Planet Earth Weekly

Climate Change and Renewable Energy: Saving Our Planet for Future Generations


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International Action on Climate Change: Paris, France (COP21) to Katowice, Poland (COP24)

Climate change conference

Climate Change

“It recently became clear that not enough was being done to reduce global warming.”

By Dr. John J. Hidore

January 18, 2016—-In 2015, a major conference on climate change was held in Paris. At the Paris climate conference most of the representatives of the nearly 200 countries attending agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At present, global temperatures are set to rise 3°C (5 1/2°F). An agreement was reached to make sure global temperatures did not rise more than 2°Celsius (3.6°F) above temperatures prior to the industrial revolution. It is believed by many scientists that any rise above this level would lead to a self generated further rise in temperature. In turn this would lead to devastating changes in natural events. Much more rapid melting of the global ice and a corresponding rise in sea level would occur and extreme weather events would be more common.

At the Paris conference each country was allowed to present a plan for reducing emissions. None of the plans were enforceable. This was the only way to get most of the countries to submit plans.

Poland and renewable energy

Poland and %100 renewables

The COP24 Conference

It recently became clear that not enough was being done to reduce global warming. Another conference was scheduled, representatives from most of the countries that participated in the Paris conference met earlier in December 2018 in Katowice, Poland. The purpose was to further the outcome of the Paris Conference. This conference is known as the COP24 conference. The goal of this meeting was to establish a set of rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions more sharply by the countries that attended the conference. The rules take into account the possibilities and conditions in each individual country.

At the present many, if not most countries, have no way of tracking their emissions. What is needed, of course, is some method of documenting emission levels. However, there have been many objections expressed to documenting emissions. Some of these objections are simply based on available technology. Others are based on a fear of providing national technological data to the rest of the world. There are also many objections from the less developed countries which emit a combined 60% of the emissions, but do not have the technology nor economic resources to monitor them. There was considerable effort by the less developed countries to have the more wealthy countries help finance the data gathering and emission reductions in the poorer countries.

climate change

The exchange of energy is causing rapid arctic melting.

Polish Plans to Reduce Emissions

Poland is a country with extensive coal deposits which are used to produce electrical power. However, the Polish Government has begun a number of projects aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They launched a clean air program in the summer of 2018. They have been increasing the area of forested land. Forests cover about a third of the country and the area has been increasing. Selected tree species can increase the absorption of CO2.

The American Government Repudiates Climate Change

The United States was a leader in organizing the Paris conference of 2015. However, Mr. Trump has repudiated the Paris Agreement. He has also refused to pay two billion dollars in aid pledged during the Obama administration to support global efforts to reduce climate change. The government of the United States did not send representatives to the Katowice conference.

World cooperation on many items has decreased substantially in the last three years. A big part of the reason is the nationalism (America First) espoused by Mr. Trump. The United States can do better at being a leader in the fight against rising temperatures on our planet!

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2019: What’s New for Solar

The earth continues to warm

Fight against global warming!

“Supplying 100% of America’s electricity with renewable energy is not only possible but urgently necessary.”

By Linn Smith

January 13, 2019—–Well, it’s 2019. Time for the What’s New in Solar search. Solar isn’t going away! It continues to thrive and grow….from solar gadgets to panels to super solar farms. Here are just a few things that may be of interest for 2019.

Solar Charger

One of the best solar chargers to charge your devices.

Portable Solar Chargers

http://www.Outdoorlabgear.com tested many portable solar chargers to keep your gadgets charged instead of using your standard wall outlet. For 2019 the BigBlue 28, at http://www.ibigblue.com, is their top solar charger, the Instapark Mercury 10w, at http://www.instapark.com, is their best buy, with Renogy E.Flex5, at http://www.renogy.com, the top pick if you want a really light weight portable solar charger to carry in your backpack.

Solar windows

SmartSkin Solar windows

SmartSkin Windows

This company, http://www.physee.eu, has created what they call a SmartSkin for windows. The SmartSkin integrates solar cells into your glass which will turn sunlight into green energy. The smartskin also has sensors which reads the weather conditions. The sensors are connected to an energy efficient system that communicates data and calculates ideal room settings. The company states these windows will reduce your building’s energy use by up to 20%.

