Water & climate change
20 Questions and Answers re Water & Climate Change [brief answers in parentheses].
1. How should we respond to risks in general? [Rational risk management successively involves (a) getting accurate data, (b) scientific analysis (science involving the critical testing of potentially falsifiable hypotheses) and (c) systemic change to minimize risk. Conversely, all too common spin successively involves (a) lies, propaganda, obfuscation, censorship, (b) anti-science spin (this involving the selective use of asserted facts to support a partisan position and (c) counterproductive blame and shame that is politically profitable but which inhibits mandatory reportage].
2. Is the world responding properly to man-made climate change? [No. Top climate scientists including the UK Royal Society Coral Working Group say we must urgently reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration from the current dangerous and damaging 392 parts per million (ppm) to a safe and sustainable 300 ppm to protect all peoples and all species. However all governments are committed to continued increase in GHG pollution. Professor Kevin Anderson and Dr Alice Bows (UK Tyndall Institute, University of Manchester) have estimated that a 6-8% annual decrease in GHG pollution, i.e. in carbon-based economic activity, would be required to keep to a 2 degree C temperature rise but all governments are committed to increasing carbon-based economic activity].
3. Why isn’t the world responding properly to man-made climate change? [Governments focus on citizen satisfaction and short-term economic growth, especially in democracies with 3-5 year electoral cycles. This is compounded by powerful business lobbies, notably the fossil fuel lobby (hence the term Lobbyocracy) and oligopoly media (hence the term Murdochracy). Professor Jared Diamond in his book “Collapse” considers top-down and bottom-up scenarios for social change in response to threatening environmental change. Useful actions by China in response to the Climate Emergency provide an example of an effective top-down response ].
4. Could you comment on scientists and global climate change policy? As a science student, scientist and science teacher over 5 decades I can give my personal experience: as a science student in the 1960s aware of man’s impact on the biosphere (Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”) and our burning of oil, the feedstock of organic chemical industry; as a scientist in the early 1970s aware of population pressures (Paul Ehrlich’s “The Population Bomb”) and the finiteness of resources, including the atmosphere (The Club of Rome’s “Limits to Growth”); as a scientist researcher and teaching academic in the middle 1980s aware of the seriousness of Man’s chemical pollution of the atmosphere (CFCs and the Ozone Hole) and the growing seriousness of man-made global warming (IPCC set up in 1988); early 1990s realization of societal ignoring of the deadly seriousness of AGW (anthropogenic global warming) especially to megadelta countries such as Bangladesh (see Gideon Polya’s book “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History”); 21st century activism to tackle huge gulf between science and public perception. 2008-2010 – pleas by top scientists and scientific bodies e.g. “We face a climate emergency” (NASA’s Dr James Hansen, 2008); “inaction is inexcusable” (Synopsis of 2,500-delegate March 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference), “delay is not an option” (255 members of the US National Academy of Science, 2010). Just as we turn to top medical specialists in relation to life threatening disease, so we must take the advice on the climate emergency from top climate scientists. The gulf over climate change action remains between science (urgent action now) and public perception (some token action) c/- polluter lobbyists in Lobbyocracy Australia
5. Can you outline the water situation on Planet Earth and the gross impact of climate change? About 97% of the world’s water is saline sea water. Of the 3% of fresh water about 30% is groundwater, 69% is tied up as ice in the polar regions and glaciers and about 1% is surface water. Of the 1% of fresh water that is surface water, the breakdown is 2% (rivers), 11% (swamps) and 67% (lakes). AGW will shift huge amounts of glacier and polar ice to saline sea water (2-5 metre sea rise this century). Dr Andrew Glikson (palaeo-climate scientist, ANU): “The continuing use of the atmosphere as an open sewer for industrial pollution has … raised CO2 levels to 387 ppm CO2 to date [actually now 392 ppm, increasing ar 2 ppm per year], leading toward conditions which existed on Earth about 3 million years (Ma) ago (mid-Pliocene), when CO2 levels rose to about 400 ppm, temperatures to about 2–3 degrees C and sea levels by about 25 +/- 12 metres.” Groundwater aquifers are being ”mined” by agriculture just as soils have been “mined” by agriculture and arable land is being lost through nutrient depletion, erosion, urbanization, coastal inundation and salinization. AGW is impacting surface fresh water through increased drought and floods in different areas.
