Mars. "With the moon, the question was, is it safe for astronauts to walk on the surface?" Lovelock recalls. "With Mars, the question was, is there life there?"

Lovelock's colleagues at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, struggled to design instruments to test for life on the Martian surface. Lovelock, as usual, took a different approach. Instead of using a probe to dig up soil and look for bacteria, he thought, why not analyze the chemical composition of the Martian atmosphere? If life were present, he reasoned, the organisms would be obliged to use up raw materials in the atmosphere (such as oxygen) and dump waste products (like methane), just as life on Earth does. Even if the materials consumed and discharged were different, the chemical imbalance would be relatively simple to detect. Sure enough, when Lovelock and his colleagues finally got an analysis of Mars, they discovered that the atmosphere was close to chemical equilibrium -- suggesting that there had been no life on the planet.

But if life creates the atmosphere, Lovelock reasoned, it must also, in some sense, be regulating it. He knew, for example, that the sun is now about twenty-five percent hotter than when life began. What was modulating the surface temperature of the Earth, keeping it hospitable? Life itself, Lovelock concluded. When the Earth heats up, plants draw down levels of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases; as it cools, the levels of those gases rise, warming the planet. Thus, the idea of the Earth as superorganism was born.

The idea was not entirely new: Leonardo da Vinci believed pretty much the same thing in the sixteenth century. But Lovelock was the first to assemble all the existing thinking into a new vision of the planet. He soon quit NASA and moved back to England, where his neighbor William Golding, author of Lord of the Flies, suggested that he name his theory after Gaia, to capture the popular imagination. When established scientific journals refused to touch his ideas, Lovelock put out a book called Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. "The Gaia hypothesis," he wrote, "is for those who like to walk or simply stand and stare, to wonder about the Earth and the life it bears and to speculate about the consequences of our own presence here." Gaia, he added, offers an alternative to the "depressing picture of our planet as a demented spaceship, forever traveling driverless and purposeless around an inner circle of the sun."

Hippies loved it. Darwinists didn't. Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene, dismissed Lovelock's book as "pop-ecology literature." British biologist John Maynard Smith went further, calling Gaia "an evil religion." In their view, Lovelock's concept flew in the face of evolutionary logic: If the Earth is an organism, and organisms evolve by natural selection, then that implies that somehow the Earth out-competed other planets. How is that possible? They were also troubled by Lovelock's suggestion that life creates the condition for life, which seems to suggest a predetermined purpose. In the minds of many of his peers, Lovelock was dancing very close to God.

But that was not what Lovelock had in mind. Large systems, in his view, don't need a purpose. To prove it, Lovelock and a colleague devised a simple, elegant computer model called Daisyworld, which used competing fields of daisies to show how organisms evolving under rules of natural selection are part of a self-regulating system. As the model planet heats up, white daisies thrive, reflecting more sunlight; that, in turn, lowers the temperature, which favors black daisies. Working together, the flowers regulate the temperature of the planet. The daisies are not altruistic or conscious -- they simply exist and, by existing, alter their environment.

Daisyworld quieted some of the critics, but the scientific debate over Gaia raged throughout the 1980s. Lovelock continued refining his thoughts despite troubles in his personal life. His first wife, Helen, was in the midst of a slow and painful decline from multiple sclerosis. Lovelock himself had several major surgeries, including the removal of a kidney he damaged in a tractor accident. He supported himself in part as a consultant for MI5, England's top counterintelligence agency, where he developed a method to monitor the movements of KGB spies in London by using an ECD to track their vehicles. To Lovelock, working for the spy agency was the equivalent of writing potboiler novels for a quick paycheck. "It was enjoyable work, and it kept food on the table," he says now.

Among scientists, Lovelock redeemed himself with a second book, The Ages of Gaia, which offered a more rigorous exploration of the biological and geophysical feedback mechanisms that keep the Earth's atmosphere suitable for life. Plankton in the oceans, for example, help cool the planet by giving off dimethyl sulfide, a chemical that seeds the formation of clouds, which in turn reflect the sun's heat back into space. "In the 1970s, plenty of us thought Gaia was nonsense," says Wally Broecker, a paleoclimatologist at Columbia University. "But Lovelock got everyone thinking more seriously about the dynamic nature of the planet." Of course, scientists like Broecker rarely used the word "Gaia." They prefer the phrase "Earth system science," which views the world, according to one treatise, as "a single, self-regulating system comprised of physical, chemical, biological and human components." In other words, Gaia in a lab coat.

