February 5, 2009
Access to water and sanitation is the largest driver of human development
Here's a BBC article I received today. It confirms what I've been told by public health experts studying Haiti and others: access to water and sanitation is the largest driver of human development. Its the key to jump-starting the whole development process. That makes it far too important to leave in the hands of those who seek to profit from water.
Water - another global 'crisis'?
By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website BBC link
If you look at the numbers, it is hard to see how many East African communities made it through the long drought of 2005 and 2006. Among people who study human development, it is a widely-held view that each person needs about 20 litres of water each day for the basics - to drink, cook and wash sufficiently to avoid disease transmission. Yet at the height of the East African drought, people were getting by on less than five litres a day - in some cases, less than one litre a day, enough for just three glasses of drinking water and nothing left over. Some people, perhaps incredibly from a western vantage point, are hardy enough to survive in these conditions; but it is not a recipe for a society that is healthy and developing enough to break out of poverty.
"Obviously there are many drivers of human development," says the UN's Andrew Hudson. "But water is the most important."
At the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), where Dr Hudson works as principal technical advisor to the water governance programme, he calculated the contribution that various factors make to the Human Development Index, a measure of how societies are doing socially and economically.
"It was striking. I looked at access to energy, spending on health, spending on education - and by far the strongest driver of the HDI on a global scale was access to water and sanitation."
Two key questions arise, then. Why do some communities have so little access to water? And how will the current picture change in a world where the human population is growing, where societies are urbanising and industrialising, and where climate change may alter the raw availability of water significantly?
The UNDP is unequivocal about the first question. "The availability of water is a concern for some countries," says the report. "But the scarcity at the heart of the global water crisis is rooted in power, poverty and inequality, not in physical availability."
Statistics on water consumption appear to back the UN's case. Japan and Cambodia experience about the same average rainfall - about 160cm per year. But whereas the average Japanese person can use nearly 400 litres per day, the average Cambodian must make do with about one-tenth of that.
The picture is improving to some extent. Across the world, 1.6bn more people have access to clean drinking water than in 1990. But population growth and climatic changes could change the picture. In some regions, "the scarcity at the heart of the global water crisis" could become one of physical availability, especially in places where consumption is already unsustainably high. "There are several rivers that don't reach the sea any more," says Mark Smith, head of the water programme at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). "The Yellow River is one, the Murray-Darling (in Australia) is nearly another - they have to dredge the mouth of the river every year to make sure it doesn't dry up. "The Aral Sea and Lake Chad have shrunk because the rivers that feed them have been largely dried out; and you can see it on a smaller scale as well, where streams that are important for small communities in Tanzania may go dry for half the year, largely because people are taking more and more water for irrigating crops."
Wet and dry
Last year the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) took an
in-depth look at how the raw availability of water might alter in the
future as climatic patterns change. Its projections are derived from
computer models of the Earth's hugely complex climate system, and as
such are far from being firm forecasts.
A warmer climate overall means a wetter climate; warmer air can hold more moisture. But weather patterns are likely to shift, meaning that water will be deposited in different places with a different pattern in time. "In general we see drying in the sub-tropics and mid-latitudes, from southern Europe across to Kazakhstan and from North Africa to Iran," recounts Martin Parry, who as co-chair of the IPCC's working group on climate impacts oversaw the water report's compilation. "And the drying extends westwards into Central America. And there are equivalents in the southern hemisphere - southern Africa, Australia."
In some populated parts of North Africa and Central Asia, he says, people may struggle simply to get enough to drink Other areas, meanwhile, are projected to receive more rain - considerably more, in some cases.
The question then is whether societies can make use of it.
"If you look at India, Bangladesh and Burma, there are indications of an increase in water availability," says Professor Parry. "But when you look in more detail you see that monsoonal precipitation will become more intense - there'll be a heavier downpour but over fewer days - so you might just end up with more runoff, which could actually mean less availability of water to the community."
A changing climate is only one of the factors likely to affect the amount of water at each person's disposal in future. A more populated world - and there could be another 2.5 billion people on the planet by 2050 - is likely to be a thirstier world. Those extra people will need feeding; and as agriculture accounts for about 70% of water use around the world, extra consumption for growing food is likely to reduce the amount available for those basic needs of drinking, cooking and washing. Industry can also take water that would otherwise have ended up in peoples' mouths. On the other hand, as a society industrialises it tends to become less reliant on farming - which could, in principle, reduce overall demand.