Most Efficient Solar Panels

From the website http://www.energysage.com here are their picks for the top 5 solar panels based on efficiency. Based only on maximum module efficiency (how well they convert sunlight into electricity) the top five manufacturers that make the best solar panels are:

1. SunPower (22.2%)
2. Panasonic (21.6%)
3. LG (21.1%)
4. Hanwha Q CELLS (19.6%)
5. Solaria (19.4%)

The Solar Motion Light

A friend has a solar motion light on her garage. It stays off until it detects motion, then pops on and is as bright as any outdoor light. These are reasonably priced, between $20-$40. According to http://www.solartechnologyhub.com several of the best are made by Sunforce, Frostfire, Nekteck and Litom.

And finally, the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) believes that, “Supplying 100% of America’s electricity with renewable energy is not only possible but urgently necessary. We need to decarbonize our economy by the middle of THIS century in order to have any chance of constraining the global temperature increase to less than 2 degrees C, which in itself, will be disruptive to mankind.”

Solar


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Pollution and the Clothing Industry

Dirty Fashion

Fashion and Climate Change.

“Collectively the fashion industry has a voice and the capacity to make a difference.”

By Linn Smith

December 15, 2018—The clothing industry contributes 10% of the greenhouse gases to our planet’s atmosphere and is the second largest polluter of our freshwater lakes and streams. The industry has been producing 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gases every year, making it one of the top polluting industries on our planet.

Cotton and pollution

Most clothing worn in the U.S. contains some cotton. Sixty percent of women’s clothing and eighty per cent of men’s clothing contains cotton, and the streams surrounding clothing factories are polluted with dyes and chemical runoff from the clothing industrial sites.

Many cotton fields are located in the arid deserts of the Southwest United States, where farming the cotton requires water that is slowly depleting the rivers and streams. It takes approximately 2.5acre feet of water to grow cotton. (An acre foot is the amount of water it takes to cover one acre of the surface area to a depth of one foot.) To make one pair of denim jeans, 10,000 liters of water is required to grow one kilo (about 2.2 pounds) of cotton needed for the pair of jeans. In comparison, one person would take 10 years to drink 10,000 liters of water!

Climate Change

Clothing: Polluting our earth

The Fashion Industry and Sustainability

According to the World Resources Institution, “Growth of the multi-trillion-dollar apparel industry has been fed by “fast fashion,” which makes clothing cheap and fast with a low price-tag.” This is why the fashion industry is turning to sustainability in an attempt to mitigate some of its damage it has caused our planet. With the help of the United Nations many big corporations within the fashion industry have recently resolved to shift practices, following the guidelines of the Paris Agreement on Climate change.

An initiative of United Nation Climate Change attempts to lower the greenhouse gases attributed to the fashion industry by setting targets for the fashion industry to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. The initiative attempts to work with the fashion industry by helping it select climate friendly and sustainable materials, by using low-carbon transportation to move the manufactured articles, by producing less carbon during the production of clothing and by encouraging sustainable fashion connections that offset the carbon emissions with investments in carbon emission reductions.

“Forty-three companies, including brands such as Adidas and Burberry, retailers such as Target, and supplier organizations – on Monday (Dec 10, 2018) pledged to find ways to reduce emissions in their value chains as part of the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action that was launched during the ongoing United Nations (UN) climate change talks in Katowice, Poland.”

Climate Change

Clothing Producing Pollution

Fashion Companies and Sustainability

The fast fashion retailer H&M shared their strategy to be 100% renewable energy by 2040 with a fully circular production model, where the by-product of one industry serves the objective of another! Other signers of the Initiative include Esprit, Guess, Gap Inc, and Hugo Boss.

“Additionally, the famous blue jean manufacturer Levi, Strauss & Co has announced a new climate change action plan. Using Science Based Targets, the company plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% across its global supply chain by 2025. The plan also includes a 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in all owned-and-operated facilities, which will be achieved by investing in onsite renewable energy and energy efficiency upgrades.” The initiative remains open for others in the clothing industry to follow suit.