Gaia offers a hopeful vision of how the world works. After all, if the Earth is more than just a rock drifting around the sun, if it's a superorganism that can evolve, that means -- to put it in a way that will piss off biology majors and neo-Darwinists everywhere -- there is a certain amount of forgiveness built into our world.

For Lovelock, this is a comforting idea. Consider his little spread in Devon. When he bought the place thirty years ago, it was surrounded by fields shorn by a thousand years of sheep-grazing. But to Lovelock, open land reeks of human interference with Gaia. So he set out to restore his thirty-five acres to its more natural character. After consulting with a forester, he planted 20,000 trees -- alders, oaks, pines. Unfortunately, he planted many of them too close together, and in rows. The trees are about forty feet tall now, but rather than feeling "natural," parts of his land have the look of a badly managed forestry project. "I botched it," Lovelock says with a grin as we hike through the woods. "But in the long run, Gaia will take care of it."

Until recently, Lovelock thought that global warming would be just like his half-assed forest -- something the planet would correct for. Then, in 2004, Lovelock's friend Richard Betts, a researcher at the Hadley Centre for Climate Change -- England's top climate institute -- invited him to stop by and talk with the scientists there. Lovelock went from meeting to meeting, hearing the latest data about melting ice at the poles, shrinking rain forests, the carbon cycle in the oceans. "It was terrifying," he recalls. "We were shown five separate scenes of positive feedback in regional climates -- polar, glacial, boreal forest, tropical forest and oceans -- but no one seemed to be working on whole-planet consequences." Equally chilling, he says, was the tone in which the scientists talked about the changes they were witnessing, "as if they were discussing some distant planet or a model universe, instead of the place where we all live."

As Lovelock was driving home that evening, it hit him. The resiliency of the system was gone. The forgiveness had been used up. "The whole system," he decided, "is in failure mode." A few weeks later, he began work on his latest and gloomiest book, The Revenge of Gaia, which was published in the U.S. in 2006.

In Lovelock's view, the flaws in computer climate models are painfully apparent. Take the uncertainty around projected sea levels: The IPCC, the U.N. panel on climate change, estimates that global warming will cause Earth's average temperature to rise as much as 11.5 degrees by 2100. This will cause inland glaciers to melt and seas to expand, triggering a maximum sea level rise of only twenty-three inches. Greenland, according to the IPCC's models, will take 1,000 years to melt.

But evidence from the real world suggests that the IPCC is far too conservative. For one thing, scientists know from the geological record that 3 million years ago, when temperatures increased to five degrees above today's level, the seas rose not by twenty-three inches but by more than eighty feet. What's more, recent satellite measurements indicate that Arctic ice is melting so rapidly that the region could be ice-free by 2030. "Modelers don't have the foggiest idea about the dynamics of melting ice sheets," scoffs Lovelock.

It's not just ice that throws off the climate models. Cloud physics are notoriously difficult to get right, and feedbacks from the biosphere, such as deforestation and melting tundra, are rarely factored in. "Computer models are not crystal balls," argues Ken Caldeira, a climate modeler at Stanford University whose career has been deeply influenced by Lovelock's ideas. "By observing the past, you make informed judgments about the future. Computer models are just a way to codify that accumulated knowledge into automated educated bets."

Here, in its oversimplified essence, is Lovelock's doomsday scenario: Rising heat means more ice melting at the poles, which means more open water and land. That, in turn, increases the heat (ice reflects sunlight; open land and water absorb it), causing more ice to melt. The seas rise. More heat leads to more intense rainfall in some places, droughts in others. The Amazon rain forests and the great northern boreal forests --the belt of pine and spruce that covers Alaska, Canada and Siberia --undergo a growth spurt, then wither away. The permafrost in northern latitudes thaws, releasing methane, a greenhouse gas that is twenty times more potent than CO2 -- and on and on it goes.

