By Barbara Kessler
Taking the pulse of the planet today, it’s time to call Code Blue.
We need a triage team, or at least an intervention. I’ll start with the most alarming data leaping from my email, and work down to some tidbits about climate change and info about how you can help. (You know it’s bad, when climate change gets pushed to the bottom.)
First up, water. Everyone knows we’re using too much of it. Aquifers around the world are being depleted by irrigation and key rivers, like the Yellow River in China and the Colorado in the US, now run dry part of the year.
How can that even be? The Colorado supplies major metropolitan areas with drinking water; 40 million people depend upon this river and what’s happening to it will turn your blood cold. Check out these before and after pictures of Colorado-fed Lake Mead related to a study released last week by NASA and the University of California at Irvine.
Or look at this US map showing how dry underground water stores have become in the Southwest. The picture above from the US Bureau of Reclamation also demonstrates the problem. The ring around Lake Mead marks the water’s decline.
It boggles the mind to envision the future, if climate change continues to wring out the West with years of drought and we continue to stick straws in the ground.
But beyond our dumb overpopulation of the desert is our simple overpopulation of everywhere. A note today from the ever-concise and often grim Earth Policy Institute, reminds us that we’re all using too much water:
“Each day we drink nearly 4 liters of water, but it takes some 2,000 liters of water—500 times as much—to produce the food we consume. 1,000 tons of water is used to produce 1 ton of grain.”
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Some of that water, most of it, in fact, returns to the hydrological cycle. That is a saving grace.
Still, we know that our 7 billion humans are overrunning Earth’s capacity. And to compound the problem, we are permanently contaminating and reducing available freshwater.
Fracking, tar sands extraction, heavy use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and oil spills rather handily destroy freshwater, and even marine water. Among this week’s news, is a peer-reviewed report on the damage to coral in the Gulf of Mexico, showing that the BP oil spill harmed a wider swath than was previously believed. (Coral by the way, live for hundreds of years, but we humans can wipe them out like that!)
Water contamination happens in big swipes, like the oil spill, and incrementally. The Dartmouth Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program is convening a summit in Maine next month to develop a plan for arsenic contamination. And just when we didn’t know what pollutant to worry about next.
This toxic metal turns up in rice and water wells affecting the health of 25 million Americans and 3 billion people worldwide, having the broadest effect on human health of any single contaminant, according to the organizers. The EPA, Consumer Reports, Lundberg Family Farms and various academic experts will put their heads together to develop guidance as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers setting an arsenic standard.
This is one of those bad news, good news stories. We’re ingesting “inorganic” arsenic, a known carcinogen and contributor to diabetes, but at least experts are developing a plan.
Now if only someone had a plan to clear out the pharmaceuticals that are turning up in drinking water (yes, it’s true, we’re re-ingesting each other’s mood and heart drugs), the fluoride needlessly dumped into water supplies and the toxics being stashed in the gas industry’s injection wells where they can creep into the water table.
But let’s not think about water too much. It’s a scary topic.
Let’s consider climate change. There is finally a major U.S. plan in the works to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions that are forcing climate change. (And that could be good news for water too; cool the planet, reduce drought, keep ice. etc.)
It comes from the Obama Administration, that evil outpost of liberalism that has so far failed to constrain in any way the extraction of fossil fuels.
By the way, the latest bad news on the oil and gas drilling front is that it is encroaching on National Parks. Holy, moly, Smokey, can we snuff out that trend?
But back to the positive plan in play. Despite allowing a free-for-all on drilling, the Obama Administration has tried to curb the greenhouse gases that are turning the planet into a melting wasteland. Notable among these are the higher mileage standards for cars and trucks enacted earlier, and (cross our fingers) yet to be unraveled by the raving lunatic climate deniers in the House of Representatives.
The second big Obama-led step that would reduce carbon emissions is the EPA’s pending proposal to severely limit pollution from coal-fired power plants. Coal, a dirty business from start to finish, has become the focus of this administration’s efforts to reel in carbon pollution.
Why pick on coal? That’s complex. There aren’t that many coal miners left, so politicians can sidestep powerful petroleum interests, and um, coal pollution is pretty bad.
Public hearings on the EPA’s plan to crack down on coal emissions start tomorrow. Ironically, one of the first locations, in Atlanta, had to be moved because of a power outage at the initial meeting site, the Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Center. Hearings also are being held in Denver, Washington D.C., and Pittsburgh.
If you can’t make a hearing, you can comment on the proposal through Oct. 16. The government has tried to make this complicated but it’s really not.
To comment, go here, and find the “Comment Now!” button.