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human activity and the destruction of the planet


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Droughts, heatwaves and water shortages in France and Germany

A recent report in the Financial Times draws attention to the consequences of three years’ of drought on the economies of these two European countries.

https://www.ft.com/content/6b46014e-cbf6-4152-a8ad-087cddd51706?accessToken=zwAAAXQDjpTwkc9rRgFOy_ZBUtOorQh83dUXBg.MEUCIQDyEMkj2Cj8TMa7qRqDabhw7ocMpq6cQ6xHQC-HP1DjZQIgapz617D_1xuy4LAXIjDrh7a5FE0VKETFx7P7TGAHV4w&sharetype=gift?token=5e8613f3-b74d-412c-9852-f0c2e9f3a627

germany drought

A dried-up river bed in Germany

Parts of continental Europe have been struck by drought for the third year in a row, with desiccated pastures in France’s Loire valley, campsites near Marseille destroyed by a forest fire, hosepipe bans in western Germany and fish farms in Saxony running short of fresh water.

This year’s July was the driest in France since 1959 according to the national weather office, with less than a third of normal rainfall, while the average temperature between January and July was the highest since its records began.

Germany had one of its driest spring seasons in more than a century this year, and rainfall in July was nearly 40 per cent below normal.  There are fears that there will be a repeat of the low water levels on Germany’s major rivers, such as the Rhine, that happened two years ago, disrupting shipping and hitting the country’s economy.

“The heat has been roasting everything,” said Clément Traineau, a cattle farmer near Angers on the Loire. “We had not a drop of water in July.”

A report in Nature demonstrated that the drought over the two previous consecutive summers (2018-19) was unprecedented in the last 250 years.  The long dry summer of 2003 had been devastating for crops but their predictions suggested that drought, caused by climate change, is more likely to feature in the future.

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-68872-9

Their data also suggested that there has been an increase in the area affected by drought in recent years (see figures below).

figure3



 


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Message from the Future

This post was written on Facebook by an Australian man, who grew up in Queensland in the 70s and 80s and now has a young family of his own.



Great-Barrier-Reef

I lived in Australia for three years during the early 60s and have returned for short visits in 1994 and 2010.  On both occasions I found the country to be hotter and drier.  This last month my brother, who has lived in NSW most of his life, had his home threatened by bush fires for the very first time.



 


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Hundreds of temperature records beaten over the summer of 2019

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-49753680?intlink_from_url=https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science_and_environment&link_location=live-reporting-story

Story on BBC website by

Almost 400 all-time high temperatures were set in the northern hemisphere over the summer, according to an analysis of temperature records.  The records were broken in 29 countries for the period from 1 May to 30 August 2019.

A third of the all-time high temperatures were in Germany, followed by France and the Netherlands.

France

People cooling off during the heatwave in France

 

The analysis was carried out by the California-based climate institute Berkeley Earth.

Over the summer, there were 1,200 instances of places in the northern hemisphere being the hottest they’d ever been in a given month.  The data included measurements from weather stations in the northern hemisphere that had at least 40 years of observations. Some of this data has not yet been subjected to formal review by weather agencies. These reviews, to check for problems that might have produced false readings, sometimes cause a small fraction of the records to be discounted.

European heatwaves

Heatwaves in Europe in June and July sent temperatures soaring, smashing a number of local and national records.

France set an all-time high-temperature of 46C, while the UK, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands also reported new highs.

This summer was notable for the very large number of all-time temperature records set in Europe, according to Dr Robert Rohde, Lead Scientist at Berkeley Earth.

“Some places in Europe have histories of weather observations going back more than 150 years, and yet still saw new all-time record highs,” he told the BBC.

The extent of the hot spells on the continent is clearly visible when looking at a breakdown of when the most temperature records were broken. In late July, all-time temperature records were set in a number of European countries including the UK.

_109163273_records_by_date_v2-nc

Elsewhere, more than 30 all-time records were broken in the US, according to the Berkeley Earth data. In Japan, where 11 people who died as a result of the summer heatwave, 10 all-time temperature record highs were set.

The summer saw 396 all-time high temperatures in total.

Most all-time temperature records in measuring stations covered by the data were broken in 2010, followed by 2003.

The increasing number of record high temperatures are a part of the long-term trend of global warming, said Dr Rohde.

“As the Earth warms, it has become easier for weather stations to set new all-time records. In the past, we would usually only see about 2% of weather stations recording a new record high in any given year,” he explained.