In a functioning Gaian world, these positive feedbacks would be modulated by negative feedbacks, the largest of which is the Earth's ability to radiate heat into space. But at a certain point, the regulatory system breaks down and the planet's climate makes the jump -- as it has many times in the past -- to a new, hotter state. Not the end of the world, but certainly the end of the world as we know it.

Lovelock's doomsday scenario is dismissed by leading climate researchers, most of whom dispute the idea that there is a single tipping point for the entire planet. "Individual ecosystems may fail or the ice sheets may collapse," says Caldeira, "but the larger system appears to be surprisingly resilient." But let's assume for the moment that Lovelock is right and we are indeed poised above Niagara Falls. Do we just wave as we go over the edge? In Lovelock's view, modest cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions won't help us -- it's too late to stop global warming by swapping our SUVs for hybrids. What about capturing carbon-dioxide pollution from coal plants and pumping it underground? "We can't possibly bury enough to make any difference." Biofuels? "A monumentally stupid idea." Renewables? "Nice, but won't make a dent." To Lovelock, the whole idea of sustainable development is wrongheaded: "We should be thinking about sustainable retreat."

Retreat, in his view, means it's time to start talking about changing where we live and how we get our food; about making plans for the migration of millions of people from low-lying regions like Bangladesh into Europe; about admitting that New Orleans is a goner and moving the people to cities better positioned for the future. Most of all, he says, it's about everybody "absolutely doing their utmost to sustain civilization, so that it doesn't degenerate into Dark Ages, with warlords running things, which is a real danger. We could lose everything that way."

Even Lovelock's friends cringe when he talks like this. "I fear he's overdrawing our despair budget," says Chris Rapley, head of the Science Museum in London, who has worked hard to raise international awareness of global warming. Others are justifiably concerned that Lovelock's views will distract from the rising political momentum for tough restrictions on greenhouse-gas pollution. Broecker, the Columbia paleoclimatologist, calls Lovelock's belief that cutting pollution is futile "dangerous nonsense."

"I wish I could say that wind turbines and solar panels will save us," Lovelock responds. "But I can't. There isn't any kind of solution possible. There are nearly 7 billion people on the planet now, not to mention livestock and pets. If you just take the CO2 of everything breathing, it's twenty-five percent of the total --four times as much CO2 as all the airlines in the world. So if you want to improve your carbon footprint, just hold your breath. It's terrifying. We have just exceeded all reasonable bounds in numbers. And from a purely biological view, any species that does that has a crash."

This is not to suggest, however, that Lovelock believes we should just party while the world burns. Quite the opposite. "We need bold action," Lovelock insists. "We have a tremendous amount to do." In his view, we have two choices: We can return to a more primitive lifestyle and live in equilibrium with the planet as hunter-gatherers, or we can sequester ourselves in a very sophisticated, high-tech civilization. "There's no question which path I'd prefer," he says one morning in his cottage, grinning broadly and tapping the keyboard of his computer. "It's really a question of how we organize society -- where we will get our food, water. How we will generate energy."

For water, the answer is pretty straightforward: desalination plants, which can turn ocean water into drinking water. Food supply is tougher: Heat and drought will devastate many of today's food-growing regions. It will also push people north, where they will cluster in cities. In these areas, there will be no room for backyard gardens. As a result, Lovelock believes, we will have to synthesize food -- to grow it in vats from tissue cultures of meats and vegetables. It sounds far out and deeply unappetizing, but from a technological standpoint, it wouldn't be hard to do.

A steady supply of electricity will also be vital. Five days after his visit to the Hadley Centre, Lovelock penned a fiery op-ed titled "Nuclear Power Is the Only Green Solution." Lovelock argued that we should "use the small input from renewables sensibly" but that "we have no time to experiment with visionary energy sources; civilization is in imminent danger and has to use nuclear -- the one safe, available energy source -- now or suffer the pain soon to be inflicted by our outraged planet."

Environmentalists howled in protest, but for anyone who knew Lovelock's past, his embrace of nukes is not surprising. At the age of fourteen, reading about how the sun is powered by a nuclear reaction, he came to believe that nuclear energy is one of the fundamental forces in the universe. Why not harness it? As for the dangers -- radioactive waste, vulnerability to terrorism, the possibility of a Chernobyl-like meltdown -- Lovelock says it's the lesser of two evils: "Even if they're right about the dangers, and they are not, it is still nothing compared to climate change."

