For the first time ever, the Federal Government, led by the Bureau of Reclamation, has formally declared a water shortage in the Colorado River.
This is a big deal. The Colorado River is a critical source of water supply for over 40 million people. 7 different states – California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, Wyoming and Utah – depend on the Colorado River for things like drinking water, farm irrigation, and hydropower. Scientists have been sounding the alarms for well over a decade, but the record droughts and heatwaves brought on by the climate crisis have officially now pushed us into new territory.
When you combine this with the record drought the entire Western US is in right now – the worst in nearly 1,200 years – we have some major adjustments to make.
So what does this mean for those 7 states, how might we adapt, and can we mitigate further loss of this water supply?
MITIGATION MAY NOT BE A PATH FORWARD, ONLY ADAPTATION
When looking at the science, it’s hard to feel confident in our ability to mitigate further cuts in the foreseeable future, which will prompt a lot of challenging discussions at the state and federal levels.
The two largest reservoirs in the US are built off the Colorado River – Lake Mead and Lake Powell. Lake Mead is now just 35% full, Lake Powell just 32% full, and all-time low.
Lake Mead now sits at 1,067 feet above sea level, driven by the Colorado River experiencing a 20% decline over the last couple decades. Record heatwaves are responsible for approximately 50% of this decline.
As a result, Arizona must now lose 18% of their water supply from Lake Mead by January 1, 2023. Nevada is losing 7%. California is not losing any yet, but it’s hard to believe the decline won’t continue. Another round of cuts will take place if and when Lake Mead reaches 1,050 feet above sea level and if you read last week’s IPCC Climate Report, you know there is absolutely no slowing down these heatwaves. They will keep getting worse over the next 10-30 years no matter what we do.
A new word is creeping into that discussion: aridification. Proponents of that theory argue that the issue is not that droughts are becoming more severe or more frequent. It’s that the American West is drying up. Meaning mitigation may be futile to a certain degree.
SO HOW DO WE ADAPT?
We’ll need to adapt in several ways:
A) State Governance
Expect a very messy battle on the state front. You can probably sympathize with Arizona that they are upset losing 18% of their supply while California loses none. In addition, the three “Upper Basin States” – Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah – are considering taking more water while it’s still available before it reaches the lower basin states. Most of these rules state to state are governed by an agreement struck in 1922.
It might be time to, ya know, update that agreement given the water and climate situations, have change a little bit from 100 years ago.
B) New Sources of Water Supply
California, for example, for years has counted on three primarily sources of water supply, which we detailed in a podcast episode earlier this year:
- Colorado River
- Underground Reservoirs
- Run-off from winter snow in Northern Cali
Well those reservoirs are drying up and there are gonna be winters like this past once with very little precipitation.
So we need to explore alternatives. One example would be recycling wastewater.
With the financial backing of Nevada, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the country’s largest water provider, is exploring a $4 billion wastewater recycling facility. That effort has been supported by several members of Congress who have introduced legislation, H.R. 4099, that would create $750 million in new federal funding for large-scale water recycling.
C) How We Farm
Expect the biggest battle over water access in the coming years to be centered around farming. Farmers use a lot of water. Roughly 40% of all water use in California is used to irrigate farmland for example. Some farmers are a lot more water efficient than others, based not only on what they farm, but how they farm. Advanced practices for regenerative farming, which leads to better soil health and soil moisture for example, are going to have to be pushed harder and possibly even subsidized.
D) What We Farm
We also may be getting to a point where what we farm has to change. There are crops like beans, snap peas and okra that require far less water than many leafy greens or sweet corn. Crops like tomatoes and squash can build deeper root systems that require less surface irrigation. There is a new type of hybrid zucchini that require less water as well.
We may find the need to change our diets and food supply accordingly.
E) Consumer Conservation
We would also expect to see more forceful mandates on the consumer end. One such idea that has floated around is taxing water usage above a certain level, based on household size and occupants. That is tricky to manage, given the need for real time accurate occupancy data, agreeing on what makes for adequate living conditions, and it could feel a little draconian, but we may be inching closer and closer to this kind of reality.