“But, recently, we sometimes see years, like 2019, with 5% or more of the weather stations recording a new all-time record high.”

Further data and charts can be found on the BBC website cited at the beginning of this article.



This chart of global weather hot spots from Jan-June 2019 was produced by Climate Central:

2019tmps



Europe was not the only place to experience extremely hot weather during the year.  The following came from Vietnam:

vietnam



And another bar chart from NASA showing increasing temperatures over the last century:

temperature-means-yearly-NASA-3


And yet more broken records in 2020

Reports are coming in of more heat waves in 2020 – and high records being broken too.

Death Valley, USA 17th August 2020

Temperatures in America’s Death Valley reached 54.4C – possibly highest ever reliably recorded temperature.  If verified, it will be the hottest temperature officially verified since July 1913, also at Death Valley.

California Death Valley National Park

The extreme temperature was noted by the United States National Weather Service’s automated weather station at Furnace Creek CREDIT: Getty Images Contributor 

Temperatures in California’s Death Valley reached 54.4C (130F) on Sunday, possibly the highest ever reliably recorded on the planet. 

The extreme temperature was noted by the United States National Weather Service’s automated weather station at Furnace Creek, near the border with Nevada, at 3.41pm. 

“This observed high temperature is considered preliminary and not yet official,” a statement from NWS Las Vegas said.

“If verified, this will be the hottest temperature officially verified since July of 1913, also at Death Valley.”

Greenland Ranch hit 56.7C (134F) on 10 July 1913, but some experts question the accuracy of old temperature reports.

The 1913 reading became the planet’s hottest in 2013 after a World Meteorological Organization (WMO) investigation dismissed a 58C (136.4F) temperature thought to have been recorded in Libya in September 1922.

A committee reported the Libya reading was likely incorrect due to human-error, as well as the type of thermometer used. This, along with inconsistencies with other temperatures in the region, meant the temperature was removed. 

The only other WMO-verified temperature higher than those taken at Death Valley are from July 1931 in Tunisia, where a reading of 55C (131F) was recorded. This too has been challenged over its accuracy. 

Sunday’s reading will now be investigated by the National Center for Environmental Information and the WMO. 

If verified, it would be the hottest August day ever recorded in the US, and the third highest temperature ever recorded, after the 1913 and 1931 readings. 

But some extreme weather watchers believe it could end up being verified as the hottest ever reliably recorded on the planet if the historical figures are questioned. 

Bob Henson, a meteorologist, said: “It’s quite possible the Death Valley high set a new global heat record. 

“The extreme nature of the surrounding weather pattern makes such a reading plausible, so the case deserves a solid review.

“There are nagging questions about the validity of even hotter reports from Death Valley in 1913 and Tunisia in 1931. 

“What we can say with high confidence is that, if confirmed, this is the highest temperature observed on Earth in almost a century.”


Siberia

From Richard Bruce, Future First:

Looks like Global Warming has finally triggered that methane release from the frozen Tundra, which is now on fire.
Remember this videos of the jelly-like wobble of defrosting Tundra soil because of the methane being released?
More methane bubbling from the warming oceans too. Could have worse implications than the virus…..
Nuclear power stations use thousands of tonnes of sea water for cooling, warming the oceans even faster.
Has the Earth finally reached the predicted tipping point?

https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/08/12/freakish-arctic-fires-alarmingly-intensify/

NASA satellite images of fires in eastern Siberia depict an inferno of monstrous proportions, nothing in modern history compares. And, as of July, it’s intensifying. Should people be concerned? Answer: Yes, and double yes.

According to Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts: “What has been surprising is the rapid increase in the scale and intensity of the fires through July, largely driven by a large cluster of active fires in the northern Sakha Republic.” (Source: Kasha Patel, NASA/NOAA Satellites Observe Surprisingly Rapid Increase in Scale and Intensity of Fires in Siberia, SciTechDaily, August 9, 2020)

The problem: “Abnormally warm temperatures have spawned an intense fire season in the eastern Siberian this summer,” Ibid.

Is this global warming on steroids?

For further color on “the problem”: As of June 23rd, a SciTechDaily headline read: “Meteorologists Shocked as Heat and Fire Scorches Siberia.” At last count, meteorologists are hard-core scientists with vast exposure to disaster scenarios, not easily “shocked.”

