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Thursday, May 7

Thousand faces of drought: Dengue Fever and Distrust of Social Workers

A Brazilian biologist handles boxes with mosquitoes infected with the Wolbachia bacterium — which reduces mosquito-transmitted diseases such as dengue and chikungunya by shortening adult life span, affecting mosquito reproduction and interfering with pathogen replication — in Rio de Janeiro. Photographer: Christophe Simon/AFP via Getty Images via Bloomberg Business

“The hospital itself was full of mosquitoes; who’s to say those mosquitoes don’t have dengue? It’s getting out of hand.”

“Where I live you can’t trust people very much, so people will have more confidence if there’s a soldier there. Things will go better with this idea of sending the army."

How in heck could drought produce a dengue outbreak?  People storing up water in the drought without putting covers on the water containers. The mosquitoes bred like, well, mosquitoes.  Dengue fever has been sweeping drought-plagued Sao Paulo.  Then in February when torrential rains struck, the mosquitoes really went to town -- literally.  The Bloomberg Business article I link to above has the lowdown on the Great Mosquito Invasion of Sao Paulo including the above quote plus this juicy gossip, a bit dated but still interesting:
The government could have done more to stop leaks from the water system, Leo Heller, the United Nations special rapporteur for water and sanitation rights, said in a December interview. About 31 percent of treated water escapes from the Sao Paulo utility’s network — more than a third caused by illegal siphoning.
Be nice Mr Heller; the Summer Olympics are just around the corner.

The government finally had to call in the army to help fight the dengue plague. This was more of a social issue.  From the Wall Street Journal, April 17
:SÃO PAULO—Brazil’s biggest city has called in the army to help combat a deadly outbreak of dengue fever that has sickened hundreds of thousands of people nationwide.
Soldiers will next week begin going door-to-door in some of São Paulo’s hardest-hit neighborhoods to educate residents on fighting mosquitoes, Mayor Fernando Haddad said on Friday.
A severe drought in southeastern Brazil has spurred residents to hoard water, often in makeshift containers, providing breeding grounds for mosquitoes that spread the disease whose symptoms can include intense muscle pain, convulsions and high fever.
Dengue has killed 132 people in Brazil in just the first 12 weeks of the year, a nearly 30% jump from the same period in 2014. Three-quarters of those deaths have been in São Paulo state, which has registered more than half of the 460,502 cases reported in Brazil in the first quarter. The state had more cases in the first 12 weeks of this year than it did in all of 2014.
In São Paulo city, where confirmed cases have soared more than fourfold to nearly 32,000 over the period, Mr. Haddad said that 50 army soldiers are being trained to advise residents on how to store water and most effectively use repellents and insecticides.
Around 2,500 health workers are already going door to door in a mass education effort. But many residents visited, particularly in high crime areas, have refused to open their doors to these strangers, the mayor said.
Fabio Tobias, 37 years old, a musician who lives in Sao Paulo’s lower-middle class Freguesia do Ó neighborhood and was infected earlier this year with dengue, along with two of his four children, said the presence of the army should help.
“Where I live you can’t trust people very much, so people will have more confidence if there’s a soldier there,” he said. “Things will go better with this idea of sending the army.”
Mr. Haddad said the soldiers will be deployed in this outreach effort for a month until the end of the rainy season, when dengue cases are expected to decline.
The hope is that their presence in affected communities will result in more cooperation with health authorities, he said in a Friday news conference.
“In around 20% of residences across the city visited by our agents, people don’t open their doors,“ he said. “We hope the presence of soldiers in some regions will help solve this.”
Dengue is a historic problem in Brazil, particularly during the peak of the rainy season, which in the country’s populous southeast is in the first four or five months of the year. But this time, it’s not the abundance of rain but a lack of it that has led to the problem.
The government has also taken a hi-tech approach to battling the winged critters, as the above pix and caption indicate.


Wednesday, May 6

Bill and Hillary Clinton and other disasters in Haiti

From The Actuary, April 27, 2015, Four costliest natural disasters [in 2014] cause nearly $33bn of business losses and supply chain disruptions:
The report also revealed Haiti had 29% of all children between five and 14 working in “slave-like conditions”.
This compares to 5.8% in the Dominican Republic and 8.4% in Jamaica.
Reporter Jonathan M. Katz had been posted to Haiti for 2-1/2 years as Associated Press correspondent when the January 2010 earthquake struck, shattering the walls of his house in Port au Prince. He was lucky to get out alive. Suddenly homeless along with millions of Haitians, he stayed on to chronicle the quake aftermath and massive aid effort that flooded one of the world's poorest countries.  