6. How is man-made climate change impacting global fresh water? [According to Professor John Holdren “The Science of Climatic Disruption”, drought is increasing in northern and southern latitudes (e.g. US, Russia, Northern China, Southern Australia) but floods have increased in tropical and sub-tropical regions ( Southern China, Pakistan, Northern Australia). Aquifers are being depleted (notably in North India) and glaciers are melting, notably in the Himalayas that feed the major rivers of South Asia, South East Asia and East Asia crucial for about 3 billion people].
7. What is Water Stress? [Water Stress can be measured by the Water Withdrawal/Water Availability ratio. The World Water Council has provided a colour-coded map indicating that some parts of First World countries are suffering High Water Stress (ratio 0.4 – 0.8), notably in the US, the Ukraine and Southern Australia. However Very High Water Stress (ratio 0.8-1.0) is occurring in a swathe of Developing countries from North Africa through to Mongolia in addition to occurring in specific regions of Western US, Mexico, Chile, South Africa, and Southern Australia (e.g. regions where the drought has most strongly persisted).
8. Can you outline global inequities in basic water availability for human use? The World Water Council provides the following statistics. 1.1 billion people (overwhelmingly in the Developing World) live without clean drinking water (potable water). 2.6 billion people (overwhelmingly in the Developing World) lack adequate sanitation, this having major health consequences. 1.8 million people (overwhelmingly in the Developing World) die every year from diarrhoeal diseases (from lack of clean water, soap and sanitation). 1.4 million children (overwhelmingly in the Developing World) die each year from water borne diseases (3,900 daily). Daily per capita use of water in residential areas is 380 litres (North America and Japan ), 200 litres (Europe), and 10-20 litres (sub-Saharan Africa ).
9. What is peak water? Peak water is reached when the rate of water demand higher exceeds the rate of replenishment. Water is declining in glaciers (worldwide), aquifers (e.g. Northern India and Australia), rivers (e.g. the Murray-Darling River system in Australia) and in lakes. Peak water is being approached in many areas around the world (see #7). By 2025 two thirds of the world population could be subject to water stress.
10. What is the relative water use in Australia and other countries? In very dry Australia total freshwater withdrawal is 24.1 km3/year; per capita withdrawal is 1,193 m3/person/year; and the % use is 15% (domestic), 10% (industry) and 75% (agriculture). In wet Canada (a major repository of global fresh water) total freshwater withdrawal is 44.7 km3/year; per capita withdrawal is 1,386 m3/person/year; and the % use is 20% (domestic), 69% (industry) and 12% (agriculture) (similar % use to Russia). In the drier US total freshwater withdrawal is 477 km3/year; per capita withdrawal is 1,600 m3/person/year; and the % use is 13% (domestic), 46% (industry) and 41% (agriculture). In heavily rural but industrializing India total freshwater withdrawal is 646 km3/year; per capita withdrawal is 585 m3/person/year; and the % use is 8% (domestic), 5% (industry) and 86% (agriculture). In substantially rural but rapidly industrializing China total freshwater withdrawal is 550 km3/year; per capita withdrawal is 415 m3/person/year; and the % use is 7% (domestic), 26% (industry) and 68% (agriculture). In dominantly rural Developing Countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, Iran, Egypt, Uzbekistan, Iraq, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Guyana and Suriname, the % of fresh water for agriculture is in the range 91-96%.
11. What is virtual water (also known as embedded water, embodied water, or hidden water) and the differential use of water for different products? Virtual water is the quantity of water needed to produce an economic item e.g. the virtual water cost of 1 kg of the following products is 1,000 litres (wheat), 1,400 litres (rice), 3,300 litres (eggs), and 15,000 litres (beef) (noting that Americans eat 22 times more meat annually than Indians). For industrial products the virtual water cost of following products is 11,000 (pair of jeans), 1,000,000 litres (a car), and 6,000,000 litres (a house).
12. Is water being exported? Turkey exports water to Israel in tankers. Dry Australia exports virtual (embedded) water in its wheat exports (1,000 litres water per kg of wheat x 14.7 million tonnes wheat in 2009-2010 x 1,000 kg/tonne x 1 m3 / 1,000 litres= 14.7 billion m3 H2O as compared to about 26 billion m3 total annual water withdrawal.
