Friday, October 15, 2010

Good News, Not So Good News

The WWF's Living Planet Report, 2010 has just been released and it really is enough to make you wonder if mankind has taken leave of its collective senses.

The good news is that the extinction of animals seems to have stabilized.    The not so good news is just about everything else.  By the WWF's assessment, we're now consuming resources at 1.5 times the rate our planet can replenish them.   Think about that. 

We're drawing down resources, particularly freshwater, far faster than Spaceship Earth is capable of generating more.  In fact we've created societies dependent on resources we simply don't have.  How have we managed so well so far?   By raiding nature's reserves.

You know those fancy fountains and artificial lakes in Las Vegas?   Where does all that rapidly-evaporating water come from?  Here's a hint, it's not rainwater.   No, it's ancient water pumped out of aquifers deep underground.   But where is the water going to come from to refill ("recharge") those aquifers?   Here's another hint, nowhere.  Desert resorts and shopping centres actually mist the air along the sidewalks to keep the public comfortable.   So what happens when those aquifers run empty?   Here's your third hint, don't invest all your money in real estate in Nevada, Arizona or New Mexico.  Bad idea.

The LPI reveals a stark distinction between southern and northern hemisphere countries.  Between 1970 and 2007, animal and marine life populations actually rebounded in the north but suffered devastating declines in the southern hemisphere.   The southern hemisphere losses resulted in a global decline of 29% in animal and marine life since 1970.

The Index was compiled by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).  From The Guardian:'

"Healthy ecosystems form the basis of all we have - lose them and we destroy our life support system," said Jonathan Baillie, ZSL's conservation programme director.

"This is like spending the savings: we're spending the natural capital we have on this planet," said Jim Leape, WWF's director, at the launch of the report in Bristol. "That's an economic crisis in the making."

Measurements of the "ecological footprint" of different countries – the area required to provide the resources consumed by the population or average person in a year, compiled by the Global Footprint Network, shows the richest countries consume, on average, five times the quantity of natural resources as the poorest countries. At the extremes are the United Arab Emirates, with an average footprint of more than 10 hectares, and Timor-Leste at less than one hectare. The global average is about three hectares, and the UK figure is around five.

Just in case you're curious, Canada scored an even seven on the global footprint index.  This truly is a truly global economic, humanitarian, environmental and security crisis in the making.  Nobody is immune from the fallout from this, even us.  Why then does this looming, multi-faceted crisis not even appear on our leaders' radar screens?


Green Assassin Brigade said...

I believe Vegas uses nearby lake Mead which is fed by rain and spring runoff up river but it too has been depleted and is down a couple hundred feed from its peak. Some projections say Mead could be dry by 2021 and stop producing hydro at Hoover dam in 2 years.

If Hoover runs dry agriculture in California is gone, lots of rice and salad is grown there also up to 36 million people go on water rations.

The Mound of Sound said...

Thanks for that GAB. Look how much land in the San Joachim valley is no longer being worked. Some California farmers are actually selling their water quotas to local municipalities.

What bothers me most is the utter absence of public or political will to deal with this. Jared Diamond seems to think when (if) this region collapses it will be massive and quite sudden.

GAB said...

lake Mead pictures by NASA, then and now

Beijing York said...

There should be an "alarmed" option on the reaction interface.

I cannot figure out how environmental issues (crisis) have been shoved out of the spotlight these past few years. It seems like Harper's nasty "Not a Leader" campaign against Dion was a two tiered effort with the second objective being to kill the environment as an issue.

The Mound of Sound said...

It's not just Harper, BY. There are Tar Sanders and Fossil Fuelers on both sides of the House and well represented in all parties.

Dion's ill-launched Green Shift was roundly savaged by both Harper and Layton. It was to be expected from Harper but it was pure partisan gamesmanship from Layton and forever fixed my view of him.

The only viable (effective) option is carbon taxation. Cap and Trade is simply raw meat for swindlers and thieves. Carbon taxes work by shifting the focus of how taxes are levied. You don't necessarily need to impose new tax burdens, just direct them to the harmful conduct you wish to deter.