His 2013 book, The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster (with new afterword for the 2014 paperback edition) should have closed a chapter in international aid.  It didn't.  

The current U.S. media interest in the Clinton Foundation gave Katz an opportunity to again bring attention to international aid and development approaches in Haiti -- a topic that ranks right up there with breeding habitats of the spotted nematode for newsworthiness in the United States. 

Katz's 7-page article for Politico, The King and Queen of Haiti, published May 4, is a highly informed account of the Clintons' long, complex, and deep involvement with Haiti.  As the lede notes,  "There’s no country that more clearly illustrates the confusing nexus of Hillary Clinton’s State Department and Bill Clinton’s foundation than Haiti -- America’s poorest neighbor."  

It does not make for pleasant reading:
Five years after the hemisphere’s deadliest single natural disaster, when both Clintons assumed leading roles in the rebuilding efforts, little progress has been made on many core problems in Haiti, and the government that Hillary Clinton helped put in power during that January 2011 trip -- and that both Clintons have backed strongly since -- has proven itself unworthy of that trust. Economic growth is stalling, and the nation’s politics look headed for a showdown in the next year that could once again plunge the country into internal strife.
 Many of the most notable investments the Clintons helped launch, such as the new Marriott in the capital, have primarily benefited wealthy foreigners and island’s ruling elite, who needed little help to begin with.
When Hillary Clinton became secretary of state in 2009, America’s poorest neighbor was slated to be one of the first beneficiaries of what she called “the power of proximity.” One of her first directives at State was to review U.S. policy toward Haiti—“an opportunity,” she would write in her memoir Hard Choices, “to road-test new approaches to development that could be applied more broadly around the world.”
That approach had business at its center: Aid would be replaced by investment, the growth of which would in turn benefit the United States. 
The whole world as the U.S. government's petri dish for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation aid model, which was adopted from the World Bank's International Finance Corporation model of development (established 1956).  Yes there's nothing like forward thinking when it comes to development and aid in the more disadvantaged countries.

Yet Haiti was a disaster long before the 2010 earthquake struck, long before the Clintons started fooling around there.  A passage Katz's article goes to the crux of Haiti's economic problems. 
Clinton won headlines by apologizing for having maintained as president the import-substitution policies that destroyed Haiti’s food sector -- policies built on the dangerously misguided theory that factory jobs obviated the need to produce rice and other food locally. He made a special point to note that the policy had benefited farmers in his home state of Arkansas.
As to how a country's food sector could be destroyed by the economic policies of a foreign government -- go ask Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej, whose face must be permanently blue by now from warnings he repeated decade after decade. 

All the warnings boil down to one singular point:  DO NOT TRY TO BE SOMETHING YOU CAN'T BE.

The comeback is that if we don't play their idea of the global trade game, they'll get nasty with us.  

True, true.  Last month Tony Cartalucci caught the British press trying to discourage tourist visitors to Thailand.  By the way I always wonder how he catches so many rascals just at the moment their hand is going into the cookie jar. Does the man never sleep? Does he do nothing but stand at the ramparts with a pair of binoculars?

But if the choice is pick your poison, that's a way for a government to grow a spine.

Moving along, beyond the abuses of power and misapplication of USD billions in Haiti is a larger story, one that Katz's article doesn't address.  It's a story of the search for methods of humanitarian disaster aid allocation that better fit this era's communications technologies.  

Right now the technologies allow organizations to raise millions of dollars within a few hours from millions of people around the world in response to a disaster.  But all that fast-raised cash is then funneled to a system of humanitarian or disaster aid that was established in an era when a few organizations and relative handful of people controlled disbursement of the funds.  

The system short circuits the traditional donor-recipient loop.  It's a system that has always been inefficient and open to evils that range from graft to neocolonial-style meddling. Now, the sheer amounts of money raised via the Internet from vast numbers of sources has made effective oversight impossible. 

