Archive for September 2015 | Monthly archive page
By Sonia Abdulbaki
Luxury is a concept synonymous with grandeur – at least in the first world. Strip away the layers and we find ourselves human. And being human means food, water, shelter and reproduction are our survival tools. Luckily for us, water is a luxury available with the turn of a faucet. Yet, water shortages are happening across the world, including in major cities.
Scope of Earth’s water distribution problem
Although Earth’s surface is composed of 70% water, only 2.5% is fresh water. According to National Geographic 1% of fresh water is accessible and only 0.007% is available to the almost 7 billion people. According to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), most freshwater lies in underground aquifers. Other freshwater sources include rainfall, reservoirs, lakes and rivers.
Thus, water is distributed throughout the world unevenly. According to the WBCSD, more than half of fresh water lies in nine countries: the United States, Canada, Colombia, Brazil, Congo, Russia, India, China and Indonesia.
According to National Geographic, around 1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water. The United Nations estimates that one-fifth of the world’s population live in water-deprived areas and 500 million people will face this problem in the near future. Also, an additional 1.6 billion people experience water scarcity on an economic level.
The Nature Conservancy estimates that more than 3 billion people in major cities might experience annual water shortages lasting at least one month. And they will experience water shortages due in large part to climate change, industrialization, overpopulation, overconsumption, pollution, deforestation and destruction of wetlands.
As a child of first generation Lebanese-American parents, I have visited Lebanon many times. The electricity cut offs, low water pressure, lack of warm or clean water never resonated with me as a major issue that affected the whole world. But it was a taste of the reality that water deprived regions experience.
Mexico City, a sinking capitol
Mexico City, with 22 million residents and 25% of the Mexican population, is an overpopulated city where a small percent of citizens use a majority of the water, and demand exceeds supply. Although the city was built on top of Lake Texcoco during Aztec times, the Spaniards rebuilt the city, draining the water rather than building canals to help with the water flow.
Thus, the city’s infrastructure is unreliable; for example, distribution pipes lose 40% of the water before reaching the city’s homes. Yet Mexico consumes more bottled water than any nation in the world. Population growth is the cause of dried up wells, and the city sinking is into the lake-bed at three inches per year.
A sustainable solution for Beijing?
China’s water shortage is predominantly due to drought. According to CBS, Beijing’s Yongding River, along with 27,000 other rivers in the country, ran dry. And although citizens are digging wells near their homes to access ground water, their efforts are not enough.
According to the World Health Organization, around 700 million people in China drink water that does not meet their health standards. In response, the city built canals and tunnels to divert water from the humid south to the dry north, according to The Guardian. This means that many citizens need to relocate. This is not a long-term solution. Additionally, water pollution and poor infrastructure are hard to reconcile without the budget to do so.
Brazil and the economics of water, rich or poor?
Brazil possesses one-eighth of the world’s fresh water due to the Amazon and other great rivers. It is infamously rich in water resources yet it is experiencing its worst drought in a century, according to the New York Times.
Residents of Sao Paulo have started drilling their own wells and taking other measures to reduce water use. The government is executing water cutoffs and warning that the solution may be to flee the country. Experts predict that this is just the beginning of Brazil’s water crisis and will exacerbate problems with already low prices on Brazilian exports that weaken the economy.
Fuel to the conflict in the Middle East and North Africa
The Middle East and North African (MENA) region receives a lot of media attention with its current political upheaval. Included in its detrimental state is its water problem.
The World Resources Institute (WRI) listed the water crisis as a contributing factor to the Syrian conflict. An inherently dry region, intense heat waves recently overwhelmed the area. WRI ranks 14 of the 33 water stressed nations to be in the MENA region. According to The Guardian, “analysts urge ending water subsidies for large farms, the raising of energy prices to discourage over-pumping and the use of ‘smart’ irrigation technologies to reduce water loss on farms.”
