mardi 12 décembre 2006

George Monbiot: The freshwater boom is over

The freshwater boom is over. Our rivers are starting to run dry

We can avert global thirst - but it means cutting carbon emissions by 60%. Sounds ridiculous? Consider the alternative

George Monbiot
Tuesday October 10, 2006
The Guardian

It looks dull, almost impenetrable in places. But if its findings are verified, it could turn out to be the most important scientific report published so far this year. In this month's edition of the Journal of Hydrometeorology is a paper written by scientists at the Met Office, which predicts future patterns of rainfall and evaporation.

Those who dispute that climate change is taking place, such as Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail, like to point out that that the predicted effects of global warming rely on computer models, rather than "observable facts". That's the problem with the future - you can't observe it. But to have any hope of working out what might happen, you need a framework of understanding. It's either this or the uninformed guesswork that Phillips seems to prefer.

The models can be tested by means of what climate scientists call backcasting - seeing whether or not they would have predicted changes that have already taken place. The global climate model used by the Met Office still needs to be refined. While it tracks past temperature changes pretty closely, it does not accurately backcast the drought patterns in every region. But it correctly reproduces the total global water trends over the past 50 years. When the same model is used to forecast the pattern over the 21st century, it uncovers "a net overall global drying trend" if greenhouse gas emissions are moderate or high. "On a global basis, drought events are slightly more frequent and of much longer duration by the second half of the 21st century relative to the present day." In these dry, stodgy phrases, we find an account of almost unimaginable future misery.

Many parts of the world, for reasons that have little to do with climate change, are already beginning to lose their water. In When the Rivers Run Dry, Fred Pearce, who is New Scientist's environment consultant, travels around the world trying to assess the state of our water resources. He finds that we survive today as a result of borrowing from the future.

The great famines predicted for the 1970s were averted by new varieties of rice, wheat and maize, whose development was known as the "green revolution". They produce tremendous yields, but require plenty of water. This has been provided by irrigation, much of which uses underground reserves. Unfortunately, many of them are being exploited much faster than they are being replenished. In India, for example, some 250 cubic kilometres (a cubic kilometre is a billion cubic metres or a trillion litres) are extracted for irrigation every year, of which about 150 are replaced by the rain. "Two hundred million people [are] facing a waterless future. The groundwater boom is turning to bust and, for some, the green revolution is over."

In China, 100 million people live on crops grown with underground water that is not being refilled: water tables are falling fast all over the north China plain. Many more rely on the Huang He (the Yellow river), which already appears to be drying up as a result of abstraction and, possibly, climate change. Around 90% of the crops in Pakistan are watered by irrigation from the Indus. Almost all the river's water is already diverted into the fields - it often fails now to reach the sea. The Ogallala aquifer that lies under the western and south-western United States, and which has fed much of the world, has fallen by 30 metres in many places. It now produces half as much water as it did in the 1970s.

All this was known before the new paper was published. While climate scientists have been predicting for some time that the wet parts of the world are likely to become wetter and the dry parts drier, they had assumed that overall rainfall would rise, as higher temperatures increase evaporation. At the same time - and for the same reason - soils could become drier. It was unclear what the net effects would be. But the new paper's "drought index" covers both rainfall and evaporation: overall, the world becomes drier.

Even this account - of rising demand and falling supply - does not tell the whole grim story. Roughly half the world's population lives within 60 kilometres of the coast. Eight of the 10 largest cities on earth have been built beside the sea. Many of them rely on underground lenses of fresh water, effectively floating, within the porous rocks, on salt water which has soaked into the land from the sea. As the fresh water is sucked out, the salt water rises and can start to contaminate the aquifer. This is already happening in hundreds of places. The worst case is the Gaza Strip, which relies entirely on underground water that is now almost undrinkable. As the sea level rises as a result of climate change, salt pollution in coastal regions is likely to accelerate.

As these two effects of climate change - global drying and rising salt pollution - run up against the growing demand for water, and as irrigation systems run dry or become contaminated, the possibility arises of a permanent global food deficit. Even with a net food surplus, 800 million people are malnourished. Nothing I could write would begin to describe what a world in deficit - carrying 9 billion people - would look like.

There are four possible means of adapting to this crisis. One is to abandon regions that are drying up and shift production to the wettest parts of the world - the Amazon and Congo basins, for example. But as these are generally the most forested places, this will lead to a great acceleration of climate change, and of the global drying it's likely to cause, as the carbon in the trees is turned to carbon dioxide. Another is to invest in desalination plants. But even the new desalination technologies produce expensive water, and they use a great deal of energy. Again this means more global warming.

