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    Archive for March, 2009

    The Sword of Damocles

    By Dr. James Hansen

    Over a year ago I wrote to Prime Minister Brown asking him to place a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants in Britain.  I have asked the same of Angela Merkel, Barack Obama, Kevin Rudd and other world leaders.  The reason is this – coal is the single greatest threat to civilization and all life on our planet.

    Our global climate is nearing tipping points.  Changes are beginning to appear, and there is a potential for explosive changes with effects that would be irreversible – if we do not rapidly slow fossil fuel emissions over the next few decades.

    Tipping points are fed by amplifying feedbacks.  As Arctic sea ice melts, the darker ocean absorbs more sunlight and speeds melting.  As tundra melts, methane a strong greenhouse gas, is released, causing more warming.  As species are pressured and exterminated by shifting climate zones, ecosystems can collapse, destroying more species.

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    World Water Day on March 22 brings with it new commitments

    What Would It Take?

    How much money would solve the world water crisis? Most people are taking a serious look at the numbers within the context of the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) to “reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015.” So most of the best numbers only address half the need, but include providing adequate sanitation for the world’s 2.5 billion who are lacking it, and we are left to wonder what the cost would be for providing only water to those 1.1 billion lacking.

    The question itself is not entirely clear either. When is the “world water crisis” no longer a crisis? When we’ve met the UN’s MDG? When everybody has access to clean water? When people have clean water? Or “improved” water, which may only be a covered shallow hand-dug well? Could some non-profit sectors provide sustainable water more efficiently than the mostly governmental agencies whose data is being extrapolated to arrive at our figures? Is the number even relevant if sufficient reliable implementing agencies do not currently exist?

    The World Bank offers a range of cost estimates to reach MDG goals. They estimate the cost of reaching “basic levels of coverage…in water and sanitation” to be $9 billion at the low end, and $30 billion a year for “achieving universal coverage” for water and sanitation. The same report acknowledges that the “institutional arrangements” do not exist to reach the goal in any case, and concludes that, “taking these estimates and their caveats together, we estimate that the cost… is between $5 and $21 billion.”1

    The United Nations Development Programme estimates the cost of meeting the MGD to be about $10 billion a year.” Again, that is for water and sanitation for half of those lacking. They add that the figure “…represents less than five days’ worth of global military spending and less than half what rich countries spend each year on mineral water.”

    The same report estimates that “universal access (to water and sanitation) would raise this figure to $20–$30 billion…” and that not addressing the problem will “…cost roughly nine times more than resolving it. 2

    Another United Nations document states that “providing safe drinking water and sanitation to those lacking them requires massive investment—estimated at $14 – 30 billion per year in addition to current annual spending levels…”3 Again, these estimates include the cost of basic sanitation.

    The WHO and UNICEF report that it would cost “US$11.3 billion” to achieve the MDG for “drinking water and sanitation” and one is left to wonder what the cost would be for the water portion in their estimation.4 Again, 1.4 billion more people lack basic sanitation than lack water.

    So where does LWI stand? Would it take $9 billion or $30 billion? What is the number for just water without sanitation? The fact of the matter is that a $9 billion or a $30 billion check written tomorrow to the UN or to any development agency in the world would not solve the world water crisis. As many of these experts point out, what is lacking are competent, responsible implementers. It would not be hard at all for $10 or $20 billion to be misused. That is why LWI is committed to training, consulting and equipping efficient, cost-effective, replicable, sustainable water solution systems and providers. Without implementers, it doesn’t matter if the world is dreaming of the most accurate dollar amount in the world or how many studies are done.

    At LWI our next $10 million will go where our last $10 million went: to training, consulting and equipping people all over the world to execute the most appropriate, cost-effective integrated water solutions there are and having them teach others to do the same.

    Water and Women

    Many women spend 15-20 hours per week collecting water, often walking up to 7 miles in the dry season.
    It is typically women who collect water, often waiting for long periods, and having to get up very early or go out late at night to get their water; they carry heavy water containers for long distances over uneven terrain. It is women who have to buy, scrounge, or beg for water, particularly when their usual sources run dry. The tragedy is that the water they work so hard to collect is often dirty, polluted, and unsafe to drink.

    Women trapped in this situation have little time for other activities such as child care, rest, or productive work. The time spent collecting water disempowers women by reinforcing time-poverty and lowering income.

    “Reasearch in Uganda found households spending on average 660 hours a year collecting water. This represents two full months of labor, with attendant opportunity costs for education, income generation, and female liesure time.”
    – United Nations Development Program, 2006

    In sub-Saharan Africa alone, 40 billion hours of labor are wasted each year carrying water over long distances.
    Access to clean water is the foundation for other forms of development. Without easy access to water that is safe, countless hours are spent in water collection, household income is spent on purchasing water and medical treatment for water-related
diseases. These factors contribute to keeping people trapped in poverty.