Designer Stella McCartney recently stated, “Climate change is undoubtedly one of, if not, the biggest challenge of our lifetime. It is and will affect everyone on this planet and our future. I want to call on my peers in the business, from other brands to retailers and suppliers, to sign up to this charter now and take the necessary actions to address the reality of the issue of climate change in their business and value chains. Collectively we have a voice and the capacity to make a difference.”

Fashion industry and pollution


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CLIMATE CHANGE, DROUGHT AND FAMINE

Some species may become extinct

The growing ranges of our food supply will change as the temperatures rise.

“Climate change is the current cause of drought and famine.”

By Dr. John J. Hidore

December 10, 2018—There are many causes of famine, but one of the major ones is drought. Most of the past catastrophic famines have been precipitated by drought resulting from short term shifts in the atmospheric circulation.

Crop Yield and Drought

Drought generally occurs when there is a short-term lack of precipitation lasting more then one growing season. They are the most common in regions which have a pronounced seasonal rainfall regime. Drought affects the quality and quantity of crop yields and the food supply for domestic animals. During severe droughts there may be a great loss of domestic animals. The loss of milk products or meat increases the impact of drought.

Climate Change

Our Food Supply may be Rapidly Reduced with Rises in Temperatures.

Great famines have occurred throughout the Asian continent from the time that agriculture spread over the continent. China, India, Russia, and many middle-east countries have suffered frequently from famine resulting from drought. A famine is described as occurring during the time of Abraham, about 2247 BC. A massive famine occurred in Egypt prior to the exodus of the Israelites.

Drought and famine are endemic in India and China. The oldest record of famine in India goes back at least to 400 B.C. and in China to 108 B.C. From the time of the earliest known famine there have been nearly continuous episodes of drought and famine in some part of the region. Other regions experience droughts as well. It should be mentioned here that what is often referred to as The Great Famine occurred in Europe in the period from 1315-1317.

Working toward 100% renewables

Working Toward Renewable Energy

Eighteenth Century Drought and Famine in India

In the mid-eighteenth century the people of India were largely subsistence farmers. It was primarily crop agriculture based on the whims of the monsoons. The country was under the control of the British East India Company, which kept the farmers on the verge of starvation under the best of conditions. Because of the general poverty of the masses and the marginal nature of the food supply, only a small shortfall in the crops in a given year produced scattered starvation. India is a huge country, and at the time only a ponderous transportation system existed. There was no means of moving large quantities of food, nor of moving large numbers of people to areas where food was available. When drought set in there were few alternatives to starvation available.

Drought and Famine: 1768

In the summer of 1768 there was little rain and crops were poor. The drought continued into 1769. Famine was apparent in the northern parts of Bengal by November 1769. By April 1770 over 30 million people in West Bengal and Bihar were affected. Fatalities were estimated at upwards of 10 million. The deaths were the result of both starvation and disease. Smallpox became epidemic along with the drought. The death toll from this famine is the highest known from any famine up to this time.

Famine has often been a problem in some part of the world since this event. As with this one, short term climate change has been the primary cause.

Drought and Famine


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Cities Accept the Challenge of Climate Change

“It seems clear now that political organizations other than national governments are going to lead in taking actions to reducing climate change.”

Sustainable living

It’s our responsibility to change.

By Dr. John J. Hidore

November 19, 2018—–Earth’s climate has been changing from the time the planet came into being. It has gone through times when it was much warmer than today and others when it was colder. The climate of today is one that is inseparable from the growth of the human population. The industrial revolution began about 1770 AD and is synonymous with the advent of the steam engine. Steam engines burned fossil fuels, primarily wood or coal.

Planet earth is a single system in which nothing or no process exists in isolation. The burning of fossil fuels began to change the composition of the atmosphere. The temperature of Earth began to warm above what might be expected from natural causes and the term global warming started to appear in literature. Professional conferences by groups of scientists and others began to occur.

In 2015 an international conference on climate change was convened in Paris, France to discuss the problems associated with a changing climate. What is known as the Paris Agreement was ultimately approved by representatives of nearly 200 countries. However, the Agreement does not dictate any actions to be taken by the signatories. Many have done little or nothing concrete to stem climate change

Sierra Club

Sierra Club for Clean Air

Cities, Provinces and Other Regional Governments Take Charge

Many homogeneous political units such as cities, states or provinces began to respond to climate change because governments of these units began dealing with problems of flooding, unhealthy air to breath, increasing heat, etc.

