Water is Scarce, You Say!

A commentary on the status of the world’s freshwater supply.

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Cape Town’s Reservoir From: http://www.capetownpartnership.co.za

Lately I’ve heard people talk about the water crisis in Cape Town, South Africa and I’ve seen the occasional post on Facebook about it. Often, I am skeptical when it comes to posts I see on Facebook. To quote Donald Trump, it could be Fake News. I try to stick to reputable websites when doing my posts. Curious about this water shortage, I did some research. It seems the talk I’ve heard and the posts I’ve seen are true. Cape Town is running out of water.

According to a CBC News article titled, Cape Town water crisis prompts rationing to prevent Day Zero tap shutoff,  a city with 4 million people, Cape Town’s main water source is now at about 27 per cent, but the final 10 per cent is considered unusable because of mud, weeds and debris at the bottom. The city’s managers have instructed residents, starting February 1st, to use only 50 litres of water daily, a decrease from the current 87-litre limit. Day Zero, the day when authorities would force the closure of most taps, is projected to arrive on April 12, but some fear it could come sooner.  The hope is water rationing will prolong Day Zero. The city says it would have to turn off most taps if the average reservoir level falls below 13.5 per cent. If Day Zero arrives, many people would have to go to collection points for a daily ration of 25 litres.

That’s rather disturbing to say the least. Four million people living in a city without water. Reading this got me wondering if water shortages are happening in other locations. It seems there are shortages elsewhere. There have been water shortage scares in the United States, especially in the states of Arizona and California.  Two years ago there was much concern that parts of California would experience a water shortage (see: NYT). Thankfully, heavy winter snows in the Rocky Mountains have rescued Western U.S. cities such as Phoenix, Tucson and Mesa for 2018 (see: Daily Herald).

Does that mean people living in the Western United States can give a sigh of relief? No, it does not. In 2015, the UN Predicted there would be serious water shortages by 2030.  The UN’s World Water Development Report  says, the world will only have 60% of the water it needs by 2030 without significant global policy change. It says countries like India are rapidly depleting their groundwater and rainfall patterns around the world are becoming more unpredictable due to global warming.

According to a National Geographic article entitled, What You Need to Know About the World’s Water Wars, states that fears are being sounded about the depletion of underground water supplies known as aquifers. More specifically, an aquifer is an underground layer of permeable rock, sediment, or soil that produces water. About 30 percent of the planet’s available freshwater is in the aquifers located under every continent. According to this article, the world’s largest underground water reserves in Africa, Eurasia (Europe and Asia), and the Americas are under stress. It is interesting to learn that over two-thirds of the groundwater consumed around the world is for irrigation purposes for agriculture, while the rest supplies drinking water to cities. The article says, Beijing is experiencing sinking because soil collapses into the space created as groundwater is depleted. Parts of Shanghai, Mexico City, and other cities are also sinking because of shrinking aquifers. Sections of California’s Central Valley have dropped by 38 centimetres, and in some localized areas, by as much as 8.5 metres.

Kofi Annan, the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations, once said, “Fierce national competition over water resources has prompted fears that water issues contain the seeds of violent conflict.”  He may be right. A Newsweek Article, The World will soon be at war over water, lists seven conflicts over water that have already happened. What’s interesting to me is I had no idea that these conflicts were over water. I was happy to read that some of the hottest conflicts over the water supply have been resolved through negotiation.

American composer, musician and poet, Michael Franti once said,

“If we do not change our negative habits toward climate change, we can count on worldwide disruptions in food production, resulting in mass migration, refugee crises and increased conflict over scarce natural resources like water and farm land. This is a recipe for major security problems.”

Mr. Franti is right. Humanity needs to “wake up” and realize that we must change our practices; our practices towards climate change, our habits towards water usage and even the way agriculture is practiced. The reality is water is a limited resource. As 1937 Nobel Prize recipient Albert Szent-Gyorgyi once said, Water is life’s mater and matrix, mother and medium. There is no life without water.”  Let’s face reality. If our water supply runs out, we are doomed.

In September of 2010, the United Nations General Assembly declared “the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.” (see: UN declaration). Slovenia in July of 2017 officially declared that having access to drinkable water is a human right. This announcement was made following a vote by the Slovenian parliament who voted in favour of the law that prevents the country’s water sources from being commercialized (see: Slovenia). I say “bravo”! A round of applause for Slovenia. Other countries should be following in Solvenia’s footsteps.