13. Should Australia (and other countries) shift to better use of water? Yes. Domestically there must be better storm water collection, recycling of water, use of grey water for flushing toilets and watering gardens and alternative sewerage systems may need to be developed (e.g. based on existing dry systems if compatible with urban health). Growing cotton and rice in dry Australia is profligate. Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) and conventional breeding approaches for drought-tolerant and salinity-tolerant plants may provide partial solutions to drought and salinization effects on agriculture. There may be vastly better crops for arid zones e.g. indigenous sandalwood (oil), aloe (pharmaceuticals) and mulga and other plants (for biochar production) (see “Biochemical Targets of Plant Bioactive Compounds”). The rate of species extinction is 100-1,000 times higher than normal and excessive use of water and drastic depletion of river flows is contributing to Australia’s world leading loss of biodiversity and ecosystems.
14. Is the worsening water crisis threatening world peace? Yes. Over 260 river basins are shared by 2 or more countries, mostly without adequate legal or institutional arrangements (with huge implications for current and future conflicts). Thus high population megadelta Egypt is threatened by rising sea levels (that will destroy the fertile Nile delta) and by greater Sudanese and Ethiopian use of Nile water upstream. Africa-Asian Very High Water Stress zone countries are variously violently occupied, bombed or threatened by the US Alliance in a swathe stretching from Occupied Somalia and Occupied Palestine in the West to Occupied Afghanistan and US robot-bombed Pakistan in the East. In Occupied Palestine, Israel mostly steals 80% of the water from the West Bank Mountain Aquifer for itself, leaving 20% for its Occupied Palestinian Subjects, who are thus deprived not only of basic human rights but also of their own water supplies. According to Amnesty International (2009): “While Palestinian daily water consumption barely reaches 70 litres a day per person, Israeli daily consumption is more than 300 litres per day, four times as much. In some rural communities Palestinians survive on barely 20 litres per day, the minimum amount recommended for domestic use in emergency situations.” The Iraq War and the horrible threat of an extension to Iran may be due to potential Israeli desires for water from the Euphrates as well as from US desires for oil and hegemony.
15. Is the water crisis compounded by population increase? Yes. The world’s population is currently 6.7 billion and is projected by the UN Population Division to plateau at about 9.5 billion by 2050. However nearly half the world’s population variously suffers from water deficits for drinking, sanitation and/or agriculture already. Each year about 16 million people die avoidably from deprivation and deprivation-exacerbated disease (2003 data; see my book “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950”). The latest data from the UN Population Division indicate 22 million avoidable deaths annually, with global warming, drought, shrinking aquifers, decreased agricultural productivity, water-borne disease, malnutrition, illiteracy, lack of primary health care, lack of sanitation and lack of potable water all contributing to this avoidable carnage.
16. Can you comment on the term climate genocide in relation to water deficits and population growth? Both Dr James Lovelock FRS (Gaia hypothesis) and Professor Kevin Anderson ( Director, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Manchester, UK) have recently estimated that fewer than 1 billion people will survive this century due to unaddressed, man-made global warming – noting that the world population is expected to reach 9.5 billion by 2050, these estimates translate to a climate genocide involving deaths of 10 billion people this century, this including 6 billion under-5 year old infants, 3 billion Muslims in a terminal Muslim Holocaust, 2 billion Indians, 1.3 billion non-Arab Africans, 0.5 billion Bengalis, 0.3 billion Pakistanis and 0.3 billion Bangladeshis. Water deficits will compound this worsening climate genocide. Already 16 million people (about 9.5 million of them under-5 year old infants) die avoidably every year due to deprivation and deprivation-exacerbated disease – and man-made global warming is already clearly worsening this global avoidable mortality holocaust. However 10 billion avoidable deaths due to global warming this century yields an average annual avoidable death rate of 100 million per year. Collective, national responsibility for this already commenced Climate Holocaust is in direct proportion to per capita national pollution of the atmosphere with greenhouse gases (GHGs). Indeed, fundamental to any international agreement on national rights to pollute our common atmosphere and oceans should be the belief that “all men are created equal”. However reality is otherwise: “annual per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution” in units of “tonnes CO2-equivalent per person per year” (2005-2008 data) is 0.9 (Bangladesh), 0.9 (Pakistan), 2.2 (India), less than 3 (many African and Island countries), 3.2 (the Developing World), 5.5 (China), 6.7 (the World), 11 (Europe), 16 (the Developed World), 27 (the US) and 30 (Australia; or 54 if Australia’s huge Exported CO2 pollution is included).
