Groundbreaking Court Case Argues U.S. Climate Denial Policy Violates Americans’ Right to Be Free
By Carter Dillard
In 2019 a study linked climate change and hotter weather to early childbirth in the United States. "That's enough to take somebody from what's considered to be a pretty healthy pregnancy into a 'we are somewhat worried' pregnancy," said Alan Barreca, a UCLA professor of environment and human health and lead author of the study.
Prior to this, several studies showed that the most effective way to mitigate the climate crisis, in terms of individual behavior, was to choose a smaller family, and have fewer children than one normally would.
That means the best thing we can do to protect our kids is to change the way we plan families. If you think about that statement, it makes sense: Planning ahead is much more effective than simply reacting to a situation. But as the climate crisis kills off nature and superheats the planet at an accelerating rate, pregnancies give us a beautiful window to see the interconnection in one stark way — at the nexus between the human world and the nonhuman world and the environment we are overrunning — and to consider the best solution to the problem.
There's something hidden in this question that could be preventing the world from taking the effective action necessary to deal with the climate crisis, and related crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. What do we mean by the environment? What are we protecting from the climate crisis, and wish to have in the future? This is called the normative baseline problem, and it halts progress on policy and action as we struggle at the crossroads of different ways to go, between more anthropogenic and less anthropogenic choices.
The baseline problem tends to linger when we consider things in terms of human welfare. If we switch to a framework of human freedom, our preference should become clear. Should infants be free of the ravages of an anthropogenic climate? How can we be free from others without restoring nature, or adhering to the highest environmental baseline possible? Freedom from the power of others is contingent upon restoring nature and the wild — or a baseline based on the absence of human power — and pursuing the highest form of environmental protection. Freedom from others logically starts with the nonhuman world or the rewilding of our planet.
The Baseline Problem
There is a cognitive dissonance prevalent in our species of evaluating something without thinking through the normative baselines, or the things against which we are making the evaluation. For example, I might think that — relative to how I will feel in a minute's time — it is a good idea to gorge on doughnuts right now. If I had really considered how I would feel later, and especially in the long run, and if I keep making the same decision, I would realize that I should have thought beyond the short term, or made the decision at a later point of time.
The world made the baseline mistake in developing environmental policy decades ago, choosing to treat nature as a resource for humans. The baseline was too low and allowed policies that fell short; indeed, it is one of the reasons our planet continues to superheat. We are making that same mistake now with regard to COVID-19, by financially stimulating factory farming and other forms of ecocide that degrade the buffer (or social distancing) between people that our pre-Anthropocene environment offered. Degrading that "natural buffer" exacerbates the risk of pandemics and determines how we can react to them. As the New Republic reported, the next pandemic could be hiding in the Arctic permafrost.
Solving the baseline problem will allow us to trace these calamities — like the unfolding death of the Great Barrier Reef — and help us back to an ultimate source, and, perhaps, to a solution. We can no longer use a baseline for environmental policy that treats nature or the nonhuman world as a human resource. This is the baseline most environmentalists use, and the one that created the Anthropocene era in which we find the world today. A much higher baseline would view nature as something that ought to be a nonhuman habitat or the homes of sentient species who have a right to survive and thrive. This would be a restorative baseline, and the one more consistent with animal liberation. Such a baseline would be most protective against things like climate change and the pandemics it drives. A policy based on this baseline would revolve around ensuring our children have the only environment proven — over millennia‚ that allows humans and all species to thrive. It would seek to eliminate the way the absence of nature in our lives is degrading our psyches.
In other words, what should our environment be like? What environment do our kids deserve? Do we want to raise kids with antisocial personalities who will plague their future generations with the same issues? Can we avoid doing so? Our choices to answer that question are being cut off as corporate and government forces convert nature into profits for the uber-wealthy. Our freedom to choose, our freedom through nature, is being taken away from us.
Whether we and our children have a right to that higher baseline and environment — what our future ought to look like — underlies the climate debates and the culture wars over how we respond to COVID-19. In this context, the debate centers around whether we should prioritize economic growth over preserving nature, and the protection of human life. The debate is between those who favor a lower environmental baseline and economic growth and those who favor a higher baseline and human rights, like the right of the most vulnerable groups to survive the pandemic.