Now I don’t want to sound like a pessimist. I would rather be an optimist., which begs the question: Are there solutions to a water crisis besides conflict? Yes. According to the Canada Free Press’ article, Israel holds the solution to world water crisis, Israel has many new innovative products and policies. Some of these are drip irrigation and “fertigation,” a process of injecting fertilizers, soil amendments, and other water-soluble products into an irrigation system. Israel promotes dual-flush toilets, seawater desalination, advanced wastewater treatment and reuse, free-market pricing of water, drought-resistant seeds, cutting-edge metering and leak-detection systems, conservation education and precision agriculture. These are some of the ways we can use water in a more sustainable way. We just need to ‘wake up’ and demand that changes be made.

Scientists Protesting! An Unprecedented Event

A commentary on the Global March for Science

Bill Nye, the Science Guy (from CBC.ca)

CBC recently published an article, Global March for Science which caught my attention. When I read the headline, I was immediately curious as to why a global protest about science was going on. I had never heard of such a thing before and being as I was science teacher, my curiosity got the best of me.

The article reports that scientists along with their supporters marched in hundreds of cities around the world on Earth Day protesting against proposed U.S. government funding cuts to scientific research and public rejection of established science such as climate change. People in at least 18 locations across Canada are participating in marches to promote and advocate for science.

Earth Day is an annual event celebrated on April 22.  Assorted events are held to demonstrate support for environmental protection worldwide. It was first celebrated in 1970 and now events are held in more than 193 countries.

The purpose of the global march was to spread the message that science matters. Protesters are saying to the politicians who try to undermine science, ruin trust in science, or politically motivate funding of science are a risk to the planet and so they are speaking out against it. While climate change is a major issue, protestors are also concerned about a number of Trump’s executive orders and his proposed budget, which proposes massive cuts to scientific research.

So, my next thought was what is this inexperienced, seemingly uninformed president doing south of our border to rile up the science community?. Anything that Trump does regarding the environment is concerning to me since their environmental policies directly affect my country. Acid precipitation is a good example of that. I proceeded to do some research.

Times article, Donald Trump’s Science Denial Is Becoming National Policy, reports soon after Donald Trump was sworn in as president, the official White House website purged all mentions of climate from the site except one,  the promise to eliminate the “harmful and unnecessary” Climate Action Plan implemented by former President Obama. Soon thereafter, scientists and other employees of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) were told not to speak to the public. When a National Park Service Twitter account sent out impartial facts, the White House had them deleted, plus the EPA was told to take down its climate-change page. Climate change is a huge issue and Trump did tweet on November 6, 2012: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” Then on October 19, 2015, Trump tweeted: “It’s really cold outside, they are calling it a major freeze, weeks ahead of normal. Man, we could use a big fat dose of global warming!” This clearly tells me that this man is ignorant of science.

The Times article also says Trump appointed Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., an anti-vaccine activist to run a commission on immunization safety. Both Trump and Kennedy have spread far-flung theories linking vaccines to autism in children, an idea that medical experts overwhelmingly reject. Experts have warned the refusal to immunize is endangering public health by discouraging parents from immunizing their kids. Trump also appointed Dr. Scott Gottlieb to run the Food and Drug Administration. Dr. Gottlieb is a strong supporter of the pharmaceutical industry and has supported deregulation. Trump is also known to have called the fact that asbestos causes cancer a “con” and even refused to believe the objective scientific reality of drought in California.

The U.S. Senate confirmed Scott Pruitt, Trump’s choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.  Susan Margaret Collins, a Senator who is generally seen as the most pro-environment Republican in the Senate, said she was not convinced that Pruitt would protect public health. According to USA Today, she quoted as saying;

I have significant concerns that Mr. Pruitt has actively opposed and sued EPA on numerous issues that are of great importance to the state of Maine, including mercury controls for coal-fired power plants and efforts to reduce cross-state air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions,” Collins said. “His actions leave me with considerable doubts about whether his vision for the EPA is consistent with the Agency’s critical mission to protect human health and the environment.

National Geographic’s, A Running List of How Trump Is Changing the Environment, reports that Trump’s proposed budget plans deep cuts to U.S. science and environmental agencies, especially EPA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in an effort to increase defence spending by $54 billion. Actions speak louder than words. Even though Trump says, “We can and must protect our environment without harming America’s working families,” the fact that he is proposing a cut of 31% to the EPA tells me how he really feels about protecting the environment. I find this alarming. Americans should be as well.

National Geographic also say that against the advice of the EPA’s chemical safety experts, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt rejected a decade-old petition asking that the EPA ban all use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos. In 2000, the EPA banned its use in households, but the pesticide is still used on farms, which EPA scientists recommended stop. Even though Dow Chemical, the pesticide’s manufacturer, argues that it is safe when properly used, research suggests that chlorpyrifos may be associated with brain damage in children and farm workers, even at low exposures.