As a last resort, to keep the planet even marginally habitable, Lovelock believes that humans may be forced to manipulate the Earth's climate by erecting solar shades in space or building devices to strip huge quantities of CO2 out of the atmosphere. Although he views large-scale geoengineering as an act of profound hubris -- "I would sooner expect a goat to succeed as a gardener than expect humans to become stewards of the Earth" -- he thinks it may be necessary as an emergency measure, much like kidney dialysis is necessary to a person whose health is failing. In fact, it was Lovelock who inspired his friend Richard Branson to put up a $25 million prize for the Virgin Earth Challenge, which will be awarded to the first person who can figure out a commercially viable way of removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. As a judge in the contest, Lovelock is not eligible to win, but he's intrigued by the challenge. His latest thought: suspend hundreds of thousands of 600-foot-long vertical pipes in the tropical oceans, put a valve at the bottom of each pipe and allow deep, nutrient-rich water to be pumped to the surface by wave action. Nutrients from the deep water would increase algae bloom, which would suck up carbon dioxide and help cool the planet.

"It's a way of leveraging the Earth's natural energy system against itself," Lovelock speculates. "I think Gaia would approve."

Oslo is Lovelock's kind of town. It's in the northern latitudes, which will grow more temperate as the climate warms; it has plenty of water; thanks to its oil and gas reserves, it's rich; and there's already lots of creative thinking going on about energy, including, much to Lovelock's satisfaction, renewed discussion about nuclear power. "The main issue they'll face here," Lovelock tells me as we walk along Karl Johans Gate, the city’s main boulevard, "is how to manage the hordes of people that will descend upon the city. In the next few decades, half the population of southern Europe will try to move here."

We head down to the waterfront, where we pass Akershus Castle, an imposing thirteenth-century fortress that served as Nazi headquarters during their occupation of the city during World War II. To Lovelock, the parallels between what the world faced then and what the world faces now are clear. "In some ways, it’s 1939 all over again," he says. "The threat is obvious, but we've failed to grasp what's at stake. We're still talking about appeasement."

Then, as now, the lack of political leadership is what's most striking to Lovelock. Although he respects Al Gore's efforts to raise people's consciousness, he believes no politician has come close to preparing us for what's coming. "We'll be living in a desperate world in no time," Lovelock says. He believes the time is right for a global-warming version of Winston Churchill's famous "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat" speech he gave to prepare Great Britain for World War II. "People are ready for this," Lovelock says as we pass under the shadow of the castle. "They understand what's happening far better than most politicians."

However the future turns out, Lovelock is unlikely to be around to see it. "My goal is to live a rectangular life: long, strong and steady, then a quick drop at the end," he says. Lovelock shows no signs of hitting his own personal tipping point. Although he's had forty operations, including a heart bypass, he still zooms around the English countryside in his white Honda like a Formula One driver. He and Sandy recently took a monthlong trip through Australia, where they visited the Great Barrier Reef. He's about to start another book about Gaia. Richard Branson has invited him on the first flight on the Virgin Galactic space shuttle late next year --"I want to give him a view of Gaia from space," says Branson. Lovelock is eager to go, and plans to take a test in a centrifuge later this year to see if his body can withstand the G-forces of spaceflight. He shuns talk of his legacy, although he jokes with his kids that he wants his headstone to read, HE NEVER MEANT TO BE PROSCRIPTIVE.

Whatever his epitaph, Lovelock's legacy as one of the most provocative scientists of our time is assured. And for all his gloom and doom, his notion of the planet as a single dynamic system remains a hopeful idea. It suggests that there are rules the system operates by and mechanisms that drive it. These rules and mechanisms can be studied and, possibly, tweaked. In many ways, Lovelock's holistic vision is an antidote to the chaos of twentieth-century science, which fragmented the world into quarks, quantum mechanics and untouchable mystery.

As for the doom that awaits us, Lovelock may well be wrong. Not because he's misread the science (although that’s certainly possible) but because he's misread human beings. Few serious scientists doubt that we're on the verge of a climate catastrophe. But for all Lovelock's sensitivity to the subtle dynamics and feedback loops in the climate system, he is curiously tone-deaf to the subtle dynamics and feedback loops in the human system. He believes that, despite our iPhones and space shuttles, we are still tribal animals, largely incapable of acting for the greater good or making long-term decisions for our own welfare. "Our moral progress," says Lovelock, "has not kept up with our technological progress."