So Haiti is only an extreme example of what happens when huge amounts of money change hands outside the donor-recipient loop.  

Solution?  A Nepali named Ravi Kumar has been trying to hash out a new approach.  He wrote about his project for TIME yesterday:  Use Data, Not Nepotism, to Deliver Aid in Nepal:

[...]On the day the earthquake hit, after finding out that relatives and friends in Kathmandu Valley were alive, I worked to connect volunteers and people affected by the quake, using low-tech solutions including a Google Doc and social media.
As I helped crowdsource resources and needs and read reports from the ground, it became apparent that there was little relief available for villages outside of Kathmandu Valley. When we look at the data coming out of the disaster so far, it’s clear that these villages need relief, too.
For Nepal to recover, the delivery of aid should be driven by the evidence on the ground and socio-economic data.
If Nepal’s history is any guide, we know that people with connections and power have access to most of the resources, especially during times of crisis. Given Nepal’s history of nepotism and tribalism, it’s imperative that aid is delivered to those who are most affected by the disaster, rather than any other criteria.
At Code for Nepal, an initiative that aims to increase digital literacy and encourage the use of open data, we have been regularly updating an interactive map of the effects of Nepal’s earthquake. It uses district-level data to show injury tolls, death counts, and houses damaged to determine where aid is needed the most.  [...]
Kumar's article doesn't mention that he works for the World Bank.  But I think the general idea behind new approaches is peer-to-peer networking to restore the donor-recipient loop over big distances, and restoring localism for the near distances.  An example of localism applied to disaster aid is found in another TIME article I saw yesterday.  It's about mountain bikers in the region who were able to transport aid supplies to isolated Nepali villages hit by the earthquake. 

Little by little, organizations involved in disaster response will rediscover very old ways of connecting with survivors and apply the new communications to a response model that targets aid to those in need.  That will save an awful lot of lives and donation money.  


Tuesday, May 5

Idaho Drought Emergency In Five Counties "So Far"

Barely any snow on those Idaho mountains, and looks like none on the foothills

The drought has spread and deeping across the entire U.S. Northwest.  One big worry is that without snow cover in Idaho's forests they're dryng out.   From Boise (Idaho) State Public Radio, April 29; report filed by Frankie Barnhill:
Fremont County is the most recent addition of Idaho communities to receive a drought emergency declaration from the state. Blaine, Lincoln, Butte and Custer counties were given the designation on April 10, the earliest time for a state-approved drought declaration in the last five year.
A dry and warm winter in southern Idaho's agricultural region has made for an early limited supply of water. That's according to Mat Weaver, deputy director at IDWR.
"And because of those combinations and because we anticipate a hot summer, there will likely be a large demand of water for our agricultural needs," says Weaver. "So I would suspect there will be other emergency declaration requests coming."
Weaver says the drought declaration means farmers can transfer ground and surface water quickly, giving counties a way to opt-out of the usually rigorous approval process needed. He says in a drought situation, this flexibility is a relief for agricultural producers.  [END REPORT]


The Train, Part 2 of 2

Atossa Soltana with bona fide Indigenous Person

20th session Conference of the Parties (COP20) and 10th session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol - December 1 to 14, 2014 in Lima, Peru
TRANSLATION: Global Glitterati of Carbon Emissions Control

Dr Strangelove struggling with alien hand syndrome (diagnostic apraxia)

From the Flying Rivers Project website

The Flying Rivers project was conceived by Gérard Moss, who undertakes all the active flying and collecting of samples, in addition to securing funding and overall project coordination. Analysis of the samples, interpretation of the data and assessment of the results are in the capable hands of a team of renowned Brazilian scientists, spearheaded by the eminent Prof. Eneas Salati. Back in the 70s, it was Salati who first presented a theory on the correlation between evapotranspiration from the rainforest in the Amazon basin and rainfall in the southern half of the country.

It is a complex issue. The moisture-laden trade winds initially bring humidity off the Atlantic to the mouth of the giant river, and then carry it inland across the continent in an on-going process of rainfall/evapotranspiration/rainfall until coming up against the wall of the Andes. As the Cordillera forces the winds to swerve southwards, they continue carrying the moisture generated by the forest to other regions of the continent.