It is a debate that is now being fought out in federal court. The case will determine a lot about what it means to be free in America — for us and for our kids.
Here is the key to that case, something many people miss. In order for us to be free, wilderness — or the relative absence of human domination over nature — has to remain and be protected as a potential baseline against the imposition of human power. Without it, we will lose our point of orientation to know what it means to be free from others. Or as Senator Frank Church of Idaho said in helping to pass the Wilderness Act of 1964, that "without wilderness this country will become a cage." Consider this, and the uber-wealthy class: People like Elon Musk insert themselves between us and nature in order to overrun it and promote increased population growth to accelerate that process. They envision a future in which the world is one big market, or a place they can dominate as the alternative — or the free world of Thoreau — recedes into extinction.
It's hard to think outside of the box when there is no outside, when there is no alternative to a man-made, human-dominated world. Anti-environmental groups who wish to convert the entire world into a market that is owned by a powerful few, who are now even eyeing the resources in space, know and exploit this fact. When I am in nature, in the wild, I can see the box or cage from the outside. I am free because I have that perspective, point of orientation, or baseline. Shouldn't we ensure that our kids have the same choice, and can see from that perspective?
The founders of this country thought so. They understood how crucial it was to have a baseline that could be used to judge and orient ourselves against human power, and wrote it into the Declaration of Independence, using the concept of wilderness and nature as the foundation upon which to build the latticework of the American social contract. They understood that human rights and democracy are objective values and should orient around an external and objective point like nature. In the Declaration, they explicitly assured it to our progeny.
No Freedom Without Nature
In the case, which is now on appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Seeding Sovereignty, two nonprofits, allege that the federal government's policy of ignoring the climate crisis — and in many cases knowingly exacerbating it — violates Americans' right to be free because it is destroying our environment relative to the higher, or restorative baseline. The concept of constitutional freedom can be complex but one way to unpack it is by dividing it into positive and negative freedoms — or the right to be free from the nonconsensual impact other people have on you, and the freedom to choose how to live your life. The plaintiffs allege our government is violating both these freedoms.
Consider the impact of the climate crisis on pregnant women, as the baseline environment, which generations of American mothers have enjoyed, and is now being degraded. Not only are the mothers and their babies subject to the disastrous and long-term impacts of the crisis, but their choices and opportunities in life are being cut off by such long-term impacts. Instead of addressing this issue, the government's policies internationally have shifted the benefits to polluters, who use the wealth to minimize the harm of the crisis upon themselves and expand their own choices in life by ensuring poorer health, additional costs of care, etc. This case argues that because we have the right to be free from others and to live our lives as we choose, such government policies violate the Constitution, which protects us from these and similar intrusions. How can we have a right to be free from relatively nonintrusive things like government surveillance, as the Supreme Court has always held, but not be free from life-threatening ecological impacts? We do have such a right — a right to a natural and restorative environmental baseline, or the highest possible standard of environmental protection, which stands as a wall between us and those who would use nature for their own profits, and prevents from further endangering pregnant women and their children, and exacerbating pandemics in the future. Having that right is what it means to be free.
Taking a Revolutionary Perspective and Acting on It
The case of Juliana v. United States, which was filed in 2015 by 21 youth and organizational plaintiff Earth Guardians, is powerful and differs significantly from other constitutional litigations regarding the climate crisis as it is focused on anthropocentric standards for environmental protection, and relies on the role of nature, and wilderness, in particular, in the American Revolution and the founding of the country. Could the Founding Fathers have imagined that Americans would one day be so impacted by others, that nature would be so degraded, that our own environment threatened pregnancy? How would they have wanted us to react to that threat and our rights to be free from others, and free to live our lives as we see fit, relative to the environmental baseline they enjoyed and extolled as a necessary condition of freedom? This country is built on a promise to our progeny and we know the people who are making it impossible to keep that promise.
This is not about fealty to our Founding Fathers or some other form of nationalism masquerading as liberalism. If we don't orient our political systems around the absence of human power and the restoration of nature, we are adopting a concept of freedom that is incoherent. That, in turn, poses serious legitimacy problems for any form of governance, making consensual political association physically impossible. In other words, without the absence of human power — or nature or the nonhuman world — it becomes impossible to consent to human power. We cannot allow ourselves to simply embrace — and foist upon future generations — a world where we cannot be free from others' harmful influence, in which freedom from the power of others does not exist and political liberty is replaced by a degrading form of consumerist freedom. In such a world, freedom is more economic than political, and the average person's role is reduced to being a buyer and seller in a world market rather than that of an empowered citizen in free democracies surrounded by nature. Those promoting such an emaciated form of freedom, and blocking family planning reforms that would ensure people are empowered as truly free and equal might be thought of as pre-constitutional, but it is preventing the intergenerational constituting or coming together of people as truly self-determining.
The move away from a lower or resource-based baseline has begun, in part, with the recognition that humans and the environment are inextricably linked, which is a partial move away from the view of nature as a resource and separate from humanity. The next steps involve understanding exactly what we mean by the concept of nature and why we value it, and moving from the descriptive realm to the normative or evaluative realm — the realm of law and human rights — where we can articulate exactly how nature should be part of us and part of who we as a species should be. And when it comes to taking action, a useful perspective would be understanding that the fight for nature involves liberating the most vulnerable entities in the world — future generations and nonhumans. This involves universal reform of our family planning system. One effective option would be to liberate them by seizing the resources of those at the top of the power and population pyramid that Nobel laureate Steven Chu recognized and using those resources to fund universal family planning programs that promote smaller and more equitable families. And while we have been taught that countries like the United States were "constituted" by god-like wealthy white men in the past, new scholarship argues that this idea is nonsense and that if we assume political power derives from actual people, we are constantly either constituting legitimate democracies or deconstituting into illegitimate "pre-constitutional" political states, depending on the family planning systems at play.
Do you think the idea of linking equity and a universal ethic of smaller families to population and family planning sounds far-fetched? Others, like Michael Moore and David Brooks, are already making the connection in the mainstream.
The war on nature has turned into a war against us and our kids. We cannot afford to make the baseline mistake in the face of threats like the climate crisis, COVID-19, mass extinction and many other interrelated catastrophes. That is what the case is about: arguing that our fundamental human rights include a right and responsibility to nature, which in essence means seeing ourselves as guests of nature, and not its master. It is an argument that completely gels with changes around the country to limit destructive and mythical property rights, such as those over animals and over specific parts of our environment, in favor of a form of personhood that would protect the most vulnerable entities in the world.
And whether courts recognize that right to be free in nature or not, the tide of those willing to fight for the highest standard of environmental protection, and to protect those most vulnerable will continue to rise all the way up to the doorsteps of our oppressors — specifically those who push for a lower environmental baseline and economic growth over our right and responsibility to nature.
Carter Dillard is the founder of HavingKids.org. He served as an Honors Program Attorney at the United States Department of Justice and served with a national security law agency before developing a comprehensive account of reforming family planning for the Yale Human Rights and Development Law Journal. He has begun to implement the transition to child-centric "Fair Start" family planning, both as a member of the Steering Committee of the Population Ethics and Policy Research Project, and as a visiting scholar of the Uehiro Center, both at the University of Oxford.
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
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On Thursday, April 22, the world will celebrate Earth Day, the largest non-religious holiday on the globe.
This Earth Day falls at a critical turning point. It is the second Earth Day since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and follows a year of devastating climate disasters, such as the wildfires that scorched California and the hurricanes that battered Central America. But the day's organizers still have hope, and they have chosen a theme to match.
"At the heart of Earth Day's 2021 theme, Restore Our Earth, is optimism, a critically needed sentiment in a world ravaged by both climate change and the pandemic," EarthDay.org president Kathleen Rogers told USA TODAY.
Last Earth Day marked the first time that the holiday was celebrated digitally to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This will largely be the case this year as well.
"Most of our Earth Day events will be virtual with the exception of individual and small group cleanups through our 'Great Global Cleanup' program," EarthDay.org's Olivia Altman told USA TODAY.
