Planet Earth Weekly

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


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  The Depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer

Ogallala aquifer depletion

Depletion of the aquifer

“The Ogallala is recharged by rainwater but only about 1 inch of precipitation actually reaches the aquifer annually.”

By Linn Smith

April 12, 2016—–The Ogallala Aquifer is at risk of drying up! The aquifer, which is part of the High Plains Aquifer, underlies portions of 8 states, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas, and spans 175,000 sq. miles in the midwest United States. Water from the aquifer has many uses but irrigation uses the majority—57 million gallons per day! The Ogallala also supplies approximately 82% of the drinking water for the overlying states.

Water Accumulation in the Ogallala

Water started accumulating in the aquifer 15,000 years ago. Brownie Wilson, a researcher for the Kansas Geological Survey, states, “If the topsoil were rolled up like a carpet the sponge beneath would look like an empty egg carton, with peaks and valleys of varying depths. In parts of western Nebraska, where the Ogallala is plentiful, the sponge extends as far as a thousand feet below the Earth’s surface.”

Depletion of the Ogallala

The Aquifer lies beneath 8 states.

Water Extraction of the Aquifer

Large scale extraction of water from the aquifer for farming purposes began after WWII due to improved farming methods and farm equipment. About 27% of the irrigated farmland in the U.S. lies over the aquifer. Currently the farmland above the aquifer produces about 1/5 of the beef, corn and wheat consumed in the U.S., but the water is depleting faster than nature can replenish it according to an ongoing 60 year study.

In some parts of western Kansas wells have totally dried up! Between the years 2000 and 2008, 25% of the Ogallala Aquifer has depleted from levels of the early 1800’s. Once depleted the aquifer will take over 6,000 years to replenish naturally from rainfall. A 2013 study forecasted that the High Plains Aquifer, which the Ogallala makes up the greatest portion, would be 69% depleted by 2060.The Ogallala is recharged by rainwater but only about 1 inch of precipitation actually reaches the aquifer annually. Recharge of the aquifer ranges from 0.024 inches per year in Texas and New Mexico to 6 inches per year in parts of Kansas, but hundreds of thousands of years of rainfall will be needed to replenish it back to its levels of the early 1800’s.

Ogallala aquifer

U.S. Aquifers are being depleted.

A Depleted Aquifer will Affect Food Supply

In an article written by Laura Parker,” What Happens to the Midwest When the Water’s Gone?” she states “If they don’t reduce pumping and the aquifer is drained, food markets will be profoundly affected around the world. In the coming decades this slow-speed crisis will unfold just as the world needs to increase food production by 60 percent, according to the United Nations, to feed more than nine billion people by mid-century.”

Solutions to a Depleted Aquifer

Solutions? Farmers can either conserve water and extend the life of the aquifer or choose to deplete it. Farmers can dig deeper wells if they run out of water, but the cost has to be determined because eventually deeper and deeper wells could cost more than the income from the crops.

The North Plains Groundwater Conservation District in Texas has introduced a new project to conserve water. Participating farmers grow corn with just over half of the water they would normally require to irrigate the fields using pivot sprinklers rather than the water consuming drip system and they plant crops farther apart to help conserve water. Many farmers are choosing the dryland farming method which uses crops that are drought-resistant and conserve moisture without irrigation. Such crops include sunflowers and winter wheat, but these crops produce less income than crops from irrigated farming, so pressure is on many farmers to keep pumping.

The Ogallala Aquifer and Water Rights

What is happening to the Ogallala Aquifer is also happening to aquifers in Africa, Asia and the Mideast. Again, just as the population of our earth is exploding, our aquifers are becoming contaminated and depleted, taking thousands of years to refill. We need to conserve our groundwater to sustain food production for an increasing population. In Kansas and Nebraska, groundwater belongs to the public. Water rights are granted to property owners by the state, which assign a certain amount that can be legally used—-but what’s available on paper often exceeds what’s left in the ground! Farmers often feel the water is legally theirs to use until it’s gone!