    The statistics indicate a two-way relationship between extreme poverty and lack of access to safe water. About two-thirds of those without access to safe water live on less than $2 a day. Half of these—roughly equivalent to the population of the United States—live on less than $1 a day.

    “Water management is a key factor in the global battle to remove the scourge of extreme poverty and to build secure and prosperous lives for hundreds of millions of people in the developing world.” – World Health Organization, 2007

    Water and Education

    Water-related diseases cost 443 million school days a year.
    More than 150 million school-age children are severely affected by waterborne parasites like roundworm, whipworm, and hookworm. These children commonly carry up to 1000 parasites at a time, causing anemia, stunted growth, and other debilitating conditions.

    Children who suffer from constant water-related illnesses carry the disadvantages into school. Poor health directly reduces cognitive potential and indirectly undermines schooling through absenteeism, attention deficits, and early drop-out.

    “Over half of all schools worldwide lack safe water and sanitation, jeopardizing the health and education of millions of schoolchildren. Most of the 115 million children currently out of school are girls. Many are denied their place in the classroom by lack of access to decent toilets at school, or

    Water and Health

    At any given time, half of the world’s hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from a water-related disease.
    Nearly 90 percent of all diseases in the world are caused by unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene. Every year, there are 4 billion cases of diarrhea as a direct result of drinking contaminated water; this results in more than 2.2
million deaths each year—the equivalent of 20 jumbo jets crashing every day.

    The weakest members of communities are the most vulnerable; every day water-related diseases claim the lives of 5000 children under the age of five. That’s roughly one every 15 seconds.

    “Clean water and sanitation are among the most powerful preventative medicines for reducing child mortality. They are to diarrhea what immunization is to killer diseases such as measles or polio: a mechanism for reducing risk and averting death.” – United Nations Development Program, 2006

    In 1992, the UN General Assembly designated March 22 as World Water Day to draw attention to this growing, global problem. In Haiti there are numerous organizations that are working to stave desertification, to preserve water tables, and to offer clean and safe drinking waters to entire cities. I strongly encourage you to visit the website of  Living Water, a highly motivated and praiseworthy organization out of Houston, TX and the World Water Day homepage to learn more about how you can help the people of the world overcome this most basic problem.

    Water, water, everywhere,
    Nor a drop to drink.
    The water, like witch’s oils,
    Burnt green, and blue, and white.

    “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Coleridge

    “As a result of both pollution and overuse of our rivers and lakes, about 40 percent of the world’s population now lacks sufficient water for basic sanitation and hygiene, and nearly one out of ever five people has not enough to drink.” The author of “The Upside of Down”, Thomas Homer-Dixon, will speak in Collingwood in April, 2009.

    As a part of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, World Water Day brings into focus the incredible crisis that now confronts humanity. Water, as part of our biosphere, is our most important ecological resource, but we have exploited this gift of life to such an extent that now 2.6 billion people are in terrible jeopardy. The UN Water-for-Life booklet is a great place to become better acquainted with water issues.

    The United Nations Millennium Development Goals are all dependent on the success of humanity’s commitment to sharing water resources and knowledge. These goals are being coordinated with the UN Water for Life Decade 2005-2015

    The Millennium Goals are:

    1. Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger

    2. Achieve Universal Primary Education

    3. Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women

    4. Reduce Child Mortality

    5. Improve Maternal Health

    6.Combat HIV, AIDS, Malaria and Other Diseases

    7. Ensure Environmental sustainability.

    8. Develop a Global Partnership for Development

    “A single lawn sprinkler spraying 19 litres per minute uses more water in just one hour than a combination of ten toilet flushes, two 5-minute showers, two dishwasher loads, and a full load of clothes.”  Take the water reduction pledge to save 10 gallons a day.

    EASY ways that you can save water around the house Water Saved
    Don’t run the tap while shaving or cleaning your teeth 1 gallon (3.7 litres) a minute
    Add an aerator to any tap 1 gallon (3.7 litres) a minute
    Reduce the length of a shower by one minute 2.5 gallons (9.5 litres)
    Install a low flow shower head 3 gallons(11.3 litres)a minute
    Install a toilet tank displacement device .5 gallon (1.8 litres) a flush
    Run the dishwasher only when it is totally full 10 gallons (37.8 litres) each saved load
    Water your lawn at night and save 65% lost to evaporation
when watering during the day 5 gallons (19 litres) a minute

    North Americans and Australians use more water than any other group of people.  This has to change immediately. The need to conserve water is becoming more and more critical for our well-being. The protection of wetlands such as the Silver Creek Wetland ensures biodiversity and clean water. The long-term work by the Blue Mountain Watershed Trust has brought urgency and a responsibility for the Town and its people to conserve this wonderful wetland, and not just call it a “Preserve” as the developers wished to call their ill-advised building project.
    The Town of Collingwood’s recent endeavour to protect this wetland should be applauded.