Tuesday, April 20: A Global Youth Summit begins at 2:30 p.m. ET featuring young climate activists like Greta Thunberg and Alexandria Villaseñor. This will be followed at 7 p.m. ET by "We Shall Breathe," a virtual summit organized by the Hip Hop Caucus to look at issues like the climate crisis, pollution and the pandemic through an environmental justice lens.
Wednesday, April 22: Beginning at 7 a.m. ET, Education International will lead the "Teach for the Planet: Global Education Summit." Talks will be offered in multiple languages and across multiple time zones to emphasize the importance of education in fighting the climate crisis.
Thursday, April 22: On the day itself, EarthDay.org will host its second ever Earth Day Live digital event beginning at 12 p.m. ET. This event will feature discussions, performances and workshops focusing on the day's theme of restoring our Earth through natural solutions, technological innovations and new ideas.
"EARTHDAY.ORG looks forward to contributing to the success of this historic climate summit and making active progress to Restore Our Earth," Rogers said in a press release. "We must see every country rapidly raise their ambition across all climate issues — and that must include climate education which would lead to a green jobs-ready workforce, a green consumer movement, and an educated and civically engaged citizenry around the world."
EarthDay.org grew out of the first Earth Day in 1970, which drew 20 million U.S. residents to call for greater environmental protections. The movement has been credited with helping to establish the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and to pass landmark environmental legislation like the Clean Air and Water Acts. It has since gone on to be a banner day for environmental action, such as the signing of the Paris agreement in 2016. More than one billion people in more than 192 countries celebrate Earth Day each year.
This legacy continues. The organization called the scheduling of Biden's summit a "clear acknowledgement of the power of Earth Day."
"This is a critical stepping stone for the U.S. to rejoin the world in combating the climate crisis. In concert with several planned parallel EARTHDAY.ORG events worldwide, Earth Day 2021 will accelerate global action on climate change," EarthDay.org wrote.
Super-emitters are individual sources such as leaking pipelines, landfills or dairy farms that produce a disproportionate amount of planet-warming emissions, especially methane and carbon dioxide. Carbon Mapper, the non-profit leading the effort, hopes to provide a more targeted guide to reducing emissions by launching special satellites that hunt for sources of climate pollution.
"What we've learned is that decision support systems that focus just at the level of nation states, or countries, are necessary but not sufficient. We really need to get down to the scale of individual facilities, and even individual pieces of equipment, if we're going to have an impact across civil society," Riley Duren, Carbon Mapper CEO and University of Arizona researcher, told BBC News. "Super-emitters are often intermittent but they are also disproportionately responsible for the total emissions. That suggests low-hanging fruit, because if you can identify and fix them you can get a big bang for your buck."
The new project, announced Thursday, is a partnership between multiple entities, including Carbon Mapper, the state of California, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and Planet, a company that designs, builds and launches satellites, according to a press release. The project is being implemented in three stages.
The initial stage, which is already complete, involved the initial engineering development. NASA and Planet will work together in the second stage to build two satellites for a 2023 launch. The third phase will launch an entire constellation of satellites starting in 2025.
The satellites will include an imaging spectrometer built by NASA's JPL, NASA explained in a press release. This is a device that can break down visible light into hundreds of colors, providing a unique signature for chemicals such as methane and carbon dioxide. Most imaging spectrometers currently in orbit have larger pixel sizes, making it difficult to locate emission sources that are not always visible from the ground. However, Carbon Mapper spectrometers will have pixels of around 98 square feet, facilitating more detailed pin-pointing.
"This technology enables researchers to identify, study and quantify the strong gas emission sources," JPL Scientist Charles Miller said in the press release.
Once the data is collected, Carbon Mapper will make it available to industry and government actors via an open data portal to help repair leaks.
"These home-grown satellites are a game-changer," California Governor Gavin Newsom said of the project. "They provide California with a powerful, state-of-the-art tool to help us slash emissions of the super-pollutant methane — within our own borders and around the world. That's exactly the kind of dynamic, forward-thinking solution we need now to address the existential crisis of climate change."
By Jenna McGuire
Commonly used herbicides across the U.S. contain highly toxic undisclosed "inert" ingredients that are lethal to bumblebees, according to a new study published Friday in the Journal of Applied Ecology.