The first phase of the project was carried out in 2007 and 2008, when the flying river trajectories were monitored and 500 samples of water vapour were collected for analysis by the team at CENA, Piracicaba. 

The big question is, what might happen in the south if the rainforest is destroyed to make way for yet more pasture, soya and sugarcane? If the hydrological cycle stops pumping out such huge volumes of humidity? 

Parts of Latin America are severely parched. The drought is fueling clashes, forcing rationing, decimating crops and affecting travel through the Panama Canal. Here's NPR's Lourdes Garcia Navarro reading some of the recent headlines from South America:

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: "The Worst Drought In The Last 30 Years Ignites 47,000 Forest Fires In Bolivia." "Government Begins Emergency Water Rationing In Venezuela Amid Drought." Here's another one - "Colombia Drought Triggers Clashes, Some Communities Say They Haven't Seen Any Rain For Two Years." And the final one - "Desperately Seeking Solutions To The Worst Drought In Decades In Brazil."

Guatemala has declared a state of emergency due to the ongoing drought, which has caused food shortages and left hundreds of thousands of families at risk of hunger and malnutrition.

The unprecedented drought now affecting São Paulo, South America’s giant metropolis, is believed to be caused by the absence of the “flying rivers” − the vapour clouds from the Amazon that normally bring rain to the centre and south of Brazil.

Some Brazilian scientists say the absence of rain that has dried up rivers and reservoirs in central and southeast Brazil is not just a quirk of nature, but a change brought about by a combination of the continuing deforestation of the Amazon and global warming.

This combination, they say, is reducing the role of the Amazon rainforest as a giant “water pump”, releasing billions of litres of humidity from the trees into the air in the form of vapour.

Meteorologist Jose Marengo, a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, first coined the phrase “flying rivers” to describe these massive volumes of vapour that rise from the rainforest, travel west, and then − blocked by the Andes − turn south.

Satellite images from the Centre for Weather Forecasts and Climate Research of Brazil’s National Space Research Institute (INPE) clearly show that, during January and February this year, the flying rivers failed to arrive, unlike the previous five years.

Amazon rainforest has degraded to the point where it is losing its ability to benignly regulate weather systems, according to a stark new warning from one of Brazil’s leading scientists.

In a new report [published October 30] Antonio Nobre, researcher in the government’s space institute, earth system science center, says the logging and burning of the world’s greatest forest might be connected to worsening droughts – such as the one currently plaguing São Paulo – and is likely to lead eventually to more extreme weather events.

The study, which is a summary drawing from more than 200 existing papers on Amazonian climate and forest science, is intended as a wake-up call.
In the past 20 years, the author notes that the Amazon has lost 763,000 sq km, an area the size of two Germanys. In addition another 1.2m sq km has been estimated as degraded by cutting below the canopy and fire.

As a result, the report notes, the deterioration of the rainforest – through logging, fires and land clearance – has resulted in a decrease in forest transpiration and a lengthening of dry seasons. This might be one of the factors of the severe drought affecting south-east Brazil. São Paulo – the biggest city in South America – is facing its worst water shortages in almost a century. October, which is usually the start of the rainy season, was drier than at any time since 1930, leaving the volume of the Cantareira reservoir system down to 5% of capacity.

“Studies more than 20 years ago predicted what is happening with lowering rainfall. Amazon deforestation is altering climate. It is no longer about models. It is about observation,” said Nobre. “The connection with the event in São Paulo is important because finally people are paying attention.”

Nobre calls for a “war effort” to reverse the damage and secure the global climate and security of future generations. This would involve a ramped-up effort to immediately halt existing deforestation and a major new project to replant trees.

Whether the government listens, however, is another matter. Forest clearance has accelerated under Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, after efforts to protect the Amazon were weakened. Last month, satellite data indicated a 190% surge in deforestation in August and September. 

The influence of the “ruralista” agribusiness lobby in Congress has also grown in recent years, making it harder for the authorities to push through new legislation to demarcate reserves.

“[The government has] taken good action in the past,” says Nobre. "I hope they will listen now”.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Lima, Peru, from COP 20, from the U.N. Climate Change Conference, as we turn right now to Atossa Soltani. This year’s U.N. Climate Change Conference marks the first time the talks have been held in the Amazon. More than—an Amazon country. More than 70 percent of Peru’s national territory is within the Amazon Basin. Yesterday, I spoke to the founder and executive director of Amazon Watch, Atossa Soltani, and asked her about the significance of this U.N. climate summit in Peru.