Cities and towns are home to the majority of people now living on the planet. The number living in cities is growing by more than a million each week. By mid-century the percentage of people living in urban areas is estimated to reach 70%.

Groups of cities are now actively working together to reduce greenhouse emissions. As of June 6, 2018, approximately 250 mayors of American cities have officially adopted the Paris agreement. These cities contain about 60 million people. They are part of a group called Mayors National Climate Action Agenda. Among the cities that have agreed to support the Paris Agreement is Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This is the very city where U.S. President Trump stated he did not represent Paris and might withdraw the United States from the agreement.

building green

Cities, states and individuals must do their part in preventing climate change.

Reducing Carbon Emissions

Perhaps the most concerted effort being made is to reduce carbon emissions. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the primary gas in the absorption of energy in the atmosphere. Cities account for about 70% of carbon dioxide emissions. A major part of the effort to reduce emissions is reducing carbon emissions from motor vehicles. Another is switching to renewable fuels for generating electricity. This means eliminating power plants using fossil fuels.

The Sierra Club recently estimated that encouraged by their Beyond Coal campaign, coal-fired power plants have been closing at times at the rate of one every 16 days. This month representatives from more than 70 countries are gathering in Edmonton, Canada, to explore how to develop cities that can create and maintain a climate that adds a minimal of carbon to the atmosphere.

While some national governments, such as that of the United States, refute the whole concept of climate change and do not want to take any action, the people are taking combined action through more localized governments. It seems clear now that political organizations other than national governments are going to lead in taking actions to reducing climate change.

Planning Sustainably

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Newsworthy Renewables

Boyan Slat

Slat looks over his System 001.

“At this point, cleaning up our planet can’t be left to someone else!”

By Linn Smith

November 13, 2018—-While leafing through renewable resource articles recently, I found many positive activities happening in an effort to counteract climate change. Now that most people have acknowledged climate change is real, renewables will continue to grow in 2019.

Weather extremes are affecting people in many countries. Someone said, “People won’t change until it’s in their own backyard.” Well, in the form of floods and fires, it is in many people’s backyard. It’s a harsh wake-up call by mother nature!

New With Renewables

So here are a few positives that are happening in the renewable resource area:

1. According to Reuters.com, “The Paris region plans to launch a large fleet of electric bicycles in a state-funded scheme aimed at getting commuters to cycle to work and reducing congestion and pollution. They will provide 10,000 electric bikes for long-term rental, eventually expanding to 20,000.”

renewable resources

Paris will add thousands to the streets.

2. According to electrec.co, “Canada will have the first all-electric ferries serving the area in Ontario. A battery pack will be installed on board to power the propellers and a diesel generator will serve as a back-up.”

3. TheGuardian.com states that, “Uber drivers in London will be banned from using vehicles that are not hybrid or fully electric in 2020 as part of a plan to help tackle illegal levels of air pollution in the capital.”

4. Treehugger.com says that, “The European based Easyjet will incorporate electric passenger planes into services within 10 years.”

5. And Tesla is coming out with a new pickup truck in 2019. According to Elon Musk the Tesla pickup will be large, maybe even as large as the Ford F150, a full sized electric pickup truck!

renewable resources

The truck of the future!

6. My favorite in trying to make our planet a better place, 24-year-old Boyan Slat created the nonprofit, the Ocean Cleanup, which is currently in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch trying to perfect Wilson, the system created to clean up the plastics in the ocean!

Boyan Slat

The Ocean Cleanup

At this point cleaning up our planet can’t be left to someone else. It is everyone’s responsibility. Find a way to be some small part of the cleanup effort!

Renewable Resources


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Climate Change has been at the Root of Major Famines

Drought in India

Indian drought causes famine.

“The demand and supply of food has been in a delicate balance for the human species throughout history.”