As it happens, the very region of the planet that’s famous for the coldest temps of all time is now recording Miami-type summer temps like 100°F. Due to this unheard-of, unprecedented state of affairs, should this real-time, happening now, catastrophic scenario be included in U.S. presidential NSA briefings? No, the president doesn’t read. Then, should NSA verbalize the catastrophe to the president? Y0u’ve gotta be kidding and risk being fired!

All of above is a powerful unconditional signal, especially for the Paris ’15 commitment group, excluding the USA, that global warming is rampaging, running amuck. Maybe the Paris ’15 assemble needs to reassemble for an emergency ad hoc meeting to take a tally of how well individual nation/states are handling their voluntary commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because the planet’s scorecard is looking like a big fat F.

And while at it, maybe check in with Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service and NASA on recent CO2 and CH4 spewing into the atmosphere. Brace yourself. We now have direct evidence of how important it is to cut fossil fuel emissions to zero, as soon as yesterday.

Here’s more about this mind-blowing threat to the well-being of the world:

(1) Arctic fires in Russia in June and July alone released “more CO2 than any complete fire season” since records have been kept and more CO2 than all of Scandinavia, happening in only two months time. That’s beyond shocking, and it represents country-wide-scale CO2 emissions emitted by nature itself now competing head-on with every aspect of Paris ’15.

(2) The fires are double trouble as one half of the fires are on peatlands, which, once started, can burn almost forever if the heat is intense enough (which it is) emitting both CO2 and CH4 in unheralded competition with the dictates of Paris ’15.

“Peat fires can burn longer than forest fires and release vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.” (Source: Kasha Patel, NASA/NOAA Satellites Observe Surprisingly Rapid Increase in Scale and Intensity of Fires in Siberia, SciTechDaily, August 9, 2020)

“The destruction of peat by fire is troubling for so many reasons,’ said Dorothy Peteet of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. ‘As the fires burn off the top layers of peat, the permafrost depth may deepen, further oxidizing the underlying peat,” Ibid.

Oh by the way, only recently it was reported that the amount of carbon stored in northern peatlands is double previous estimates. (Source: Jonathan Nichols, et al, Holocene Ecohydrological Variability on the East Coast of Kamchtka, Frontiers in Earth Science, May 15, 2019)

It goes without saying that raging firestorms in a heat-induced global warming environment that releases more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than several countries combined darkens the epithet “Black Swan” almost beyond recognition.

But, is it really a Black Swan? Well, no, it is not a Black Swan because human-generated (anthropogenic) carbon emissions, like exhaust from fossil-fueled SUV engines, have been on a tear, especially since the turn of the new century (doubling on a per annum basis) blanketing the atmosphere (holding in heat), thus causing extraordinary readings of heat in the upper latitudes. So, yes, more fires were expected, no Black Swan.

But, the intensity of the fires hands down, no doubt about it, easily meets that criterion. Therefore, yes, it is a Black Swan, as the intensity is so overwhelmingly powerful that nobody could have possibly expected it to happen this way, and therein lies the risk to the “great hope” of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to minimize global temperatures to 2°C above baseline, or all hell breaks loose.

Get serious! It’s already breaking loose!



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Climate change affects the German economy

This blog is taken from:

https://politicalcleanup.wordpress.com/2019/08/28/the-shape-of-things-to-come-climate-change-affects-the-german-economy/

with acknowledgements and thanks to a colleague who runs the political clean up website.



In 2018, one of the longest dry spells on record left part of the Rhine in Germany at record low levels for months, forcing freighters to reduce their cargo or stop using the river altogether. Some inland ports lay idle and it is estimated that millions of tons of goods had to be transported by rail or road, raising costs significantly – twice or three times as much by rail and around five times as much by road, according to Handelsblatt Today.

The Rhine is vitally important to life and commerce in the region. Roughly 80% of the 223 million tons of cargo transported by ship in Germany each year travels the Rhine, which links the country’s industrial heartland to Belgium, the Netherlands and the North Sea. Parts of the Danube and the Elbe – Germany’s other major rivers – were also drying up.

The slump in the river’s water levels dented Germany’s economic growth by 0.4% in the final quarter of 2018 and by 0.3% in the preceding three months, according to estimates from JPMorgan economist Greg Fuzesi in January. Fuzesi said at the time he anticipated a 0.55% contribution to GDP in the first quarter of this year as the river’s water levels normalize. At least 0.7 percentage points had been shaved off economic growth last year, adding to a series of shocks that almost tipped the nation into a recession.