Laura Parker says, “Hope lies in technology; farmers show me iPhone apps that track water use so precisely that as little as a tenth of an inch can be applied to their crops. In Colby, Kansas, Lon Frahm, who farms 30,000 acres of wheat and corn, irrigates with two billion gallons of water yearly. He counts among his farmhands an IT technician who collects data to keep his yields ahead of his declining wells.”

Wind Farms Replace Crops

In the past several years many farmers have retired from crop farming, leasing their land to wind energy. Outside Friona, Texas, northwest of Lubbock, Wesley Barnett leases wind rights on his land to an energy company. The going rate runs about $10,000 a year per turbine.  Barnett says he can’t water his land anymore so for some people, wind is a lifeline.

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The Indian Subcontinent Again Sets Record Temperatures

India Droiught

Record breaking temperatures and little rain.

“As the planet warms it can be expected that there will be more severe heat waves and they will become hotter, more frequent, last longer, and occur in more varied places.”

Dr. John Hidore

July 22, 2016—Global warming is occurring over the entire planet and record high temperatures have become common. The Indian subcontinent is no exception. Early written history documents heat waves and droughts.While temperature records were not available prior to the late 19th century, written descriptions indicate the severity of some earlier events.

Drought and Famine in 1768-1770

In the mid-eighteenth century the people of India were largely subsistence farmers. It was primitive crop agriculture subject to the vagaries of the monsoon. 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 mass of the population, and the marginal food supply, only a small shortfall in rain produced scattered starvation.

India is a large country, and at the time only a ponderous transportation system existed. There was no means of moving large quantities of food, or of moving people to more productive areas. Therefore, when drought set in, the alternatives were few. The beginnings of a prolonged drought and massive famine began in India in the fall months of l768. Rainfall was below normal and the crops were poor in December. The summer monsoons did not produce the usual rain in l769 and again the crop yields were scanty. By April of l770, over 30 million people in West Bengal and Bihar were directly affected. Estimates of deaths ranged upward to l0 million. The deaths were due to a combination of starvation and disease. Smallpox became epidemic in association with the drought. The death toll was exacerbated by the flood of people that fled the countryside and moved into the cities looking for sustenance. There was little to be found.

Drought in India

Indian drought causes famine.

Drought and Famine in Asia, 1875-1879

It was just a little more than a century later that drought and famine struck India with even more lethal results. The atmospheric circulation began to shift as early as 1873 in central Asia. Summer monsoons weakened for a number of years. By August 1877 the Indian government was well aware that a major famine was in progress and was going to get worse. Since rainfall was low there was insufficient feed for livestock. Wells, ponds and streams dried up. The lack of feed and water resulted in extensive loss of animals. Rainfall was so low that there was no measurable summer crop harvested in many districts. Human mortality was high.

Following the poor summer harvest, dysentery, smallpox, and cholera flared up into epidemic proportions taking a heavy toll of the population. In Bombay Presidency (Providence), the excess mortality from the famine of 1876-1877 reached 800,000 lives over the normal death rate. The Famine Commission estimated that by the end of 1878 the loss of life in the Providence totaled 3.5 million.

Indian drought

Global warming raises temperatures around the world.

The Asian Heat Wave of 2015

In May 2015, a heat wave in India claimed at least 2,500 lives. Extremely high temperatures were reached in cities scattered over the country. Power outages were wide spread. The city of Khammam recorded the highest temperature ever recorded there at 48 degrees C (118.4 degrees F). Other high temperatures were:Allahabad 47.8 degrees C (118.0 degrees F) Delhi 45.5 degrees C (113.9 degrees F)Hyderabad 46 degrees C (115 degrees F) Jharsuguda 45.4 degrees C (113.7 degrees F).

In June 2015, the deadliest heat wave known to have occurred in Pakistan took place in the southern part of the country near Karachi. The death toll is unknown for certain but may have reached more than 1000. It was followed by several weeks of the most severe heat wave to strike India. The heat wave struck during the month of Ramadan which made the impact of the event more severe than it might have been. Unfortunately, city services could not cope with the heat.