Cap and Trade is based on carbon credits that become dirt cheap when recessions hit. The ways to game carbon credit trading seem virtually limitless.

Carbon taxes can also be levied at the point of production. This will affect the price charged the end user but, in the case of individuals, that can be offset by reduced or eliminated taxes elsewhere and by direct rebates.

The 800 pound gorilla in the room is Athabasca. What nobody likes to mention is that the Tar Sands is economically unviable absent massive volumes of "free" water and taxpayer subsidies. Instead of waiting for the long-promised/ never delivered carbon sequestration miracle, charges for that ought to be levied now. As matters stand we give Big Oil every incentive not to implement CCS.

At the end of the day we each should be pointing fingers at our own. I blame Ignatieff and the Petro-Pols of the Liberal caucus and, I believe, you ought to be blaming Layton and his caucus. Harper can't let me down. Iggy sure as hell can - and does.

Beijing York said...

No disagreement from me, MoS.

Layton was particularly distasteful in the last election and his nothing platform on the environment.

Ignatieff belongs in the Conservative Party.

Oemissions said...

Carole James didnot support a carbon tax.

Anonymous said...

I hope that Layton steps down and gives place to Mulcair. As Quebec's environmental minister he was progressive.

The Mound of Sound said...

I wonder how damaging to public opinion it must be and will be into the future that neither the Libs nor the NDP are fighting this extremely serious issue. Maybe it's the Dion Syndrome but neither of them wants to touch it.

Back when I was extremely angry at Dion for the hapless manner he introduced the Green Shift idea. His party was broke and wallowing in opposition. The Liberals had neither the strength nor the resources to advance an initiative of this magnitude.

Only a party in government can hope to do that. It takes time, money and a lot of human resources to get it off the floor. You have to inform the public, get them to understand the problem and fully explain your proposed action. And we're talking about a public that's already been thoroughly groomed and manipulated by the other side. A sizeable portion of that public has been fed some pretty misguided information.

Dion lost control of his effort. The word leaked out and Harper was ready to pounce. Harper managed to frame the issue well before Dion could unveil the Green Shift idea. Then Layton piled on. Dion's idea was stillborn and damaged the party into the next election. And, with that, the very idea of carbon taxes came to be seen by the political classes as toxic.

Beijing York said...

And now with a massive $55 billion deficit, it will be near impossible to mount any progressive platform, unless any of the parties have the courage to reduce corporate tax breaks, pull out of Afghanistan and make military spending cuts, and abandon the whole notion of expanding prisons.

The Mound of Sound said...

It's really quite amazing, B.Y., to look back on the dynamics of the global warming issue since the heady days of Kyoto.

Back then our focus was on somehow preventing runaway warming by curbing carbon emissions. We set this target of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial times.

The validity of that 2-degree threshhold hasn't changed but the political will to meet that challenge has evaporated. In Canada we're looking at a 4-degree increase and half that again, perhaps even double, in the north.

We don't even want to think about the fact that there are feedback mechanisms that will take global warming out of our control, very real tipping points at which that will happen. We don't want to think that we'll reach those tipping points well before we realize we have.

Since Kyoto we have quietly succumbed to lethargy. Now the focus is shifting from remediation, eliminating carbon emissions, saving future generations; to adaptation, simply saving ourselves.

It reminds me of hang-gliding lessons I took in the mid-70's. My instructor introduced me to the emergency parachute. It pretty much amounted to a chute more or less stuffed into what resembled one of those WWII gas-mask bags once popular with the student crowd. The idea was, if the hang glider's frame failed and the wings folded, you would turn around in your harness, carefully open the bag, extract the chute and do your best to heave it out through the tangle of frame and cables. When I asked what were the odds of the damned thing working in that sort of catastrophe, he said the main value of it was it gave you something to keep your mind occupied on the way down. Shit, oh dear!