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We Can’t Hide From Global Warming’s Consequences
Over the past few months, heat records have broken worldwide.
In early July, the temperature in Ouargla, Algeria, reached 51.3°C (124.34°F), the highest ever recorded in Africa! Temperatures in the eastern and southwestern U.S. and southeastern Canada have also hit record highs. In Montreal, people sweltered under temperatures of 36.6°C (97.88°F), the highest ever recorded there, as well as record-breaking extreme midnight heat and humidity, an unpleasant experience shared by people in Ottawa. Dozens of people have died from heat-related causes in Quebec alone.
Europe, Eurasia and the Middle East have also reached all-time record temperatures. In Northern Siberia, along the Arctic coast, the temperature was over 32°C (89.6°F) on July 5, much hotter than ever recorded.
Unusually high temperatures in the Arctic are causing sea ice to melt, exposing more dark sea areas, which absorb more heat than ice, causing feedback loops. Those are exacerbated by melting permafrost releasing more methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. All of it is weakening the polar jet stream, which in turn affects temperatures in mid-latitudes.
As U.S. meteorologist and geoscientist Nick Humphrey explains, "The weakening is causing the polar jet to become much wavier, with greater wave 'breaks' and blocking patterns where waves sit in the same place for weeks [and] promote extreme weather patterns (extreme cold relative to normal as well as extreme heat, very wet, and drought conditions)."
Atmospheric carbon dioxide has spiked to 408 parts per million, global average temperatures have risen 1.8°C since 1880, Arctic ice is declining at 13.2 percent per decade, sea levels are rising 3.2 millimeters (approximately .13 inches) a year on average and it's all accelerating as we continue to pump more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and destroy more carbon sinks like forests and wetlands.
According to NASA, "Most of the warming occurred in the past 35 years, with 16 of the 17 warmest years on record occurring since 2001. Not only was 2016 the warmest year on record, but eight of the 12 months that make up the year—from January through September, with the exception of June—were the warmest on record for those respective months."
Despite the calamity unfolding before our eyes, many people and organizations still cast doubt on climate science and scientists, and politicians and governments fight against the very measures critical to addressing the crisis and ensuring the planet's climate remains stable enough for good human health and survival.
Although some people argue that climate always changes, NASA scientists explain that evidence of past warming from ice cores, tree rings, ocean sediments, coral reefs and layers of sedimentary rocks show that "current warming is occurring roughly ten times faster than the average rate of ice-age-recovery warming."
We've known about the heat-trapping properties of CO2 and other gases since the mid 1800s. Again, NASA points out, "There is no question that increased levels of greenhouse gases must cause the Earth to warm in response."
The reasons we've failed to adequately confront the problem have nothing to do with lack of evidence or solutions. We have an abundance of both, but industrial interests and their supporters in media and politics (along with those who have been duped into denial) have actively worked to downplay the problem and hamper progress.
In our book Just Cool It!, we outline numerous known and emerging ways for governments, institutions, industry and individuals to resolve the climate crisis. Many solutions are being employed or developed, but not fast enough to forestall catastrophe. In Canada, we have federal and provincial governments hell-bent on expanding fossil fuel infrastructure and development to reap as much profit as possible from a dying industry and to satisfy the vagaries of short election cycles. The fossil fuel industry continues to receive massive subsidies, including a multi-billion-dollar taxpayer bailout for an American pipeline company, while clean energy receives far less support.
It's frightening to contemplate global warming, the changes required to confront it and the consequences we face in the coming years. But stalling solutions and continuing our fossil fuel addiction will only make the inevitable that much worse.
David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation senior editor Ian Hanington.
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By Will Sarni
It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.
The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future
We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.
"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.
One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.
Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.
Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.
These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.
We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).
We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.
We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.
Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.
Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.
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By Caroline Hickman
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