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Humanity’s Growing Impact on the World’s Freshwater
Sandra Postel, National Geographic
As the human population has climbed past seven billion, and the consumption per person of everything from burgers to blue jeans has risen inexorably, the finiteness of Earth’s freshwater is becoming ever more apparent.
It takes water to make everything, and the explosion of demand for all manner of products is draining rivers, shrinking lakes, and depleting aquifers.
Consider this: on average it takes 2,700 liters (713 gallons) to make a cotton shirt and 9,800 liters (2600 gallons) to make a pair of blue jeans. The cotton crops growing in farmers’ fields consume most of that water; a smaller share is used in the factories that churn out the clothes.
On any given day we’re likely wearing more than 15,000 liters (~4,000 gallons) worth of water. And if we slip on a pair of leather loafers, well, add another 8,000 liters (~2,100 gallons). It takes a lot of water to grow the grain to feed the cow whose skin is turned into shoes.
Such figures might not matter if there was abundant water whenever and wherever we needed it – or if water had a substitute. But water is limited, and there’s no substitute for it. We need water to quench our thirst, to grow our food, to cool electric power plants, and to make cars, computers and all those cotton shirts.
And that’s why the size of humanity’s water footprint – and of yours and mine – matters.
In a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers Arjen Hoekstra and Mesfin Mekonnen of the University of Twente in the Netherlands, have made the most detailed estimate to date of the scale and patterns of humanity’s water consumption.
This is a tricky and complicated task. Using a high level of spatial resolution, the researchers tabulated all the water from both rainfall and irrigation that’s consumed in making goods and services for the global population. To complete the picture, they added in the volume of water needed to assimilate the pollution generated along the way. They calculated the annual average global footprint for 1996-2005, the most recent ten-year period for which the necessary data were available.
The result is a large number – 9,087 billion cubic meters (2,400 trillion gallons) per year. That’s a volume equivalent to the annual flow of five hundred Colorado Rivers…
(17 February 2012)
Uncharted waters: Probing aquifers to head off war
Chelsea Wald, New Scientist
Behind a paywall
DEEP beneath the eastern Sahara, the Nubian Sandstone aquifer was in trouble. By the early 2000s, the aquifer – one of the largest and oldest groundwater deposits in the world, which supplies Libya, Egypt, Chad and Sudan – was emptying fast. Egypt was tapping the aquifer to feed its growing desert cities far from the Nile. Libya, whose only other water source is the salty Mediterranean, was drawing water off by way of an underground network of pipes and aqueducts known as the Great Man-Made River, which Libyans describe as the eighth wonder of the world.
Soon the Sahara’s oases began to dry up, causing water shortages for nomadic groups and wildlife. But no one could agree on who was to blame. The ancient aquifer system was just too complicated: it was impossible to pinpoint who was taking too much water, or even …
The article speaks of the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in mapping aquifers using isotopes. The method can measure both the amount of water and its age. In the case ot the Nubian Sandstone aquifer it found that the aquifer is not being refilled (it is ancient water), but that there is enough water left for several centuries at current demand. – SO
(20 February 2012)
IAEA – The Nubian Aquafer Project
Drought summit: Why not pipe the water from north to south?
Richard Black, BBC Online
London Mayor Boris Johnson is the latest in a long line of people to wonder why droughts have to be a regular occurrence in the south-east of England, when water is so abundant further north.
Ahead of the drought summit, in which the environment secretary is to meet water companies, farmers and wildlife groups, Mr Johnson wrote in the Daily Telegraph:”The rain it raineth on the just and the unjust, says the Bible, but frankly it raineth a lot more in Scotland and Wales than it doth in England.”
This being the case, he asks why it is not time to “use the principle of gravity to bring surplus rain from the mountains to irrigate and refresh the breadbasket of the country in the South and East”.
Piping water from wet north to dry south has seemed like a good idea to a long line of people, most significantly the Water Resources Board, the government agency that used to look after what was then regarded as a national resource.