It is a tremendously complex picture; and forecasting its impacts makes simple climate modelling look a trivial task by comparison. Researchers at the University of Kassel in Germany, led by Martina Floerke, have attempted it. Their projections suggest that some regions are likely to see drastic declines in the amount of water available for personal use - and for intriguing reasons. "The principal cause of decreasing water stress (where it occurs) is the greater availability of water due to increased annual precipitation related to climate change," they conclude. "The principal cause of increasing water stress is growing water withdrawals, and the most important factor for this increase is the growth of domestic water use stimulated by income growth." The modelling suggests that by the 2050s, as many as six billion people could face water scarcity (defined as less than 1,000 cubic metres per person per year), depending, most importantly, on how societies develop - a significant increase on previous estimates.
The irony is that the richer societies are the ones most likely to be
able to adapt to these changes - perhaps relatively easily. A century
ago, a 500km-long pipeline was built to bring water from the Western
Australian coast to the parched inland goldfields around Kalgoorlie;
the economics of gold made it viable.
Now that the coastal capital Perth is drying out, there is talk of building an even longer pipeline to bring water from the north of the state.
The state recently acquired a desalination plant - an effective, but expensive, way of increasing the raw supply of clean water. A number of Middle Eastern countries are doing the same; it is even being contemplated near London. Rivers can be diverted huge distances, as China is contemplating. Spain and Cyprus can take water deliveries by ship.
But can all societies afford such measures?
In any case, is adaptation possible to some of the really big projected
changes, such as the rapid shrinking of Himalayan glaciers which may
lose four-fifths of their area by 2030, removing what is effectively a
huge natural reservoir storing water for more than a billion people?
"In principle you could do it, if you're equipped to do the
engineering," says Mark Smith. "But societies are going to have to get
much better at deciding how they're going to use their water.
"And very often, in developing countries where institutions are not well established, decisions are made in a very ad-hoc way - someone says 'yes let's use this much for irrigation' but you're already using that much for a sugar mill, and before you know it you've allocated more than you actually have."
Two years ago I stood in a forest clearing in the west of the Amazon basin talking to researchers studying the deforestation and fires that are an increasing plague in the region. They told me that some villages around there were experiencing water shortages. How can that happen, I asked incredulously, in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, in one of the most luxuriously verdant places on Earth? What had brought the shortages was a combination of increased human settlement, deforestation, and a drying of some streams, possibly related to climate change. If even the Amazon can feel these pressures, it is difficult not to think that the same picture will be played out in much starker and possibly much messier colours in parts of the world that are already feeling the heat of dwindling supplies and growing needs.
Global water scarcity: the blue gold rush....
Frank Rijsberman, Program Director at Google.org and formerly Director General of the International Water Management Institute, investigates the global water scarcity problem in an essay published on Boston Review. Global water scarcity A rapidly growing population means that we need rethink the world's water resources – both use and distribution. Rijsberman analyzes causes for the impending crisis, and addresses possible solutions, which he believes must include both technological and political innovation. The problems are serious, but Rijsberman remains optimistic: "We can avoid a full-blown global disaster. Unfortunately, the water crisis is complicated, often misunderstood, rarely grasped holistically, accelerated by climate change that melts glaciers and icecaps, and exacerbated by biofuel expansion that further stresses scarce water supplies. Forestalling it will require a mix of sustained technological innovation and institutional reform, all guided by deeper understanding and some new thinking."
New 6th Circuit Rapanos decision
A frequent reader who practices in the Sixth Circuit saw this 6th Circuit application of the Rapanos case and passed some comments along:
U.S. v. Cundiff
The Court (Judges Martin, McKeague, and a District Judge Collier, with Martin writing for a unanimous panel (that lineup and the unanimity is interesting alone to me and I would guess other Sixth watchers)) held that, under Rapanos, the government had jurisdiction over the defendant's wetlands in Kentucky. The Court discussed the Marks-Rapanos problem at length (some fascinating discussion, along with a sharp rebuke of the Pacific Legal Foundation's view that the plurality test controls in a footnote), but did not make a final decision because it decided that jurisdiction was proper under both the plurality and Kennedy tests. The application of the plurality and Kennedy tests was also lengthy and interesting.
Also interesting was this footnote, describing the status of the property in Muhlenberg County, KY. (If you've ever been there, this is pretty accurate.)
"1 Singer-songwriter John Prine has colorfully recounted Muhlenberg County’s sordid ecological history:
"And daddy won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County / Down by the Green River where Paradise lay / Well, I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking / Mister Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away . . . . / Then the coal company came with the world’s largest shovel / And they tortured the timber and stripped all the land / Well, they dug for their coal ‘til the land was forsaken / Then they wrote it all down as the progress of man . . . .
"JOHN PRINE, Paradise, on JOHN PRINE (Atlantic Records 1971)."