Sources for this Story:
YOUR DOLPHIN WILL SEE YOU KNOW
The world of dolphin tourism, ranging from SeaWorld to small dolphin swimming facilities around the world have come under right scrutiny in recent years for just reason. These are amongst the most socially and emotionally intelligent animals in the world, and they belong in the open ocean where they can maximize their mental and physical health, not to mention their numerous ecosystem contributions as both predators & marine engineers.
However, the case of dolphin-assisted therapy has been harder to get consensus around. So we thought we’d bring it to our Animalia community here to weigh in. So here is a little overview on what this entails followed by a poll. And we thought we’d try something new. We opened up a thread on our team Discord channel that anyone can chime in on to share your thoughts and participate in the discussion as well.
DOLPHIN ASSISTED-THERAPY (DAT) OVERVIEW
This is a rather expensive form of therapy specifically targeted for autism, severe cases of chronic depression, and other areas such as stroke rehabilitation.
These programs typically run as much as $1,000 or more per hour, and are facilitated in an enclosed pool where a patient works with both a therapist (human) & dolphin.
The belief driving those behind these programs is that dolphins have a unique ability to essentially “unlock” change in behavior, particularly for chronic conditions impairment in anything from movement to speaking to attitude.
There are several cases supporting this, although they are anecdotal, not peer-reviewed science just yet. In the article below, a young boy was put into a coma following a severe car accident and for years struggled to communicate and was often easily frustrated. After a week of DAT, this boy was able to manage his emotions and communicate them better thereafter according to his mother and one of his doctors. In another case, a 3-year old girl who had not walked unassisted since birth was able to after a DAT experience where the dolphin rubbed her feet. Again, this is anecdotal.
One of the top facilities in this business is Integrative Intentions, and here is their promo video with plenty of video examples of DAT.
IS THERE ANY SCIENCE HERE?
Yes and no. There is plenty of science supporting the emotional intelligence of dolphins. In fact, there are reasons to believe that dolphins may be even more emotionally intelligent and emotionally sensitive than humans.
For one they possess von Economo neurons. These are neurons believed to be critical in social interaction and psychosis, and are found only in about 100 animal species, ranging from humans to great apes to elephants to dolphins -all highly socially intelligent creatures. Here’s a link to more info on this.
Dolphins also are able to read electromagnetic fields of other creatures. This points to the idea of “reading another’s energy” and adapting accordingly. Very few mammals can do this, and the handful of others, and those that do, like the platypus, don’t have the brain size of dolphins to go with it. Dolphins have the second largest brain:body size ratio, behind humans.
So there is plenty of scientific evidence pointing to the emotional intelligence and sensitivity of dolphins, and much more about their ability to communicate across species we still don’t yet understand.
That said, there have not been significant scientific and efficacious studies on Dolphin Assisted-Therapy. Animal assisted therapy is not new – you’ve probably heard of hospitals using dogs to do the same thing. Goat therapy has been around for years. There is just no evidence to point if this is merely a placebo effect around the mood boost and positive emotional response most of us have to animals, or if there is something physiological actually going on.
Even if it’s a placebo, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. We have no doubt that a close, intimate encounter with a dolphin can elicit a very powerful, positive emotionally response. But, is it ethical?
WHERE SHOULD WE DRAW THE ETHICAL LINES?
We stand against all forms of wildlife captivity except in the cases of true rehabilitation with intent to release if possible.
It’s easy to rule this out when it comes to pure entertainment like a dolphin show or tourist experience. If indeed they can help people with deeply chronic conditions truly recover, again regardless if it’s placebo or not, the debate is trickier.
Integrative Intentions claims they take their dolphins on “ocean walks” each day to let them stretch their fins so to speak. Although no mention of what happens if a dolphin chooses not to come back. Furthermore, the modern way to train dolphins that is supposedly more ethical and does not involve physical punishment or food withdrawal is to isolate them when they do not complete a task. This is seen as a more temperate form of reinforcement akin to a timeout we might give a child. Like with a child, we know isolation can be torture for a dolphin which thrives on social interaction, otherwise they wouldn’t use this. However, unlike a child, a dolphin does not need us to survive and develop. The analogy would be more similar if you took an adult off the street and punished them with timeouts when they did not complete a task. Also called kidnapping.