The study reviewed several herbicide products and found that most contained glyphosate, an ingredient best recognized from Roundup products and the most widely used herbicide in the U.S. and worldwide.
While the devastating impacts of glyphosate on bee populations are more broadly recognized, the toxicity levels of inert ingredients are less understood because they are not subjected to the same mandatory testing by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
"Pesticides are manufactured and sold as formulations that contain a mixture of compounds, including one or more active ingredients and, potentially, many inert ingredients," explained the Center for Food Safety in a statement. "The inert ingredients are added to pesticides to aid in mixing and to enhance the products' ability to stick to plant leaves, among other purposes."
The study found that these inert substances can be highly toxic and even block bees' breathing capacity, essentially causing them to drown. While researchers found that some of the combinations of inert ingredients had no negative impacts on the bees, one of the herbicide formulations killed 96% of the bees within 24 hours.
According to the abstract of the study:
Bees exhibited 94% mortality with Roundup® Ready‐To‐Use® and 30% mortality with Roundup® ProActive®, over 24 hr. Weedol® did not cause significant mortality, demonstrating that the active ingredient, glyphosate, is not the cause of the mortality. The 96% mortality caused by Roundup® No Glyphosate supports this conclusion.
"This important new study exposes a fatal flaw in how pesticide products are regulated here in the U.S.," said Jess Tyler, a staff scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Now the question is, will the Biden administration fix this problem, or will it allow the EPA to continue its past practice of ignoring the real-world harms of pesticides?"
According to the Center for Food Safety, there are currently 1,102 registered formulations that contain the active ingredient glyphosate, each with a proprietary mixture of inert ingredients. In 2017, the group filed a legal petition calling for the EPA to force companies to provide safety data on pesticide formulations that include inert ingredients.
"The EPA must begin requiring tests of every pesticide formulation for bee toxicity, divulge the identity of 'secret' formulation additives so scientists can study them, and prohibit application of Roundup herbicides to flowering plants when bees might be present and killed," said Bill Freese, science director at the Center for Food Safety. "Our legal petition gave the EPA a blueprint for acting on this issue of whole formulations. Now they need to take that blueprint and turn it into action, before it's too late for pollinators."
ATTN @EPA: Undisclosed "inert" ingredients in #pesticide products warrant further scrutiny! ➡️ A new study compared… https://t.co/bdFwXCVHsD— Center 4 Food Safety (@Center 4 Food Safety)1618592343.0
Roundup — also linked to cancer in humans — was originally produced by agrochemical giant Monsanto, which was acquired by the German pharmaceutical and biotech company Bayer in 2018.
The merger of the two companies was condemned by environmentalists and food safety groups who warned it would cultivate the greatest purveyor of genetically modified seeds and toxic pesticides in the world.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
By Ayesha Tandon
New research shows that lake "stratification periods" – a seasonal separation of water into layers – will last longer in a warmer climate.
These longer periods of stratification could have "far-reaching implications" for lake ecosystems, the paper says, and can drive toxic algal blooms, fish die-offs and increased methane emissions.
The study, published in Nature Communications, finds that the average seasonal lake stratification period in the northern hemisphere could last almost two weeks longer by the end of the century, even under a low emission scenario. It finds that stratification could last over a month longer if emissions are extremely high.
If stratification periods continue to lengthen, "we can expect catastrophic changes to some lake ecosystems, which may have irreversible impacts on ecological communities," the lead author of the study tells Carbon Brief.
The study also finds that larger lakes will see more notable changes. For example, the North American Great Lakes, which house "irreplaceable biodiversity" and represent some of the world's largest freshwater ecosystems, are already experiencing "rapid changes" in their stratification periods, according to the study.
As temperatures rise in the spring, many lakes begin the process of "stratification." Warm air heats the surface of the lake, heating the top layer of water, which separates out from the cooler layers of water beneath.
The stratified layers do not mix easily and the greater the temperature difference between the layers, the less mixing there is. Lakes generally stratify between spring and autumn, when hot weather maintains the temperature gradient between warm surface water and colder water deeper down.