That same article claims President Trump signed a joint resolution passed by Congress revoking the U.S. Department of the Interior’s “Stream Protection Rule.” That rule, put in place by President Obama, placed stricter restrictions on dumping mining waste into surrounding waterways. It seems that mining companies are now free to throw whatever waste they desire in American waterways. These wastes eventually end up in the ocean and affect the ocean’s health. Once again, alarming.

So, is the world’s science community and all its supporters over reacting? Based upon my research, NO! I’ve only mentioned some of the policy changes made by the Trump administration. These policy changes are ALARMING to say the least. I am concerned about the planet. Trump’s choices affect the planet as the U.S.A. is the second largest contributor (15%) of greenhouse gases in the world, second only to China at 22.7% (see Gas Emissions, 2010). Canada only emits 1.7%. I personally would like an inhabitable planet for my children and grandchildren to reside on. Evo Morales, President of Bolivia since 2006, says it best. “Sooner or later, we will have to recognize that the Earth has rights, too, to live without pollution. What [hu]mankind must know is that human beings cannot live without Mother Earth, but the planet can live without humans”.

2/3 Wildlife to Disappear by 2020. That’s Disturbing!

A commentary on climate change and endangered species.

A few weeks ago, an article on CBC.ca caused me some distress. The article is called; Two-thirds of wildlife will disappear by 2020, WWF. The news report says that according to the WWF conservation group, “worldwide populations of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles have plunged by almost 60% since 1970.” It then goes on to say, “the decline is yet another sign that people have become the driving force for change on Earth”. Specifically, according to the article, this change is due to “the rising human population…threatening wildlife by clearing land for farms and cities”. It also lists other causes as “pollution, invasive species, hunting and climate change”. Think about that for a second. The year 2020 is only three years from now and according to the WWF 2/3 or 67%; more than half of the worlds wildlife will be extinct. I grew up seeing many of these animals in the wild or in zoos. To think my grandchildren will only be able to see pictures or videos of these animals is upsetting.

I went on to research this topic further. Another CBC report; A third of birds in North America threatened with extinction, states that “the first State of North America’s Birds report finds that of 1,154 bird species that live in and migrate among Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, 432 are of ‘high concern’ due to low or declining populations, shrinking ranges and threats such as human-caused habitat loss, invasive predators and climate change”. Still another CBC report, Hundreds of animals, plants locally extinct due to climate change, reveals that a “new study found local extinctions (this is when a species can no longer be found at a location where it once lived) related to global warming have occurred in half of species studied”. But the article that alarmed me the most was CBC’s, Giraffes threatened by extinction, put on watch list. Giraffes! Really! The article blamed shrinking living space as the main cause. It says the giraffe situation is worsened by poaching and disease. There seems to be a common theme here, that is, that we humans are the problem. Another common theme is climate change.

Now I understand that climate change is not the sole cause for the loss of wildlife but I’ve read enough articles to come to the conclusion that it is definitely a big part of the problem. We’ve all heard the stories about polar bears. The chief threat to the polar bear is the loss of its sea ice habitat due to global warming. The National Wildlife Federation’s article; Effects on Wildlife and Habitat,  goes into detail of how climate change is affecting wildlife.

There are still people who have “their head in the sand”. There is still debate about the cause of climate change. Is it due to human activities or is it a natural phenomenon? There is no doubt that climate change is happening as the CBC news article, ‘It’s a little scary’: On Lennox Island, no one debates whether climate change is real, says. If you are at all skeptical watch the documentary Chasing Ice. It’s a 2012 documentary film about the efforts of nature photographer James Balog and his Extreme Ice Survey to inform the public to the effects of climate change. My wife and I, on recommendation of my sister, recently watched it on Netflix. If you haven’t seen it, I would strongly encourage you to. In case you haven’t, here it is.

According to Wikipedia, a 2013 paper in Environmental Research Letters (a scientific journal) reviewed 11,944 abstracts of scientific papers matching “global warming” or “global climate change”. They found 4,014 which discussed the cause of recent global warming, and of these 97.1% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming. To me that says that the vast majority of environmental scientists agree that climate change is due to human influence.

global_warming_0It concerns me when the president-elect in the United States tweeted in November of 2012 “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive” and who promised during his campaign to roll back President Obama’s efforts to combat climate change. According to CNBC, a business news site, “president-elect Donald Trump’s Energy Department transition team sent the agency a memo this week asking for the names of people who have worked on climate change…alarming employees and advisors”. The fear is that Trump is preparing a political enemies list. At least I can proudly say that the Canadian government is working on implementing a national climate change plan (see Manitoba will not sign).