Perhaps there is a happy medium. Where we can unlock these benefits with observing dolphins in the wild. Or identifying hot spots they congregate and trying these programs in the ocean, allowing the dolphins to truly come and go as they please. Then we do run into other challenges however, from normalizing ocean dolphins with humans which could hurt them in other encounters, to more unknowns with oceans that could threaten patients.
What do you think of this practice? And where would you draw the line? Join our team in discussing this in our Discord channel. We are opening up the ability for our followers to join our team in our newsroom where we chat about the stories we cover.
Sources for this Story:
GOOGLE SUSTAINABILITY BOND 1-YEAR IN
Google last week issued a report of how they’ve allocated funds for their record setting $5.75 billion sustainability bond 1 year after it’s launch in August of 2020.
These bonds are an ever increasingly popular financial instrument being used by governments, banks and corporations to tackle climate change.
So how do they work? We’re gonna over-simplify this a bit, but if you are really curious you can send yourself down a, googling rabbit hole to learn all of the finer details. You know someone has a monopoly when you can only use their owned & operated products to best find out about, well, their products. But we digress.
- A entity, in this case Google, issues a sustainability bond to investors
- These investors essentially loan Google money to be repaid after a set time with a flexible interest rate, or coupon
- These funds are to be allocated to green investments according to criteria set by the bond issuer
- Sustainability bonds differ from green bonds in that they also must meet social criteria, not just green
- The coupon rate changes based on the success the issuer has in meeting its target goals and objectives. More success lowers the coupon, and thus the interest owed, whereas less success increases it
- The idea being here that the issuer, Google, has strong financial incentive to meet and exceed their targets. While getting outside capital to make their business more sustainable without having to use their own
WHAT GOOGLE INVESTED IN
Of the $5.75 billion, $3.47 billion was allocated in the last year, so Google has been busy.
Google identifies 8 different areas of Eligible Projects. Here is the list, as well as how much they invested in each and an example of those investment details.
- Energy Efficiency – $640 million
- Google has focused on lowering their annual power usage effectiveness in their data centers. Their Belgium center is now at 1.08 score, compared to industry average of 1.59
- Clean Energy – $1,280 million
- Google is the largest purchaser in the world of renewable energy contracts, and purchased an additional 42 contracts for 4.4 gigawatts of power from solar and wind primarily since last year
- Green Building – $1,250 million
- Google has A LOT of office space, with offices in 180 different cities. 4.5 million square feet of that office space is expected to be LEED certified platinum
- Clean Transportation – $15 million
- Google build 3,600 new electric vehicle charging stations in US and Canada around their offices
- Circular Economy – $4 million
- Google mentioned a kitchen software tool to track and reduce food waste, which they said prevented 2.5 million pounds of food waste at their office kitchen in 2019, but no mention of anything thereafter
- Affordable Housing – $70 million
- Google said they built 16 affordable housing projects totaling 1,800 unites
- Racial Equity – $81 million
- Google cited 2,700 lands to small businesses in the Black community
- Small Business & COVID Relief – $133 million
- Google cited 13,500 lands to small businesses
WHAT DO WE MAKE OF THESE BONDS
So how useful are these bonds in our fight to save this planet? The jury is out and there are strong opinions on both sides.
Proponents say these are great instruments to use in a free market system to create the right incentives and still provide investors with a baseline return.
Detractors feel these bonds are highly subject to greenwashing, that there is no proper auditing of how the issuer defines success and this system could be one that just keeps circulating money between rich investors and rich banks and companies with marginal impact.
There is no doubt that Google is a big benefactor here. These investments are all going to improve their business and cost centers. Energy efficiency creates cost savings no matter where you draw your energy from on someone else’s dollar. Loans to small businesses are of course in Google’s interest given how much revenue they derive from AdWords and other small business tools.
That said, we need free market solutions to address climate so we should continue to experiment and iterate with these types of bonds, although there should be tighter rules on 3rd party involvement in setting targets and auditing results. If the companies themselves get to control that soup to nuts, it leaves too much room for abuse.
Sources for this Story: