Posts Tagged ‘global warming’

On Combating Drought and Desertification

June 16, 2017

Today is “World Day for Combating Drought and Desertification.”  Ironically, today I am on a NWNL expedition in Nebraska atop the northeastern edge of the Ogallala Aquifer, which spans and supplies water to 8 states, all the way down to Texas.  The farmers I’ve talked to here are all aware of this observance.  After all, Nebraska was one of six of those same states so heavily impacted by the severe Dustbowl drought in the “Dirty Thirties.”  While these “black blizzards” caused terrible casualties and human displacement, much was learned about the importance of dry-land and no-till farming, planting windbreaks and the value of deep-rooted prairie grasses – all of which prevent wind erosion of these sandy “loess” soils.  During the Dustbowl, more than 3/4 of the topsoil was blown away in some regions.  Thanks to indomitable “Great Plains” human spirit, there has been recovery, albeit at the expense of large population declines, and continuing slim profit margins, provoking yearly concern.  The lesson still to be considered today is how we can mitigate extreme weather patterns.  Several means come to mind: irrigation and farming technologies, drought-tolerant crops, reduced consumption, reduction of fossil fuels that contribute to climate change, and paying attention to the lessons of history.

THE ROLE OF WATER IN HUMAN HISTORY:

For how long have our species worried about water availability?   For eons, civilizations settled on the planet’s great rivers and have flourished. I think of the Nile and its pyramids; the Tiber and its Roman Forum; and the Ganges and its Taj Mahal. There were also great civilizations that are believed to have literally dried up. I think of the Mississippian, Anasazi, and Incan cultures. Their power was decimated by their wanton consumption of natural resources, which intertwined with intense droughts and resulting food scarcity.
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Taj Mahal next to the Yamuna River, India. Photo by Alison M. Jones. NM-CCK-210A os.tif

Anasazi ruin ‘Chetro Ketl’ in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. Photo by Alison M. Jones.

THE ROLE OF WATER IN THE US WEST

Recently, David Beillo reviewed David Owen’s Where the Water Goes: Life and Death Along the Colorado River. He began his article by saying, “The waterways of the [U.S.] west now exist as monuments to an ambitious desert civilization. Across this vast region of America, few, if any, rivers flow without hosting one or more dams, concrete channels, diversions or other human-made ‘improvements’ that allow people and farming to flourish in this dry country.”

Nevada: Boulder City, Hoover Dam,

Hoover Dam, Boulder City, Nevada. Photo by Alison M. Jones.

Owen’s book follows a stream of well-known authors who’ve analyzed the issue of water availability in the desert – from Wallace Stegner’s many books to Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert (where did my well-worn copy of that classic go??) to John Fleck’s recent book on the Colorado River, Water is for Fighting Over. In describing the changing American West, Stegner muses on John Muir’s approach: “Instead of thinking what men did to the mountains, he kept his mind on what the mountains did to men.” A riverine parallel could be: consider what men have done to rivers in order to address what lack of rivers could do to men. Stegner succinctly states: “The West’s ultimate unity: aridity.”

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Parker Dam, hydrodam across the Colorado River that siphons water from Colorado Aqueduct to Los Angeles. Photo by Alison M. Jones.

In The Sound of Mountain Water: The Changing American West, Stegner describes the Cowboy Country – much of which supplies critical bounties of food and livestock – as a “land of little rain and big consequences.” The U.S. West is an extravagantly endowed region, but has one critical deficiency – water. Without water, watersheds, timber and crops are all vulnerable. Stegner mused, “There have been man-made deserts before this in the world’s history. The West could be one of those.” NWNL undertook five “Spotlight” expeditions to document the just-ended, six-year California Drought, including ten August days in the Mohave Desert when nights never cooled down below 108 degrees. Experiencing such extreme heat seemed to be possible preparation for what might be the norm in the future for larger areas than the deserts we now know, given climate change predictions.

Jones_140322_CA_3790California Aquaduct, seen from levee road, in San Joaquin River Valley, California. Photo by Alison M. Jones. 