Historically, the European immigrants came to North America with their Eurocentric world view; a view that tended to interpret the world in terms of European values and experiences; a view that saw European values as better than Aboriginal values.  In reality, the aboriginal people had the right values as they had the far superior values. Before European influence, many First Nation communities believed everything was connected. The spirit world was connected to the earthly world; the sea was connected to the land and that the sky was connected to the land. Consequently, humans co-existed with animals and plants, with equal rights to life. In this belief lies commitment to respect all living things. George Blondin, a highly respected Dene Elder who was born in the Northwest Territories, put it this way.

“We are people of the land; we see ourselves as no different than the trees, the caribou, and the raven, except we are more complicated.”

First Nations people were very religious and respectful of the Great Spirit, and other spirits that they believe inhabited the land and animals all around them. These people were taught from a very young age to respect and give thanks to the animals, birds, plants, land and water which gave them everything they needed to stay alive.

Maybe it is time to take a serious look at aboriginal spirituality. These people once had a sacred relationship with Mother Earth and had a reverent respect for the plants and animals.  The reality is if we don’t, we may end up living on a planet with 2/3 less plant and animal species or worse. That would be shameful and a complete lack of respect for our future ancestors. But then again, maybe, just maybe, science can come to the rescue. CBC has a news article called, Reviving extinct species within reach, which quotes Hendrik Poinar, a scientist at McMaster University’s Ancient DNA Centre, who says, “The revival of an extinct species is in reach.” He is referring to a new field of science called ‘de-extinction’.

Can Cars Really Run on Water?

An exploration to determine if water-fuelled vehicles are for real.

Star.com has an article, Above the Arctic Circle, climate change closes in, that says researchers predict that by mid-century Barrow, Alaska and its eight surrounding villages will be underwater despite decades of erecting barriers, dredging soil and building raised banks to hold back the water. Whatever the cause, climate change is a fact.

global_warming_0When I was an active teacher I taught science as well as other subjects. In many of those classes we used to discuss climate change, specifically the greenhouse effect, the buildup of greenhouse gases trapping heat in the atmosphere raising our planet’s temperatures. Often during class discussions, we would talk about solutions. That is when I would show them this Fox News video about the inventor, Dennis Klein.

This video would spark some interesting conversation. As you would expect some students would get excited about the solution given in the video. Others would be skeptics. Nonetheless, it made the class interesting. Over the years I often wondered about Mr. Klein’s invention.  I’ve guessed why I’ve never heard about this technology since the early 2000’s. What happened to this technology? My mind would try to explain possible responses. My mind sometimes went to conspiracy, that is, the idea that such a technology might have been discredited or maybe somehow made to disappear by the large oil conglomerates.  So I set out to find some answers.

Now whenever someone does research on the internet, one can get overwhelmed. There’s all sorts of information on the web and much of it  is conspiracy theories claiming that the technology is a scam. I always taught my students to be careful when using the Internet as there are many unreliable websites on the web. I used to tell my students “not to believe everything you read on the Internet as any ‘Joe Blow” can put up a website”. As far as that goes, don’t believe everything you read anywhere as not everything written is true, even when it comes from textbooks. I found many errors and some misinformation in school textbooks over my 35 years of teaching. So when I use the Internet I cross check information. If several websites are making the same claim; it is likely true. If only one site is making a claim, the information is likely not true.

Another thing to remember when researching on the Internet is to use only credible websites. These would be websites like universities, government sites, reputable organizations and so on. The University of Toronto  has a good article, Research Using the Internet, that explains the “ins and outs” of internet research.  So when I do my research, this is what I do.

So what did I learn? It seems the more I read, the more I don’t know. First of all, there are many sites, typically discussion sites, where people are putting forth all sorts of conspiracy theories. I like to stay away from these sites.

Wikipedia, a fairly reliable site, says in 2002, the firm Hydrogen Technology Applications patented an electrolyzer (a process of decomposing a molecule) design and trademarked the term “Aquygen” (changing the H2O to HHO, a new form of water) to refer to the hydrogen oxygen gas mixture produced by the device. The company claimed to be able to run a vehicle exclusively on water, via the production of “Aquygen”, and invoked an unproven state of matter called “magnegases” and a discredited theory about magnecules  to explain their results. Company founder Dennis Klein claimed to be in negotiations with a major US auto manufacturer and that the US government wanted to produce Hummers that used his technology. The company no longer claims it can run a car exclusively on water, and is instead marketing “Aquygen” production as a technique to increase fuel efficiency, thus making it Hydrogen fuel enhancement rather than a water-fueled car. Mr. Klein died in 2013.

So, can vehicles really run on water? The science magazine Scientific American says, Water won’t aid fuel economy in today’s cars, but it may help power the hydrogen cars of tomorrow. The Popular Mechanic’s article, the Truth about Water Powered Cars, says

There is energy in water. Chemically, it’s locked up in the atomic bonds between the hydrogen and oxygen atoms. When the hydrogen and oxygen combine…there’s energy left over in the form of heat or electrons. That’s converted to mechanical energy by the pistons and crankshaft or electrical motors to move the vehicle. Problem: It takes exactly the same amount of energy to pry those hydrogen and oxygen atoms apart inside the electrolysis cell as you get back when they recombine inside the fuel cell…Subtract the losses to heat in the engine…and you’re losing energy, not gaining it.