These are just a few cities and regions that experience regular water shortages. But from Delhi to Johannesburg to California’s dire drought, water is an eminent issue. Governments and citizens need innovation, infrastructure improvement, more efficient water usage, better management and nature-based solutions. The predicted environmental catastrophes threaten global security, forcing governments to take these issues seriously.
Sonia Abdulbaki is a Freelance Writer and Communications Specialist with experience in the environmental and hospitality industries. She is currently the Member Services Assistant at Green America and a contributing writer for Business Traveler magazine, National Wetlands Newsletter and contributing editor for MovieswithMae.com.
by Erin Twamley
The faces of women making positive changes for the environment and planet are often hidden. Many of them may not have known that their research, discoveries and investigations would help address climate change. They conducted some of their environmental work before we even knew the term!
The following women have done amazing work that enabled us to make strides on curbing climate change:
Dr. Sylvia Earle
Dr. Earle is most notably known as an Oceanographer. In fact, she has spent nearly 271 days of her life underwater. But did you know that data from the oceans and coral reefs is key to understanding the impacts of climate change?
The ocean is one of the largest absorbents of carbon dioxide and helps us to tell the story of the past, present and future on Earth. Dr. Earle’s work helps us understand how we can help keep the oceans healthy.
Dr. Mária Telkes & Eleanor Raymond
Today, commercial and residential solar is booming across the world. But did you know that two women were instrumental in bringing solar power to residential homes in Massachusetts in 1948?
The idea of a solar powered house in a cold climate baffled most scientists and Americans. But MIT solar energy researcher Dr. Mária Telkes and Boston architect Eleanor Raymond helped to challenge that notion.
Together, they designed and built the first solar powered house in the USA. Breaking or changing perceptions is often a key factor in advancing our clean energy future. It is also important in leading efforts to address climate change. These two women helped people understand that solar energy can power homes and businesses in almost any climate.
Gina McCarthy is the Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (and is a former EcoHour speaker!). She has dedicated her career to policy work at the local, state and now federal level to address climate change.
She is a strong advocate for decisions and policies that address climate change in the USA and around the world. Her job is to help policy makers and federal agencies make decisions to mitigate climate change.
Ada Lovelace is recognized as the first computer programmer. What year was that? 1842! Long before typewriters and computers, people were writing algorithms, she wrote an algorithm for the analytical engine, which would later become known as the world’s first computer program.
Today, computer simulations and models are key for understanding the global, regional and local effects of climate change. Without computers and computer programs, we would not be able to predict and understand our climate future.
To see what other women are doing today to address climate change, check out the article, 20 Women Making Waves in the Climate Change Debate.
Erin Twamley is an energy education specialist and adult educator. She is a leader in providing climate and energy information for STEM education efforts. She authored the book, Climate Change: Discover How It Impacts Spaceship Earth to positively engage youth in learning about and addressing climate change.
by Brianna Knoppow
Me: Mindy! It’s so great to see you!
Mindy: Brianna! You too.
Me: Wait, you’re a superstar. I’m just…me. How do you know my name?
Mindy: You still have a name-tag on. You must have just come from a Meetup.
Me: Oh. Yeah. True. I was at the Young Professional’s Meetup, in DuPont…Mindy – I’m so excited you’re in D.C.!
Mindy: Excited to be here, Brianna
Me: But…the tickets to see you speak about your new book – they sold out.
Mindy: I know! Isn’t that great!?
Me: Well, they sold out before I could get one. Like, they went on sale at noon on Thursday and I tried to get a ticket at noon on Thursday and POOF – they were gone.
Mindy: Sorry! Kind of.
Me: Your first book meant a lot to me. I was living in a ho-dunk town in Ohio, starting to get depressed. When I read, “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?” I laughed out loud and remembered there are still good – and funny – things in the world outside of Ohio, of course.
Mindy: I understand. I’m a New York girl myself.
Me: Since your book meant so much to me – maybe –
Mindy: Sold out!
Me: I had to try. Hey, remember that time you played Kelly in The Office, and it was Diwali Day?
