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Posts Tagged ‘water

“Water, water everywhere”*…

 

Miami

 

On November 14, 2016, six days after Donald Trump was elected president, a man named Richard Conlin found an octopus in the parking garage of his Miami Beach apartment building. The translucent creature, which a viral photo showed sitting in a small puddle by a row of cars, had been brought ashore by an unusually large high tide that sent sludgy water rushing through nearby streets. A local biologist speculated that the octopus had found its way inside one of the apartment building’s drainage pipes: the pipes had been positioned well above the waterline when the condo complex was constructed, but rising sea levels meant they were now submerged at high tide, allowing aquatic creatures to make their way inside. (Conlin wrote on Facebook that he spotted a small school of fish swimming in another puddle.)

The octopus makes for an apt little parable not just about the extent to which climate change is already changing daily life in the United States, but about the way in which it is doing so. The cephalopod did not arrive in the parking garage Day After Tomorrow-style, on the crest of an apocalyptic wave, but by means of a crucial yet neglected piece of infrastructure. The alarming fact the octopus represents is not that the ocean threatens to destroy us, but that it threatens to destroy the structures we have built in its midst.

Miami, as you may have heard, is doomed: depending on which study you prefer, the city will be underwater by 2100, 2060, 2050, or whenever the next hurricane hits. It is poised to see two, five, eight, ten, or twelve feet of sea-level rise in the next century. Even numbers on the low end of that range would be enough to inundate Conlin’s apartment building, not to mention billions more dollars of real estate. Tidal flooding events of the kind that brought the octopus ashore increased by more than 400 percent between 2006 and 2013, and the city has only barely been spared by a number of major hurricanes in that same time span. The right storm—The Big One, as they call it in Florida—could raze whole swaths of Miami, send its property market and tourism industry into a death spiral, and spur a mass exodus of domestic climate refugees. Even in the absence of such a storm, the city’s lowest-lying neighborhoods may need to be abandoned by midcentury if the rest of it is to be preserved…

The coming scramble for free space won’t be as bad as it could have been, though, because many of the most vulnerable homes in the city don’t have anyone living in them in the first place. The glistening condo towers that make up the high end of Miami’s housing market serve predominantly as parking lots for foreign capital, much of it of dubious origin. The absentee ownership rate in many of these buildings is well above 50 percent, and even as the streets of Miami Beach begin to flood, the emirs and mafiosi who own these apartments will be somewhat insulated from the crash in the rest of the city’s housing market, since the selling point of these condos is not their view of the Biscayne Bay but their ability to serve as storage units for foreign capital.

For everyone who actually lives in Miami, though, it’s going to get ugly, and there isn’t much the city can do about it. [Journalist Mario Alejandro] Ariza opens the book [Disposable City: Miami’s Future on the Shores of Climate Catastrophe] with the image of an enormous water pump designed to flush out water from the streets in the event of a high tide or a hurricane; the city has installed a number of these pumps in the past few years, financing them with a new climate-oriented municipal bond, and has also endeavored to raise dozens of miles of streets. Even if these interventions always worked out, which they don’t—a former mayor of Miami Beach prioritized installing pumps and raising roads near property he owned, inadvertently increasing flooding in nearby businesses he didn’t own—they wouldn’t be enough to forestall a crisis that is coming sooner rather than later. With enough money from the federal government, the city could in theory move the most vulnerable homeowners out of harm’s way before it’s too late, build green infrastructure to absorb floodwaters, and sponsor high-density affordable housing for those who want to stay, but a hat trick in that regard seems unlikely. If sea level rise reaches nine feet by the end of the century, though, none of these interventions will matter: all of Miami and much of South Florida will be underwater. Even if the city doesn’t sink altogether, hundreds of thousands of Miamians will likely be displaced to Orlando, Atlanta, and other nearby cities, none of which are going to feel exactly like paradise in the year 2100…

Miami’s bleak future on the front line of climate change; “The City That Lived.”

And to put it into a broader context: “2020 Is our Last, Best Chance to Save the Planet” and  “The Great Climate Migration Has Begun.”

* Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

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As we search for a drop to drink, we might spare a thought for a man who successfully manged water in a different physical state, Frank Joseph Zamboni, Jr.; he died on this date in 1988.  An engineer and inventor, he is best known for the modern ice resurfacer, seen at work at hockey games and figure skating competitions; indeed, his surname is the registered trademark for these devices.

220px-Frank_Zamboni source

 

“Either you bring the water to L.A. or you bring L.A. to the water”*…

 

water

 

The pillars of smoke from the Bel Air fire were visible around the city, and as the firefighters struggled through the canyons, most people could simply watch and worry. But Ralph Parsons, the wealthy founder of a wildly successful international engineering firm, was trying to end the Southern California drought — forever.

It was 1961.