Dr Richard Woolway from the European Space Agency is the lead author of the paper, which finds that climate change is driving stratification to begin earlier and end later. He tells Carbon Brief that the impacts of stratification are "widespread and extensive," and that longer periods of stratification could have "irreversible impacts" on ecosystems.
For example, Dr Dominic Vachon – a postdoctoral fellow from the Climate Impacts Research Centre at Umea University, who was not involved in the study – explains that stratification can create a "physical barrier" that makes it harder for dissolved gases and particles to move between the layers of water.
This can prevent the oxygen from the surface of the water from sinking deeper into the lake and can lead to "deoxygenation" in the depths of the water, where oxygen levels are lower and respiration becomes more difficult.
Oxygen depletion can have "fatal consequences for living organisms," according to Dr Bertram Boehrer, a researcher at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, who was not involved in the study.
Lead author Woolway tells Carbon Brief that the decrease in oxygen levels at deeper depths traps fish in the warmer surface waters:
"Fish often migrate to deeper waters during the summer to escape warmer conditions at the surface – for example during a lake heatwave. A decrease in oxygen at depth will mean that fish will have no thermal refuge, as they often can't survive when oxygen concentrations are too low."
This can be very harmful for lake life and can even increase "fish die-off events" the study notes.
However, the impacts of stratification are not limited to fish. The study notes that a shift to earlier stratification in spring can also encourage communities of phytoplankton – a type of algae – to grow sooner, and can put them out of sync with the species that rely on them for food. This is called a "trophic mismatch."
Prof Catherine O'Reilly, a professor of geography, geology and the environment at Illinois State University, who was not involved in the study, adds that longer stratified periods could also "increase the likelihood of harmful algae blooms."
The impact of climate change on lakes also extends beyond ecosystems. Low oxygen levels in lakes can enhance the production of methane, which is "produced in and emitted from lakes at globally significant rates," according to the study.
Woolway explains that higher levels of warming could therefore create a positive climate feedback in lakes, where rising temperatures mean larger planet-warming emissions:
"Low oxygen levels at depth also promotes methane production in lake sediments, which can then be released to the surface either via bubbles or by diffusion, resulting in a positive feedback to climate change."
Onset and Breakup
In the study, the authors determine historical changes in lake stratification periods using long-term observational data from some of the "best-monitored lakes in the world" and daily simulations from a collection of lake models.
They also run simulations of future changes in lake stratification period under three different emission scenarios, to determine how the process could change in the future. The study focuses on lakes in the northern hemisphere.
The figure below shows the average change in lake stratification days between 1900 and 2099, compared to the 1970-1999 average. The plot shows historical measurements (black), and the low emission RCP2.6 (blue), mid emissions RCP6.0 (yellow) and extremely high emissions RCP8.5 (red) scenarios.
Change in lake stratification duration compared to the 1970-1999 average, for historical measurements (black), the low emission RCP2.6 (blue) moderate emissions RCP6.0 (yellow) and extremely high emissions RCP8.5 (red). Credit: Woolway et al (2021).
The plot shows that the average lake stratification period has already lengthened. However, the study adds that some lakes are seeing more significant impacts than others.
For example, Blelham Tarn – the most well-monitored lake in the English Lake District – is now stratifying 24 days earlier and maintaining its stratification for an extra 18 days compared to its 1963-1972 averages, the study finds. Woolway tells Carbon Brief that as a result, the lake is already showing signs of oxygen depletion.
Climate change is increasing average stratification duration in lakes, the findings show, by moving the onset of stratification earlier and pushing the stratification "breakup" later. The table below shows projected changes in the onset, breakup and overall length of lake stratification under different emission scenarios, compared to a 1970-1999 baseline.
The table shows that even under the low emission scenario, the lake stratification period is expected to be 13 days longer by the end of the century. However, in the extremely high emissions scenario, it could be 33 days longer.
The table also shows that stratification onset has changed more significantly than stratification breakup. The reasons why are revealed by looking at the drivers of stratification more closely.
Warmer Weather and Weaker Winds
The timing of stratification onset and breakup in lakes is driven by two main factors – temperature and wind speed.
