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Pacific Institute Insights is the staff blog of the Pacific Institute, one of the world’s leading nonprofit research groups on sustainable and equitable management of natural resources. For more about what we do, click here.

  • Huffington Post: Water and Conflict in Syria

    By Peter Gleick, President

    May 28, 2014

    Drought, Water and Agricultural Management, and Climatic Conditions as Factors in the Syrian Conflict

    Starting in 2006 and lasting through 2011, Syria suffered the worst long-term drought and the most severe set of crop failures in recorded history. In a new research paper, I’ve looked at the role of regional drought, unsustainable water management policies, and climatic conditions in contributing to the severe conflict in Syria in the past few years (see the peer-reviewed paper “Water, Drought, Climate Change, and Conflict in Syria” by Dr. Peter H. Gleick, coming out in the July issue — and here online — in the American Meteorological Society journal Weather, Climate, and SocietyA press release on this paper is now available, here). Many factors influenced the civil war in Syria, including long-standing political, religious, and ideological disputes; economic dislocations from both global and regional factors; and the consequences of water shortages influenced by drought, ineffective watershed management, and the growing influence of climate variability and change.

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  • National Geographic ScienceBlog: Clarifying the Discussion about California Drought and Climate Change

    By Peter Gleick, President

    March 7, 2014

    In the last few months, as the severe California drought has garnered attention among scientists, policymakers, and media, there has been a growing debate about the links between the drought and climate change. The debate has been marked by considerable controversy, confusion, and opaqueness.

    The confusion stems from the failure of some scientists, bloggers, reporters, and others to distinguish among three separate questions. All three questions are scientifically interesting. But the three are different in their nuance, their importance to policy, and their interest to politicians and water managers. Here are the three different questions:

      1. Is the California drought caused by climate change?
      2. Is the California drought, no matter the cause, influenced or affected by climate changes already occurring?
      3. How will climate changes affect future drought risks in California?

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    1. californiadrought.org

      It’s My Drought! And Yours. Face it.

      By Nancy Ross, Communications Director

      February 27, 2014

      The California drought has everyone wondering what we can do. Well, we can’t make it rain. But we can make an effort to understand the reality of water shortage, to recognize how we individually can make an impact, and to think about how yesterday’s water policy and pricing is going to have to change to serve us in a new reality of more frequent and more severe drought. And we can get on board with that instead of whining about it!

      The fact is that for a great majority of us in the cities, “drought” hasn’t hit us that hard except that we miss those cozy rainy days curled up with a book. I don’t have a lawn; I don’t have a garden.  I never wash my car anyway (it’s the environmentally responsible choice for those of us with 13-year-old-high-mileage junkers!). …»

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    2. Rural Water Systems Struggle in the Good Times and the Bad

      By Joe Ferrell, Communications Intern

      February 21, 2014

      The current drought is shaping up to be particularly damaging to small and rural communities. In mid-February, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) announced that 17 rural communities face the prospect of running out of water within 60-100 days. These water systems serve populations ranging from 39 to 11,000 Californians. The CDPH is extending its assistance to these communities in an effort to both reduce water use and locate alternative sources, stressing the need for conservation and creativity.

      However, water systems in rural communities have been underfunded for years, something that has impacted their ability to maintain and upgrade infrastructure. The State will hopefully work to make infrastructure that is already in place more efficient, but as the drought continues, they will likely look to bring in water from elsewhere. This could be done by connecting smaller water systems to larger ones, drilling new wells, or hauling in water on trucks, among other options.

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    3. National Geographic ScienceBlogs: Learning from Drought: Five Priorities for California

      By Peter Gleick

      February 10, 2014

      Droughts – especially severe droughts – are terribly damaging events. The human and ecosystem costs can be enormous, as we may relearn during the current California drought.

      But they are also opportunities – a chance to put in place new, innovative water policies that are not discussed or implemented during wet or normal years.

      In the hopes that California’s warring water warriors open their minds to policy reform, here are some of the issues that should be on the table now, in what could be the worst drought in California’s modern history. But here is what I fear, said best by John Steinbeck in East of Eden:

       “And it never failed that during the dry years the people forgot about the rich years, and during the wet years they lost all memory of the dry years. It was always that way.”

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    4. Infographic: What to Expect from California’s Drought

      By Paula Luu, Communications Manager

      January 24, 2014

      While our weather-beaten friends in the Midwest and Northeast braced for near-record low temperatures and polar vortex snowstorms, Californians rang in the New Year with a rainless January.  2013 had gone down as the driest calendar year (since we began keeping record of rainfall 119 years ago), so it was no surprise when Gov. Jerry Brown officially declared a drought emergency on January 17. The governor’s official statement has changed the state’s political climate — drawing more public attention to the growing need for improved management and expanded climate policies. The impacts of water shortages are widespread, affecting everyone from consumers to farmers.

      Last week, Pacific Institute President Peter Gleick wrote about what Californians could expect from the drought. To build on that blog, I’ve created an infographic that further explains what California’s dry future could look like. You can share the infographic by linking to http://bit.ly/1iuDmeh. …»

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    5. First-Time Researcher

      By Christina McGhee, Diversity for Sustainability Summer Intern 2013

      September 12, 2013

      When I think of climate change, I think of the doom and gloom associated with it. I think big world changes or bust! I wonder what the near future will look like with necessary high-rise infrastructure and climate change survivors along the coastlines forced to relocate from their homes, now permenantly flooded. The words “resilience” and “adaptation” are at the back burner of my thoughts. However, when I began my Diversity for Sustainability Summer Internship with the Pacific Institute, I found myself constantly challenging my previous notions of how to deal with climate change. This was my first intensive research project just outside of school. …»

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    6. National Geographic ScienceBlogs: Things Climate Change May Ruin: From Allergies to Wine

      By Peter Gleick, President

      July 16, 2013

      The evidence from real-world observations, sophisticated computer models, and research in hundreds of different fields continues to pile up: human-caused climate change is already occurring and will continue to get worse and worse as greenhouse-gas concentrations continue to rise.