The solution Parsons devised, a continental-scale plumbing project called the North American Water and Power Alliance, or NAWAPA, was never built, but it’s never quite gone away, either. Today it persists as a fantastical vision that could have been, and might in some form still be…

The North American Water and Power Alliance was an audacious proposal to divert water to parched western states that would have cost hundreds of billions of dollars and pissed off Canada.  The abandoned plan that aimed to save America from drought: “Pipe Dreams.”

* “Noah Cross” (John Huston), Chinatown

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As we contemplate the commons, we might recall that it was on this date in 1832 that an act of Congress created Hot Springs Reservation, protecting the site’s thermal waters to be “preserved for future recreation,” in Arkansas.  Established before the concept of a national park existed in the U.S., it was the first time that American land had been set aside by the federal government in this way, and so is considered by many to have been the first National Park.  It officially became a National Park in 1921.

284px-Hot_Springs_National_Park_007

Pool of hot spring water in Hot Springs National Park

 

“The farmer works the soil; the agriculturist works the farmer”*…

 

agriculture

 

Like the wheat barons of the 1870s who lived on San Francisco’s Nob Hill, [Stewart] Resnick isn’t of this place. He’s never driven a tractor or opened an irrigation valve. He’s never put a dusty boot on the neck of a shovel and dug down into the soil. He wouldn’t know one of his Valencia orange groves from one of his Washington navel orange groves. The land to him isn’t real. It’s an economy of scale on a scale no one’s ever tried here. He grew up in New Jersey, where his father ran a bar. He came to California in the 1950s to remake himself. Welcome to the club. He remade himself into a graduate of the UCLA law school, a cleaner of Los Angeles buildings, a vendor of security alarms, a seller of flowers in a pot, a minter of Elvis plates and Princess Diana dolls, a bottler of Fiji Island water, a farmer of San Joaquin Valley dirt. He purchased his first 640-acre section in the late 1970s and kept adding more sections of almonds, pistachios, pomegranates, and citrus until he stretched the lines of agriculture like no Californian before him.

At age 81, he’s gotten so big, he doesn’t know how big. Last time he checked, he told me he owned 180,000 acres of California. That’s 281 square miles. He is irrigating 121,000 of those acres. This doesn’t count the 21,000 acres of grapefruits and limes he’s growing in Texas and Mexico. He uses more water than any other person in the West. His 15 million trees in the San Joaquin Valley consume more than 400,000 acre-feet of water a year. The city of Los Angeles, by comparison, consumes 587,000 acre-feet.

Resnick’s billions rely on his ability to master water, sun, soil, and even bees. When he first planted seedless mandarins in the valley 17 years ago, the bees from the citrus orchards around him were flying into his groves, pollinating his flowers, and putting seeds into the flesh of his fruit. He told his neighbors to alter the flight of the bees or he’d sue them for trespassing. The farmers responded that the path of a bee wasn’t something they could supervise, and they threatened to sue him back. The dispute over the “no fly zone” was finally resolved by the invention of a netting that Resnick sheathes around his mandarins each spring. The plastic unfurls across the grove like a giant roll of Saran Wrap. No bee can penetrate the shield, and his mandarins remain seedless.

The control Resnick exercises inside his $4.5 billion privately held company does relinquish to one person: his wife, Lynda, vice chairman and co-owner, the “Pomegranate Queen,” as she calls herself. She is the brander of the empire, the final word on their Super Bowl ads, the creator of product marketing. There’s “Cheat Death” for their antioxidant-rich pomegranate juice [POM] and “Get Crackin’ ” for their pistachios [Wonderful] and “Untouched by Man” for their Fiji water. A husband and wife sharing the reins is rare for corporate America, rarer still for industrial agriculture. He commands his realm, and she commands hers, and he takes care to mind the line. “If he sticks even a toe onto her turf,” says a former business partner, “she gives him a look that sends him right back.”

Together, the Resnicks have wedded the valley’s hidebound farming culture with L.A.’s celebrity culture. They don’t do agribusiness. Rather, they say, they’re “harvesting health and happiness around the world through our iconic consumer brands.” Their crops aren’t crops but heart-healthy snacks and life-extending elixirs. Stewart refers to the occasional trek between Lost Hills and Beverly Hills — roughly 140 miles — as a “carpetbagger’s distance”…

Stewart Resnick’s domain is the densest planting of almonds, pistachios, and pomegranates on earth, making him the biggest “farmer” in the U.S. and the biggest irrigated “farmer” in the world: “A Kingdom from Dust.”

* Eugene Ware

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As we contemplate concentration, we might send well-organized birthday greetings to Antoine Laurent de Jussieu; he was born on this date in 1748.  A botanist, he is best remembered as the first to publish a natural classification of flowering plants; much of his system– which was, in part, based on unpublished work by his uncle, Bernard de Jussieu— remains in use today.