ATOSSA SOLTANI: I think this COP 20 is important because it’s the first COP ever in an Amazon country. And the Amazon is incredibly important in the climate debate, both because deforestation is a huge source of emissions, but also because the rainforests of the Amazon actually are the rain machine for the planet. They create these flying rivers that basically provide fertile rain to the entire continent and the rest of the world. It’s like the heart of the planet, pumping moisture and vapor. So, when we lose the Amazon, we not only create emissions, but we lose the climate-stabilizing function of the forest.

And we’re reaching a tipping point. We’re actually very close to the tipping point where the hydrological cycle could collapse. In fact, we had a drought in 2010 in the Amazon that generated more emissions, carbon, than all of the annual emissions of the country of India. So, we are in a critical moment where the future of the planet will depend on what happens in the Amazon. 

And we need to challenge our governments, that are actually using the Amazon to generate both huge amounts of electricity from dams, which block the flow of the river and flood forest and cut off the hydrological cycle, and also looking for oil and gas and fossil fuels that we can’t even afford to burn. So this is an important moment to really put the importance of the Amazon on the top of the agenda.

And then you say, "Well, what do we have to do to protect the Amazon?" Well, we have to support indigenous land rights. Indigenous people’s land titles could be about 200 million hectares of the Amazon rainforest. Supporting their life ways, supporting the way that they can live off the land and protect their forests, as the way that they have for thousands of years, is key to our future survival.

From that point forward in the interview Atossa Soltani gives up her struggle with a verbal version of alien hand syndrome and reverts to talking about carbon emissions.  After all, COP summits are about the Kyoto Protocol, which is focused on reducing carbon emissions and manmade greenhouse gases:
Countries that ratify the Kyoto Protocol are assigned maximum carbon emission levels and can participate in carbon credit trading. Emitting more than the assigned limit will result in a penalty for the violating country in the form of a lower emission limit in the following period.

Antonio Nobre's October 30 paper was the talk of the COP20 summit, as if they had a choice given the publicity it received from the Guardian -- and Monga Bay; that's the reason Soltani mentioned it.

But it wasn't "looking for oil and gas and fossil fuels" that decimated vast tracts of the Amazon forest.  It was razing trees to make way for crops for use as biofuel -- so to limit carbon emissions. 

With the Global Glitterati of Carbon Emissions Control cheering on the biofuel plantations, until so much forest was lost in the Amazon and other parts of the world that the glitterati became alarmed this was skyrocketing carbon emissions.

As to Soltani's claim that the Amazon forests "basically provide fertile rain to the entire continent and the rest of the world," I haven't read Nobre's October 30 report, which is in Portuguese, but the Guardian's Jonathan Watts, who did, doesn't discuss the scope of the climate impact of the Amazon's flying rivers in his November 1 report. 

And Nobre, at least in the interview with Watts, is careful to limit his observation about the connection between the drought in São Paulo.and the disappearance of the Amazon's flying rivers in 2014.  (Which didn't seem to have returned in 2015, either.)

Yet the locus of the 2014 drought in Central/South America is striking in that it affected a number of countries in the Amazon Basin or areas of the countries. Here's a map of the basin countries, courtesy Monga Bay.  

The data accompanying the map, published by Monga Bay in (I'd guess) 2009 needs to be revised in light of satellite data published this year on forest fragmentation and recent studies on the present condition of the Amazon's forests, which Nobre mentions in the interview with Watts. But the map in tandem with Monga Bay's (Novermber 3) report on Nobre's paper and the paper itself is a wakeup call if anyone still needs one.

From the Monga Bay report, which includes this graphic and caption:

Nobre says the Amazon keeps southern South America much greener than areas at similar latitudes on other continents. He also notes that the Amazon's moisture cuts hurricane activity along the Brazilian coast. 


In his report, Nobre explains the role big forests like the Amazon play in driving regional weather patterns.

"The forest keeps moist air moving, which brings rain to the interior regions of the continent, thousands of miles distant from the ocean," said Nobre, who is a proponent of the "biotic pump" theory that compares large rainforests to "flying rivers".