    Flying Blindly Towards An Unsustainable Future

    “A 90 per cent cut in carbon emissions means the end of distant foreign travel…It means that trans-continental journeys must be made by train… or coach.  These privations affect a tiny proportion of the world’s people.  The reason they seem so harsh is that this tiny proportion almost certainly includes you.  If you fly, you destroy other people’s lives.”   George Monbiot

    “Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning”
    It will soon be that time of the year when photos of Hawaiian, Cuban and Mexican beaches appear in the newspaper, television and magazine ads tempting us to take that vacation.  Whether you are a Bruce Trail hiker going to Belize to be inspired by nature, a winter trip to Arizonia or on a weekend shopping trip to New York, our seemingly endless need to experience the ‘pleasures and meaning of life’ away from home will whittle away humanity’s future quality of life, let alone starving people now through drought and rising oceans.  Monbiot puts it quite succinctly:”…well meaning people are as capable of destroying the biosphere as the executives of Exxon.”

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    Idling our cars is an ever increasing problem

    “Turning our vehicles off, not idling, not using drive through windows at fast food restaurants, is something each and every person can do to lower the impact of C02 emissions into the atmosphere. Not only does this action assist in the reduction/control of harmful C02 emissions into the atmosphere, but, in fact, it saves money.” Deborah Haswell, Councillor, City of Owen Sound

    Towns are enacting anti-idling by-laws to protect their citizens from   harmful car emissions that cause pollution and climate change. Any anti-idling by- law must have a strong educational campaign if it is to work.  Simply enacting a by-law and not having an educational campaign to work in conjunction with its enforcement is certainly an exercise in futility.  The City of Hamilton recognized this a few years ago, and asked Green Venture to put together a campaign to get the city ready for its anti-idling by law.  Signs and displays were set up at many schools and events and even twenty-two “clean air ambassadors” were sent out on the streets!

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    The new Victory Garden: amazingly green front and backyards feed the body and the soul

    The days when a family had to have a grass lawn in front of their house is long gone. The bylaws don’t demand that flat monotone fixture anymore. You can throw away all the weed killers and transform a lawn into a fabulous and endlessly fascinating garden. We were very fortunate to have the famous gardening expert, Marjorie Harris, in Collingwood in April to show her slides and create a new sense of excitement for flower, tree and shrub gardens. Her book, ”How to Make a Garden”, is filled with beautiful pictures and very helpful ideas. A walk through local gardens will certainly inspire a person to replace a lawn as well.

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    International Day of Biodiversity Must be Celebrated Everyday

    “Far more than simply a conservation treaty, the Convention {on Biodiversity} encompasses three equally important and complementary objectives: the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources. Underpinning the Convention’s three objectives is the recognition that humans, themselves exhibiting a diversity of cultures, are an integral component of ecosystems. All people and nations, whether rich or poor, share the same planet and depend upon the same storehouse of biodiversity.”

    May 22 is International Day of Biodiversity and these series of articles will explore the extraordinary diversity of life on this planet. Our air, water, fertile soil, climate regulation, protection from pest and disease outbreaks, medicines, food security and economic resilience are all dependent on biological diversity.

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    United Nations Biodiversity 2010 Targets are in Jeopardy

    “A culture is no better than its woods.”—W.H. Auden

    “Almost half of all life on earth may exist in the world’s forest canopies. They may also play a vital role in maintaining the planet’s climate…”
    Biologists now believe that the 6 percent of earth’s land surface that tropical rain forests represent contain more than fifty percent of all species. Many primate species live in these forests. The International Primatological Society’s twelve year study that was just released in Edinburgh shows a disturbing picture of our forests: of the known 634 primate species and subspecies, 50 percent are threatened with extinction in the next ten years! Primates in Asia face a 70 percent extinction rate.

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    Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy is Main Mover in Land Stewardship in our Area

    Countries around the world search for solutions to stop the destruction of their forests and ecosystems habitats in order to save biodiversity, endangered species, and turn away from run-away greenhouse gas emissions. In the West we have been asked to put together action plans that balance our demand for wood, biofuel, and resource taking with the protection of huge areas of pristine forest.  These plans have been the subject of intense scrutiny by the United Nations, International Union for the Conservation of Nature to the World Bank. Deforestation and farm community fragmentation are some of the main causes for an increase in greenhouse gas emissions; we must do more to see real financial value in undisturbed forests and other natural areas that encompass so much of the Earth’s biodiversity!

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    Kolapore Uplands Wilderness has Many Friends

    “Kolapore Uplands constitute one of the largest remaining intact wilderness areas in southern Ontario. This area is home to various endangered species of plants and animals. It is host to Areas of Natural and Scientific Interest. It is drained by cold water streams that shelter breeding populations of speckled trout. The last thing Kolapore needs is an industrial scale water extraction operation.”
    Kolapore resident, Richard Griffith, lives in a straw bale sustainable house

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    Earth Day @ your library


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