Category Archives: Scarcity

New book asks: Can civilization survive unprecedented climate crisis?

Water scarcity and resulting wars will be a key consequence of the climate crisis

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that human-caused climate change is already responsible for 150,000 deaths annually. If we continue our current trajectories of “business as usual” as our response to climate change, the WHO expects that between 2030 and 2050 climate change will cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year.

According to the WHO, the yearly death rate will include, “38 000 due to heat exposure in elderly people, 48 000 due to diarrhoea, 60 000 due to malaria, and 95 000 due to childhood under nutrition.”

Once “tipping points” occur, non-linear changes will emerge, and the death toll will be much higher.

As author David Ray Griffin demonstrates in his book, Unprecedented: Can Civilization Survive The CO2 Crisis?, we are facing a constellation of unprecedented, intersecting threats that are leading humanity to increasingly severe catastrophes, and possibly even extinction.

The unprecedented, lethal threats identified by Griffin are these:

  • Extreme weather
  • Heat waves
  • Droughts and wild fires
  • Storms
  • Sea level rise
  • Fresh water shortage
  • Climate refugees
  • Climate wars
  • Ecosystem collapse
  • Extinction
  • Food shortage

Reservoirs in the sky

Glacier National Park in BC's Kootenays has seen decreasing snowpacks in recent years (Sesivany/Jiri Eischmann/Wikipedia)
Glacier National Park in BC’s Kootenays has seen decreasing snowpacks in recent years (Sesivany/Jiri Eischmann/Wikipedia)

A closer examination of just one of these threats shows how they are inter-related:

Author Lester Brown explains in “Rising Temperatures Melting Away Global Food Security” that we are losing our “Reservoirs In The Sky” – glaciers and snowpack – and that these reservoirs are melting in all the world’s major mountain ranges.

Melting glaciers and snowpack deliver less water for drinking and agriculture. Once these “reservoirs in the sky” – also called “natural water towers” and “frozen water towers”- are degraded and disappear, food scarcity and drought impacts are amplified. In the winter of 2015, for example, California’s Sierra Nevada snowpack was measured at 25% of its average depth.

“Deglaciation” also contributes to sea level rise and regional hydrological changes. In Western Canada and elsewhere, for example, it impacts freshwater fisheries; once the glaciers are gone, the fisheries will become extinct.

Disappearing water drives instability

Since deglaciation impacts food and water security, it also contributes to desertification, and this in turn creates “climate refugees”, as people are forced to leave for more habitable locations. A report by the Environmental Justice Foundation claims that, “on average, 27 million people are displaced by climate and weather-related disasters each year.”

Increased scarcities of food and water, and the growing displacement of peoples due to climate change – and de-glaciation – will likely be casual factors of so-called “water wars” as well.

Radical change: our only hope

Canadian communities to rally for climate as BC, Alberta pen pipeline deal
Citizens rally against pipelines in Victoria (photo: TJ Watt)

Our collective response to catastrophic, human-caused climate change, is inadequate on many levels. Griffin argues that our failures and challenges are also “unprecedented”. He shows that the status quo/business-as-usual approach to climate change will accelerate catastrophic consequences, that a “wait and see” attitude would be even more cataclysmic, and that the only reasonable approach is radical change.

Radical change means full scale societal mobilization and the rapid decarbonisation of the economy, all with a view to reducing the global temperature increase by less than 2 degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels.

The stakes couldn’t be higher, since we literally face the real prospect of human extinction if we do not radically change our approach now.

Critical failures that must be addressed

Griffin identifies the following unprecedented challenges and failures that are currently preventing radical change:

  • Climate change denial
  • Media failure
  • Political failure
  • Moral challenges
  • Religious challenges
  • Economic challenges

As with the iteration of unprecedented lethal threats, the aforementioned list of challenges and failures share intersecting trajectories as they meet, overlap, and create common ground. Consequently, a closer examination of one failure sheds light with others as well.

The industry of Climate Change/Global Warming Denial, for example, is closely linked to, and sometimes a causative element of, the other challenges and failures.

The denial industry

Despite the fact that the scientific debate is closed, and the scientific consensus is that humans cause global warming, the Climate Change Denial Industry spends vast quantities of money to promote unreasonable doubt about this scientific fact.

ExxonMobil, for example, launders money through organizations, foundations, think tanks etc. to create unreasonable doubt about human-caused global warming.