Problems included:

  • Ships carrying the large and heavy components of a wind farm could no longer reach Kubler’s Mannheim terminal.
  • Because they cannot be carried on rail, or for more than a couple of miles on roads, Kübler’s storage area at its terminal lay empty.
  • This stopped the building of the wind farm.
  • A trade group in Germany put farmers’ losses at several billion dollars.
  • The German chemical giant BASF had to decrease production at one of its plants because the Rhine, whose water it uses to cool production, was too low.
  • Gas stations in the region that relied on tankers to deliver from refineries in the Netherlands ran out of fuel.
  • About half of Germany’s river ferries stopped running, according to the Federal Waterways and Shipping Administration
  • River cruise ships had to transport their passengers by bus for parts of their journey.
  • Thousands of fish in the Swiss section of the river died because of the heat and low oxygen levels.
  • In November, natural gas prices increased 13% throughout Europe as coal barges could not reach coal-powered plants.
  • The world’s largest chemical company BASF, which operates the world’s largest integrated chemical plant on the western bank of the Rhine, said the overall cost of 2018 dry season was $285 million.
  • Steel maker ThyssenKrupp could not receive raw materials to one of its mills in Duisburg, forcing the company to delay its shipments to customers including automotive giant Volkswagen.
  • Contargo, which usually moves approximately 50,000 containers a month on around 40 barges, was forced to reduce its operations to three barges. Its statement noted the situation had become so extreme that barges could no longer navigate the Middle Rhine without danger.
  • Tourism was among the hardest hit sectors since the river is frequently used by boats cruising up and down the Rhine to visit castles, vineyards and other sights.

De Hoop

The wreck of De Hoop, a Dutch freighter that sank after an explosion in 1895 and is normally submerged, lay exposed on the Rhine’s banks – and wild tomatoes grew in the Rhine riverbed in Bonn.

In January and February this year, Rhine barge operators introduced a low water surcharge on exports and imports, as – we noted – did Montreal shipping companies, when, due to the lower water level of the St Lawrence river, ships had a limited loading capacity and fewer containers could be loaded on board,.

Bloomberg reported that water levels at many Rhineland locations were now back to normal for the time of year and barges that handle hundreds of fuel shipments up and down the river each year were able to reach all destinations fully loaded — something they had not been able to do for months, according to Rotterdam-based broker Riverlake Barging.

BASF’s CEO Martin Brudermueller is calling for new locks and dams to be built to keep the river navigable in dry season. The shipping lane could be made deeper, but that would take years, if not decades, and would cost millions.

“Our research shows an increase in instability,” said Hagen Koch, who studies rivers at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “The extremes are going to happen more often.” The Rhine’s flow relies not just on annual rainfall, but also on enormous long-term reserves of water in the Alps. Melting snow and glaciers, as well as Lake Constance, feed the upper parts of the river, but with climate change, those reserves are lower. There are reasons to believe such weather will become more frequent with a warming climate.

Sources include:

https://theloadstar.com/port-of-rotterdam-expansion-sparks-call-for-urgent-expansion-of-rhine-freight-corridor/

https://www.handelsblatt.com/today/companies/low-water-dwindling-rhine-paralyzes-shipping-transport/23695020.html?ticket=ST-4247374-9jmn5gssgio4lWFhMoFL-ap6

https://theloadstar.com/barge-operators-hit-new-charges-rhine-water-levels-sink-new-lows/

https://theloadstar.com/shippers-face-surcharges-boxes-barge-summer-heat-hits-rhine-water-level/

https://www.dailysabah.com/economy/2019/01/19/decreasing-water-levels-significantly-affect-europes-main-waterway-rhine

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/04/world/europe/rhine-drought-water-level.html

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-03-13/finally-some-good-news-for-german-growth-as-river-rhine-refills

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-01-23/germany-s-dried-up-rivers-cut-growth-but-the-rebound-is-coming

https://www.embassyfreight.co.uk/news/montreal-low-water-surcharge-lws/



 


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French farmers affected by climate change and droughts

A report in the Financial Times includes stories from French farmers in the Loire valley who are being put out of business by climate change.  This summer’s heatwave has been devastating to them.

https://www.ft.com/content/164e75da-b9d3-11e9-96bd-8e884d3ea203?accessToken=zwAAAWyzic-okc8WTnXaudMR6dOWvY6ITT6iAw.MEUCIQCm2mJLhtC-gCdDCfi1hfeh4SFFbMbvJXWn7nnpHtLWFgIgMmQVWAnov1Mq0KqmXSkAJSi6DklRl-tmVNHeqvjwI6E&sharetype=gift?token=1f943f7b-8e69-4e5c-9dda-53bb41e83b9f

One of the farmers, Clément Traineau, described the stunted growth of corn, due to the drought, which means that his harvest will be only half of what it should be, so that there will not be enough to feed his cattle during the winter. Beef prices have also been stagnant due to a number of factors, not the least of which is the latest IPCC report calling on people to eat less meat.  One farmer has been forced to sell a quarter of his cows to make ends meet.

Frenchcattle

Intense storms on August 6th brought some relief to the drought but they also caused flooding and mudslides.

Farmers in the Loire valley are now trying to diversify their income, investing in wind farms and solar panels (on top of the cow sheds).  They are also generating power by burning methane from cow dung.

M. Traineau is quoted as saying:
“We farmers are in the front line of climate change as victims, and — in the media — as the guilty ones for producing meat. But people forget we can also be a means of fighting global warming. Meadows and pastures have a substantial capacity for storing carbon.”



 


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Devinder Sharma writes about droughts in India

This is taken from a piece written by Devinder for Ground Reality on 13th June 2019:

Drought getting more pronounced in India, while cities in drought affected regions remain like an oasis.

The struggle for getting water
pic courtesy Livemint
As drought looms large in many parts of the country, more than 50,000 farmers from Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra have moved to nearly 500 makeshift cattle camps that the district administrated has built across eight talukas. “This has been our home since March this year. Problems galore at these cattle camps but we have little choice,” Dagru, a farmer told the media. They cook their meals at the camp and during the day go out looking for job.
At present, there are 1,501 cattle camps across Maharashtra.
As parts of Maharashtra faces its worst drought since 1972, another news report warns of fodder supplies running out for an estimated 10 lakh cattle housed in these camps. While the state government is thinking of setting up more cattle camps, this time for sheep and goats as well, I shudder to think how the farming families are surviving in these cattle camps. And yet I marvel the sensitivity and compassion some well know economic writers have demonstrated by saying there is no visible farm crisis !
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devender Fadnavis has allocated Rs 1,300-crore for these cattle camps. With the prices of cattle feed soaring, the government has raised the daily allowance for cattle contractors to Rs 100 per cattle per day and Rs 50 for each calf. The cattle are milked twice daily, but over the weeks the milk yield is coming down. Obviously, with the fodder supplies getting scarce in a worsening drought situation is beginning to take its toll. Water is supplied regularly by tankers.
Writing in The Wire, journalist Sukanya Shantha brings out the pain and agony that hapless families, including women who carry their children along, are undergoing: “What can we do, anyway? We would also like for our children to continue going to school but there is no one to feed them in the village right now,” Lalitabai Jhimmal was quoted. Her three children, in Classes VII, V and III, have been squatting at the camp along with her, intermittently attending their school. “There is no water in the village. Here, at least, we have water to drink,” says the eldest one.
With the houses locked, many nearby villages have become empty as the villagers have moved along with their cattle to the cattle camps. This is despite the fact Maharashtra had vowed to become drought free by 2019.  Instead, with 72 per cent Maharashtra hit by drought, and approximately 43.4 per cent of the country reeling under drought, an estimated 600 million people have been hit hard by an acute water crisis in the country. As crop land become parched, most of the land lying fallow, crops wither and fail, the soaring temperature has made life difficult in the drought-affected villages.
But the biggest tragedy is the appalling disconnect that such a devastating drought has with the city dwellers. People living in Ahmednagar in Maharashtra, which has 500 cattle camps in the district, are by and large oblivious of the severity of the drought only a few kilometres outside the city premises. Life goes on as usual, as if everything is normal in the rest of the district. Not only in Ahmednagar, every time I go to Bangalore I have never even remotely felt that people in the city even realise that Karnataka too has been reeling under a severe drought. In 2017, a severe drought prevailed, and as many as 139 of the 176 taluks were declared drought hit. And this year too, nearly 82 per cent of Karnataka is reeling under a drought. But go to Bangalore, you will not even get a hint of a terrible human suffering that continues to be inflicted year after year. Karnataka has suffered drought for 12 out of the past 18 years. But life in Bangalore has never been affected.
Such is the disconnect that life in any mega city does not even give an inkling of a severe drought prevailing just 10 kms away. I find it too strange. After all, have you ever pondered why is it that while drought hits the region as a whole it is only people living in the villages who bear the brunt? Why is that drought rarely, if at all, strikes the cities and towns? For instance, I travel to Bangalore very often, at least four times a year, and never have I returned with a feel of an acute water-stress that the people are faced with.
But how long will the cities continue to be like an oasis in an otherwise dry and parched landscape? That’s a big question. But a recent report by Niti Aayog warns that 21 cities – including the four metropolis Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and Delhi — will run out of ground water by 2020, just a year away. Since ground water provides for 40 per cent of the water needs, about 100 million people are expected to be hit. I am not sure whether water availability will be down to a trickle in these cities, but for sure the emphasis will shift to farmers advising them not to waste water.
Farmers have always been a soft target. I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire blame shifts to farmers. In Punjab, free power and water guzzling crop like paddy have always been the target. They are now being advised to go in for drip irrigation for which the government is being asked to provide 80 per cent subsidy. But a fact no one wants to acknowledge is that the consumption of water in the cities is no less a culprit. At a price of about 4 paise a kg, water supply is almost free for the urban consumers. While the farmers are being asked to go in for drip irrigation to reduce water wastage when was the last time you heard urban consumers being asked to do away with showers in their bathroom?

Every time someone uses the shower for about eight minutes roughly 65 litres of water goes down the drain. A typical bathtub, of the size 30 inches wide and 60 inches long, can contain 300 litres of water. If a luxury hotel has on an average 100 rooms, imagine 30,000 litres of water being drained simply for bathing every day. This is not fair. We can’t force the poor farmers alone to make sacrifices while we allow the rich to bathe in luxury.

 



And another piece in The Tribune by Devinder Sharma:

https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/comment/india-is-drying-up-fast/789376.html

India is drying up, fast

Devinder Sharma

Devinder Sharma, Food and Agriculture Specialist

Traditional water bodies and harvesting systems need urgent revival

“Congratulations to all… we have achieved 50 degree temperature this year. Let’s cut more trees to achieve 60 degrees the next year,’ a sarcastic tweet the other day came as a jolt. It was, however, hard to tell whether the quiet sarcasm was lost on a majority of the readers who are following Twitter or had made more and more people sit up and think.

Whatever had been the impact, the fact remains that while 2018 was the fourth hottest year on record in the past 140 years since the world began to keep a track on temperatures, NASA expects 2019 to be still hotter. The heat is therefore on. In India, a 22 per cent deficit has been recorded in pre-monsoon showers in the months of March, April and May — the second lowest in the past 65 years — and with monsoons delayed by a fortnight or so, daily temperatures have been sizzling. Churu in Rajasthan has already crossed 50°C thrice this season, and even Delhi burnt at an all-time high of 48°C.

With nearly 43 per cent of the country engulfed in a drought, an estimated 600 million people are reeling under its fury. With temperatures soaring, water sources going dry, parched lands staring as far as one can see, ‘hundreds of villages have been evacuated as historic drought forces families to abandon their homes in search of water’, reports The Guardian. In Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district, such is the wrath of a continuing drought that over 50,000 farmers have shifted to 500 camps meant for cattle. There are 1,501 cattle camps in Maharashtra, where 72 per cent of the area is faced with a drought. Reports say village after village around the capital city of Mumbai has been deserted. More than 88 per cent of Karnataka is somehow surviving under a severe drought. With 156 of the 176 talukas declared drought hit, Karnataka has faced 12 years of drought in the past 18 years. 

Karnataka’s economic survey for 2018-19 projects a growth rate of minus 4.8 per cent in agriculture.  Therefore, while drought has taken a heavy toll on standing crops and also crippled the farming-led economic activity, not only in Karnataka, but also in nearly half the country, adequate attention is finally coming to the declining groundwater levels. With the conundrums of water conflicts between states, between communities within a state, and as well as individuals standing in queues increasing over the years, policy makers are now realising the importance of conservation. Already the alarm has been raised with a recent report by Niti Aayog warning that 21 cities — including the four metropolises — Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and Delhi — will run out of groundwater by 2020. Since groundwater provides for 40 per cent of the water needs, about 600 million people may be hit.
 

But the problem of groundwater depletion is not only confined to the cities. In fact, it is because of the unbridled exploitation of groundwater that even a short dry spell turns into a more destructive drought. At most places across the country the rate of depletion exceeds 0.5 metre a year and often touches 1 metre. Add to it the reduced availability of water from shrinking rivers; the resulting water crisis has reached worrying levels. Reports say the water availability from the mighty Narmada has declined, from 30.84 million-acre ft in 2007-18 to 14.80 million-acre ft in 2017-18. The Ministry of Water Resources estimates water levels in 91 reservoirs falling to 18 per cent of their capacity. Moreover, water from numerous dams is being diverted from agriculture to meet the needs of the urban areas, including drinking water. This has added to farmer protests, leading to rural-urban conflicts.  

Over the years, the emphasis shifted from water conservation, water harvesting and groundwater recharge. Revival of traditional water bodies, which could have played a major role in drought-proofing, received lip service. Restoration of ponds and measures for recharging groundwater remained incomplete, abandoned or preceded at a slow pace. There still exist close to 2 lakh traditional water bodies, ponds and tanks across the country which need to be revived. In Punjab, where 110 of the 138 blocks are in the ‘dark zone’ (over exploited), the revival of the 15,000 ponds and traditional water bodies could not only help in recharging groundwater, but also providing irrigation. So far, only 54 such ponds have been rejuvenated. Strangely, even in Rajasthan, instead of reviving the excellent water conservation structures perfected over the ages, the emphasis is on drip irrigation. Not even a drop of rainwater was allowed to go waste in these baoris. In Karnataka, an estimated 39,000 traditional ponds and tanks existed. While nearly three-quarters of them have dried up, encroached upon or turned into sewage dumps, there is still a sizeable number that can be revived. Meanwhile, Karnataka has launched a jalamrutha scheme under which the traditional water bodies would be rejuvenated. But the pace needs to be hastened.

Although Karnataka is trying to preserve the kalyanis, and Odisha has the kutta and munda water systems, the traditional wisdom association with water harvesting has been more or less lost. Several years back, travelling to Texas A&M University, I was surprised to see the traditional water harvesting structures of Tamil Nadu being followed. The Centre for Science and Environment had published a book, Dying Wisdom, listing all traditional harvesting systems.

In the age of borewells, the emphasis has to revert to traditional harvesting. Recharging the depleting groundwater in a sustainable manner is urgently required. But this cannot be in isolation. Destroying forests, water bodies, catchment areas in the name of development must cease. Otherwise, crossing the Rubicon may turn out to be catastrophic.”



 


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England is running short of water

According to a report from the CEO (Sir James Bevan) of the Environment Agency, and published in The Guardian, England could be running out of water in 25 years’ time.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/mar/18/england-to-run-short-of-water-within-25-years-environment-agency

The reasons for this are an increasing population, with an increasing demand for water and the effects of climate change.

Sir James Bevan

People’s water use and leakage from pipes needs to be cut by 33% and 50%, respectively, according to Bevan.  He suggests introducing some ambitious measures, such as:

Building new and larger reservoirs; build additional desalination plants; and develop new ways of transporting water across the country.

In a speech to Waterwise, Bevan said that all water companies need to identify their biggest risk, that is Climate Change.  By 2040, more than half of our summers are expected to be hotter than the 2003 heatwave, he said, leading to more water shortages and potentially 50-80% less water in some rivers in the summer.

The average person’s daily water use of 140 litres could be brought down to 100, by raising awareness of water wastage and making it socially unacceptable to waste water.

England’s population is expected to rise from 67 million to 75 million by 2050.  Maybe this should be addressed, as well as the above measures.

Any planned developments to conserve water should also be sensitive to the needs of wildlife and the environment.



 


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Record temperatures in Australia this month

A report in The Observer (20.1.19) states that temperatures in the high 40s and edging up to 50°C are making it impossible to do much in sweltering Australia.  So far, the highest record daytime temperature is 49.1°C in Tacoolain South Australia. Most people are staying indoors, as handling tools can burn hands, and letting their dogs outside can lead to blistered feet.  The road surfaces are also melting.

It is hot in the night time too, with record highs every single night of one week in January 2019. Last week, there were reports of millions of river fish dying, due to depletion of oxygen in the water (related to an algal bloom caused by the heat).  The mass fish death has led to criticism about water management.

dead fish

Dead fish along the Murray River

The Guardian published a piece about poor water management on 25th January 2019:

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/jan/25/when-the-river-runs-dry-the-australian-towns-facing-heatwave-and-drought?utm_term=RWRpdG9yaWFsX0dyZWVuTGlnaHQtMTkwMTI1&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GreenLight&CMP=greenlight_email

Further information can be found in the Australian press:

https://www.news.com.au/technology/environment/roads-melt-as-heatwave-escalates-across-parts-of-australia/news-story/ea23d38d583ccafa24c6a42b9574b06f

australia heatwave



23rd January 2019

And now a terrible story of the mass deaths of wild horses in the centre of Australia.  These are feral horses – Australian’s call them Brumbies – who have gone to a water hole in the extreme heat to drink but found it completely dry.  See the following link for the story:

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-01-23/mass-brumby-death-discovered-in-remote-central-australia/10739178

dead brumbies

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-01-23/decomposing-dead-brumbies-1/10739428 Source: Facebook/Ralph Turner

Australia, being in the southern hemisphere, is in the midst of its summer, whilst the northern hemisphere is facing a freezing winter.  A colleague has suggested to me that Australia could be a  kind of climate change testbed or warning. First masses of dead fish and now dead horses.  Is this the face of things to come?

Let us hope that these awful scenes cause a change of mind by the Australian government so that they stop plans for allowing the mining of coal in Queensland.



More fish deaths – 30th January 2019

Locals around the Darling River were confronted with a sea of white, as dead fish carpeted the waters near the southeastern Outback town of Menindee.

Just weeks after up to a million were killed — with scientists pointing to low water and oxygen levels as well as possibly toxic algae — another mass death occurred in the key food growing region.

With temperatures expected to rise and no rain forecast, there remained a “high risk of further fish kills over the coming days and week,” officials said.

While the federal government has blamed the deaths on a severe drought, experts and locals say they stem from the systemic depletion and pollution of the river.

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The inspectors added that the latest bout of kills were likely linked to “critically low levels of dissolved oxygen” caused by a sharp drop in temperatures after an extended period of hot weather.

 



January 31st 2019: Flying Foxes falling out of trees in Australia

Australia is in the midst of an unrelenting, record-smashing heat wave that has left temperature maps so red the country looks like it’s on fire.

The country has hit highs exceeding 120°F (49°C) during the day. And New South Wales set a new record for all of Australia last week when nighttime temperatures never fell below 96.6°F (35.9°C).

The temperatures have been so brutal in South Australia, in fact, that heat-stressed bats are literally falling out of trees.

Australia’s fruit-eating bats cannot regulate their body temperature when the thermometer hits 104°F (40°C). Nursing females are vulnerable because they already have raised body temperatures. Young pups are the most vulnerable.


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Cape Town in South Africa is running out of water – whilst Paris experiences floods

An unprecedented drought in South Africa is causing an imminent shortage of water.  Officials estimate that the taps will run dry by 12 April 2018 (Day Zero).  Cape Town’s reservoirs have less than 90 days’ of water left.  Rationing has been introduced. the four million residents have been asked to restrict their water usage to 87 litres per person per day. This means car washing, topping up swimming pools and using potable water to irrigate gardens has been banned.  Hotels have drained their swimming pools and removed bath plugs.

See: https://globalnews.ca/news/3967288/cape-town-running-out-of-water-crisis/

The drought has been caused by very low rainfall over the past few years and increased water consumption by the city’s growing population.

Now, further news from the Times states that Cape Town has pleaded with the South African government to declare a national disaster as it faces the prospect of becoming the first modern city in the world to run out of water.

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/world/cape-town-asks-for-disaster-zone-status-to-stave-off-drought-3ktqsw33g

To put South Africa’s crisis in context, Canadians use around 329 litres of water a day. And the average Canadian uses about 65 per cent of it in their bathrooms, according to Environment Canada.

Presumably, the drought in South Africa is yet another effect of the climate change that is being experienced in different ways across the globe.

south africa water

Cape Town residents fill water bottles and containers at a local spring

Meanwhile, in France, the capital is in flood, with many being evacuated from their homes as a result of the River Seine bursting its banks.  The New York Times headlines this story with the statement, “Floods leave Paris contemplating a wetter future”.  See:  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/26/world/europe/france-paris-floods.html

Paris flooding

A flooded park on Ile de la Cite, Paris

Clearly, a result of climate change and the unstable weather patterns throughout the world, South Africa experiencing drought, whilst much of Europe is experiencing extremes of rain and snow.

April 2018  According to reports, Day Zero (12th April) has been deferred to August but restrictions on water usage are still in place at 50 litres per person per day.

May 2018  Greenpeace have reported that “Cape Town’s water shortage crisis has been averted (at least until 2019). Caused by a mixture of climate change, poor infrastructure and politicking, the city came dangerously close to ‘day zero’, that is, running completely dry. But welcome rains and some human efforts (including the mayor shaming water wasters) pulled it back in the nick of time”.