Monday, April 26, 2010

The Mighty Mekong - First Major Casualty of Global Warming?

Since last September, much of southeast Asia has been caught in the grip of a severe drought. This combined with numerous other factors, including an ambitious hydro construction program and rising sea levels, is creating worldwide concern about the future of the Mekong.

This year, there have been widespread reports that it has been possible to walk across the once-mighty river that upwards of 60 million people depend on in this region. It seems impossible to imagine that this river that runs through the midst of steamy monsoon jungles could now be at risk for its very existence. The fact is there have been reports of "walking across" the Mekong coming out of Laos, Vietnam and Thailand.

Ironically, just yesterday, the southern Vietnamese delta region of Ca Mau Cape received its official certification as a UNESCO Global Biosphere Reserve.

Ca Mau Province and most of the Mekong delta is under heavy siege from salt water infiltration due to rising sea levels, combined with low levels of fresh water from the feebly flowing Mekong.

This situation is threatening the livelihood of farmers and fishermen and production of rice and shrimp in Vietnam on a massive scale. It's a classic Catch-22 situation as the water level in the ocean becomes increasingly higher than fresh water levels in the delta. So sluices that could allow salt water needed for shrimp farms cannot be opened, because it then further contaminates low-lying rice fields with salt water.

Vietnam is one of the world's largest rice exporters, with a significant portion of the harvest going to feed poor populations in Africa. The drought has of course affected rice production in other ways
Because the future and present of four countries - Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos depend so heavily on the Mekong, a number of organizations have either taken an interest or are completely concerned with the Mekong. Among these, Save the Mekong, the Mekong River Commission, TERRA (Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance) and others.

Complicating matters is that much of the upper Mekong is in China and that country has initiated a massive damming program, under which three of 14 planned dams have been completed. All four countries of the lower Mekong are suspicious and critical of Chinese plans, already putting a lot of the blame for the current situation on the Chinese. China, for its part, denies that its three operating dams have had a significant impact, and say that the low water is due only to the drought, which has also affected Chinese regions along the Mekong.
Meanwhile, the lower Mekong neighbors have their own damming programs, as shown on the map here. These ambitious multi dam projects are now coming into serious question as authorities begin to realize that, if the river is already near dry, building further dams may be dreaming in technicolor.

Global warming is throwing all these plans asunder, perhaps giving temporary relief to the multitides of species that could be threatened by dams in the world's most intensely biodiverse region.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen stated April 6 that China should not be blamed for the Mekong situation, given that China's own rivers are dry and that the entire world is suffering the effects of global warming just as the Mekong has.

Of course, any ground gained by canceling dam projects, either in China or in the lower Mekong countries, could easily be lost by the effects of whatever alternative power projects and of course drying across the region. The need for power is verging on desperate - hospitals, schools and other essentials have had their power cut off this March and April in parts of Vietnam as surging demand and 40+ C temperatures have created a nightmare scenario.

Long term prognosis: Vietnam has entered a period of runaway change, with its citizens rushing to adopt the benefits of a modernizing economy. Its population is forecast to explode and its consumer demands are going exponential. I wish I could see how this is going to work out well for everyone and the planet.

Another great source for further information is

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Film "Home" puts our planet in perspective

Very impressive film that puts the problem out there all right. I saw it before but never took the time to watch it through. Embedding is disabled on the actual film but below is a trailer, or the full 93-min version is here.

IMO turning it around is going to be agonizingly slow and difficult.

However a fatalistic response is the worst possible reaction.

We in the wealthy west need to take the lead ~ to show the people in developing nations that 3 gas hogging vehicles and 3 homes per household is not the Holy Grail of all human aspirations. So that all people might learn and be able to attain a lifestyle of higher ideals and lower consumption.

As it stands right now, we are blocked from doing so by a tiny minority of like 1/10th of 1% of the people ~ who are afraid. Afraid of losing their chance to enrich themselves even more at the expense of the planet and the poor. Afraid of strange people and strange ideas. Afraid of losing control. Afraid that their way of life and their beliefs and they themselves may really be irrelevant. Afraid of generosity and giving.

The next biggest mistake is to say, "look at the other guy".

As in I dunno, "Bruce Springsteen what a hypocrite - preaches conservation and then takes his whole entourage by jet plane week in week out.." or "look at the Chinese, building a coal plant every week..."

We all have to show leadership in our own way. If Springsteen or Suzuki or even Elizabeth May takes more plane rides than you or I, you may want to recognize travel is a job requirement of these people who might try to lead the millions of us out into a more sustainable future. These millions of people who have been brainwashed for decades to believe that the road to Nirvana runs through their two-car garage and a stock portfolio of resource companies.

Influencing many of these people is going to be a very tough job.

Many truly believe that we are entitled to a privileged existence. Many really believe with all their hearts it is a total coincidence that there was no winter in Canada this year.

Or, you know, they'll say, "it's a cycle". Sure. Suddenly cycles that normally run tens of thousands of years are going to kick in overnight.

Overpopulation is definitely a large part of the problem. This just makes it more obvious that lifestyle changes are needed at the top in a hurry.

If 20% of the people consume 80% of the world's resources, then clearly the effect of reducing the consumption of the wealthiest by even 10% will have a major impact. Even more important, hopefully the rising middle classes of developing nations will be able to set their own consumption ideals lower.

Monday, April 19, 2010

$6 Billion B.C. Peace River Dam Announcement Imminent

B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell and Energy Minister Blair Lekstrom are headed north to the W.A.C. Bennett dam today, and are expected to announce that the province will be going ahead with the controversial Peace River Site C hydroelectric dam in the northeast of the province.