But maybe that's exactly what the coming apocalypse is all about. One of the questions that fascinates Lovelock: Life has been evolving on Earth for more than 3 billion years -- and to what purpose? "Like it or not, we are the brains and nervous system of Gaia," he says. "We have now assumed responsibility for the welfare of the planet. How will we manage it?"

As we weave our way through the tourists heading up to the castle, it's easy to look at them and feel sadness. It’s harder to look at them and feel hopeful. But when I say this to Lovelock, he argues that the human race has gone through many bottlenecks before --and perhaps we're the better for it. Then he tells me the story of an airplane crash years ago at Manchester Airport. "A fuel tank caught fire during takeoff," Lovelock says. "There was plenty of time for everybody to get out, but many of the passengers wouldn't move. They just stayed there in their seats as they were told to, and the people who escaped had to climb over them to get out. It was perfectly obvious how to get out, but they wouldn't move. They died from the smoke or burned to death. And an awful lot of people, I'm sad to say, are like that. And that's what will happen this time, except on a much vaster scale."

Lovelock looks at me with unflinching blue eyes. "Some people will sit in their seats and do nothing, frozen in panic. Others will move. They'll see what's about to happen, and they'll take action, and they'll survive. They're the carriers of the civilization ahead."

we're on the verge of a climate catastrophe

Excellent article and Lovelock and I have about the same expectations for change on Earth in the coming decades - "we're on the verge of a climate catastrophe". This is a must read, and many of the best thoughts come at the end, like ""Our moral progress," says Lovelock, "has not kept up with our technological progress"" and ""Some people will sit in their seats and do nothing, frozen in panic. Others will move. They'll see what's about to happen, and they'll take action, and they'll survive. They're the carriers of the civilization ahead."" I personally doubt enough humans will survive this century in a meaningful way to matter, if any survive at all.

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New Drought Forcast Page

"Forecasting drought in the continental United States is still highly experimental. The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook is issued twice each month, looking three months ahead. The Drought Outlook identifies areas where forecasters expect drought to appear, continue, get better or get worse."

 

http://www.drought.gov/portal/server.pt?open=514&objID=268&parentname=CommunityPage&parentid=3&mode=2&in_hi_userid=2&cached=true

Lake Mead could be dry by 2021

 

AGU Release No. 08-06
12 February 2008

 

WASHINGTON – There is a 50 percent chance Lake Mead, a key source of water for millions of people in the southwestern
U.S., will be dry by 2021 if climate changes as expected and future water usage is not curtailed, a new study finds.

 

Without Lake Mead and neighboring
Lake Powell, the
Colorado River system has no buffer to sustain the population of the Southwest through an unusually dry year, or worse, a sustained drought, the study authors say. In such an event, water deliveries would become highly unstable and variable.

 

The research team concludes that human demand, natural forces such as evaporation, and human-induced climate change are creating a net deficit of nearly 1 million acre-feet of water per year from the Colorado River system that includes Lake Mead and
Lake Powell. This amount of water can supply roughly 8 million people. The team's analysis of Federal Bureau of Reclamation records of past water demand and calculations of scheduled water allocations and climate conditions indicate that the system could run dry even if mitigation measures now being proposed are implemented.

 

A paper detailing these findings has been accepted for publication in Water Resources Research, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, and is accessible via the AGU's web site (see instructions below).

 

“We were stunned at the magnitude of the problem and how fast it was coming at us,” says marine research physicist and study coauthor Tim Barnett of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography of the
University of
California at
San Diego. “Make no mistake, this water problem is not a scientific abstraction, but rather one that will impact each and every one of us that live in the Southwest.” “It's likely to mean real changes to how we live and do business in this region,” adds coauthor David Pierce, a climate scientist at Scripps, which is located in
La Jolla, California.

 

The Lake Mead/Lake Powell system includes the stretch of the Colorado River in northern
Arizona. Lake Mead straddles the Arizona-Nevada border and
Lake Powell is on the Arizona-Utah border. Aqueducts carry water from the system to Las Vegas, Los Angeles,
San Diego, and other communities in the Southwest. Currently the system is only at half capacity because of a recent string of dry years, and the team estimates that the system has already entered an era of deficit.