Rising populations are using many straws to pull from that finite source of water called the Colorado River. It was named the Red River because of the color of the soil it carries, but perhaps we should also consider its color being derived from the blood of dying ecosystems and water-dependent livelihoods and communities. The death toll that many fear is exacerbated by the increasing droughts seemingly induced by climate change.

DESERTIFICATION IN AFRICA

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Aerial view of deforestation of Mau Forest, Kenya. Photo by Alison M. Jones.

Africa is also haunted by the specter of drought and desertification. The late Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to stem deforestation and resulting desertification by gathering legions of women to plant saplings across Kenya. No forests, no water, no life, no peace – as Ms. Maathai told NWNL after an appearance at NYC’s Cooper Union. But forests continue to disappear across Africa to be replaced by fields of maize to feed a growing number of mouths. Politics also interferes with efforts to protect Africa’s precious water towers, like Mt Kenya’s slopes and the Mara River’s Mau Forest headwaters.

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Indigenous cedar stump. Deforestation of Mau Forest, Kenya. Photo by Alison M. Jones.Jones_120124_K_5375

Truck full of cut logs. Deforestation of Mau Forest, Kenya. Photo by Alison M. Jones. 

THE FUTURE

In the face of today’s increasing droughts and deforestation, change is needed and is possible. But, given the human species’ tendency to short-termism, is it probable? Counter that tendency, our species also has often risen to crises — whether they were created by uncontrollable forces or by ourselves. Our inventiveness can overcome our inertia with leadership from grassroots and legislative actions. We certainly possess the ability to fight the specter of water scarcity.

We just need the will to change behavior and habits in order to stop deforestation, desertification and droughts. We need the will to reduce unnecessary consumption. We need the will to invest in research and technology. We need the will to respect nature’s needs and consider the long-term impacts of our human footprint.

 

 

 

Gathering Momentum

December 16, 2015

A STRONG PUSH…
In Paris this month 195 countries tackled climate change together, due to increased public awareness.
TO KEEP MOVING…
Climate change is still in question, NOT out of the question!
AND PAYING ATTENTION.
Climate change is invisible, but its causes and effects are visible.

Photography has been a critical tool in communicating the dire need for the cooperation and progress that began at Paris COP21.

Let’s all continue this conversation and purposefully work to create a world that sustains itself with recycling and renewable energy sources.

 

Ethiopia: Lower Omo River Basin, Kotrouru, a Kwego village, three generations: infant, a pregnant mother, older woman, standing on bank overlooking Omo River

Ethiopia: Three generations in Omo River Basin

This problem isn’t for another generation. It has serious implications for how we live right now.” -Anonymous

USA: Washington, Columbia River Basin

USA: Washington, Columbia River Basin

One reason people resist change is that they focus on what they have to give up, rather than on what they have to gain. -Anonymous

Missouri: St Genevieve, Route 61, flooded corn, field during Mississippi River flood of 1993

Missouri: Mississippi River Basin, Flood of 1993

Activism is the rent I pay for living on the planet.
-Alice Walker, American author

Canada: Alberta, Columbia Icefields, retreating Athabasca Glacier

Canada: Alberta’s retreating Athabasca Glacier

 Posted by Jasmine Graf, Associate Director of No Water No Life.

Shrimpin’ in Louisiana – a waning tradition?

October 29, 2014

Shrimp boats are a common sight, but shrimpers and oystermen in the Mississippi River Delta are struggling with decreased fisheries due to oil spills, and changes in water salinity and temperatures.

USA:  Louisiana, New Orleans, Gulf Coast, Mississippi River Delta, Shrimp boats in Buras

USA: Louisiana, New Orleans, Gulf Coast, Mississippi River Delta, Shrimp boats in Buras

Related reading: Louisiana oyster and shrimp industries in serious decline after BP oil spill

 

NWNL Pointers on Stayin’ COOL

June 24, 2014

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Sparked by a blog by John Cronin, Hudson Riverkeeper (1983-2000), Founding Director/CEO of Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries, and now Senior Fellow for Environmental Affairs at pace Academy.