The Huffington Post’s article, Water-Powered Cars: Possible or Impossible? explains it this way.

Everybody knows it [water] contains hydrogen, and that hydrogen can be burned or used to generate electricity in fuel cells. But what few people seem to realize is that hydrogen is not an energy source …we have to break up water molecules via electrolysis, a process that uses more energy as input than you can then get out of the hydrogen as output.

2008-6-19-car01-copy
From philippinetop10.blogspot.ca

We Are Change is a nonpartisan, independent media organization composed of individuals and groups working to expose corruption worldwide. Seems like a reputable organization to me. Their article, The Suppression of Water Powered Cars, argues that water-fuelled cars is being suppressed from the public, namely by big oil companies. The article goes on to say, should inexpensive water-power exist; these oil companies would be set to lose billions.

So what is my conclusion? If you look at the science, then the claim that water can be used as a viable fuel source is false. To use a proverb, If it’s too good to be true, then it probably is. Having said that, the idea that the truth is being kept from us is always a possibility. Conspiracy theorists certainly would claim this. It’s happened before. Global Research, an organization I’ve referred to before in other posts says in their article, Monsanto’s Sealed Documents Reveal the Truth behind Roundup’s Toxicological Dangers, a large body of independent research has accumulated and now collectively provides a sound scientific rationale to confirm that glyphosate, better known as Roundup®, is far more toxic and poses more serious health risks to animals and humans than Monsanto and the US government admit. Roundup® has always been touted by Monsanto as a safe, environmentally friendly and easy to use herbicide. Too many times we have been told that a chemical is safe only to learn later on that is was not. The pesticide DDT and the herbicide Agent Orange are two examples. I have come to believe over my many years of life that there is always more going on than we will ever know. Another way to put it is to use the idiom, there is more (happening) than meets the eye. Is the truth being kept from us? Who really knows for sure?  Or, does the government know?

Climate Change Confusion

A commentary on whether humans are to blame for climate change

Carbonbrief.org, a UK-based website covering the latest developments in climate science, climate policy and energy policy, reports, Study links heatwave deaths in London and Paris to climate change. The study refers to the 2003 tragedy where more than 70 000 people across Europe died in a  heatwave. Climate Change is a reality. I don’t think anyone disputes that and the science community doesn’t either. All a person needs to do is take note of the strange weather the world has experienced in recent years. In June, we saw extremely wet weather in Europe causing flooding in Paris, France and Germany. In the United States there has been sizzling heat in the Southwest causing uncontrollable wildfires in California.  West Virginia has experienced severe flooding. In the province of Alberta, 88 000 people had to be evacuated from Fort McMurray because of wildfires. Also in June, Eastern China saw a tornado and hailstorm that killed at least 98 people when it sped over the city of Yancheng’s outskirts, destroying buildings, smashing trees and flipping vehicles on their roofs. The list of weird weather goes on and on.

There is no question that our weather is changing and becoming extreme. The ongoing debate is: Is it human activity that is causing climate change? Now I’ve taught about this topic in science for many years and there has been no doubt in my mind that it was indeed humans causing global warming which leads to climate change. I would show the graph comparing CO2 levels to average global temperatures and use it as evidence to convince my students. I would show them pictures of the shrinking polar ice cap and melting glaciers. I would show them Al Gore’s movie: Inconvenient Truth (see trailer below) and emphasize Al Gore’s argument that most of the scientists around the world agree that humans are the main reason for the global warming.

The article Scientific consensus: Earth’s climate is warming on NASA’s Global Climate Change website agrees with Al Gore’s conclusions as it says,

Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities. In addition, most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.

The Scientific America article: Is Global Warming a Myth? also agrees with Al Gore as it says,

…scientists have not been able to validate any such reasons for the current warming trend, despite exhaustive efforts. And a raft of recent peer reviewed studies—many which take advantage of new satellite data—back up the claim that it is emissions from tailpipes, smokestacks (and now factory farmed food animals, which release methane) that are causing potentially irreparable damage to the environment.

I have always believed that Al Gore must be right. But then I watched a video, on my son’s insistence, called, Climate Change: Fact or Fiction by Dr. Gary Smith (see below). Dr. Smith convincingly argues that humans are not causing global warming.