Thanks again -- I grew up singing to Paradise.
Red Queens or Court Jesters: How Species Evolve
A review in this month's science by Michael Benton discusses two prominent models of evolution.Science article The abstract and some snippets of the article are below:
Evolution may be dominated by biotic factors, as in the Red Queen model, or abiotic factors, as in the Court Jester model, or a mixture of both. The two models appear to operate predominantly over different geographic and temporal scales: Competition, predation, and other biotic factors shape ecosystems locally and over short time spans, but extrinsic factors such as climate and oceanographic and tectonic events shape larger-scale patterns regionally and globally, and through thousands and millions of years. Paleobiological studies suggest that species diversity is driven largely by abiotic factors such as climate, landscape, or food supply, and comparative phylogenetic approaches offer new insights into clade dynamics.
According to Benton, abiotic factors play a more prominent role when the geographic and temporal scale is large:
Much of the divergence between the Red Queen and Court Jester world views may depend on scale (2) (Fig. 1): Biotic interactions drive much of the local-scale success or failure of individuals, populations, and species (Red Queen), but perhaps these processes are overwhelmed by substantial tectonic and climatic processes at time scales above 105 years (Court Jester). It is important not to export organism-level processes to regional or global scales, and it is likely that evolution operates in a pluralistic way (3).
Large-Scale Controls on Species Diversity
... Biotic factors, such as body size, diet, colonizing ability or ecological specialization, appear to have little effect on the diversity of modern organisms, although abundance and...life-history characteristics (short gestation period, large litter size, and short interbirth intervals) sometimes correlate with high species richness (16).
Geographic and tectonic history has generated patterns of species diversity through time. The slow dance of the continents as Pangaea broke up during the past 200 My has affected modern distribution patterns. Unique terrestrial faunas and floras, notably those of Australia and South America, arose because those continents were islands for much of the past 100 My. Further, major geologic events such as the formation of the Isthmus of Panama have permitted the dispersal of terrestrial organisms and have split the distributions of marine organisms. A classic example of vicariance is the fundamental division of placental mammals into three clades, Edentata in South America, Afrotheria in Africa, and Boreoeutheria in the northern hemisphere, presumably triggered by the split of those continents 100 Ma (17). Other splits in species trees may relate to dispersal events, or there may be no geographic component at all.
Species richness through time may correlate with energy. The species richness–energy relationship (18) posits correlations with evapo-transpiration, temperature, or productivity, and studies of terrestrial and marine ecosystems have shown that these factors may explain as much as 90% of current diversity, although relationships between species diversity and productivity change with spatial scale (19). Over long time spans, there are strong correlations between plankton morphology and diversity and water temperature: Cooling sea temperatures through the past 70 My, and consequent increasing ocean stratification, drove a major radiation of Foraminifera, associated with increasing body size (20). More widely, there is close tracking between temperature and biodiversity on the global scale for both marine and terrestrial organisms (21), where generic and familial richness were relatively low during warm "greenhouse" phases of Earth history, coinciding with relatively high origination and extinction rates.
A much-studied manifestation of energy and temperature gradients is the latitudinal diversity gradient (LDG), namely the greater diversity of life in the tropics than in temperate or polar regions, both on land and in the sea. There are two explanations (22): (i) the time and area hypothesis, that the tropical belt is older and larger than temperate and polar zones, and so tropical clades have had longer to speciate, or (ii) the diversification rate hypothesis, that there are higher rates of speciation and lower rates of extinction in the tropics than elsewhere. There is geological and paleontological evidence for a mixture of both hypotheses (23, 24).
Species diversity may increase by the occupation of new ecospace. The number of occupied guilds, that is, broad ecological groupings of organisms with shared habits, has increased in several steps through time...(25). Further, marine animals have shown several step increases in tiering, the ability to occupy and exploit different levels in the habitat: At times, burrowers have burrowed deeper, and reef-builders have built taller and more complex reefs. Analogous, if even more dramatic, expansions of ecospace have occurred on land, with numerous stepwise additions of new habitats, from the water-margin plants and arthropods of the early Paleozoic to the forests and upland habitats of the later Paleozoic when land animals first burrowed, climbed, and flew, through the introduction of herbivory, giant size, endothermy, and intelligence among vertebrates, and the great blossoming of flowering plants (with associated vast expansions in diversity of plant-eating and social insects and modern vertebrates)...(26).
The other mode of species increase globally or regionally is by niche subdivision, or increasing specialization. This is hard to document because of the number of other factors that vary between ecosystems through time. However, mean species number in communities (alpha diversity) has increased through time in both marine (15, 25) and terrestrial (10) systems, even though niche subdivision may be less important than occupation of new ecospace in increasing biodiversity. Further, morphological complexity may be quantified, and a comparative study of crustaceans shows, for example, that complexity has increased many times in parallel in separate lineages (27).
