1. 10 mins Manitoba’s Wetlands Tragedy (Jan. 12, 2017)
My image of Manitoba is of a water rich province, big on hydro, struggling to save Lake Winnipeg from eutrophication. This article on the loss of critical wetlands shows that they have other aquatic ecosystem problems tied to lack of political vision and action. It is a sad story, a microcosm of what is going on nationally and around the world, in the fight to save the environment. The imagery of wetlands as nature’s kidneys is compelling, kidney failure in humans being a slow death sentence. The value of wetlands is often under appreciated, and so they disappear. As the article notes it takes legislation, regulation and conservation to halt the loss of wetlands and enable reclamation efforts. Hopefully the Palliser government will do what no other Manitoba government has been able to do – have the political will to protect the wetlands where still possible before it is too late.
2. 10 mins Behind the Big 10 Corporations (Jan. 2, 2017)
This article reviews the Oxfam report “Behind the Brands” which details how ten global conglomerates control nearly all the food and beverage brands. The Big 10 control enormous wealth (an estimated market cap of $872.8 billion, not counting Mars, which is privately owned). By every measure this article suggests that none of the Big 10 are good corporate citizens; they all get failing grades. The best was Nestle’s, which eked out a 54% score. This means that environmentally and socially, the Big 10 are treating the planet and the hundreds of millions of people working in the agricultural sector badly. It is a shameful tale told in 52 pages.
3. 2 mins Renewable Energy Portfolios: More Benefits than Costs (Jan. 9, 2017)
This article is great for illustrating the water-energy nexus, and showing the multiple costs and benefits of renewable energies. It shares the impressive results of a study by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. They took a look at US state renewable energy portfolios standards (RPS) and projected their costs and benefits to 2050. Under existing RPSs, the US will have 26 percent of electricity generation from renewables by 2030 and 40 percent by 2050. Under the high-RPS scenario contemplated in the report, renewables would reach 35 percent by 2030 and 49 percent by 2050. Under the two RPS scenarios, electricity costs increase marginally (.25 to 1.5 cents/kWh), while pollutants emissions drop 4 or 5% to 29% resulting in health cost reductions of $97 to $558 billion. (Yes, billion). GHGs drop 6 to 23% ($161 – $599 billion in avoided costs). Natural gas consumer bill savings are between 0.9¢/kWh – 1.9¢/kWh.
Perfectly illustrating the water-energy nexus, a RPS (even at its least aggressive scenario), sees a large reduction in water use (given that the report estimates that 1 MW = 3400 gallons water withdrawal, 290 gallons of which are permanently removed from the ecosystem). 4% to 18% reduction, depending on scenario.
These numbers are all pointing in the right direction, suggesting that government led signals (such as RPS’s) are critical to a renewable energy shift. Integrated water-energy policies also are critical.
4. 7 mins Can Dams Replace Glaciers? (Jan. 13, 2017)
The article asks, can dams replace glaciers as a solution to melting ? It’s answer is no, not even close. While dams may have some benefits, they are often very invasive, environmentally damaging, they displace people and massively expensive. It is not surprising that western science and engineering would turn to this technology – it is what they know. There are other smaller scale options available like the ice stupas referenced in the article. Can that practical, small scale approach be scaled up if western science worked with the traditional knowledge holders? There is not a lot of time, glaciers are disappearing at a fantastical pace and solutions need to be found. World peace and the future of the planet are tied to the fate of the glaciers and what comes after. Read this article.
5. 2 mins What Moves Tectonic Plates (Jan. 23, 2017)
This is a very interesting little article on that fascinating mystery about how continents move around. Since the 1950’s science has determined that earth has a molten core surrounded by a mostly solid mantle, overlaid by the crust, made up of massive tectonic plates, which move around on the mantle. This movement has shaped the earth over the eons, making continents, causing earthquakes, volcanoes and mountains. How the tectonic plates moved was not fully clear. It is now understood that there is an intricate relationship between the core, mantle, crust and how the plates move. Heat from the earth’s core plays a very big part. It is early days, but this new knowledge will help us better understand and hopefully better predict the movements of the tectonic plates that we all live on. It also reinforces that everything is connected on this planet we call home.