Increasingly, money is being laundered through Donors Trust. A Greenpeace analysis reveals that Donors Trust has laundered $146 million in climate denial funding from 2002 to 2011.

False Balance

Corporate media also amplifies disinformation. One particularly effective strategy is a technique called “false balance.” Editors will “balance” science-based global warming articles with articles that deny global warming, with the effect that readers become confused and doubt the scientific reality of human-caused global warming.

Politicians invariably exploit the fabricated confusion and endorse policies that serve the narrow interests of Big Oil. An extreme example of this is the Tea Party movement.

This seemingly grassroots movement endorses policies that align with Big Oil interests – low taxation, high profits, de-regulation. Evidence suggests, moreover, that it was created with a view to make it appear like a grassroots movement, when it was actually fabricated by Big Oil to serve Big Profits rather than the interests of those who support the party. The term used to describe the process is “Astroturfing” (i.e. fake grass roots).

In terms of morality and religious propriety, the use of deceit and subversion to advance a civilization-killing agenda is repulsive.

It’s also bad for the economy.

False economy

A 2011 article by Joe Romm,  IEA’s Bombshell Warning: We’re Headed Toward 11°F Global Warming and “Delaying Action Is a False Economy” cites the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) assessment of the economic cost of delaying action.

[quote]Delaying action is a false economy: for every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions.[/quote]

What is to be done

The complexities of “What is to be done?” to confront our dire circumstances can be reduced to three momentous actions.

First, we need a mass mobilization of people prepared to respond to the global warming emergency. Second, we need to transition immediately and completely to clean energy. And finally, we need to abolish dirty energy.

David Ray Griffin’s extraordinarily comprehensive and well-researched book, Unprecedented, should serve as a foundational guide for our needed mobilization.

This article first appeared on Whatsupic


Canada takes water for granted amid melting snowpacks, glaciers

Glacier National Park in BC's Kootenays has seen decreasing snowpacks in recent years (Sesivany/Jiri Eischmann/Wikipedia)
BC’s Glacier National Park has seen decreasing snowpacks in recent years (Sesivany/Jiri Eischmann/Wikipedia)

How long can you go without water? You could probably survive a few weeks without water for cooking. If you stopped washing, the threat to your life might only come from people who can’t stand the smell. But most people won’t live for more than three days without water to drink. It makes sense: our bodies are about 65 per cent water.

According to the United Nations, about 750 million people lack access to safe water — that’s one in nine! One child dies every minute from a water-related disease and 1.2 billion people, a fifth of the global population, live in areas where water is scarce. And it’s not just in other countries. As of January, at least 1,838 drinking water advisories were in effect in Canada, including 169 in 126 First Nations communities — some ongoing for years.

The myth of abundance

With Canada’s abundant glaciers, lakes, rivers and streams, we often take water for granted. (In my home province, we give it away to large corporations that bottle and sell it back to us at exorbitant prices!) We shouldn’t be so complacent. People in California thought they had enough water to fill swimming pools, water gardens and yards, support a fertile agricultural industry and shoot massive volumes into the ground to fracture shale deposits to release the oil they contain. Now, with the state in its fourth year of severe drought, regulators are considering emergency legislation and have imposed restrictions to deal with shortages.

California running dry

Droughts in California and elsewhere are serious warnings about what we could face in Canada and around the world as growing human populations and industry require ever more water, and as climate change wreaks havoc on the Earth’s hydrologic cycle, causing drought in some areas and flooding in others.

World faces 40% water shortfall by 2030

According to a UN report, as water supplies dwindle, demand from manufacturing, thermal electricity generation and domestic uses will increase 55 per cent by 2050. The report, “Water for a Sustainable World”, says that unless we find better ways to manage water, the world could face a 40 per cent shortfall by 2030. About 20 per cent of the world’s aquifers are already overexploited.

Water shortages and unsafe water lead to many problems, including food scarcity and crop failure, increased poverty and disease, ecosystem collapse, problems for industry and increasing conflicts over dwindling supplies.