Indian drought

Millions effected by the drought

The Indian Heat Wave of 2016

India experienced even higher temperatures this year than in 2015. Temperatures were above normal most of the spring. Normally, the hottest months of the year are April, May, and June, before the summer monsoon rains begin. In May a severe heat wave alert was issued for several states. A severe heat wave is one in which temperatures of at least 117°F (47.2°C) occur. In the city of Philodi, in western India, unofficial temperatures reached 124°F (51°C). This is the highest temperature on record in India. Temperatures averaged above 104 degrees F (40°C) over large areas. Some urban high temperatures were New Delhi 47 °C (117 degrees F) Churu 50 °C (122 ºF)Philodi 51.°(124 degrees F).

The impact in India was immense. More than 300 million people have been been adversely affected. Crops failed or were below average in 13 states in the last growing season. Thousands of farmers abandoned their farms. In places the asphalt on the streets partially melted. At Bikaner, the streets were being sprinkled with water to reduce the heat. 17,000 villages had, or were facing water shortages. Several Indian states shut down schools to reduce risk to students. Heatstroke was a widespread problem and many deaths were reported across the region.

Fortunately, the government responded in a variety of ways to reduce the suffering and mortality. Forecasts for the summer monsoons are far above average precipitation. The first monsoon rains began in the south in the second week of June. Only time will tell if the monsoons will be enough to break the drought.

As the planet warms it can be expected that: (1) there will be more severe heat waves and they will become hotter, more frequent, last longer, and occur in more varied places. As cities grow larger in area and population, they will experience increasing heat waves. (2) new record high temperatures will be set across the planet.


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Our Rapidly Changing World

Climate Change and its effects

The effects of Climate Change is happening at a faster then previously recorded.

“There is Nothing Permanent Except Change”
Heraclitus , Circa 500 BC

What the outcome for the human population and other living species is not known. Certainly the decisions being made now will make a huge difference in what the planet is going to be like in coming years–and what the life of our descendants will be become.”

 

By Dr. John J. Hidore

June 7, 2014—Change, through time, is a basic attribute of Earth. Earth has been undergoing constant change since it was formed from a cloud of cosmic dust some 4.6 billion years ago. The changes that have taken place and are taking place today, vary in form, size, duration and extent. Days use to be shorter than now, the planet has been both warmer and colder than it is now and the magnetic poles of Earth have changed end for end. Mountain ranges have grown and then eroded away. Ancient seas no longer exist; and biological species have appeared and disappeared. Even the sun which supports life on the planet is not a constant source of energy.
Earth’s climate has changed through time, like all else. Throughout most of the history of Earth, the planet was much warmer than it is now.

Changes in Planet Earth

The initial atmosphere contained high concentrations of carbon dioxide and little oxygen. Eventually, the balance between carbon dioxide and oxygen changed to what we now have, with much more oxygen. Scattered through time were ages of extreme cold. The earliest ice age took place two billion years ago. The second glaciation took place between 800 and 600 million years ago. This may have been the most extensive glaciation ever to occur on the planet. There have been times when a large number of species became extinct due to some natural catastrophe. These times are often referred to as mass extinctions.

The global environment is changing, now, faster than at any time in recent history. What is most significant perhaps is that not only is it changing at a rapid rate, but the rate at which it is changing is itself increasing. Simply put the environment in which all living things exist is changing faster and faster.

A Growing Population

A few examples of current phenomenon will serve to make the point: Modern humans, or Homo Sapien Sapien, evolved in Africa some 200,000 years ago. From Africa, the species spread out over the planet replacing the Neanderthals. It took the modern human species more than a hundred thousand years to reach a total population of one quarter million. We are now adding that number of people to the planet each and every day. Each of these added individuals needs food, clothing, and shelter in order to survive. In addition to meeting the needs for survival, they will want many of the amenities of life that are found in the most prosperous countries.

Extinction of animals and plants.

The melting ice caps will limit the habitat of polar bears.