 

“When expected changes due to global warming are included as well, currently scheduled depletions are simply not sustainable,” Barnett and Pierce write in the paper.

 

The researchers note that a number of other studies in recent years have estimated that climate change will lead to reductions in runoff to the
Colorado River system. Those analyses consistently forecast reductions of between 10 and 30 percent over the next 30 to 50 years, which could affect the water supply of between 12 and 36 million people.

 

Barnett and Pierce estimate that there is a 10 percent chance that
Lake Mead could be dry by 2014. They further predict that there is a 50 percent chance that reservoir levels will drop too low to allow hydroelectric power generation by 2017.

 

The researchers add that even if water agencies follow their current drought contingency plans, those measures might not be enough to counter natural forces, especially if the region enters a period of sustained drought or if human-induced climate changes occur as currently predicted.

 

Barnett says that the researchers chose to go with conservative estimates of the situation in their analysis, though the water shortage is likely to be more dire in reality. The team bases its findings on the premise that climate change effects only started in 2007, though most researchers consider human-caused changes in climate to have likely started decades earlier. Barnett and Pierce also base their river flow on averages over the past 100 years, even though it has dropped in recent decades. Over the past 500 years the average annual flow is even less.

 

“Today, we are at or beyond the sustainable limit of the
Colorado system. The alternative to reasoned solutions to this coming water crisis is a major societal and economic disruption in the desert southwest; something that will affect each of us living in the region,” the report concludes. This research was supported under a joint program between UC San Diego and Lawrence Livermore (
California) National Laboratory, and by the California Energy Commission.

 

From: http://www.agu.org/sci_soc/prrl/2008-06.html

Gutters

This may be a little off topic, but as I cleaned out the gutters on my garage--I wondered, why do we use gutters in Northeast Ohio, anyway?  Wouldn't it make more sense to have wider eaves that dispersed storm water and snow away from a house's foundation.   Colorado gets heavy snow and they don't use gutters.  So many of our code regulations need to be revisited. As for gray/grey water--one easy solution to the toilet flushing issue is to keep the tub stop down and a bucket handy--save the water in the tub from showers for toilet flushing.   I do wish I could retrofit my house to use greywater automatically.   Anyone care to use my house for a demonstration project?  

Learning by doing graywater, etc

Interesting thoughts on gutters. I like wide overhangs because they provide shade and reduce rain exposure of windows and exterior surfaces below. No matter what, the idea of routing roof runoff into the sewers is crazy!

Thanks for posting all these thoughts and articles on runoff and graywater, as I'm in the process of retrofitting as many water innovations as possible into the house on Roxbury.

  • For reducing runoff, we removed the surface concrete and went back with gravel.
  • We are installing a green roof over the library, which will eliminate runoff from that surface (as well as insulate the room below), and it will have two rain barrels, capturing the water from that side of the main house roof above, to be used for watering the green roof.
  • We installed new drain and vent lines for the bathtubs, sinks and washing machine, leading to diverters, which allow the gray water to be directed to the sewer or to a subsurface irrigation system in the yard... this is nearly completed and I'll post photos. We have lots of background info on this now, and our plumber is getting into the whole idea and process of doing it - he'd love to do other systems after this.
  • We did not route the graywater to the toilets - we are not using any holding tanks or storing any graywater - it flows by gravity directly either to the yard (underground) or sewer.
  • One other cool graywater innovation I want to include is a heat exchanger, using the hot water from the drain from the shower/tub to heat the cold water line going to the shower - preheating the cold water to reduce the amount of hot water rewquired to reach the desired temp.
  • One observation is that it is a good practice to keep the water in your tub after you shower or bathe as you already heated the water and shouldn't waste the radiant heat by throwing it down the drain - leave it in the tub and the heat goes into the room... and you can use the graywater for flushing the toilet, as you say.
  • Eventually, we'd like to meter the water going into the gray and black water systems separately to eliminate sewage charges on what goes into the yard... more on this later.