By Dr. John J. Hidore

October 30, 2018—–The term famine produces an image of starvation and suffering in the minds of most people. In general a famine is a lack of food sufficient to produce malnutrition in large numbers of people over a wide area. The United Nations considers several conditions for a regional food shortage to be considered a famine. They are:

1. At least 20% of families in the area face extreme food shortages that they cannot cope with.
2. Acute malnutrition in children exceeds 20%.
3. The death rate exceeds two persons for each 10,000 people per day.

The Role of Climate Change in Historic Famines

There are many causes of famine, including climate changes, war, and political policies. One of the major ones is drought. Most of the catastrophic famines in historic times have been precipitated by drought. Drought can affect the quality and quantity of crop yields and the food supply for domestic animals. In the case of severe drought there may be a substantial loss of domestic animals due to lack of food. The loss of milk products or meat itself can precipitate the effects of the drought.

The demand and supply of food has been in a delicate balance for the human species throughout history. When the food supply has increased there has been a gain in population, and when food has been in short supply there has been some sort of trauma inflicted on the populace. Starvation results from insufficient food intake. During the long period of the hunting and gathering societies, starvation was probably often near at hand for individuals, family groups and tribes.

Indian drought

Millions effected by the drought

Agriculture and Famine

The development of agriculture allowed the world population to expand rapidly and greatly. At the same time, the basis for the supply of food, namely agriculture, became more directly dependent upon the weather. Famine as a phenomenon did not become a part of human experience until after agriculture began. However, as agriculture expanded so did the frequency of famines. The number of times that famine has spread on the continents is enormous. Nearly all histories of peoples and nations record famines.

Great famines have occurred throughout the Asian continent. India, China, Russia and the countries of the Middle East have all suffered from famine, many times which were drought related. An example is the famine described as occurring during the time of Abraham (about 2247 B.C). Another massive famine occurred in Egypt prior to the exodus of the Israelites. Drought and famine are endemic in India and China. The oldest record of famine in India goes back to 400 B.C. and in China to 108 B.C. Since the time of the earliest known famine there have been nearly continuous episodes of drought and famine in many parts of Asia or Africa.

Indian drought

Global warming raises temperatures around the world.

The Impact of Drought in Developing Countries

Drought has a much greater impact on people in developing countries than it does in industrial societies. The primary reason for this is that in the developing countries there is more dependence on agriculture as a way of life. When crops fail, or there isn’t enough forage for livestock, there is an immediate effect on the populace.

A very positive aspect of famine is that they are becoming fewer and less extensive due to the ability of the global economy to move large quantities of food from place to place.

Climate change and famine


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Boyan Slat and the Ocean Clean Up Project

Boyan Slat

Slat looks over his System 001.

“The System 001 is an unmanned system moving with the currents.”

By Linn Smith

October 7, 2018—–If you’re not following Boyan Slat’s attempt to cleanup the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP), you should be! This young man put his heart and soul into this project and is currently headed for the great patch of garbage floating in the ocean.

#Boyan Slat

Garbage Patch swirls with the currents.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Slat is the poster child of sustainable innovation for his generation, putting his energy towards cleaning up the environmental mess past generations have created! According to some critics he may not have the perfect solution—but, who else is in the middle of the ocean right now trying?? Hummm, no one! And the mess has been floating and growing for years! Scientists have estimated the Garbage Patch would take 79,000 years to break down and dissolve in the ocean! With the models created by Slat, his system could clean up 50% of the mess by 2025! The majority of the Garbage Patch is large debris. Removing these floating pieces of plastic will prevent the breaking down into microplastics that wildlife and fish can mistake for food and eventually entering the food we eat.

Boyan Slat

Boyan Slat

Boyan Slat

Boyan Slat is 24 years old and the garbage patch is almost as old as he is. By the time it was discovered in 1997, it was already massive. At 16, this Nederland’s born youth went on a diving trip to Greece. “There were more plastic bags than fish,” he told MNN a few years back. “That was the moment I realized it was a huge issue and that environmental issues are really the biggest problems my generation will face.”

Instead of accepting the floating plastic as an adult problem that needs an adult solution, he went back to his high school and went to work solving the problem. Back in his high school classroom he invented a multilevel trawl with centrifugal forces that separated the plastic from the plankton and ocean life.

Boyan Slat

The Ocean Cleanup

System 001

“The System 001 is an unmanned system moving with the currents, looking like a u-shaped pipeline floating on top of the current. Beneath the pipeline is a 10 ft skirt which traps the plastic caught in the current, protecting sea life because it is solid and not a net.” Slat states, “Our systems fully rely on natural ocean currents and do not require an external energy source to catch and concentrate the plastic. All electronics used, such as lights, will be solar powered.

#theoceancleanup

Big Solutions for the ocean cleanup

Recycling the Ocean Plastic

What will happen to the plastic when it’s back on shore? Slat says he wants to turn it into The Ocean Cleanup brand of merchandise, selling it to support the cleanup of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. He states, “By producing merchandise that is not a single use item that might end up back in the ocean, it will reduce the chance of it ending up back in the ocean by 99%.”

Slat also humbly states, “Big problems require big solutions, if anyone has any better ideas, we’d love to know!”

This young man has the concentrated and innovative talent our planet needs!

You can follow the project currently underway on Facebook ((https://www.facebook.com/boyanslat) or see an up-to-date timeline on his site, The Ocean Clean Up, https://www.theoceancleanup.com/system001/. Also, you can find his TED talk on YouTube or follow on Instagram.

The Ocean Clean Up


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E-Waste: What Happens to those Electronics?

Renewable Resources

Building Sustainably

“E-waste does not belong in the landfills!”

By Linn Smith

October 1, 2018—Do you have a computer? Smart phone? Laptop? Half of the world’s population now uses the internet. In developed countries, nearly 90% of the population own some form of technology and many people race to get the latest up-to-date gadget without any thought of end-of-life disposal of that cell phone, laptop, or computer! There is no budget attached to the item purchased that reminds us of the need to recycle it, but what if we had to pay an extra 20% fee on the purchased item for recycling? Would that make you stop and think about its disposal?

In 2016, all countries combined generated 44.7 million metric tons of electronic waste. And where did it go? 4% was thrown in the trash, 76% was undocumented and just 20% was properly recycled.

The earth continues to warm

Fight against global warming!

Proper Recycling of E-Waste

What is proper recycling? Recycling electronics can be difficult because removing the wanted rare earth metals means removing glass, toxic metals, plastic and soldered connectors. Proper recycling is taking your unwanted e-waste to a certified company. A certified company has been audited to make sure the company is following strict regulations in compliance with state regulations.

Recycling electronics costs money, but often finding a certified company can cost less because the recycle center may receive subsidies from the local government. If the company isn’t certified you don’t know where your e-waste may end up. E-waste can create huge environmental hazards if not properly disposed of as it contains lead, mercury, cadmium and other toxins. Many uncertified companies are using unsafe methods to extract the wanted metals.

Earth Day

Clean Energy: Make It a Priority!

E-Waste: Thailand

China use to take e-waste, but now much of it goes to Thailand where environmental groups have submitted a letter to the government demanding that the government ban imports of toxic waste. Many factories in Thailand are using the unsafe method of burning the plastics of the electronics to get to the copper, gold, platinum and rare metals, creating toxic fumes in surrounding residential areas.

Rick Neitzel, Director of Exposure Research at University of Michigan, says, “As most users grow dependent on their cell phones, laptops, computers and tablets, the production of electronic waste continues to grow.” His team studied the toxins entering the bodies of workers in contact with metals from electronics, measuring the amount of lead and other toxins that find their way into the bloodstream. The blood tests show high levels of toxins!

Working toward 100% renewables

Working Toward Renewable Energy

Urban Mining: Used Metals

Some electronic manufacturers are using recycled metals from out-of-date electronics in manufacturing new phones. DELL will recycle 100 million pounds of e-waste by 2020 and Apple has developed a robot to take apart old Iphones, dissembling 200 Iphones in an hour and sorting the parts for recycling. The goal of Apple is to completely eliminate new rare metals from its manufactured Iphones, using only recycled metals (Urban Mining). An Apple representative states, “The challenge is to extract the metals at a cost that can compete with virgin metals in sufficient quantities.”