Another is to shift water, on a massive scale, to the drying lands. But vast hydro-engineering projects have seldom succeeded in helping the poor. Giant dams and canals - like the Narmada system in India, the Three Gorges in China and Colonel Gadafy's "Great Man-Made River" - are constructed at stupendous cost. Then, when no further glory can be extracted by the government officials and companies who built them, the fiddly work of ensuring the water reaches the poor is forgotten, and the money is wasted. As Fred Pearce shows, perhaps the best method, which in the past has kept cities alive even in the Negev desert, is the small-scale capture of rainwater in ponds and tanks.

But to stand a high chance of averting this catastrophe, we must ensure that the drying doesn't happen. The predictions in the new paper refer to global warming in the middle or at the high end of the expected range. Beneath that point - 2C of warming or so - a great global drying is less likely to occur. As the figures I've published show, to keep the rise in temperature below this level requires a global cut in carbon emissions of 60% by 2030 - which means a 90% reduction in rich nations such as the United Kingdom. It sounds ridiculous . But then you consider the alternative.

· George Monbiot's book Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning is published by Penguin

lundi 20 novembre 2006

Letter: cyanobactéries et toxiques

Serge Thivierge
Municipality of Lac-Simon
849, chemin Tour-du-Lac
PO BOX 3550
Lac-Simon, Chénéville (Québec)
J0V 1E0

RE: Water Quality of Lac Simon and La Petite-Nation - cyanobactéries et toxiques.

Maire Serge Thivierge,

The municipalities and retailers of La Petite-Nation must protect the waters of our lakes and rivers.

The municipalities and retailers of Cheneville, Lac Simon, and Duhamel must help protect Lac Simon.

The Metro, BMR and Home Hardware in Cheneville must promote & showcase healthy consumer products that are safe for Lac Simon.

I would argue for:

1. Phospherous Free Detergents
Detergents are a very large source of phosphorus. Metro, BMR and Home Hardware in Chenevillle and other towns of La Petite-Nation must promote phospherous free detergents.

2. Phospherous Free Fertilizers
Lawn fertilizers are a very large source of phosphorus. Reatailers such as BMR and Home Hardware in Chenevillle and other towns of La Petite-Nation should promote a low-phosphorous, organic fertilizer.

3. Human healthy, and environmental friendly household cleaners.
Metro, BMR and Home Hardware should promote household cleaners that have no toxic chemicals and are safe for humans and Lac Simon. These products end up in our septic tanks and seep into our lake and underground water table. Products from alternative manufacturers such as Ecover, Nature Clean, and Seventh Generation are a much better choice for human health and Lac Simon.

Our Lac Simon is a living breathing precious resource that deserves our respect and protection.

The municipalities of Cheneville, Lac Simon and Duhamel in conjunction with the retailers such as Metro, BMR and Home Hardware must promote (1) phospherous free detergents and fertilizers and (2) non toxic household cleaners.

For example, retailers in July/August could have an exterior Saturday exhibit showcasing and promoting phospherous free detergents and fertilizers as well as clean environmental friendly household cleaners. Municipalities could forward a flyer with taxes that outline steps to keep the lake healthy. SEPAQ could promote environmentaly safe beauty products (ex: shampoos) for campers on their web site, literature and gate entrance.

It must be coordinated to be effective.

Otherwise phospherous and toxic chemicals will continue to contaminate our Lac Simon and La Petite-Nation, our underground water table and all our drinking water.

Moreover, not only is this a human health and environmental concern but also an economic matter. All our property values are dependent on the water quality of Lac Simon and La Petite-Nation. Moreover, with 10,000 visitors/year, a clean Lac Simon is key to the economic growth of retailers and the tax base of all municipalities in La Petite-Nation.

What are your plans to address this issue, and can I be assured that you will take action on it.


Paul Malouf

CC: Conseil de la Municipalite de Cheneville, Duhamel, Ripon, Plaisance, Lac des Plages, Montebello, Namur and Montpellier and SEPAQ, Andre Leblanc (Metro), Yves Gagnon (BMR).

dimanche 19 novembre 2006

Letter: Ban Pesticides, Insecticides & Herbicides

Serge Thivierge
Municipality of Lac-Simon
849, chemin Tour-du-Lac
PO BOX 3550
Lac-Simon, Chénéville (Québec)
J0V 1E0

RE: Ban pesticides, insecticides & herbicides: We must protect the water and people of Lac Simon and Cheneville!