Global Research.ca, an organization that seems to me to be credible, has an article called Global Warming: Ten Facts and Ten Myths on Climate Change that seems to agree with Dr. Smith’s conclusions. This article agrees with Dr. Smith as it says,

 Climate has always changed, and it always will. The assumption that prior to the industrial revolution the Earth had a “stable” climate is simply wrong. The only sensible thing to do about climate change is to prepare for it.

The reality is that almost every aspect of climate science is the subject of vigorous debate. Further, thousands of qualified scientists worldwide have signed declarations which (i) query the evidence for hypothetical human-caused warming and (ii) support a rational scientific (not emotional) approach to its study within the context of known natural climate change.

So now I’m confused. I thought it was all clear in my mind but now I’m not so sure. The more I learn, the more confused I get. But I guess that is nothing new as Albert Einstein once said, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”  Even Aristotle said, “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.”

So now I’m not sure what to think. Am I convinced that humans are not to blame for climate change? NO I’m not. I suspect that we humans are contributing to the problem, but it could also be, at least in part, to natural changes in climate as the earth has gone through many warming and cooling periods. I suspect climate change is due to both. Having said that, I continue to believe that moving away from our addiction of fossil fuels can only help our planet. It just feels like the right thing to do. I guess we will just have to wait and see who wins the debate.

World Water Day

WaterDayTuesday, March 22, 2016 is World Water Day. I had not heard of this day until recently when reading a news article, so I decided to do some research to find out why a day deemed World Water Day was created. What surprised me is this day has been held annually since the 22nd of March 1993, which was the first World Water Day. How could there have been twenty-three World Water Days in the past and I had not heard of it before? Do I live in a bubble? I’ve always known that fresh water was, and still is, a precious resource and that it is rapidly disappearing due to pollution and melting glaciers. In fact, I taught many lessons to my students about it over the years, but when I did some research on the topic, I was surprised by what I learned.

If I am truly honest with myself, I have to admit that I’ve always taken water for granted. There has never been a water shortage where I live. There has always been plenty of fresh, clean water to drink, to have a shower, to operate the clothes washer, to run the dishwasher, and to even water the lawn occasionally. I’ve always assumed, like most people I suspect, that we would always have a supply of fresh water. After doing some research, now I’m not so sure.

The Water Project is a non-profit organization providing reliable water to communities in sub-Saharan Africa. According to the website, water Scarcity is a reality on our planet! That means there is either the lack of enough water or lack of access to safe water. This site says 1 in 9 people worldwide do not have access to safe and clean drinking water. That means over a billion people on our planet lack access to safe water. The site also says that in developing countries, as much as 80% of illnesses are linked to poor water and sanitation conditions.

The World Water Council is an international multi-stakeholder council that promotes awareness, builds political commitment and triggers action on critical water issues. According to the Council, 1.1 billion people live without clean drinking water. The daily per capita use of water in residential areas is

  • 350 litres in North America and Japan
  • 200 litres in Europe
  • 10-20 litres in sub-Saharan Africa

That means each citizen of North America uses 350 litres every day. That’s a lot of water. It begs the question, are we wasting water?

From an agricultural perspective, the Water Councils says the quantity of water needed to produce 1 kg of wheat is 1 000 litres. Rice needs 1 400 litres and beef requires 13 000 litres of water. Perhaps it’s time to eat less steak.

Water.org is an international non-profit organization that brings water and sanitation to the developing world. Here are some interesting statistics I found on their site.

  • 663 million people – 1 in 10 – lack access to safe water.
  • 4 billion people – 1 in 3 – lack access to a toilet.
  • Twice the population of the United States lives without access to safe water.
  • More people have a mobile phone than a toilet.
  • Every 90 seconds a child dies from a water-related disease
eye
From ideahack.me

The Guardian’s article, How will climate change impact fresh water security? says fresh water scarcity is best understood by contemplating the distribution of fresh water on our planet. Approximately 98% of our water is in our oceans, which consists of salt water, and only 2% is fresh water. Of that 2%, almost 70% is snow and ice (namely glaciers), 30% is groundwater, less than 0.5% is surface water (lakes, rivers, etc.) and less than 0.05% is in the atmosphere. Climate change has had enormous effects on the amounts of fresh water available to us on the planet. The primary one is that global warming causes the polar ice caps and the world’s glaciers to melt into the sea, turning it into seawater.

Does this mean we should we alarmed? Yes it does. Does it mean we should lose hope for the future? No it doesn’t. All the various organizations I mentioned above are working towards solving the water scarcity problem. Science is also working towards solutions.