In Chili the attitude is to fix things because they figure they can make more money reselling a product than selling recycled parts.

Clayton Miller of http://www.Sustainablebrands.com states,”In the early days of my career I spent a good part of my time explaining to people what e-waste was, that it was hazardous and that it shouldn’t be in the landfills, but today I find that the majority of people want to ensure their discarded electronics are properly recycled.”

What can you do? Find a local, certified center near you to recycle your e-waste!

E-waste: Recycle!

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Irrigation and Water Depletion in the Southwest United States

Water depletion

Irrigation in the Southwest U.S.

“We need to work together to feed the world, but we also need to work together to save and monitor our water resources.”

By Linn Smith

August 26, 2018—- On the farmland of my youth in the Midwest, my brothers and I spent much time baling hay for our cattle, but water was plentiful and plants thrived with no irrigation. Cows were in green pastures in the summertime and in winter months we fed hay when grasses died.

Farming in the Southwest

When traveling to southern New Mexico and southern Arizona, I often see hay and cotton fields in the middle of the desert and semi arid terrain. It seems an unlikely place to grow crops that have high water needs! 

Today the Southwest is water-stressed with many lawsuits taking place, both privately and between states, over water rights. The projection is that reduced precipitation by mid-century will result in reduced runoff into the water basins that feed irrigated fields.

I recently heard a local resident from Arizona say that Saudi Arabia was buying land in Arizona and California’s arid landscape for growing hay and shipping it back to their country. The export of hay (grasses grown for feeding animals) is booming in the U. S., with the amount of hay leaving the west coast ports increasing yearly. In 2017, the total exports of alfalfa and other hay reached 4.2 million metric tons and is continuing to grow.

The fact that hay and cotton are being exported is healthy for our economy, as many U.S. farmers are growing and exporting this commodity, mostly from states that require little irrigation for agriculture. The issue is growing crops in the desert Southwest in what is fast becoming an area where water is not replenishing itself in the rivers and reservoirs.

The Colorado river

Farmers in the Southwest are left little water for irrigation.

Depletion of our Water Resources

What is healthy for our aquifers and rivers when they are not replenishing? Doug Kenny, Director of the Western Water Policy Program at University of Colorado, says about potential water shortage. “Right now, it’s the effort to maintain the levels of water stored in the big reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell. They’re about half full, which is about as low as they can go before mandatory cuts in water deliveries. It’s a math problem—managing water coming in vs. water going out. So far this century, people have pulled more water out than consistently flows in. That has to change.”

Saudi Arabia and the Southwest

 Most crops will only thrive with irrigation in the arid Southwest.  Saudi Arabia is confronting a major depletion in its aquifers which has brought its wheat and hay production to a halt. They have bought 1,000’s of acres in arid parts of the U.S., Arizona and Southern California (and several other countries), allowing them to take advantage of the U.S. water laws. The Laws of the Colorado River are currently under scrutiny by the Upper and Lower Basin states because of continuing depletion of the river and Lake Mead, which supplies water to the lower Colorado river basin states. Most crops will only thrive with irrigation in the arid Southwest.

The drought of Southwest U.S.

Lake Mead depletion

Southern California: Irrigating Crops vs Urban Use

In Southern California the Metropolitan Water District pays landowners to fallow their land, letting it lay without planting crops so that water is freed up for urban areas. Since 2005, over $200 million has been paid to farmers not to grow crops on this program. This allows water to be directed to Los Angeles and other cities in Southern California.

Has this program enabled corruption and profit from drought conditions? A single recipient, Fisher Ranch, owned by a board member of the operation, has received over $27 million a year since 2005 for leaving his land fallow.

Colorado River

Depletion of water for crop irrigation

The Water Crisis

As I continue to study depleting water conditions in the Western U.S., I realize in 20 years, if not sooner, we are going to be facing a water crisis due to climate change and over allotment of water rights and usage. We need to ask ourselves what changes are necessary today to alleviate the impending crisis.

Water shortage is going to be a complex problem in the future requiring many people to make sacrifices. We need to work together to feed the world, but we also need to work together to save and monitor our water resources. Education and awareness is a place to start.

The Southwest Water Crisis

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