Mindy: How could I forget?
Me: Loved that episode! I actually attended a Diwali celebration soon after seeing that episode. But it was nothing like on the show. Instead of tons of food and dance, we started sitting on the ground and praying. It was kind of awkward.
Mindy: Yeah – you’re not Hindu, are you?
Me: What made you guess?
Mindy: Either your Jewish star necklace or your very pale skin. You wear lots of sunscreen, right?
Me: Only SPF 50! At least I got to learn a little about Hindu culture.
Mindy: Do you get all of your religious information from sitcoms?
Me: No! I also read “Religion for Dummies.” Well, at least the first chapter. Then it got kind of boring.
Mindy: Haven’t read it myself.
Mindy: I’ve come so far, both for myself, and for Indian women everywhere.
Me: Yes. However, I did notice that you’re charging for both your show and your book. Most writers visiting D.C. allow attendees to purchase the book separately if they want.
Mindy: And yet I was able to sell out instantaneously.
Me: How much were your tickets – $42.50? If the entire ticket sales went straight to you, that would be $34,000! In only ONE evening!
Mindy: I know! And I’m not even a doctor or pharmacist!
Me: I was thinking the same thing! But I didn’t want to say it out loud or you might think I was stereotyping.
Mindy: It’s OK. I stereotype myself sometimes too.
Me: Anyway, women make 77 cents per dollar that men make, so way to rake in the money!
Mindy: Actually, that’s just white women making 77 cents.
Mindy: Well, black women earn 64 cents and Latina women 56 cents, per white dude dollar.
Me: Oh…wow. White dude dollars are worth a lot.
Mindy: But you knew that right? I mean, you’re college educated.
Me: Umm…well what about Indian women?
Mindy: No idea. We’re not included in studies.
Mindy: Wage studies, cancer research – you name it.
Me: Cancer research? No idea what you’re referring to here, woman.
Mindy: This is D.C. I bet you have a Master of Science.
Me: Not medical science, Mindy!
Mindy: The rates of minority participation in medical research are very low.
Me: How peculiar. I always see tons of black women in those pink ribbon posters advertising runs for ‘the cure.’
Mindy: Yeah, they’re fundraising for research even though only a small proportion of clinical trial participants come from minority backgrounds.
Me: Well that’s very kind of them to fund-raise for research regarding treatments and medications that are mostly only tested on white people…like myself.
Mindy: Yes, very kind indeed.
Me: Mindy, you’re so smart. I was hoping after I saw your show that we would become BFFs. It’s been a fantasy of mine. My other fantasies all involve Matt Damon.
Mindy: Love Matt!
Me: I mean, I just know we’d be great friends! Don’t tell my actual BFF though – even though we watch The Mindy Project together, so she’d probably understand.
Mindy: Yeah, my friend list is kind of full right now.
Me: Just like your show in Chinatown, at Sixth & I!
Me: Do you have a friend wait-list?
Mindy: A wait-list?
Me: Yes, like how my local community garden has a wait list for spots. I’m number 231.
Mindy: Good luck with that. I bet you could build a nice penthouse where that garden is.
Mindy: Or at least I could…Anyway, on my way to the gig. Later, girl!
Brianna Knoppow works in the environmental field in D.C. and enjoys biking, watching musical theater, and foraging for wild mushrooms. She has an M.S. in Environmental Science & Policy.
By Lindsay Parker
You may look at the photo above and only see a patch of leftover snow. However, this is one of the few remaining glaciers in Glacier National Park (GNP). In 1850, the park held an estimated 150 glaciers whereas today, less than 25 remain. Experts predict that by 2030, they will disappear completely. This rapid geological recession is largely a result of climate change; many are disappearing faster than predicted.
A hike for climate change awareness!
For these reasons, I joined a group of environmental activists to explore the park, to learn about the ecology, to see the namesake glaciers first hand before they are gone, and to hear what we can do about it. I signed up for a 5 day, 45-mile hike organized by Climate Ride, a non-profit organization that supports fundraising and awareness for environmental causes by arranging life changing hikes and bike rides throughout the country.
