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Manufacturing Thirst: The Hidden Water Costs of Our Industrial Economy

Kari Lydersen, Earth Island Journal via AlterNet
The Cananea Consolidated Copper Company — one of the world’s largest open pit copper mines, run by Grupo Mexico — forms a beautifully surreal landscape. Carefully sculpted red and gold curves of earth hug pools of brilliant turquoise. Before the vast expanse of the mine flies a huge Mexican flag, a symbol of pride in the mine’s significant contribution to the country’s economy.

Cananea is often referred to as the cradle of the Mexican Revolution, in reference to a workers’ uprising there in 1906. It has been a hotbed of militant labor activism ever since; the powerful miners’ union has been on strike since July 2007. Among locals, the mine’s reputation as a source of social injustices — including the displacement of residents, the exploitation and endangerment of miners, and political repression — is well known.

The overuse and contamination of water in the copper extraction is another destructive, though perhaps less obvious, effect of the mine. Copper mining and refining is a water-intensive process, and the mine draws liberally from the nearby Sonora and San Pedro aquifers and rivers, using at least 18 million cubic meters of water per year. Because of the mine, the San Pedro aquifer’s depletion has exceeded its recharge annually since 1984, according to Anne Browning-Aiken of the Udall Center in Arizona.

The aquifer is reaching critically low levels and, as a result, the Sonora River’s flow has been greatly reduced, a situation particularly disturbing for the downstream city of Hermosillo, which depends on the river for its very existence. Farmers in the arid region, who rely on irrigation to grow their crops, are now competing with the mine for water…
(23 October 2008)

World is facing a natural resources crisis worse than financial crunch

Juliette Jowit, The Guardian
The world is heading for an “ecological credit crunch” far worse than the current financial crisis because humans are over-using the natural resources of the planet, an international study warns today.

The Living Planet report calculates that humans are using 30% more resources than the Earth can replenish each year, which is leading to deforestation, degraded soils, polluted air and water, and dramatic declines in numbers of fish and other species. As a result, we are running up an ecological debt of $4tr (£2.5tr) to $4.5tr every year – double the estimated losses made by the world’s financial institutions as a result of the credit crisis – say the report’s authors, led by the conservation group WWF, formerly the World Wildlife Fund. The figure is based on a UN report which calculated the economic value of services provided by ecosystems destroyed annually, such as diminished rainfall for crops or reduced flood protection.

The problem is also getting worse as populations and consumption keep growing faster than technology finds new ways of expanding what can be produced from the natural world. This had led the report to predict that by 2030, if nothing changes, mankind would need two planets to sustain its lifestyle.
(29 October 2008)
The report itself is online: Living Planet Report 2008 (PDF).

Wanted: A Climate Bailout

Mark Hertsgaard, The Nation
What a difference an emergency makes. Scare people enough and $700 billion can materialize almost overnight. The White House can repudiate its core economic philosophy–government should leave markets alone–within hours. Congress, where spending bills sometimes wait years to reach the floor, can pass one of the costliest laws in its history within days. Even the endlessly fickle media can provide 24/7 news coverage, making the emergency the topic on everyone’s mind.

When will we see this same sense of urgency devoted to the greatest emergency of our time? You wouldn’t know it from our politicians or TV shows, but the climate crisis is even more serious than the financial crisis. The financial crisis, while painful and severe, can be resolved, given time and wise policies. The climate crisis, not so. The earth’s climate system has tipping points beyond which no return is possible. Yet there is a very real danger right now that sliding oil prices will lull the public into an even deeper complacency.
(29 October 2008)

The great green swindle

Fred Pearce, The Guardian
As consumers become more eco-conscious, companies will go to ever greater lengths to present themselves as environmentally friendly. Some make exaggerated or absurd claims, others resort to downright lies. Fred Pearce, whose new weekly Greenwash column launches on the Guardian website today, reports on a sinister trend – and appeals to readers to help stamp it out.

Back in the days of no-holds-barred advertising by Madison Avenue’s finest, anything went. Drinking alcohol made you sexy, smoking cigarettes was good for your lungs and every washing powder contained a magic ingredient that made your whites super-white.

And guess what? Those days are back, at least for green advertising. As more and more customers demand environmental responsibility from companies, few large corporations with any sort of public profile now dare to enter the marketplace without a blizzard of sustainability audits and low-carbon-emissions targets. But that being so, the risk of being conned by slick corporate “greenwash” has never been greater, as the volume of complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) testifies.

The green claims coming from corporations can be absurdly general. Nearly everything we buy these days seems to be “sustainably sourced” or “environmentally friendly”. Sometimes, though, they are crazily specific. Virgin Trains declares: “Our Pendolino trains emit 76% less CO2 than cars or domestic flights.” But which cars, which flights, and how full are the trains?

Or plain bonkers. One brand of bottled water says its product contains “300% more oxygen”…
(23 October 2008)