As John Cronin wrote: “According to Stan Cox, author of the 2010 book “Losing Our Cool,” air conditioning in the US has a global-warming impact equivalent to every US household driving an extra 10,000 miles/year.”

Since global warming impacts every watershed on the planet, NWNL wants to brainstorm about what we each can do to reduce further problems.

Please send us ways you avoid using a/c so we can all
stay cool without it.

Watering hole in Johnson Shut-Ins State Park, Missouri.

Watering hole in Johnson Shut-Ins State Park, Missouri.

The obvious for our NWNL Team is to “hang out” in water – a stream, a pool, a cool shower, the ocean, a kayak, a canoe…. But there’s also:

• Wake up earlier when working conditions are cooler; and then nap midday to make up for it.

• Spruce up a cool garage or basement for some summer movies – or a game of Charades.

• Install and use overhead fans in lieu of A/C if your rooms have high ceilings

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• Explore the fun of hand-held fans! Go to China Town for strongly made, efficient fans; and share with children how to fold a rectangle of paper into a fan.

• Ask doormen / shopkeepers to keep doors closed if the A/C is on.

• Wear clothes that are made of cotton, linen or breathable, wicking fabrics on hot days.

• Have friends over for an ice-cream social!

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• Ride bikes and scooters instead of hot, steamy subways.

• Slip into “Porchin”:  a rural tradition of screened-in card games, loose clothing and flowing iced tea.

• Try swimming instead of running for your regular exercise.

• Take cool – rather than hot – showers. Go to bed with wet hair to be cooler as you go to sleep.

National Climate Assessment is required reading for all

May 7, 2014

Today’s New York Times front page –

U.S. Climate Has Already Changed, Study Finds, Citing Heat and Floods

NWNL has witnessed the effects of climate change over 8 years of expeditions to document watersheds in North America and Africa. From wading through flooded towns, running from hurricanes, interviewing farmers tackling long-term drought, trekking with pastoralists with thirsty cattle and many things in between. Click on images below for captions and links for related articles.

The interactive digital version of the new 840-page National Climate Assessment report is at www.globalchange.gov.  It’s complex, so NWNL recommends two articles that summarize the issues as outlined.

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/climate-change-projected-worsen-across-u-s-federal-study-finds/

Seth Borenstein’s account emphasizes that the report’s value lies in that it is written in less scientific language than others and that it underlines how climate change is already affecting our pocketbooks in areas ranging from our health to our homes.

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/nowhere-run-climate-change-will-affect-every-region-u-s-n98396

An NBC News account delineates climate change impacts, region by region. Reading these reports today, NWNL has noted the current and expected climate disruptions in the Pacific NW region for its one month Snake River Basin expedition which starts tomorrow.  We are looking forward to hearing local stakeholders’ solutions for mitigation and resilience in the face of continued extreme climate events.

Orchestra climbs Farnham Glacier in the Kootenays to play “Requiem For A Glacier” to raise awareness of glacial melt

July 29, 2013

This weekend over 50 musicians performed in the snow for a glacier. “Requiem for a Glacier” composed by Paul Walde is a 4 movement oratorio. Walde collaborated with arts curator, Kiara Lynch, who recruited and rehearsed volunteers for the project. Approximately 40 choir singers, 50 musicians, a group of sound technicians, mountain guides, a film/video crew, “sherpas” and drivers traversed the steep mountain trek.

“It’s an opportunity to help save the glaciers,” said 15-year-old violinist Joy Motzkus. “It’s for the animals and for the next generation.” Her sister, 12-year-old violinist Marla, was the youngest member of the three-generation choir and orchestra.

For a donation of $10 one can get an MP3 download of “Requiem for a Glacier” via their fundraising campaign.

This area is part of the Upper Columbia River Basin, one of six case-study watersheds being documented by No Water No Life.

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