The impact of temperature on lake stratification is based on the fact that warm water is less dense than cool water, Woolway tells Carbon Brief:
"Warming of the water's surface by increasing air temperature causes the density of water to decrease and likewise results in distinct thermal layers within a lake to form – cooler, denser water settles to the bottom of the lake, while warmer, lighter water forms a layer on top."
This means that, as climate change causes temperatures to rise, lakes will begin to stratify earlier and remain stratified for longer. Lakes in higher altitudes are also likely to see greater changes in stratification, Woolway tells Carbon Brief, because "the prolonging of summer is very apparent in high latitude regions."
The figure below shows the expected increase in stratification duration from lakes in the northern hemisphere under the low (left), mid (center), and high (right) emission scenarios. Deeper colors indicate a larger increase in stratification period.
Expected increase in stratification duration in lakes in the northern hemisphere under the low (left), mid (centre) and high (right) emissions scenarios. Credit: Woolway et al (2021).
The figure shows that the expected impact of climate change on stratification duration becomes more pronounced at more northerly high latitudes.
The second factor is wind speed, Woolway explains:
"Wind speed also affects the timing of stratification onset and breakdown, with stronger winds acting to mix the water column, thus acting against the stratifying effect of increasing air temperature."
According to the study, wind speed is expected to decrease slightly as the planet warms. The authors note that the expected changes in near-surface wind speed are "relatively minor" compared to the likely temperature increase, but they add that it may still cause "substantial" changes in stratification.
The study finds that air temperature is the most important factor behind when a lake will begin to stratify. However, when looking at stratification breakup, it finds that wind speed is a more important driver.
Meanwhile, Vachon says that wind speeds also have implications for methane emissions from lakes. He notes that stratification prevents the methane produced on the bottom of the lake from rising and that, when the stratification period ends, methane is allowed to rise to the surface. However, according to Vachon, the speed of stratification breakup will affect how much methane is released into the atmosphere:
"My work has suggested that the amount of accumulated methane in bottom waters that will be finally emitted is related to how quickly the stratification break-up occurs. For example, a slow and progressive stratification break-up will most likely allow water oxygenation and allow the bacteria to oxidise methane into carbon dioxide. However, a stratification break-up that occurs rapidly – for example after storm events with high wind speed – will allow the accumulated methane to be emitted to the atmosphere more efficiently."
Finally, the study finds that large lakes take longer to stratify in spring and typically remain stratified for longer in the autumn – due to their higher volume of water. For example, the authors highlight the North American Great Lakes, which house "irreplaceable biodiversity" and represent some of the world's largest freshwater ecosystems.
These lakes have been stratifying 3.5 days earlier every decade since 1980, the authors find, and their stratification onset can vary by up to 48 days between some extreme years.
O'Reilly tells Carbon Brief that "it's clear that these changes will be moving lakes into uncharted territory" and adds that the paper "provides a framework for thinking about how much lakes will change under future climate scenarios."
Reposted with permission from Carbon Brief.
By Robert Glennon
Interstate water disputes are as American as apple pie. States often think a neighboring state is using more than its fair share from a river, lake or aquifer that crosses borders.
Currently the U.S. Supreme Court has on its docket a case between Texas, New Mexico and Colorado and another one between Mississippi and Tennessee. The court has already ruled this term on cases pitting Texas against New Mexico and Florida against Georgia.
Climate stresses are raising the stakes. Rising temperatures require farmers to use more water to grow the same amount of crops. Prolonged and severe droughts decrease available supplies. Wildfires are burning hotter and lasting longer. Fires bake the soil, reducing forests' ability to hold water, increasing evaporation from barren land and compromising water supplies.
As a longtime observer of interstate water negotiations, I see a basic problem: In some cases, more water rights exist on paper than as wet water – even before factoring in shortages caused by climate change and other stresses. In my view, states should put at least as much effort into reducing water use as they do into litigation, because there are no guaranteed winners in water lawsuits.
Alabama, pay attention to Supreme Court ruling against Florida in water war #Water #SDG6 https://t.co/wIjdoY6Ccr— Noah J. Sabich (@Noah J. Sabich)1617800452.0
Dry Times in the West
The situation is most urgent in California and the Southwest, which currently face "extreme or exceptional" drought conditions. California's reservoirs are half-empty at the end of the rainy season. The Sierra snowpack sits at 60% of normal. In March 2021, federal and state agencies that oversee California's Central Valley Project and State Water Project – regional water systems that each cover hundreds of miles – issued "remarkably bleak warnings" about cutbacks to farmers' water allocations.
