12 March 2013

Caveat homo sapiens: Waterways

It is well known that our waterways are in trouble: stinking rivers that catch on fire, invisible and tasteless toxins that build up geometrically in fish, oil sheens, visible and invisible plastics, and garbage of all kinds. Fresh water is a tiny portion of the water on the earth. Already its availability does not meet the needs of people: just ask the western and northwestern US states about their conflicts over water use. The still growing world population will need more fresh water at a time when it is dwindling. Warmer temperatures cause droughts because of reduced rainfall. When it does rain, the amount and violence of rainfall means that much of it is lost in runoff and does not penetrate the ground. If current trends are not reversed, the next wars will be over water and the losers will likely die (literally) of thirst.

As if all those factors were not enough, hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) for yet more oil with which to produce more global warming, uses large amounts of water, subtracting from that available for personal use and for growing crops. Along with the water, other chemicals and some solids are pumped into the ground. Some of the chemicals are known to be toxic. The companies assure us that the liquid is injected so far below the water table that there is no possibility of the mix entering the aquifers. But we all have heard such assurances before. The pipelines that carry the fracking water break from time to time (not maybe: they do break), leaking the mixture at times into the aquifers. Moreover, it is highly likely that fracking liquids will eventfully percolate upward into the groundwater. The only people who benefit from fracking are oil company executives and large investors. When fracking befouls a large enough amount of fresh water, all that money will do them no good.

You and I are responsible for another major danger: the acidification of the oceans. Warmer temperatures and increased loading of carbon into the ocean makes the ocean more acid, to the point that already, the organisms that store carbon by using it to build their shells are dying off: the carbon exceeds their ability to absorb. It's not just that we are quickly losing the natural sequestering of carbon. The dying foraminiferans release the carbon they have stored. We are in big trouble.

One thing we can do about it is to call on our governments to outlaw fracking, to stop subsidizing oil companies, and to invest money in a national network of electrical charging stations for cars and in the production of hydrogen fuel cells small and efficient enough to power our cars and public transportation. Let's do something, rather than nothing, about all this.

My character Angela Fournier is just beginning to learn about these issues. If interested, please go to www.amazon.com/author/bedforddavid

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