As individuals, we should do everything possible to conserve water, but avoiding massive shortages of clean water will take concerted action at all levels of society. The UN report concludes:

[quote]The global water crisis is one of governance, much more than of resource availability, and this is where the bulk of the action is required in order to achieve a water secure world.[/quote]

Conservation is the key

Water conservation is the best way to ensure we have enough to go around. Recycling wastewater and reserving clean water for drinking, moving away from water-intensive agricultural practices, reducing water pollution and avoiding industrial activities that use excessive amounts of water are also important. The report states that the growing demand for meat, large homes, motor vehicles, appliances and other energy-consuming devices “involves increased water consumption for both production and use.” And while population is a factor, the report shows the increase in water demand is double the rate of population growth.

At the policy level, better supply and sanitation infrastructure and improved management are essential. Protecting natural assets such as forests and wetlands that purify and store water and reduce flooding will help, especially in light of expected increases in natural disasters as the world continues to warm. Of course, doing all we can to reduce climate change and its consequences is also crucial.

The report also notes the world’s current obsession with economic growth has “come at a significant social and environmental cost,” including greater demands on water resources.

Not just about water

Getting a handle on water management and conservation concerns us all. It’s also about social justice, as the poor feel the brunt of negative impacts from water pollution and shortages.

As the UN report points out, “It is now universally accepted that water is an essential primary natural resource upon which nearly all social and economic activities and ecosystem functions depend.” Water makes life possible. We must never take it for granted.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

Will Water Act overhaul rein in groundwater use for fracking, LNG?

Will new Water Act rein in groundwater use for fracking, LNG?

Will Water Act overhaul rein in groundwater use for fracking, LNG?
Frack water pit in BC’s Horn River Basin (photo: Damien Gillis)

By Anna Novacek – republished from Energy Law BC

As the only province in Canada that does not regulate groundwater use, BC has been referred to as the “wild west” of groundwater.

Groundwater has and will continue to be relied on heavily by the LNG industry as a key source of the extensive amount of water necessary to conduct hydraulic fracturing. While the amount of water will vary between wells due to the changes in geology and the size of the reservoir, the volumes can be immense. EnCana Corp. states that between 200,000 and 1.2 million litres of water (roughly 1/10th to one half of an Olympic swimming pool) is needed to complete one well.

Surface water is regulated by short term water use approvals found under Section 8 of the Water Act [RSBC 1996] c. 483 (“the Water Act”). Surface water licensees are required to use water in accordance with the Water Act, the terms and conditions of their licence, and to pay annual water rentals. None of these requirements currently apply to groundwater users, even those using it on a large scale.

With a legislative proposal for a new Water Sustainability Act, however, this may be changing.

Updating century-old Water Act

BC’s current Water Act is 104 years old. The Water Act Modernization process began in 2009, and has included on-going workshops and consultations with the public, First Nations and stakeholders, resulting in a Water Act Modernization Report on Engagement in September 2010, and a Policy Proposal for the new Water Sustainability Act in December 2010. The original plan was to introduce the new Water Sustainability Act in 2012; however the “complexity of developing legislation with widespread implications for British Columbians” resulted in delay.

Public feedback sought

On October 18th, 2013 the province released a legislative proposal for a new Water Sustainability Act. A summary of this proposal can be accessed here. The proposal is open for public feedback until November 15th, 2013. It is expected to be submitted to the legislative assembly as a bill in 2014 for debate and final approval.

Key changes

The changes to provincial regulation of groundwater outlined in the legislative proposal for a Water Sustainability Act include:

  • Large volume users would be required to obtain authorization and pay application fees and annual water rentals to access groundwater.  Groundwater use for ‘domestic purposes’ would generally be exempt from this requirement
  • Information will be collected from all well owners to help improve understanding of aquifers and how they interact with lakes and streams
  • A database of all groundwater wells in the province will be established to help inform future water allocation decisions
  • The minimal standards under the Ground Water Protection Regulation BC Reg. 299/2004will be expanded to require the mandatory submission of well records for new wells, as well as requiring testing and disinfection of a water supply well after drilling to reduce the risk of contamination, and guidelines for ensuring contaminants are stored away from water supply wells.
  • The requirement regarding well drilling and the protection of groundwater will be updated. It is proposed that the WSA would clarify that drilling into or penetrating an aquifer is a ‘disturbance’ and requires a qualified well driller.

The complete legislative proposal is available here.

Devil’s in the details

The key question is whether the new Water Sustainability Act will be designed to restrict or minimize groundwater use in any way, or instead focus more on initial approvals, the provision of information and increasing reporting requirements. The application of exemptions within the new legislation will also be an important factor determining how industry will ultimately be affected.


