The Widdershins

Archive for February 11th, 2014

Hello Widdershin friends.  I hope this Tuesday is a great one for you.

When you live in a part of the country where you can buy everything from a newborn onesie to a new car The War on Coal T-shirtemblazoned with the slogan, “War on Coal,” I’m always on the lookout for some quick facts about climate change.  In this part of the country, the “War on Coal” is an answer for just about everything.  The “War on Coal” is a nice slogan cooked up by public relations firms and ad executives who have never seen a coal mine, much less care about truth-telling.

Once upon a time, when confronted by science-deniers and climate change skeptics, I parried their barbs with jokes like, “Instead of declaring a ‘War on Coal’ we should send troops to the sun and declare a ‘War on Sunshine’ — do you want to enlist?”  To nodding heads I’ve facetiously said things like, “Global warming isn’t such a big deal, we could immediately lower temperatures by just switching from Fahrenheit to Celsius,” or “Global warming is a blessing when it comes to winter heating bills.”

In any event, I’m always looking for new easy-to-understand anecdotal evidence about climate change.  It always comes in handy trying to drag the deniers to a point of acknowledging something is happening.  The old standby of “weather isn’t climate” has lost its efficacy so I found some interesting facts in an article in Bloomberg Businessweek about the monumental changes to freshwater glaciers worldwide.  Of course, the magazine article was written from the standpoint of unique business opportunities — go figure — but nonetheless, it offers some staggering examples of climate change.

  • Europe’s Alps have lost half their ice over the last century, one-fifth of it since the 1980s.
  • By 2007 the 925 named glaciers in Austria were receding at an average rate of 30 to 50 feet a year, twice the rate recorded a decade earlier.
  • This is amazing and something I had never before heard:  Resort owners are placing giant insulated blankets over glaciers every summer hoping to slow the glacier melt.  The practice began in Austria and has spread to Germany and Switzerland — even Russia used glacier blankets to guarantee snow of the Olympics.
  • Bolivia has only one ski area and it lost its glacier within a three-year period.
  • Shrinking glaciers imperil the water supplies of 77 million people in the tropical Andes, along with the hydroelectric power providing half the electricity in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru.
  • In Asia, 2 billion people in five major river basins — the Ganges, Indus, Brahmaputra, Yangtze, and Yellow — depend on Himalayan melt water.  The Himalayan glaciers, which irrigate millions of acres of rice and wheat in China, India, and Pakistan, have lost a fifth of their mass in the last 50 years.
  • In Spain, which is becoming so dry so quickly some scientists warn of the Sahara Desert jumping across the Strait of Gibraltar.  The Pyrenees have lost nearly 90 percent of their glacial cover.  A century ago, glaciers feeding Spanish agriculturally important rivers as the Cinca and Ebro stretched 8,150 acres — now they cover 960 acres.
  • Barcelona became the first city in mainland Europe to resort to emergency water imports:  5 million gallons transported in a converted oil tanker.
  • In China, the central government plans to divert rivers at a scale the world has never seen:  The $65 Billion, three-canal-1,812-combined-mile South-North Water Transfer Project will someday move 4.5 trillion gallons each year from the Tibetan Plateau, home to nearly 40,000 melting glaciers.

In the face of these dwindling water resources, business opportunists point to water desalination as one of the 1941 to 2004 Glacieranswers.  What these opportunists fail to mention is desalination is highly energy dependent and consumptive.  Even when running on cleaner natural gas, an 8 ounce glass of water represents roughly 10,000 joules of energy.  Put another way, a person’s one year water supply causes 0.6 metric tons of carbon emissions — about half of what each person on the plant can emit if we’re going to someday halt global warming.

Scarcity of resources has always been at the epicenter of world turmoil and war.  Can anything be more valuable than water, the most basic of human needs.  Water wars, if it ever comes to that, will most likely not look like anything we have seen in our past.  They will escalate quickly and most likely be more inhumanely violent.  Why?  Quite simply, if you are fighting a war over water, the last thing you would want is a protracted war placing demands on already scarce water resources or the enemy having an opportunity to poison supplies.

Against this backdrop, I have to admit the “War on Coal” has a nice glitzy PR ring to it, but I believe “Coal’s War on Water, Food, and Peace” is even catchier.

This is an open thread.


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