Saving the Planet With Electric Cars Means Strangling This Desert

Saving the Planet With Electric Cars Means Strangling This Desert

SOURCE: Bloomberg DATE: June 11, 2019 SNIP: The oases that once interrupted the dusty slopes of the Atacama desert in northern Chile allowed humans and animals to survive for thousands of years in the world’s driest climate. That was before the mining started. Sara Plaza, 67 years old, can still remember guiding her family’s sheep along an ancient Inca trail running between wells and pastures. Today she is watching an engine pump fresh water from beneath the mostly dry Tilopozo meadow. “Now mining companies are taking the water,” she says, pointing to dead grass around stone ruins that once provided a nighttime refuge for shepherds. “No one comes here anymore, because there’s not enough grass for the animals,” Plaza says. “But when I was a kid, there was so much water you could mistake this whole area for the sea.” Atacama has become one of the busiest mining districts on the planet in the intervening decades, following discoveries of massive deposits of copper and lithium. In recent years that mining has intensified, thanks to booming demand for lithium, which is indispensable in the production of rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles. Chile exported nearly $1 billion of lithium last year, almost quadruple the export value from four years ago. Pursuit of the soft mineral is often seen as something that’s good for the environment. Electric automakers such as Tesla Inc. want to make it easier and cheaper for drivers to adopt clean, battery-powered replacements for dirty combustion engines. Batteries are by far the most expensive part of an electric vehicle, so mining more lithium to meet rising demand helps lower...
Day Zero in India Looming For Millions

Day Zero in India Looming For Millions

SOURCE: Weather Channel DATE: June 5, 2019 SNIP: In India, “Day Zero” has already arrived for over 100 million people, thanks to excessive groundwater pumping, an inefficient and wasteful water supply system and years of deficient rains. “Day Zero” is expected to arrive for millions more in India by 2020, when groundwater supplies are predicted to run out for 100 million people in the northern half of India. Over 12% of India’s population – 163 million people of 1.3 billion – live under “Day Zero” conditions, with no access to clean water near their home, according to a 2018 WaterAid report. That is the most of any country in the world. With the taps dry, people are forced to dig ever-deeper wells or buy water. The number of people in India experiencing “Day Zero” is set to grow significantly by 2020, according to a startling report released in 2018 by Niti Ayog, India’s federal think tank. “Supply gaps are causing city dwellers to depend on privately extracted groundwater, bringing down local water tables,” the report says. “In fact, by 2020, 21 major cities, including Delhi, Bengaluru (formerly called Bangalore) and Hyderabad, are expected to reach zero groundwater levels, affecting access for 100 million people.” Loss of groundwater supplies will force people in the affected cities to rely on rainwater harvesting and water piped from rivers – sources that are inadequate to meet the demand. Groundwater supplies 40% of India’s water needs, including more than 60% of irrigated agriculture and 85% of domestic water use. India accounts fo 12% of global groundwater use. One of the most seriously affected cities...
Who keeps buying California’s scarce water? Saudi Arabia

Who keeps buying California’s scarce water? Saudi Arabia

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: March 25, 2019 SNIP: Four hours east of Los Angeles, in a drought-stricken area of a drought-afflicted state, is a small town called Blythe where alfalfa is king. More than half of the town’s 94,000 acres are bushy blue-green fields growing the crop. Massive industrial storehouses line the southern end of town, packed with thousands upon thousands of stacks of alfalfa bales ready to be fed to dairy cows – but not cows in California’s Central Valley or Montana’s rangelands. Instead, the alfalfa will be fed to cows in Saudi Arabia. The storehouses belong to Fondomonte Farms, a subsidiary of the Saudi Arabia-based company Almarai – one of the largest food production companies in the world. The company sells milk, powdered milk and packaged items such as croissants, strudels and cupcakes in supermarkets and corner stores throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and in specialty grocers throughout the US. Each month, Fondomonte Farms loads the alfalfa on to hulking metal shipping containers destined to arrive 24 days later at a massive port stationed on the Red Sea, just outside King Abdullah City in Saudi Arabia. With the Saudi Arabian landscape there being mostly desert and alfalfa being a water-intensive crop, growing it there has always been expensive and draining on scarce water resources, to the point that the Saudi government finally outlawed the practice in 2016. In the wake of the ban, Almarai decided to purchase land wherever it is cheap and has favorable water conditions to produce enough feed for its 93,000 cows. In 2012, they acquired 30,000 acres of land in Argentina,...
The U.S. Is Going to See Water Shortages Within the 21st Century

The U.S. Is Going to See Water Shortages Within the 21st Century

SOURCE: Fortune DATE: March 4, 2019 SNIP: Government-backed research on watersheds in the U.S. provide a dire outlook for the future: population growth and climate change are likely to cause “serious water shortages” within the next 55 years, says the study. As both demand and water evaporation increase, up to 96 of the 204 water basins that provide fresh water to Americans are projected to have monthly shortages by 2071, researchers reported in their study, published Thursday in Earth’s Future. Irrigated agriculture is responsible for over 75% of annual consumption in most water basins, according to the researchers. If farmers were to reduce irrigation for their crops, particularly crops grown for animal feed or biofuel, the researchers’ computer models show some hope for fewer...
Concentrations of Pharmaceuticals in Freshwater Increasingly Globally

Concentrations of Pharmaceuticals in Freshwater Increasingly Globally

SOURCE: Yale e360 DATE: February 25, 2019 SNIP: Concentrations of pharmaceuticals in rivers and lakes have significantly increased across the globe over the past 20 years, according to a new study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. The risk of ecological damage from the residue of two pharmaceuticals, for example — carbamazepine, an anti-epileptic drug, and ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic — was 10 to 20 times higher in 2015 than in 1995, the study found. Traces of medicines get passed into waterways through the excretion of active drugs in human waste, the disposal of unused medicine down drains, and run-off from livestock farms. The medicines can cause serious environmental harm: Chronic exposure to carbamazepine, for example, has been shown to alter feeding behavior and reduce egg viability in zebrafish, as well as reduce reproductive success in crustaceans. Antibiotics, including ciprofloxacin, can alter major nutrient cycles and decrease the effectiveness of bacteria-based wastewater management...