In 1973, it compiled a major report that advocated all kinds of infrastructure to aid the trickle-down: building freshwater storage barrages in the Ouse Wash and Morecambe Bay, using canals to move water from north to south, extending reservoirs and building new aqueducts and tunnels between river basins…
(20 February 2012)
Jordan’s Green Fairytale- ‘Once Upon a Water’ Campaign
Aruwa Aburawa, Green Prophet
According to the WHO, Jordan has one of the lowest water resource availability per capita in the world. By the year 2025, if current trends continue, per capita water supply is expected to fall from the current 200 cubic meters per person to only 91 cubic meters, putting Jordan in the category of having an absolute water shortage. The Once Upon A Water In Jordan campaign, launched by the influential 7iber media site, is hoping to raise awareness of this dire water situation and also encourage Jordanians to take positive action now.
The title of the project plays on the Arabic for ‘once upon a time’ to which one letter is added to make it read ‘once a upon a water’. According to the campaigners this projects want to:
channel efforts and conversations around the water issues throughout Jordan into one platform that invites interested multimedia professionals and environmentalists to collaboratively produce digital stories of Jordan’s diminishing water, with the technical support from 7iberINC.
Such stories will seek to amass a wealth of oral history and thus put a human face on an ongoing issue, in the eyes of the average citizens and communities affected by the loss and scarcity of water.
As well as working with photographers to highlight water scarcity and wall stencils which explore problematic issues such as water theft, they have created a fact-packed infographic. The Arabic infographic shows that the average Jordanian consumes just 80 litres of water a day. That’s a lot less than the average Egyptian or Israeli who consume, respectively, 200 and 242 litres of water a day. It’s also a lot less than the average American who guzzles a whopping 340 litres of water a day. Another little interesting fact is that 28% of all houses in Jordan collect rainwater and also 35% of water is lost through leakages…
(18 February 2012)
Thailand’s economy shrinks 9% after flood disruptions
Thailand’s economy contracted sharply in the last three months of 2011 after some of the worst flooding on record disrupted manufacturing.
Gross domestic product declined by 9% in the three months to December compared to a year earlier, the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) said.
Compared to the previous three months, the economy contracted by 10.7%.
The floods killed more than 700 people and covered two-thirds of the country…
(20 February 2012)
Food security v energy security: land use conflict and the law
Dr Tina Hunter, Crikey
It’s election time… you’re at the local café, reading the paper, while you sip on a caramel latte and a lovely serve of bacon and eggs on wholegrain bread… sounds like the perfect way to spend a Sunday morning. However, everything that you have in front of you — including the printing of the paper, the delivery of the food to your cafe, and the gas that cooked your food and heated the water for the coffee, is the subject of huge conflict at present.
The issue? Mining coal seam gas in agricultural areas. The conflict? Balancing food security and energy security.
Both of these forms of security are paramount to the survival and growth of Australia. Food security so that we may feed ourselves (and a hungry world), and energy security for transport, heating, lighting and various other activities that we enjoy at present…
Water and CSG
Water use in Australia has always been an issue, particularly in agricultural areas. The major concern for farmers, and quite rightly so, is governments’ inconsistent attitude to water conservation and management. If the Federal Government is attempting to restrict water use in the Murray Darling Basin, then why are energy companies able to extract vast amounts of water (which the farmers see as important for agriculture) to undertake commercial enterprises that only profit the companies?
Related to the use of water is the real danger of damage to ground water resources. Unlike in Western Australia, NSW and Queensland are part of the huge underground water resource known as the Great Artesian Basin. The concern is that if the chemicals used in fracking enter the groundwater, there is a likelihood that ground water could be contaminated…
Call for an embargo
Finally, land access and conflict of land use is of major concern for farmers. This issue has been recognised by the Queensland government, who has declared a 2km exclusion zone on mining activities near towns with over 1000 people. Many farmers are calling for a similar embargo over prime agricultural areas.
Clearly there is a conflict in the use of the same area of land for agricultural purposes and the extraction of coal seam gas…
(20 February 2012)