17. How should Australia and the World respond to the worsening climate crisis? Top scientists say that crucial policies should be (1) no ETS (the Carbon Trading-based Emission Trading Scheme approach is empirically ineffective, dangerously counterproductive and is inherently fraudulent – in addition to dangerous market manipulation leading to carbon credit “bubbles”, nobody has the right to sell “licences” to pollute the one common atmosphere of the Planet); (2) 100% renewable energy ASAP (Beyond Zero Emissions has recently published its Zero Carbon Australia 2020, ZCA 2020, Report that costs 100% renewable energy for Australia based on wind and concentrated solar thermal with molten salts energy storage at A$370 billion) coupled with cessation of GHG pollution, deforestation, population increase and mass species extinction; and (3) a carbon price (e.g. a revenue neutral Carbon Tax).
18. Can biofuels contribute to solving the water and climate change crisis? Biofuel generation via algal photosynthesis can be carbon neutral. However biofuels from converting food to fuel is obscene in a hungry world (biofuel genocide already threatens billions through food price rises that were only averted in 2008 due to the Global Financial Crisis) and in actuality also creates big water losses and a carbon debt (e.g. methane from anaerobic bacterial action in deforested tropical wetlands, CO2 from oxidation of soil carbon and agricultural waste).
19. How can the atmospheric CO2 concentration be reduced to 300 ppm and other GHGs be contained ? Biochar expert Professor Johannes Lehmann of Cornell University has calculated that it is realistically possible to fix 9.5bn tonnes of carbon per year using biochar (charcoal generated by anaerobic pyrolysis of cellulose waste at 400-700 degrees C) , noting that global annual production of carbon from fossil fuels is 8.5bn tonnes. However GHG methane from melting tundra, industrial natural gas leakage and from methanogenic livestock is a huge problem (methane is 72 times worse than CO2 as a GHG on a 20 year time scale). World Bank analysts recently estimated that GHG pollution is 50% bigger than hitherto thought and that livestock contribute over 51% of the bigger figure.. Natural gas is dirty energy.
20. What can individuals do? Silence kills and silence is complicity. Educated people have an obligation to inform others about the worsening climate emergency. You can vote appropriately, be environmentally correct and also join a local Climate Action Group (e.g. the Yarra Valley Climate Action Group) so that you can say that you have done something collectively to avert climate catastrophe.
“Peak water”, Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peak_water .
Gideon Polya, “Water crisis, Palestinian Genoicde and Climate Genocide”, Countercurrents: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya270410.htm .
World Water Council, “Water crisis”, 2009: http://www.worldwatercouncil.org/index.php?id=25 .
Amnesty International, “ Israel rations Palestinians to a trickle of water”, 27 October 2009: http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/report/israel-rations-palestinians-trickle-water-20091027 .
Climate Genocide: https://sites.google.com/site/climategenocide/ .
Biofuel Genocide: https://sites.google.com/site/biofuelgenocide/ .
Climate crisis articles: https://sites.google.com/site/climatecrisisarticles/ .
300.org: https://sites.google.com/site/300orgsite/ .
Yarra Valley Climate Action Group: https://sites.google.com/site/yarravalleyclimateactiongroup/ .
Professor John Holdren (Professor of Environmental Policy and Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University; Director, Woods Hole Research Center; former president, American Association for the Advancement of Science, AAAS; President Barack Obama’s chief science adviser), “The Science of Climate Disruption” (2008) – a summary of the basis of man-made global warming and the climatic disruption that has already occurred: http://www.usclimateaction.org/userfiles/JohnHoldren.pdf .
Water resources, Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_resources .
World Water Council: http://www.worldwatercouncil.org/ .
Water Crisis, World Water Council: http://www.worldwatercouncil.org/index.php?id=25 .
Gideon Polya, “Body Count. Global avoidable mortaliity since 1950”: http://globalavoidablemortality.blogspot.com/2008/08/body-count-global-avoidable-mortality.html .
Gideon Polya, “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History”: http://janeaustenand.blogspot.com/2008/09/jane-austen-and-black-hole-of-british.html .
Jared Diamond, “Collapse”.
Gideon Polya, “Biochemical Targets of Plant Bioactive Compounds”..
Water availability information by country, Green Facts: http://www.greenfacts.org/en/water-resources/figtableboxes/3.htm .
Rachel Carson, “Silent Spring”.
Paul Ehrlich, “The Population Bomb”.