Disrupt IT

Gray Water Package Units from Brac Systems

by Lloyd Alter, Toronto on 11.29.07

 

It seems like only the day before yesterday we were talking about gray water recovery systems and how they are legal, and how that guy in Atlanta was talking through his hat.

Then we walk into Construct Canada and find Chris Thompson wrapped around a complete package unit available off-the-shelf right now, approved for use almost anywhere.

The Brac system includes "state-of-the-art components that filter used water from your shower, bath and laundry(*1), and then reuses it for your toilet’s evacuation system. The recycled water, which we will refer to as grey water, is strictly used for your toilet or for irrigation, and cannot get in your drinking-water system.

Foreign particles are filtered, so it is like using normal water, but without having to pay again, while also doing something effective for the environment. Furthermore, once integrated into your existing plumbing, the system operates seamlessly, so the only difference you will notice is on your water bill."

I asked Chris why they did not include the washing machine as a recommended connection; he said that the sinks and showers generally produce enough water to run the toilets and any excess will just go to the overflow.

I mentioned that in Atlanta there was a big need for landscaping water; he said that if that was the case it would make sense to have the biggest tank and connect the washer to it. He noted that you can also connect your downspouts to it and collect rainwater.

I also asked if the unit coloured the water; he said it is not necessary here, and that the unit could be set up to do so, and it also mildly chlorinates the water. (Faq's here)

So it is not pie-in-the-sky; for two thousand bucks you can have a complete package that is well resolved and relatively carefree, just clean the filter every three weeks and add a chlorine tablet every six. Anyone who has ever had a pool had a harder job. ::Brac Systems

From: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2007/11/gray_water_pack.php

Graywater to toilet worth investment

Thanks for posting this, Bill. Is this the cheapest way to use graywater for the toilets? This seems like overkill... do I really need chlorine? Filter? Do you know of any other similar solutions, including build your own?

We already plumbed our bath, sink and washing machine drains to separate graywater stacks so have plenty of graywater to use for the toilets - so it looks like I could add this kind of central holding tank system and then plumb that to the toilets... I'm going to look into that while I still have my walls open... that application would reduce water consumption 30%+ and that would save 30%+ on water and sewage bills. The overlow will go to irrigation.

Disrupt IT

Norm, Re: Chlorine... I

Norm,

Re: Chlorine... I don't know, but this is from their FAQ page, http://bracsystems.com/faq.html, and it seems to make sense to me....

Q: Are there any other products I should use with my Brac System?
A: We recommend dropping a tri-chlor tablet (available in bulk at pool supply stores) or a Lysol Brand Continuous Action Toilet Cleaning Tablet through the filter housing into the bottom of the tank every eight weeks or so. The use of chlorine tablets will prevent the growth of bacteria in the tank, and any accompanying odors. You may also choose to use a tablet of your choice in your toilet tanks. Some jurisdictions require that greywater be dyed blue or green before it enters the plumbing system. If you live in such an area, you may choose to use a tablet that also dyes the water.

From: http://bracsystems.com/faq.html

Re: any other grey water systems, this is the first I have heard of an "off the shelf" type of system. Every other system I have heard of is completely custom.

save on water, but probably not on sewage

Norm,
It is my understanding that your sewage bill is based on your water consumption except for the summer sprinkling programs in some communities. So you are correct that your water and sewer bill can be reduced by reducing the amount of water needed for say flushing the toilet or watering the lawn. Wouldn't it be nice if the fact that you are installing a greywater system actually be reflected in a greatly reduced sewer bill separate from the water bill? That's what NEORSD would call a green infrastructure incentive package, if they could get out to court long enough to think more about sewerage and less about corruption. With all the water conservation methodologies you have at play in the house on Roxbury, you should end up paying them about $1.50 per month! It would be very very interesting to know once you have everything plumbed and make it through a half year or year of water/sewerage cycle what you might pay in Portland, for example, where they offer homeowners these incentives vs. what we pay here in NEO. That sort of metric ight drive some decision making for greywater systems and incentives for green infrastructure for sewage and stormwater management in NEO.