Extinction of Plants and Animals

Species of plants and animals are now becoming extinct at an extremely high rate. The rate of extinction is now perhaps as much as a thousand times greater than the rate prior to the origin of humans. The rate of extinction of species, before human development, is estimated to have been about one species every ten years. The current rate is at least 100 each year and possibly as high as 1000 each year. One example of how fast species can decline is that of the monarch butterfly. Less than two decades ago as many as a billion monarchs migrated to Mexico for the winter. In the fall of 2013, that number dropped to a tiny fraction of that –1/30. The primary reason for the drop in numbers is the tremendous application of herbicides to agricultural fields.The rapid drop in butterflies is just one of what is now considered the sixth mass extinction.

Among the major reasons for the high rate of extinction among other species is the changing climate. Temperatures around the world are increasing rapidly. Most of the United States has experienced rapid rise in temperatures in the last 30 years, with the northeastern states of Maine and Vermont warming the most. The arctic is now warmer than it has been in more than 44,000 years. The coldest temperatures ever recorded on the Antarctic Continent have occurred in the past five years.

The “Yet to be Determined” Outcome

An even cursory look at what is happening on the planet in 2014 suggests that some drastic changes in the behavior of the human population needs to take place now. What the outcome for the human population and other living species is not known.

Certainly the decisions being made now will make a huge difference in what the planet is going to be like in coming years–and what the life of our descendants will be become.


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National Wealth and Human Poverty

The wealth of a nation can still mean poverty for its people.

Half of the world’s population live below the poverty level.

 

Much of the increase in national wealth goes to a very small portion of the population.

By Dr. John J. Hidore

The Wealth of a Country

April 20, 2014—-Bill Gates recently stated in his 2014 letter to the world that, “By 2035, there will be almost no poor countries left in the world.” Later in his letter he refined the statement as follows, “Specifically, I mean that by 2035, almost no country will be as poor as any of the 35 countries that the World Bank classifies as low-income today even after adjusting for inflation.”

What Gates is referring to is the wealth of the country itself. National wealth is usually defined in terms of gross domestic product. Gross domestic product in technical terms is the officially recognized value of goods and services produced within a country in a year. For example, large countries with many resources have a high GDP such as China and the Unites States. Small countries with few resources have a small GDP. Indeed, the gap in wealth and income by country is decreasing.
Implicit in Mr. Gates forecast is that there will be almost no poor people left in 20 years. Personal wealth is very different from national wealth. The average wealth of the population is often expressed as the GDP per person. What the GDP per person doesn’t tell us: Much of the increase in national wealth goes to a very small portion of the population. It is the same in the developing countries as it is in the United States and Europe. Technology is replacing human labor worldwide resulting in increased unemployment and poverty. Nearly half the world’s people live in countries where the per capita GDP is less than $500 a year!

In 1950 the average income in the industrialized countries was 30 times that of the developing countries. By 2001 it was 90 times larger. Worldwide the number of people living below the poverty level increased from 1.2 billion in 1987 to over 1.7 billion in 2007. Estimates suggest the number living in poverty may reach two billion by 2015. It is a global situation in which the majority of people live in poverty while the few get richer and richer. So great is the discrepancy in wealth in the world that the assets of the three richest billionaires own more than the combined wealth of half a billion living in the poorest countries.

Unemployment and Underemployment

Most nations of Western Europe relieved the pressure on the land by making new industrial jobs available in the cities to which the surplus rural population moved. Developing countries have not been able to expand urban job opportunities rapidly enough to meet the demand. Unemployment combined with underemployment averages 40 to 60 percent in most of these poor countries, and during the next twenty years, the number of people entering the labor force will double.

However, there are disparities within developing countries as large as between the developed and developing countries. Indeed, the income gap is greatest within the poorest countries where leaders have often been those who have most strongly criticized the international disparities of income and consumption. Moreover, within these poor countries, the per capita income of the wealthiest one-fifth of the population is frequently 20 to 25 times that of the poorest fifth. This is especially true of the nations of Latin America, Africa, and Southwest Asia.

Population Growth of Developing Countries

The growing disparity is the result of a number of factors. One of these factors in the economic and hunger gap is the continued high rate of population growth in the developing countries. If the growth rate of the population is greater than the growth rate of the national wealth then the increased wealth of the nation is spread over an ever growing number of people. In this case the average wealth for each person goes down. In most African countries the growth rate of the population is greater than the growth rate of the national wealth.