The Colorado River Basin is mired in a drought that began in 2000. Experts disagree as to how long it could last. What's certain is that the "Law of the River" – the body of rules, regulations and laws governing the Colorado River – has allocated more water to the states than the river reliably provides.
The 1922 Colorado River Compact allocated 7.5 million acre-feet (one acre-foot is roughly 325,000 gallons) to California, Nevada and Arizona, and another 7.5 million acre-feet to Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. A treaty with Mexico secured that country 1.5 million acre-feet, for a total of 16.5 million acre-feet. However, estimates based on tree ring analysis have determined that the actual yearly flow of the river over the last 1,200 years is roughly 14.6 million acre-feet.
The inevitable train wreck has not yet happened, for two reasons. First, Lakes Mead and Powell – the two largest reservoirs on the Colorado – can hold a combined 56 million acre-feet, roughly four times the river's annual flow.
But diversions and increased evaporation due to drought are reducing water levels in the reservoirs. As of Dec. 16, 2020, both lakes were less than half full.
Second, the Upper Basin states – Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico – have never used their full allotment. Now, however, they want to use more water. Wyoming has several new dams on the drawing board. So does Colorado, which is also planning a new diversion from the headwaters of the Colorado River to Denver and other cities on the Rocky Mountains' east slope.
Utah Stakes a Claim
The most controversial proposal comes from one of the nation's fastest-growing areas: St. George, Utah, home to approximately 90,000 residents and lots of golf courses. St. George has very high water consumption rates and very low water prices. The city is proposing to augment its water supply with a 140-mile pipeline from Lake Powell, which would carry 86,000 acre-feet per year.
Truth be told, that's not a lot of water, and it would not exceed Utah's unused allocation from the Colorado River. But the six other Colorado River Basin states have protested as though St. George were asking for their firstborn child.
In a joint letter dated Sept. 8, 2020, the other states implored the Interior Department to refrain from issuing a final environmental review of the pipeline until all seven states could "reach consensus regarding legal and operational concerns." The letter explicitly threatened a high "probability of multi-year litigation."
Utah blinked. Having earlier insisted on an expedited pipeline review, the state asked federal officials on Sept. 24, 2020 to delay a decision. But Utah has not given up: In March 2021, Gov. Spencer Cox signed a bill creating a Colorado River Authority of Utah, armed with a $9 million legal defense fund, to protect Utah's share of Colorado River water. One observer predicted "huge, huge litigation."
How huge could it be? In 1930, Arizona sued California in an epic battle that did not end until 2006. Arizona prevailed by finally securing a fixed allocation from the water apportioned to California, Nevada and Arizona.
Litigation or Conservation
Before Utah takes the precipitous step of appealing to the Supreme Court under the court's original jurisdiction over disputes between states, it might explore other solutions. Water conservation and reuse make obvious sense in St. George, where per-person water consumption is among the nation's highest.
St. George could emulate its neighbor, Las Vegas, which has paid residents up to $3 per square foot to rip out lawns and replace them with native desert landscaping. In April 2021 Las Vegas went further, asking the Nevada Legislature to outlaw ornamental grass.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority estimates that the Las Vegas metropolitan area has eight square miles of "nonfunctional turf" – grass that no one ever walks on except the person who cuts it. Removing it would reduce the region's water consumption by 15%.
Water rights litigation is fraught with uncertainty. Just ask Florida, which thought it had a strong case that Georgia's water diversions from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin were harming its oyster fishery downstream.
That case extended over 20 years before the U.S. Supreme Court ended the final chapter in April 2021. The court used a procedural rule that places the burden on plaintiffs to provide "clear and convincing evidence." Florida failed to convince the court, and walked away with nothing.
Robert Glennon is a Regents Professor and Morris K. Udall Professor of Law & Public Policy, University of Arizona.
Disclosure statement: Robert Glennon received funding from the National Science Foundation in the 1990s and 2000s.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.