Report: US Fisheries Crashing

We live in a country in which every household has two TV sets, most of them receiving hundreds of channels, and two cell phones, many of them “smart.” One of every two households has a computer connected to the Internet. This country is currently in the middle of a hotly contested presidential election. And yet among the things that have almost completely escaped public attention is this: last week the US government declared fisheries disasters on four coasts.
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Running Out of Water and Time

Drought-stricken corn under a hot and rainless Iowa sky last week. Two more studies say, things are going to get worse. (Photo by USDA)

The train is coming at 80 miles per hour. Children are playing on the railroad tracks, oblivious. The train is closer now. The children are not aware of it. You can hear the train, people are yelling at you that it is coming, and you, my friend, stand there near the children, not moving, thinking of other things. Thus climate change bears down on us, thus peak oil comes closer at 80 miles per hour, and thus does our water run out. Two shouted warnings about water just this week. Continue reading

Feds Approve Las Vegas Water Grab

The Fountains at Bellagio Casino, one reason Las Vegas is running out of water. Yes, we know they have their own well, but the 5-10 million gallons they use every day could significantly slow down the depletion of Lake Mead. (Photo by sheilaellen/Flickr)

Dying cities, like dying people, reveal their characters near the end. Some go out with dignity, others grasp wildly at any scheme to avoid their fate, no matter at what harm to others. Case in point: Las Vegas, a clutch of casinos, bars and brothels built in the worst place you could build a city, in order to cater to the worst urges of human nature. Now this synthetic oasis in the desert is running out of water, and proposes a solution consistent with its traditional ethics: we’ll just take somebody else’s water.
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Mississippi Falling: How Far?

It’s not easy being a Mississippi barge; 14 months ago they were being swept away by flood waters, now they’re running aground in low water. (Photo by Brad Jones/Flickr)

The Mississippi River is in some places running 53 feet below its level of last May. That’s not quite as alarming as it sounds because last May it was in an historic flood. But with little snow last winter in the mountains and no rain to speak of this year in the West and much of the Midwest, the lower river has fallen eight to 10 feet below normal. That is perilously close to shutting down one of the country’s principal arteries of commerce. Continue reading

How They Do Drought in Texas

Your Texas rice field looks like this? No problem, drill another well. (Photo by Terry Shuck/Flikr)

The next stop on our Last Chance Tour of a collapsing civilization: the Texas Panhandle.  The land is turning into  desert, the people are acting out the Tragedy of the Commons (a pretty way of describing the way humans fight for the last scrap of a vanishing resource),  the government is making things worse and almost everybody is pretending nothing is happening at all. Continue reading

Can You Say Infrastructure? Now Say Brace for Impact

A 24-inch water main spills its guts near the National Mall in Washington DC in October of 2010. Flooding reached the National Museum of Natural History. There is much more to come. (Photo by Mr T in DC/Flickr)

It was a rare occasion and a good way to start the new year — a major American newspaper gave front-page coverage to a major American problem. This morning’s Washington Post features prominently a story detailing one reason why this country is about to crash: the machinery that delivers water to city dwellers, and treats their sewage has been neglected for nearly half a century. Like all neglected machinery, it is about to break down. And it’s the machinery that makes urban life possible.

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A Town in Texas: This is How it Ends

Once a thriving recreational lake and source of water for the town of Robert Lee, Texas, the E.V. Spence Reservoir is now a brackish puddle.

They are starting to think seriously about abandoning the west Texas town of Robert Lee because it is about to run out of water. Too strong? Okay, to be exact, some of Robert Lee’s 1,049 people have moved away, and more are thinking about leaving before the water runs out. Will that create a trend that gives us our first American town to be abandoned because of climate change? (I’m still betting on Las Vegas as the first city.) Will America’s first recognized climate refugees be Rick Perry’s Texans? We’ll report. You decide.

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Zombie Lake Erie is Dying Again

Algae blooms on Lake Erie, virtually covering its Eastern bay in this August photo from space, are killing the lake. Again. And we know who the killer is.

Declared dead in the 1970s, brought back to life by the environmental movement it did much to inspire, Lake Erie is once again expiring, killed by industrial agriculture. Specifically, phosphorous from synthetic fertilizers, which the aforementioned environmental movement never gained the clout to regulate. After having been reduced by two-thirds with various buffering and conservation practices, phosphorous levels in Lake Erie are, according to an Ohio State University expert, “back up to when it was considered a dead lake.” Continue reading

Water Scientists say Brace for Impact

A cow’s carcass in Northern Kenya, photographed last week, testifies to the reality of what happens when the water runs out. And it is running out. (Photo courtesy CIAT The International Center for Tropical Agriculture/Flickr)

The burgeoning world population, already grown far beyond the numbers the planet can sustain, is increasing its consumption of water twice as fast as it is growing, according to the World Resources Institute. In a world already profoundly short of clean water, where the number of people is ratcheting upward past seven billion, in which global climate change is spreading drought across vast areas, this means, in the words of a WRI expert, that “we have a significant challenge on our hands.” To translate from the scientese: her hair’s on fire and she’s screaming “Brace for Impact!”

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Report: Trawlers Scraping Last Life from Oceans

A new study details how factory trawlers such as the Northern Osprey are stripping the deep oceans of fish that cannot replace themselves. (Photo by Dennis Jarvis/Flickr)

A perfunctory article deep inside yesterday’s Washington Post paints a horrifying picture of exhausted oceans — described as “more akin to a watery desert” —  being scraped clean of the last traces of marine life by pitiless, gargantuan deep-water trawlers operating beyond the law and beyond sanity.  The story is based on a new study of the world’s fisheries published in the journal Marine Policy (“Scientists call for end to deep-sea fishing”). (The article upholds the new Standards of Fair and Balanced Journalism set by Fox News by somehow, somewhere finding an academic mooch who sees no problem with that.)

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