Requesting separate water meters

What I was thinking of doing is requesting separate water meters for my dblackwater and graywater supply lines, which would allow me to meter what went into the sewers (just blackwater) separately from what will go into irrigation (graywater). But if I connect the blackwater supply to the graywater system, which would reduce water consumption the most (greatest community value), then I would need to meter from the graywater tank to the blackwater supply line, which would be on the internal plumbing system. While this could easily be done, I can't imagine how it would fit with current codes and regulations. That such a system has such huge, obvious environmental and cost/infrastructure value here, where we have such water environmental and cost/infastructure issues, dictates we address these challenges more intelligently. The house on Roxbury forces the discussion into the open.

Now consider all the money being spent on sewage upgrades and workforce development and making NEO green and becoming an advanced energy region and eliminating blight and urban redevelopment and realize that a regional initiative to make NEO innovative in water management - having 100,000 houses like on Roxbury - would have a far greater benefit than enything else we could do here. It would create many trade jobs, retrofiting plumbing and doing other renovations to homes, and launch technologies and innovative companies in a field where there seems to be little industry-level competition.

How long do you think it will be before everyone wants a graywater system, and who will install and maintain them with what technologies? Why shouldn't NEO be the first with these solutions?

Disrupt IT

embodied labor

This is a perfect example of what Carl Stein referred to as "embodied labor" supporting workforce development in the region. When will our leaders see the benefit of a green economy? When will they understand the triple bottom line?

When they start believing realneo

The problem with regional leaders is they think they are way too smart to learn better ideas and ways from places like realneo, and acknowledge the fact - be inclusive. I'll be demonstrating many examples of the failure of that ignorant, spirit-sniping model in the coming years as we redevelop University Circle, East Cleveland and other neighborhoods regional leaders don't remotely understand.

Tell Andrew Watterson to start reading REALNEO and interacting here to get the ball rolling - there is no excuse why he is not participating in these discussions on a regular basis... he is young enough to get it. The same applies to many other leaders, who claim to be part of the solution. Get with the new economy, people. It's like 2007, you know.

Disrupt IT

Build a Downspout Bog Garden

Here's an alternative to the rain barrel: A downspout "bog" (or wetland) garden, a virtually maintenance-free way of capturing rainwater for your plants. Natural Life Magazine has the blow by blow on creating a backyard mini-oasis that reduces the amount of storm-water runoff, while providing a haven for pollinating insects.

 

Although rainwater is naturally soft and free from minerals, chlorine, fluoride, and other harmful chemicals, water that flows across impermeable surfaces (such as roads, driveways, and sidewalks) picks up litter, pet waste, pesticides, oil and grease, and fertilizers along for the ride.

 

By redirecting rainwater from your roof to a bog garden, you'll help divert a rush of often-polluted water from discharging into local streams, rivers, and lakes, where it can kill or damage plants, fish, and wildlife.

 


To keep skeeters and other pests away, you can add mosquito dunks (a microbial larvicide) or a few small, insect-larvae-gobbling fish to your bog. (You might want to reconsider the idea entirely, however, if
West Nile virus is an issue in your area.) If your landscaping tastes run toward the exotic, check out Associated Content's guide to adding carnivorous plants. ::Natural Life Magazine

From: http://planetgreen.discovery.com/can-you-dig-it/build-a-downspout-bog-garden.php

Best location in the nation

You won't believe this Bill, but when I was ten years old I sang one of those commercials you would hear on the radio..."the best things in life, are right here in Cleveland...." I didn't get paid for it then, and I am still not getting paid for it, now! 

WATER=LIFE.

Cleveland - "The Best Location In The Nation"

Cleveland used to be called "The Best Location In The Nation"...

We might well be coming back to that....

Blue water entrepreneurs

Let's start now--saving water. 

And surprise--tech start-ups entrepreneurs like David George aren't always in their twenties. 

What do we do to encourage our 50/60/70 something entrepreneurs, who will most likely stay in Ohio at this point?!

water

 

Water Rights Activists Blast Istanbul World Water Forum as “Corporate Trade Show to Promote Privatization”
 
 

Desalination

  Desalination seems like too much effort to make inhospitable parts of the globe more hospitable. But, it is a big industry.  My cousin in Hungary is an engineer for a company that manufacturers desalination plant equipment. 

Cleveland is the best location in the nation--we are just too disorganized to make it work for us.  Thanks for Democracy Now link Dbra...corporate, corporate, corporate is killing America :(

Atlantis