I was joined by a friendly bunch of volunteers from Citizens Climate Lobby, a non-profit, non-partisan grassroots advocacy organization, with the aim to pass positive legislation that addresses climate change. Together, we were led and educated by local guides well-versed in the park’s history, landscape and ecology. The experience renewed my awareness of our precious natural resources and of the urgent need to protect them.
As part of our trip through GNP, our group hiked to the banks of the Grinnell Glacier. We started by trekking almost 4 miles along the tiny trail etched into the mountainside, viewing steep drop-offs, Lake Josephine, beautiful alpine meadows replete with wildflowers and a few big-horn sheep. After some steep inclines and freezing rain, we reached the remnants of the tiny glacier. Grinnell Glacier Overlook offered views of the 152-acre glacier, the Garden Wall (Continental Divide), Upper Grinnell Lake and the 9,553-foot Mt. Gould. It was breathtaking to see something so old up close.
Glaciers and climate
Glaciers are geological wonders. They are large, dynamic packs of snow and ice that are formed when snow melts slower than it collects. The glaciers in GNP were part of the last ice age, formed approximately 7,000 years ago. Glaciers grow and recede based on climate, making them a perfect indicator of long term shifts in climate.
While they typically grow during the winter, overall, glaciers are retreating due to higher temperatures and a reduced snowfall. During the summer, glacial ice melt cools streams and regulates water flow. Without this glacier melt, increased stream temperatures and lower water levels affect local aquatic species adversely, including the endangered bull trout. Warming temperatures bring a real threat to biodiversity, especially the 140 plant and animal species living in GNP that are listed as “Species of Special Concern.”
Wildfires and other effects of climate change
As if receding glaciers isn’t enough to contend with, some of the largest wildfires are sweeping through the Western states this year. Sixteen wildfires are burning in Washington State, impacting over 920 square miles and threatening more than 12,000 homes. This includes the fire in Okanagan County, which is the largest single fire that the state has ever seen. In California, over 120 wildfires have already occurred this year.
If temperatures continue to rise, wildfire impacts are estimated to double by late this century, with special impact on Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah. According to one study, “fire season has gotten longer for more than quarter of the Earth’s vegetated surface, from 1979 to 2013. Globally, fire weather season increased by nearly 19%.”
A main culprit of increased wildfire activity is climate change. A few factors fueling the infernos are:
- record-high temperatures,
- low-humidity levels,
- mega-droughts since 2010,
- dry vegetation, and
- lightning from increased thunderstorms.
In addition, warmer temperatures and droughts weaken trees and supply prime conditions for infectious insects that contribute to tree death and further tinder for the fires. Furthermore, global warming creates a feedback-loop, where CO2-absorbant trees burn, releasing carbon, effectively exacerbating the problem.
In 2015 alone, the Forest Service will spend an estimated $1.7 billion and use 10,000 people to combat wildfires. The sooner policy makers and the public understand the affect climate change is having on the duration, intensity and frequency of wildfires, the sooner they can develop better responses to handle them.
Call for action
This all sounds pretty bleak, right? Well, below are a few ways to make an impact, as suggested by the National Wildlife Federation:
- Visit a National Park and support their upkeep through state and federal policies
- Practice fire safety when outdoors, and keep an eye on fire bans in your area
- Learn ways to help wildlife and to reduce your carbon footprint
- Speak up for laws that will reduce our carbon pollution and help wildlife
- Plant trees through NWF’s Trees for Wildlife program
Personally, I recommend visiting the park, supporting the National Park Service, and remembering that living sustainably isn’t just about your monthly energy bill, but about something much bigger.
Lindsay Parker is a Texas native with a Masters of Public Policy focused on energy and climate policy from the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, Germany. She is currently working at the U.S. Department of Energy on energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. When she’s not hiking, she enjoys choir, running, swing dancing, and yoga.