Palm Oil: Converting from Subsistence Farming

Palm oil is used in many packaged foods and in cosmetics. Demand has skyrocketed. In recent years in response to demand trans-national corporations have been buying up agricultural landing in the tropical regions to grow the trees from which the oil comes. By 2012, some 140 million acres of land in Africa had been converted from subsistence farms and forest to oil palm plantations. Much of this land was taken from the farmers with minimal or no payment for the land. The corporations bought or leased from the government which claims it owns all the land. One company in Liberia leased more than 500,000 acres of land from the government. The primary investors were from Asia. Another company leases more than 750,000 acres in the same country. Bridgestone-Firestone operates a 200 square mile operation here as well. The impact of the resident population is horrific. Most of the resident population is left without their farm land and without payed employment. The government of Liberia acknowledges that an estimated 85% of the population is constantly hungry, if not malnourished. The same process is taking place in many countries in Africa. The taking of land from the resident population is occurring on other continents. It is well documented in Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries.

As Bill Gates suggests, most poor nations will see increases in their total wealth between now and 2035. However, the prospects for much of the population in the poor countries are not good. Most of the increase in national wealth will go to just a few people, many of whom are not even residents of the counties in which their companies operate. It should be clear that the income gap is contributing to global unrest and increased violence.

One can only conclude there will be more and more civil uprisings by ever large numbers of people as they protest the continual decrease in income and resources available to them. There will also be more and more migration of people looking for better opportunities.


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Turmoil in Today’s World

Annual population percent change in the world....

Annual population percent change in the world. Source: CIA World Factbook (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By John J. Hidore

August 24, 2013–In the second decade of the 21st Century Earth’s human population is in turmoil. People the world over have taken to the streets to protest hunger, poverty, unemployment, and drastic environmental change.

Desperate people take desperate measures. Civil uprisings and terrorism are widespread over the earth. The people want change, the ruling establishment does not. The determination of the establishment to hang onto the status quo has led to widespread uprisings and the overthrow of governments. The uprisings result directly from growing poverty among the people. In Africa, Asia, and South America governments have fallen to these uprisings. The Fund for Peace maintains a list of nations that are in danger of failing. Some 21 countries in Africa are on the alert list of collapsing into failed states. Out of the 35 countries at highest risk, conditions worsened in 25 of them from 2012 to 2013. Some of the characteristics of these unstable areas are:
High population growth rates
Economic decline
Deterioration of public services
Breakdown of law and order
Growing inequality of wealth
Tribal conflicts
The United States has not escaped these problems. Many of these characteristics describe our country–but not to the extent as some other countries. America’s population is also in a major state of confusion. In 2007 the stock market began a drop that in 2009 collapsed nearly 50% of its earlier value. The housing market collapsed and bankruptcies were widespread. Jobs disappeared by the millions. The Occupy Wall Street event was just the beginning of a wave just starting to grow. There are national protests against racism, unemployment, and voting rights among others.
There are a number of processes now operating simultaneously in the global culture that are root causes for the uncertainty and chaos. They are:
1.An exploding population
2.Economic growth and unemployment
3.The rapid transfer of wealth upwards into the hands of a few
4.Global warming
5.Resource depletion
6.Individual and International debt

Human history covers some three million years and modern humans have inhabited the earth for the last 200,000 years. The global population has been growing throughout this time. People have faced many of these problems in the past as the population has grown. However, all of these processes are problems at this particular moment in time. If we translate the three million years of human existence into a day, these events have become widespread in less than the last second of human history. What is unique is they are taking place at the same time on a global scale. Not only are they taking place at the same time, but the speed of these processes is increasing faster and faster. The rate of change in some cases is so rapid it is difficult to forecast their future status more than a few months or a decade or two.
If these trends continue, the results include, but are not limited to the following:
There will be more and more crowding
There will be more and more uprisings by large numbers of people as they protest the continual decrease in quality of life.
There will be more and larger migrations of people in search of better opportunities.
There will be more and more environmental problems of all kinds.
Global climate change will result in greater stress for most living species.

How long these trends will continue is unknown. However, they will continue because at present there is little will to change.