According to The Guardian’s article, 8 unbelievable solutions to future water shortages, science has come up with innovative ideas such as,

  • Waterless bathing using a lotion called DryBath which is a blend of essential oils, bioflavonoids (group of plant pigments), and an odour-eliminating chemical that is said to save four litres of water ever session.
  • Ultra efficient showers that use a screw-in device that captures water at the beginning of a shower and feeds it back into the system.
  • Using lasers to induce rain at times of drought, an idea debated by the World Meteorological Organization.
  • Folding toilets that make more efficient use of water. Its inventors claim that if installed it could save 10,000 litres per person every year.
  • Using a solar-chemical purification process that involves exposing titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to ultra violet radiation from the sun to produce a photo catalytic composite that cleans water.

According to the Canada Free Press’ article, Israel holds the solution to world water crisis, Israel has many new innovative products and policies. Some of these are drip irrigation and “fertigation,” a process of injecting fertilizers, soil amendments, and other water-soluble products into an irrigation system. Israel promotes dual-flush toilets, seawater desalination, advanced wastewater treatment and reuse, free-market pricing of water, drought-resistant seeds, cutting-edge metering and leak-detection systems, conservation education and precision agriculture.

Perhaps the most alarming thing that I’ve learned was on the World Water Council website. It said,

“As the resource is becoming scarce, tensions among different users may intensify, both at the national and international level. Over 260 river basins are shared by two or more countries. In the absence of strong institutions and agreements, changes within a basin can lead to transboundary tensions. When major projects proceed without regional collaboration, they can become a point of conflicts, heightening regional instability.”

Water-Wars-Logo
Logo from touchland.com

The prospect of “water wars” has been flaunted for decades and according to the article, Global ‘water war’ threat by 2030 – US intelligence, it may become reality within a decade. The article says the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the organization that oversees US intelligence agencies such as the CIA and FBI, was commissioned by President Barack Obama to examine the impact of water scarcity worldwide on US security. The ODNI predicts that by 2040 water demand will outstrip current supply by 40 per cent. The organization says it could lead to outright fighting, or water could be used as a tool of political leverage, similar to how gas and oil are used today. It suggests revising international water treaties and investing in superior water purification technologies that will make the increasingly scarce resource plentiful again.

The world faces many serious problems such as global warming and water scarcity. It is time for us to get our “heads out of the sand” and educate ourselves about these issues. Even more, it is time for us to get involved, even if it is something as simple as donating to an organization that brings clean water and sanitation to the developing world, taking shorter showers, or purchasing water efficient appliances. If we all do our small part, we will make a difference.

Bring the New Year

Here we are again saying goodbye to another year and bringing in another new year. It boggles my mind (mainly because it reminds me that I’m getting older) how fast annual events come about, whether they be birthdays, anniversaries, holidays or even the Stanley Cup playoffs. New Years is one of those annual events.

Now when you talk to people you discover that some people tend to live in fear. For example, these individuals are afraid to travel because “terrible things,” like terrorism, might (and I emphasize the word might) occur in the world. I categorize these individuals as the pessimists. Now I will admit that I sometimes can fall into this category. It’s easy to do. These are the people who always point out the negative in the world. These are the folks who say, “What kind of world will our children or grandchildren live in?” Fearful individuals seem to believe the world is “going to hell” and are anxious because 2016 will be even worse than 2015.

What I find interesting is that attitudes have not changed. My Mom talks about how her parents used to worry about the kind of world their children and grandchildren would be born into. My parents used to be concerned about the state of the world as they lived during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War. The world has always faced challenges and threats. Today is no different. The reality is the world continues to survive.

Now to be fair, there is some merit to their fear; to their pessimism.  2015 has seen many heartbreaking events. Here are some that caught my imagesattention. In October Hurricane Patricia, the most intense hurricane ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere, had winds up to 322 kilometres per hour (200 mph). November saw  multiple attacks by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the best known was the attack in Paris, France, resulting in 130 fatalities. Also in November of this year Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet which is the first case of a NATO member destroying a Russian aircraft since the 1950s. In June of 2015, ISIL claimed responsibility for three attacks around the world during Ramadan such as the one in Kuwait City where a suicide bomber attacked a Mosque killing 27 people and injuring 227 others. Then there was the Greek government debt crisis in July when Greece became the first developed economy to miss a payment to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the 70-year history of the IMF.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the story that has been dominating the news most of the 2015 year and that is the Syrian refugee crisis; the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.  The International Organization for Migration claims that more than one million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe in 2015. Now I could list other events, but there is no question that there have been numerous shameful events in 2015.

Thank God  (or Allah, or Yahweh, or the Universe) there are those who always see the good in the world. I categorize them as the optimists.  Optimists are filled with hope. These are folks who believe that the world can be better; that humanity is not all bad. Individuals such as these look to 2016 with an attitude of hope, hoping that things will improve.  I choose to align myself with the optimists.