220px-Jussieu_Antoine-Laurent_de_1748-1836 source

 

Written by LW

April 12, 2020 at 1:01 am

“When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water”*…

 

Water

 

The dangers of environmental pollution receive a lot of attention nowadays, particularly in the developing world, and with good reason. Air quality indices are dismal and worsening in many places, with India, in particular, facing an acute public-health emergency. But as serious as the pollution problem is, it must not be allowed to obscure another incipient environmental catastrophe, and potential source of future conflict: lack of access to clean water.

We may live on a “blue planet,” but less than 3% of all of our water is fresh, and much of it is inaccessible (for example, because it is locked in glaciers). Since 1960, the amount of available fresh water per capita has declined by more than half, leaving over 40% of the world’s population facing water stress. By 2030, demand for fresh water will exceed supply by an estimated 40%.

With nearly two-thirds of fresh water coming from rivers and lakes that cross national borders, intensifying water stress fuels a vicious circle, in which countries compete for supplies, leading to greater stress and more competition. Today, hundreds of international water agreements are coming under pressure…

In 2015, United Nations member states adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, which include an imperative to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.”  Yet, in the last four years, matters have deteriorated significantly.  Jayati Ghosh explains “The Growing Threat of Water Wars.”

For a combination of historical and statistical perspective on water conflict, see “Whatever happened to the water wars? More of them have happened than most people think.

* Benjamin Franklin

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As we struggle to share, we might send rational birthday greetings to Francois-Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire; he was born on this date in 1694.  The Father of the Age of Reason, he produced works in almost every literary form: plays, poems, novels, essays, and historical and scientific works– more than 2,000 books and pamphlets (and more than 20,000 letters).  He popularized Isaac Newton’s work in France by arranging a translation of Principia Mathematica to which he added his own commentary.

A social reformer, Voltaire used satire to criticize the intolerance, religious dogma, and oligopolistic privilege of his day, perhaps nowhere more sardonically than in Candide.

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“And then the water ran out, and they fell back, realizing too late that their prosperity was borrowed, and there would be no more coming”*…

 

lost city

Remnants of the ancient city of Cahokia, in what’s now southern Illinois

 

Not far from my grandmother’s house is a ghost city. At Angel Mounds on the Ohio river about eight miles southeast of Evansville, there are a few visible earthworks and a reconstructed wattle-and-daub barrier. There is almost nothing left of the people who build these mounds; in a final insulting erasure, the site is now named after the white settler family who most recently farmed the land.

There are traces of other dead villages along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, mounds scattered from present-day Indiana to Arkansas and Alabama. In southern Illinois, a few miles from the Missouri border, hidden among empty corn and soy fields, is the center of that dead civilization’s gravity: the lost city of Cahokia.

Cahokia was larger than London, centrally planned, the Manhattan of its day. Most people there would have come from somewhere else. There were defensive foundations, playing fields, and a magnificent temple. There would have been sacred ceremonies and salacious gossip. It must have been a very exciting place to live.

And then, relatively abruptly, it ceased to exist. We know of the city only because of the physical traces left behind. Few stories of Cahokia have survived; it disappeared from oral tradition, as if whatever happened to it is best forgotten. The archaeological record shows traces of the desperation and bloodshed that almost always accompany great upheavals: skeletons with bound hands, pits full of strangled young women.

The North American Drought Atlas, a historical record of climate conditions pieced together from the rings of old trees, provides a hint of what might have happened. The tenth century CE, when the Cahokia civilization would have developed, marked a distinct shift in the regional climate from persistent drought to rainier conditions more suitable for agriculture, centralization, and civilization.

But the good times were not to last…

Some people say “the climate has changed before,” as though that should be reassuring. It’s not: “Lost Cities and Climate Change.”

See also:  “A Quarter of Humanity Faces Looming Water Crises” and “What kind of climate change coverage do you read in the news? It depends on whether you live in a rich country or a poor one.”

* “Thanks to the centrifugal pump, places like Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas had thrown on the garments of fertility for a century, pretending to greenery and growth as they mined glacial water from ten-thousand-year-old aquifers. They’d played dress-up-in-green and pretended it could last forever. They’d pumped up the Ice Age and spread it across the land, and for a while they’d turned their dry lands lush. Cotton, wheat, corn, soybeans — vast green acreages, all because someone could get a pump going. Those places had dreamed of being different from what they were. They’d had aspirations. And then the water ran out, and they fell back, realizing too late that their prosperity was borrowed, and there would be no more coming.”
Paolo Bacigalupi, The Water Knife (a powerful novel)

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As we face facts, we might recall that it was on this date in 1854 that Ticknor & Fields published transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau’s reflection on simple living in natural surroundings, Walden; or, Life in the Woods.

220px-Walden_Thoreau source

 

Written by LW

August 9, 2019 at 1:01 am

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