Water, Water Everywhere, but for How Long? Privatizing Water in BC


World Water Day (March 22nd) is a good time to consider this: Canada has nearly 10% of the world’s supply of fresh water. How lucky are we?

But what is all this water doing to earn its keep? Nothing. Or so think our politicians – and thirsty corporations like General Electric. 

In 2010, GE (according to Council of Canadians, the world’s largest water company) and Goldman Sachs (uh, oh) co-founded the World Resources Institute Aqueduct Alliance. The basic purpose of the alliance is to map (and presumably lay hands on) the global supply of fresh water. After all, as the alliance points out, “In many regions around the world, water scarcity from climate change and pollution is starting to impact a company’s performance.”

Within a year the expanded alliance included Coca-Cola, Calgary-based Talisman Energy, Dow Chemicals and United Technologies, the world’s 10th largest arms producer. (Knowing where water shortage conflicts might appear could, after all, be useful.) 

Oh, what a web these companies weave. 

In Alberta, the president of GE Canada was a member of the Premier’s Council for Economic Strategy which last year recommended the creation of a new Alberta Water Authority. The new authority would facilitate buying and selling of water licences. 

According to the council’s report, the authority would also advise on policy changes to give holders of water licenses more opportunity to sell, lease or trade some or all of their right to draw water. Such changes will allow licensees holding water allocations they are not currently using or no longer need to lease or sell this surplus to others within the watershed at a price set by market forces of supply-and-demand.” 

How bad could that be? 

Ask the government of Australia. In the 1990s exactly this sort of water market was established for the Murray Darling River Basin. A 2001 drought started a water-rights speculation frenzy. By September 2010, the Australian government had spent nearly $1.5 billion buying back water rights at inflated free market prices.  

Here in BC (where Talisman Energy already has a licence to divert up to 10,000 cubic metres (10 million litres) from the Williston reservoir every day for the next 20 years), similar plans are afoot.

The provincial government is expected to table a new Water Act in 2012. It is anticipated that the new Act will allow water licence owners (whatever the purported use licensed) to sell to the highest bidder. The new owner can arbitrarily change the licensed use from, say, agriculture to heavy industry. In a drought such as Australia’s, good luck to farmers who might need to buy water back. 

Welcome to the deregulated water market. 

Companies like Brookfield Asset Management (BAM) love it. BAM, one of two companies which shared ownership of most of BC’s public land forests and all the private land forests, is keen to get into the hydroelectricity game. (FYI, BAM director J. Trevor Eyton is also a director of Coca-Cola Enterprises.) 

We sell them the rights to our water and they sell us their electricity. No wonder EcoJustice describes BC’s proposed Water Act as a pretty sweet deal for industry.

Yes, of course most industries require water and, within reason, they should have access to it. However, instead of turning our water rights into tradable commodities, how about we maintain control of our water for the public good?

Here’s a crazy idea for World Water Day. Industries could pay for the water they use by volume. Companies might decide to reduce the water they currently waste and that would be a bonus. Whether or not they do, the people of BC could be paid a fair fee for a precious resource. Instead of paying for corporate bonuses, the money could, oh, I don’t know, pay for health care and education? Perhaps some of the revenue could be used to upgrade our crumbling infrastructure.  

Or we could carry on with plans to more or less just give our water rights away.

Miranda Holmes is an associate editor of Watershed Sentinel magazine. For more information on this topic, go to






Human Numbers in 2050 – 9.2 billion+: What of Nature and Future Generations?


The Dilemma

In the 21st century humanity will, ever more frequently, face environmental impacts and risks. Climate change to an unknown future is one of the clearest signals of this. These changes will occur and be exacerbated by conflicts of which expanding population is a “core driver”. The earth is over-populated and is being over-used.

The planet is occupied by a mosaic of societies with different consumption rates and different population sizes. These societies are spread across continents with different resource conditions. Within this mosaic, almost all people want higher consumption rates and, as such, a ‘better life.’ There is something here that will not work, particularly if we continue on as we are.

Total human population passed the 7 billion mark in late 2011. We have been led to believe that numbers would stabilize at about 9.2 billion by the year 2050.  Even this number, too large as it is, may be overly optimistic. Recent UN Population Division projections point to stabilization at numbers beyond 10 billion (Weld 2011). In a few short paragraphs it is impossible to detail the disturbing array of implications of human population run-away on the planet, starting as it did, only one and one half centuries ago.