There is merit to their argument. Here are some of the jovial events that caught my attention. In April, health officials declared the Americas the first region in the world to be free of the endemic rubella, or German measles, thanks to a 15-year effort to vaccinate men, women, and children everywhere in the northern hemisphere. This is great news since rubella can cause death or severe birth defects when women catch the disease during pregnancy. In July, history was made when Cuba and the United States reestablished full diplomatic relations, ending a 54-year history of GUSTAVO-CAMACHO-GONZALEZ-L1060274_(23430273715)hostility between the nations. In December, a global climate change pact was agreed upon at the COP 21 summit, where  195 countries adopted the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal. This is great news for the planet. Also in December of this year SpaceX, a company that hopes to revolutionize space technology, lands a Falcon 9 rocket.  This is the first reusable rocket to successfully enter the Earth’s orbit and return. This brings hope for space travel as it makes it cheaper. December also saw Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi make a surprise visit to  Pakistan to meet his counterpart, Nawaz Sharif.  This is the first time an Indian leader has visited Pakistan in over a decade.  Relations between these two countries have been bitter ever since the violent division of British India in 1947, and the two nations have a history of  numerous military conflicts. This shows that good relations are possible between rivals. That gives hope that peace is achievable. Also in December the members of the Scottish Parliament voted unanimously in favour of a law to ban smoking in cars that are carrying children. That’s great news for kids. There are certainly more positive events of 2015 I could report, but you get the idea.

The Atlantic Monthly in December of 2015 , a magazine published in Washington, D.C,  wrote an article called 2015: The Best Year in History for the Average Human Being. The article cites numerous reasons for making this claim.  Here are a few that caught my attention.

“At the Paris climate conference in December, countries demonstrated renewed resolve to tackle global climate change together. Absent any policies enacted to slow climate change since 2010, the world might have been more than 4 degrees Celsius hotter in 2100 than pre-industrial temperatures. Existing policies to cut emissions reduced that forecast to 3.6 degrees, and the additional pledges in Paris brought it to 2.7 degrees Celsius.”
“The Global Terrorism Index says, 11,133 people died in terrorist attacks—suggesting terrorism accounted for about 1.8 percent of violent deaths worldwide. And for all that terrorism deaths have increased since 2012, they remain responsible for perhaps three hundredths of one percent of global mortality…Rabies was responsible for three times as many deaths as terrorism that year. Stomach cancer killed more people than murder, manslaughter, and wars combined…”
“Civil and political rights also continued their stuttering spread. While 2015 saw rights on the retreat in countries including Turkey and Thailand, the number of electoral democracies worldwide remains at a historic high according to Freedom House…This year, there were peaceful and democratic transitions of power in settings as diverse as Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Myanmar, and Argentina. And Saudi Arabia held local elections where, for the first time ever, women were allowed to stand as candidates and vote.”
The Atlantic Monthly focuses on the positives of 2015. What astounds me is instead of feeling good about the progress made in 2015, the pessimists choose to downplay the article. CBC did this in their article, 2015 ‘the best year in history’? Not everyone agrees. Why not be proud of what humanity has achieved in 2015? Why can’t humans celebrate the positives rather than dwell on the negatives?
When doing research for this post, I ‘googled’ predictions for 2016. What is intriguing to me is the vast majority of the predictions are ‘doom and gloom’ predictions.  One ‘hit’ was titled 2016 will be a year of living dangerously for the global economy.  The Inquisitr, an internationally recognized news website, predicts World War Three will start in 2016.  When you think about it, the third world war has already started as the war on terrorism involves much of the world community. I guess they’re right about that prediction. At least Newsweek predicts a  rise in electric cars which if it becomes true is great for the environment.  Now remember, a prediction is just a guess or a forecast.  When I ‘googled’, “How many predictions came true in 2015?” the vast majority of ‘hits’ were talking about the movie Back to the Future II. In this movie Marty McFly and Doc Brown travel to the future in their time machine, the DeLorean. The date set on the time machine was October 21, 2015.  The various websites were comparing the 2015 of today with the 2015 of the movie. I had little luck finding anything else. That leads me to believe that most of the predictions made for 2015 didn’t come true. Certainly some of the political changes that occurred in 2015 weren’t predicted.

best-year-everSo what will 2016 bring? The pessimists will likely envision , more ISIL terrorist attacks,  more anger from Mother Nature in the form of violent storms, more conflicts between nations, more economic problems, and on and on. Optimists will focus on the positives like improved political relations, the international community working together to slow climate change, improvements in human rights, improvements in health, and so on. I choose to be in the optimist camp. I choose to believe that 2016 will bring many good things. Really, the only thing we can control is the choices we make. To quote Brad Paisley, “Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365 [366 for 2016] page book. Write a good one.” I’m choosing to make it a good one. I’m choosing to make 2016  a great year!

Interesting reads: 5 Major Trends and Make your 2016 better