      Because the climate is connected to every major geophysical, chemical, and biological system on the planet, it should not be surprising that we are learning more and more about the potential implications of these changes for a remarkably wide range of things. And while it is certainly possible – even likely – that climate changes may positively affect some things (like modestly reducing heating bills in colder regions), the planet’s ecosystems and human-built systems have evolved and been built around yesterday’s climatic conditions, not tomorrow’s. Overall, the evidence suggests the bad consequences will greatly – perhaps massively – outweigh the good.

      Continue reading

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    7. What’s Freight Got to Do with It?

      By Ariana de Leña, Popular Education Associate

      July 11, 2013

      While a concept like freight transport can be overwhelming and full of jargon, starting with a simple question like “What do you feel, hear, smell, taste, and see when a diesel truck passes you on the street?” elicits a response from nearly everyone. It also creates an opportunity for people to be empowered by their own experiences and be more effective advocates for change.

      On June 21, over two dozen Bay Area organizers, health outreach workers, and community health advocates gathered at the Pacific Institute for a daylong “Training-for Trainers” on Popular Education Tools for Community Health. Co-hosted by the Ditching Dirty Diesel Collaborative, the training explored the relationship between each participant’s work and the chain of factories, ships, trucks, trains, and ports that moves products and raw materials around the world. The Pacific Institute developed the training activities and materials with members of the Ditching Dirty Diesel Collaborative, a regional coalition of community-based organizations, environmental advocates, and public health agencies working to reduce diesel pollution in the San Francisco Bay Area. …»

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    8. Research in India: Smelling Like Petrol

       

      For three months in 2005-2006, Pacific Institute Program Director Meena Palaniappan will be conducting research in India. This article is part of a series of diary entries in which Palaniappan will elaborate on her experiences abroad.

       

      While I am in Chennai working on water issues, I wear the scent of another major problem in Indian cities. I often come home from my research trips in Chennai smelling like a gallon of petrol. Chennai’s air pollution – and air pollution in most cities in India – is bad and getting worse.

      Air pollution is on the rise, even in garden city, thanks to two-stroke engines

      For many years Chennai was the garden city, greener than most cities and with cleaner air by luck of its location on the seashore. But Chennai’s luck is changing. The growth of population and the spread of the city are certainly huge problems. An even bigger problem is the growth of private transportation. According to Sunita Narain, Director of the Center for Science and Environment, while population in Chennai has increased by 10% in the last decade, it has seen a 108% growth in private vehicles. I can feel the difference in the air, and on my clothes.

      The growth in private vehicles has a number of contributing factors. One is the failing public transportation system — cities are not investing enough to keep up existing low capital sources of public transport. Often highly expensive urban rail projects are chosen over replacing and expanding bus service through dedicated lanes. Another factor is increasing incomes. This growing middle class is now getting access to capital through new loan programs, which are making purchases like cars and homes accessible. I think that to protect themselves from the growing air pollution, anyone who is able is purchasing a car, tightly shutting the windows, and turning on the AC. These large, moving, climate-protected rooms roam throughout the city.

      Delhi is the worst Indian city for air pollution. Like Los Angeles, it is located in an area unsuitable for dispersing air pollution, causing pollutants to be trapped over the city. But, Delhi is also full of private vehicles – it has more cars than all of the other three major cities combined. The levels of respirable particulate matter in Delhi, or what is called in the U.S. PM10 (particulate matter smaller than 10 microns in size) are astronomical. In 2000-2001, PM10 levels in Delhi were about 180 micrograms (ug) per cubic meter (m3), over three times the U.S. standard of 50 ug/m3.

      Three wheel double-stroke engine “autos,” one of the worst polluters on the roads, puffing out unburned fuel

      Some of the worst polluters on urban streets are “autos” and motorbikes. Autos, or small three wheeled taxis, abound in Chennai. Since 1990, the number of autos on Chennai’s streets has doubled, and about 40,000 autos ply Chennai streets. Aside from the sheer number of autos and motorbikes on the road, their two-stroke engines make them major air pollution culprits. The two-stroke engine is a lighter and cheaper engine that requires oil mixed into the petrol for operation. With each revolution of the engine, a cloud of burned and unburned fuel escapes. In Delhi, 35% of particulate matter pollution from vehicles is from two-wheeled motor bikes. The above view from my window is typical: an auto followed by its signature huge cloud of smoke.

      There have been some improvements in India’s cities, including requiring pre-mixed low-smoke oil for two- and three-wheelers. Low-sulfur and lead free fuel has also helped. Delhi has done the most in this area, mostly out of necessity. The phase-out of older taxis and autos has seen the addition of nearly 60,000 compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles to the road in Delhi. In addition, all diesel buses have been phased out.

      The road to clean air in Indian cities will be long and – with the growing number of vehicles – it will be difficult to navigate. But in Chennai, amidst the petrol, you can smell the hope.

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