The on again off again Site C project was last shuttled onto the back burner back in '05. At that time, the estimated cost of the project was $2 billion. Current estimates are in the range of $5-6.6 billion.

The project is planned to flood over 5,000 hectares of land, including more than 4,000 hectares of agricultural land much of it first class.

This would be the third dam on the Peace River and the furthest downstream, and would be located near Ft. St. John.

The Site C project has been a subject of heated debate. There are the farmland and lifestyle implications. There are also a vast array of related issues that come into play. Is British Columbia self sufficient in power or not? Will a new Peace dam reduce the number of "run of river" projects needed or encourage more of them? The whole issue of run of river projects less than 50MW not being subject to the most stringent environmental monitoring and shoddy workmanship by private contractors.  Should B.C. be looking at nuclear like Alberta is?

What about the partial privatization of B.C. Hydro? How is that playing out? Why are politicians in B.C. and Ontario committing to spend vast sums on power at prices far exceeding current KWh market prices?

Is this dam going to benefit Vancouver, or simply provide export dollars for the province, to the detriment of the local population?  These are just a few of the questions being asked. One thing for sure - if they are talking about $6.6 billion now - the final cost will be much higher.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Climate Change and the Toronto Maple Leafs unbeatable team for great golf in April...

From "Climate Progress" 2010:

The hottest March and hottest Jan-Mar on record

bye-bye leafs - bye-bye climate change deniers...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Huge piece of glacier breaks off in Peru - tsunami breaches 75-ft. levees

A gigantic chunk of ice has broken off a glacier in Peru and plunged into a lake causing a 75-foot high tsunami that swamped and devastated a nearby town.

The massive glacier piece - about the size of four football fields - slid and rolled into '513 lake' in the Andes near Carhuaz, around 200 miles north of Lima.

A water processing plant serving 60,000 residents was also destroyed when the wave struck on Sunday. Six people were reported missing  under the debris - but five of those have been found alive.

Authorities evacuated mountain valleys, fearing more ice breakages after the tsunami - which are most commonly caused by earthquakes. Blaming climate change, local adminsistrator Alvarez said: "Because of global warming the glaciers are going to detach and fall on these overflowing lakes. This is what happened."

Investigators said the ice chunk from the Hualcan Glacier measured 500m by 200m. Patricio Vaderrama, a Peruvian glacier expert, said: "The tsunami wave breached the lake's levees, which are 23m high - meaning the wave was 23m high."

Peru is home to 70 per cent of the world's tropical icefields.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Desalination options multiply - is a green Sahara in the future?

The upside in the unknown realms of the desalination equation is rapidly gaining more potential as technology jumps forward in unexpected leaps. Are we at a point now, or will we be there soon, of wondering what effect large (mega) scale desalination and irrigation would have on global warming?

Even in a lower-tech world, desalination has had a huge role. Currently, there are 13,800 desalination plants operating in the world, producing a total of about 12 billion gallons of water a day. That, according to the International Desalination Association.

Consider: About 15-20% of the Earth's non-polar land surface is considered desert. Many of these areas could be spectacularly transformed if only they had access to cheap, plentiful water.

The problem with desalination is that, up until now, it has been an extremely energy intensive and, therefore, expensive process.

Two recent announcements have provided more reason to believe that larger scale desalination is already on the horizon.

Working jointly with IBM, Saudi Arabia’s national research group, King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), has already begun a solar-powered project that will supply 30,000 cubic meters of clean water per day to 100,000 people in the city of Al-Khafji. The KACST project is leveraging a new technology developed with IBM to allow more intense heat to be harvested from the sunlight and also foresees other innovations, such as proprietary new membranes developed for the reverse osmosis process.

Back on the other side of the planet, a Vancouver company, Saltworks, is continuing to dazzle specialists from the Middle East to Australia with its own unique version of solar-powered desalination.

Saltworks' breakthrough process uses far less energy than conventional systems. Saltworks' Thermo-Ionic™ desalination technology harnesses renewable energy sources such as dryness in the air and heat from the sun - to provide sustainable, low cost, desalinated water with minimal environmental impact.

Besides requiring only 20% or less energy than conventional desalination, other advantages of Saltworks' process include that it does not release a concentrated saltwater brine as a by-product and in fact, it could even use the brine produced by other desalination plants.

All that remains is for Saltworks to prove that its technology can be scaled up. Their initial Vancouver test plant will produce (or is producing) 1,000 liters of clean water per day.

Given that both of these new desalination processes use considerably less energy than previous technologies, it now becomes more interesting to project the potential and consequences of very large scale desalination. Indeed, there are sure to be further technological improvements in the near future. Deserts may be transformed - but at what price or benefit? Would a green Sahara accelerate global warming - or discourage it? The Aswan Dam in Egypt has wreaked havoc with the desert environment in unexpected ways. Now is the time to consider the large picture of desalination.    

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Missing link skeleton exhibition sparks hilarious "conversation"

A story about the unveiling of a 2-million-year old skeleton of a newly discovered species of hominid that is thought to be a "missing link", has sparked a revealing exchange of views between readers of the article.

The article itself is kind of interesting - the type of thing you've probably seen before, only this time they have most of the skeleton complete and some other cool stuff.

What happened next is that the "Raving Right" latched onto it after the headline was run on Drudge...

So now the comments are full of brilliant essays such as,

"They lied about global warming. What makes you think they wouldn't lie about evolution?"

"..If man evolved from aps why are there still apes and monkies"

"Resembles the modern liberal democrat. This proves Libs did evolve from slime and became worms later evolving into men then devolving back to a parasitic life form."

"here is how the game is played:

Evolutionists find an extinct ape.

The only "fact" is that they found bones of a dead animal."

So much silliness...