Maire Serge Thivierge,

In May 1991, the town of Hudson, Quebec passed a by-law to eliminate the cosmetic use of pesticides within the town's limits, in an effort to protect the health of Hudson residents. Two lawn pesticide companies, Chemlawn and Spraytech, were caught spraying pesticides in flagrant violation of the bylaw, and were charged (the maximum fine was $300).

Outraged, the pesticide companies challenged the municipality's authority "to forbid an activity legally authorized by a federal or provincial law." The Quebec court ruled in favour of Hudson.

The companies then appealed to the Quebec Superior Court. The Superior Court supported the earlier decision. Unwilling to let the matter die, the companies, undoubtedly backed by larger chemical manufacturing and distributing interests, pushed the case to the Supreme Court, which granted leave to appeal in November 1999. The case was heard on December 7, 2000.

Their challenge was dismissed, with costs, by the Supreme Court of Canada on June 28th, 2001.

While upholding the right of municipalities to protect the health of their residents against environmental threats, there is no explicit mention of pesticides, which opens up the potential for bylaws prohibiting or restricting other activities or substances in communities.

In January 2005, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) formally recognized the role that municipalities play in the governing of pesticide use. They wrote that communities are able “to further regulate pesticide use, including use restrictions.”

Les Municipalités de Lac-Simon et Cheneville must take this right and implement a Ban on pesticides, insecticides & herbicides.

We must protect the water and people of both Cheneville and Lac Simon!

I await your reply.


Paul Malouf

CC: Conseil de la Municipalité de Lac-Simon Don Saliba, Jean Guy Maillé, Jocelyn Boisvert, Nelson Barnes, Reina Laniel, ET Conseil de la Municipalité de Cheneville: Eric Drouin, Richard Whissell, Jean-Rene Carriere, Shieley Whissell, Rober Roy, et Joseph Filion Maire.

mercredi 8 novembre 2006

World View: Dirty water kills 5,000 children a day

Dirty water kills 5,000 children a day
Sanitation the key to saving millions of lives
· UN urges governments to ensure supplies for all

Ashley Seager
Friday November 10, 2006
The Guardian

Nearly two million children a year die for want of clean water and proper sanitation while the world's poor often pay more for their water than people in Britain or the US, according to a major new report.

The United Nations Development Programme, in its annual Human Development report, argues that 1.1 billion people do not have safe water and 2.6 billion suffer from inadequate sewerage. This is not because of water scarcity but poverty, inequality and government failure.

The report urges governments to guarantee that each person has at least 20 litres of clean water a day, regardless of wealth, location, gender or ethnicity. If water was free to the poor, it adds, it could trigger the next leap forward in human development.

Many sub-Saharan Africans get less than 20 litres of water a day and two-thirds have no proper toilets. By contrast, the average Briton uses 150 litres a day while Americans are the world's most profligate, using 600 litres a day. Phoenix, Arizona, uses 1,000 litres per person on average - 100 times as much as Mozambique.

"Water, the stuff of life and a basic human right, is at the heart of a daily crisis faced by countless millions of the world's most vulnerable people," says the report's lead author, Kevin Watkins.

Hilary Benn, international development secretary, said: "In many developing countries, water companies supply the rich with subsidised water but often don't reach poor people at all. With around 5,000 children dying every day because they drink dirty water, we must do more."

Many countries spend less than 1% of national income on water. This needs to rise sharply, as does the share of foreign aid spent on water projects, the UNDP says. It shows how spending on clean water and sanitation led to dramatic advances in health and infant mortality in Britain and the United States in the 1800s.

In the world's worst slums, people often pay five to 10 times more than wealthy people in the same cities or in London. This is because they often have to buy water from standpipes and pay a middle man by the bucket. "The poorer you are, the more you pay," says Mr Watkins.

Poor people also waste much time walking miles to collect small amounts of water. The report estimates that 40bn hours are spent collecting water each year in sub-Saharan Africa - an entire working year for all the people in France.

And the water the poor do get is often contaminated, spreading diseases that kill people or leave them unable to work. The UNDP estimates that nearly half of all people in developing countries at any one time are suffering from an illness caused by bad water or sanitation and that 443m school days are missed each year.

There is plenty of water globally but it is not evenly distributed and is difficult to transport. Some countries use more than they have due to irrigation, population growth and so on. But many simply do not handle their water properly.

The Middle East is the world's most "water-stressed" region, with Palestinians, especially in Gaza, suffering the most.

Climate change is likely to hit the developing world hardest, reducing the availability of water, lowering agricultural productivity and leaving millions hungry. Changing weather patterns are already causing drought in countries such as Kenya, Mali and Zimbabwe, but wet areas are likely to become wetter still, causing devastating floods and loss of life.