We all expected this....
There is talk in the Oregon legislature of eliminating or streamlining environmental impact assessment/environmental permit requirements on projects related to the Oregon stimulus package. When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?
What Levels of Warming Might Be Safe?
Here's Worldwatch Institute's cut at the necessary emissions reduction. Remember Hansen says we need to go carbon negative and reduce GHG levels to 350 ppm.
Despite nearly 20 years of international attention, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise rapidly. The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, in particular, has increased faster during the last 10 years than at any time since continuous measurements began in 1960. These emissions trends, if continued, can be expected to raise Earth's temperature by 4 to 6 degrees Celsius by the end of this century.
Research suggests that reducing emissions by 80 percent by 2050 will not eliminate all serious risks and damages. So what do we need to do to get to a "safe landing" for the climate? Read Bill Hare's chapter, "A Safe Landing for the Climate," in State of the World 2009: Into a Warming World to find out.
February 1, 2009
Chartering Sustainable Transnational Corporations
This link connects to a paper I just posted on SSRN. I presented the paper at the 6th Colloquium of the IUCN International Academy of Environmental Law in Mexico City in November 2008. I am submitting a short version of the paper for possible publication in a book incorporating papers presented at the conference on the theme of Alleviating Poverty and Environmental Protection. And I am preparing a more complete and elaborate version for possible law review publication. I would deeply appreciate your comments on the subject of how we ensure that transnational corporations act in a sustainable manner and the obstacles or concerns with the approach I suggest. SSRN link
Using a recent innovative Oregon sustainable corporation law as a springboard, this article argues for requiring all transnational corporations to be chartered as sustainable corporations. Given the far-reaching effects of their operations and their uniquely powerful role, the global wealth that has been accumulated in these organizations must be fundamentally redirected toward creating a sustainable world. As a privilege of doing transnational business, transnational corporations should be required to incorporate environmental and social responsibility into their corporate charters-the document that sets forth the prime mission of the corporation and its directors, essentially baking sustainability into the corporate DNA of transnational corporations.
To be both effective and to harness the entrepreneurial creativity of these organizations, the sustainable corporation charter must be implemented per provisions that require transnational corporations to develop corporate sustainability strategies in accordance with the guidance provided by the implementing provisions. The implementing provisions should also require that the transnational corporations monitor and report in a standardized manner compliance with the corporate sustainability strategy, with sustainability-related laws, and with nonbinding environmental, labor, human rights, corruption, and other sustainability-related standards.
The sustainable corporation charter requirement should be imposed as a matter of international law, through an international convention and administered by an international commission. The requirements should be directly applicable to transnational corporations as a condition of doing transnational business. The commission should be authorized to take enforcement action directly against the corporation. In addition, both home and host nations to transnational corporations should agree to compel the corporations - either incorporated in that nation or doing business in that nation-to comply with the sustainable corporation charter requirement as a condition of doing any business. Nations that fail to join the international convention, or that fail to enforce the international convention, should be subject to mandatory trade and other economic sanctions by all signatories to the international agreement.
We can no longer allow transnational corporations to aggregate the bulk of societal wealth and then operate in an environmentally and socially irresponsible manner. The proposals in this article are one step toward turning transnational corporations into sustainable corporations.
Keywords: transnational corporations, corporate charters, multi-national corporations, sustainability, environmental, international convention, environmental assessment, voluntary compliance, environmental standards, alien tort, corporate social responsibility, human rights, international law, enforcement
February 1, 2009 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack
The Credit Picture's Still Grim
A picture is worth a thousand words. Here are charts from the New York Times Economix Blog, circulated by Visualizing economics, showing five indicators of the dimensions of the credit crisis that began last year. Certainly some of the measures are improving due to the actions of the Federal Reserve in reducing the cost of money to banks. Others look pretty grim still -- the decline in the T bill rates, which reflects flight from stocks, bonds, and money market account, and the enormous difference between the T bill rate and the rate charged between banks for short-term money, which reflects distrust and stress in the financial markets. Remember: all of these measures at the beginning of the year were worse than usual, so the dramatic changes in the 4th quarter of last year were even more dramatic given a longer-term perspective. I'm looking forward to the end of the year -- and hoping that all of this looks much better -- and that AMEX will restore me to having no ceiling on the amount that I put on my green card (yes, I still have a green card -- they've tried to seduce me with platinum, gold, silver, blue and every other color -- but I like the card that gets paid off at the end of the month).