We do not face the human population growth issue with the concern that it deserves.  Indeed, when we consider the immensity of the numbers involved, and the implications to the environment, it is as remarkable as it is unfortunate that we, in almost every nation and culture, continue to ‘grow’, or try to ‘grow’, our economies and our numbers – an almost blind approach to the future.

Considering the environmental implications of human population growth, it is disappointing how little political or public attention the issue gets.  This applies to the ’environmental movement’ in general and all political parties, including even the ‘Green’ party. Many people, among these groups who do understand the crisis, wait in the hope that processes of choice and passive behavior may slow and then stop the numbers expansion.

In North America

Although human numbers erode support systems in Africa and Asia, we do little better here.  On our own continent, the populations of the three major nations expand upward:

  • The United States of America, with its enormous per capita resource use rate,  is projected by its own Census Bureau to have 439 million by 2050.
  • Mexico, with 112,336,000, is projected to grow to 123 million by 2042, and then grow more slowly. Their resource use rates may be lower, but they strive, in the thousands, to reach USA where their resource use rate will quadruple.
  • Canada, with over 34 million in 2010 has a growth rate higher than most industrial countries. If the trend continues, Canada’s population will be 42 million by 2050, and 66 million by 2083 (Wikipedia and the Sustainability Report (

Because people in Canada are still better off that other parts of the world people they may think, ‘No problem, the numbers, 9 billion or more, are global, far from here’. However, on an inter-connected planet, global conditions, one way or another, such numbers affect us all.

They will affect us in our country because of connections among social and ecological processes across the planet. They will affect us directly regarding space and resources. They will affect us socially and economically because about two thirds of our population growth is driven by people, most trying to escape from over-crowding and opportunity scarcity in other parts of the world.

Greater Challenges

We are at a new place in time. Continuing growth, or growth that has already exceeded environmental limits, is futile for our generation and unfair to the next.

The environmental and resource ‘over-demand’ signals are all around us. Forest resource exploitation has already been pushed close to the limits of sustainability. Fisheries are over-exploited. Water use and quality damage is widespread. Biodiversity is reduced and threatened more each year. The demand for “energy’ rises continually. One way or another, we experience all of these here. In other parts of the world, they experience them more-so.

Here in Canada, “energy” extraction and transport are ‘high on the radar’ in matters of concern. The huge appetites for  ”energy”  in Asia will continue to drive Canada’s rapid and expanding extraction of gas, oil and bitumen. Their impacts will grow and damage, here and there, will increase as they do so. Such growth obsessed business and market opportunities of the day trump consideration of domestic uses of tomorrow.  Are we going to be better off,  growing more, digging more, selling more,  then growing yet ever-more , digging yet ever-more, selling yet ever-more…what end?   Furthermore, if someone is to be better off from this spiraling process, is to be the average Canadian, or is it to be investors from here and abroad?

Our Leaders: Can We Make Them Change Course?

At some time, our political ‘leaders’ must be challenged with questions that look further into the future for society than they do now. Inter-party conflict and tacit support for ‘business as usual’ are inadequate elements of protection and management of a planet that faces a future at the demographic brink.

It may be that the debate about continuing growth of human numbers and consequent environmental effects is seen as futile. It has many such aspects. However, if such is true, what is the hope or value in struggling against each growth-driven development project that comes in as part of an endless parade. In a growth dominated societal paradigm, enough projects will succeed to continue the dangerous degradation and destruction of the natural environment.  In our current ‘growth’ process there is no perception of stopping at some time. The belief seems to be that the only future is now.

Facing Issues in a Double Context

Each development issue that we face must be dealt with in a double context:

  1. The merits and risks of each project on its own;  and
  2. Its role in a greater environmental context – in what direction and to what future does such ‘development’ take us.

If continuing blind growth in numbers, job-opportunities, and profit is to be the global societal hallmark of success, people now and in the future are in for more and greater conflict and disappointment than they have already experienced. We owe something better to the environment, and to the future generations of people and other creatures that are part of it.

Weld, M. 2011. Feeding the raging monster: How Canada promotes population growth at home and abroad. Pages 6 – 17 in Humanist Perspectives. (This paper is cited specifically because of its depth of coverage)