It says governments need to get more water to people, either through the public sector or a regulated private sector. The end, the UNDP concludes, is more important than the means.

Click here to read this article at The Guardian.

jeudi 2 novembre 2006

World View: Water scarcity: A looming crisis?

As part of Planet Under Pressure, a BBC News Online series looking at some of the biggest environmental problems facing humanity, Alex Kirby explores fears of an impending global water crisis.

Water scarcity: A looming crisis? (Part 2)
Alex Kirby

BBC News Online environment correspondent

Indian farmer, AP
The world's water is finite, but the number of us is growing fast
The world's water crisis is simple to understand, if not to solve.

The amount of water in the world is finite. The number of us is growing fast and our water use is growing even faster.

A third of the world's population lives in water-stressed countries now. By 2025, this is expected to rise to two-thirds.

There is more than enough water available, in total, for everyone's basic needs.

The UN recommends that people need a minimum of 50 litres of water a day for drinking, washing, cooking and sanitation.

In 1990, over a billion people did not have even that.

Providing universal access to that basic minimum worldwide by 2015 would take less than 1% of the amount of water we use today. But we're a long way from achieving that.

Pollution and disease

Global water consumption rose sixfold between 1900 and 1995 - more than double the rate of population growth - and goes on growing as farming, industry and domestic demand all increase.

As important as quantity is quality - with pollution increasing in some areas, the amount of useable water declines.

More than five million people die from waterborne diseases each year - 10 times the number killed in wars around the globe.

And the wider effects of water shortages are just as chilling as the prospect of having too little to drink.

Seventy percent of the water used worldwide is used for agriculture.

Much more will be needed if we are to feed the world's growing population - predicted to rise from about six billion today to 8.9 billion by 2050.

And consumption will soar further as more people expect Western-style lifestyles and diets - one kilogram of grain-fed beef needs at least 15 cubic metres of water, while a kilo of cereals needs only up to three cubic metres.

Poverty and water

The poor are the ones who suffer most. Water shortages can mean long walks to fetch water, high prices to buy it, food insecurity and disease from drinking dirty water.

Water queue during 2000 Bombay drought
Millions of poor people spend hours every day carrying water
But the very thing needed to raise funds to tackle water problems in poor countries - economic development - requires yet more water to supply the agriculture and industries which drive it.

The UN-backed World Commission on Water estimated in 2000 that an additional $100bn a year would be needed to tackle water scarcity worldwide.

This dwarfs the $20bn which will be needed annually by 2007 to tackle HIV and Aids, and, according to the Commission, it is so much it could only be raised from the private sector.

Even if the money can be found, spending it wisely is a further challenge. Dams and other large-scale projects now affect 60% of the world's largest rivers and provide millions with water.

But in many cases the costs in terms of population displacement and irreversible changes in the nearby ecosystems have been considerable.

Using underground supplies is another widely used solution, but it means living on capital accumulated over millennia, and depleting it faster than the interest can top it up.

As groundwater is exploited, water tables in parts of China, India, West Asia, the former Soviet Union and the western United States are dropping - in India by as much as 3m a year in 1999.

Technical solutions

New technology can help, however, especially by cleaning up pollution and so making more water useable, and in agriculture, where water use can be made far more efficient. Drought-resistant plants can also help.

Drip irrigation drastically cuts the amount of water needed, low-pressure sprinklers are an improvement, and even building simple earth walls to trap rainfall is helpful.

Cow, PA
One kilo of grain-fed beef needs at least 15 cubic metres of water
Some countries are now treating waste water so that it can be used - and drunk - several times over.

Desalinisation makes sea water available, but takes huge quantities of energy and leaves vast amounts of brine.

The optimists say "virtual water" may save the day - the water contained in crops which can be exported from water-rich countries to arid ones.

But the amounts involved would be immense, and the energy needed to transport them gargantuan. And affordable, useable energy will probably soon be a bigger problem than water itself.

Climate change

In any case, it is not just us who need water, but every other species that shares the planet with us - as well all the ecosystems on which we, and they, rely.

Climate change will also have an impact. Some areas will probably benefit from increased rainfall, but others are likely to be losers.

We have to rethink how much water we really need if we are to learn how to share the Earth's supply.

While dams and other large-scale schemes play a big role worldwide, there is also a growing recognition of the value of using the water we already have more efficiently rather than harvesting ever more from our rivers and aquifers.

For millions of people around the world, getting it right is a matter of life and death.

Click here to read this article at BBC.