"This is due to the innate ability to transfer large volumes of water from the soil to the atmosphere through tree transpiration," Nobre writes, noting that compounds emitted from trees stimulate condensation of water vapor, driving cloud formation and rainfall. This phenomenon reduces atmospheric pressure above forests, pulling moist ocean air deep into interior areas, driving a positive feedback loop that usually ensures regular rainfall in the Amazon and beyond.

However deforestation, degradation, and fire can break the link, disrupting the great moisture pump that delivers moisture to the forest and carries it to other areas, according to Nobre.

"Deforestation can put all of these attributes of the forest at risk. Recognized climate models anticipate varying harmful effects of deforestation on climate, predictions that have been confirmed by observations. Among them are the drastic reduction in transpiration, changes in the dynamics of clouds and rains and prolonged dry season in deforested areas," he states. "Other unanticipated effects, such as smoke and soot damage to the dynamics of rainfall, even in pristine forest areas, are also being observed."

Nobre says there is a danger that continued deforestation and degradation could tip the Amazon biome from tropical rainforests to savanna. Such a cataclysm could undercut the biotic pump, leaving much of South America — including breadbaskets in Southern Brazil and Argentina — much drier. That in turn could put much of the continent's economic activity at risk.

To stave off that scenario, Nobre urges "the massive mobilization of people, resources and strategies" to reverse deforestation and degradation.

"In addition to maintaining Amazonian forest any cost we must confront the liability of accumulated deforestation and begin a comprehensive process of recovering what was destroyed, which in Brazil amounts to an area of 184 million football fields," said Nobre, likening the effort needed to that of fighting a war.

"To address the seriousness of the situation, we need mobilization [on par] with a war effort, but not directed to conflict," he writes. "Only a minority of the society has been and still is directly involved in the destruction of forests. And that minority is pushing the nation toward climate abyss."

CITATION: Antonio Nobre (2014). O Futuro Climático da Amazônia. INPE. 30 October 2014.

And there you have it. The biotic pump theory isn't considered settled science by the signatories to the Kyoto Protocol; the link between 'excess' carbon emissions and 'climate change' is.  

As to Nobre's call to halt deforestation, the ruralistas (Brazilian farmers (of Portugese descent) banded together to battle the draconian land claims made by Brazil's Indigenous Peoples. 

This Inter Press Services report from June 2013 (Resurgence of Indigenous Identity in the Crossfire in Brazil) is a rare English-language window on the struggle between the two sides:
The main objective of the ruralistas is to modify the 1988 constitution, which guarantees indigenous groups the exclusive right to land that they have traditionally lived on, and a large enough area to provide for their “physical and cultural” survival.
In 2012, the rural bloc managed to get the country’s forest code overhauled, to their own benefit and at the expense of the environment.
Other measures that they are demanding, like the participation of the ministries of agriculture and agrarian development, and agricultural research centres, in the process of demarcation of native lands, are aimed at hindering the recognition of new indigenous reserves.
If you are new to the topic I suggest you study the entire IPS report, even though it's clearly weighted to the side of the Amerindians.  But it goes nowhere near asking whether and to what extent the sides are receiving support from outside Brazil.  The closest the report comes to raising the question is in the second sentence in this passage:
The correlation of forces and the government’s strong emphasis on economic development are totally negative for indigenous people.
But in their favour are the constitution, international conventions and international public opinion that defends diversity and native rights.
If foreign agribusiness and governments that import cattle and produce from Brazil have been helping the ruralistas, and the Global Carbon Emissions Control crowd has been helping the Amerindians, this would be fairly typical 21st Century proxy warfare.  

Even without proxies, the struggle when combined with the Brazilian government's development and exporting goals is going make it hard for the all-out effort to stop deforestation that Antonio Nobre recommends.  

The bottom line is that as long as Brazil keeps to its carbon emissions agreement under the Kyoto Protocol, a certain amount of Amazon forest can be converted to pasture.

But what if the biotic pump theory is correct? And what if it indeed the Amazon's flying rivers have a significant impact on rainfall patterns around the world?

In that case the train has already pulled into the station.  It's too late.. 

The Train, Part 1

Monday, May 4

Thousand faces of drought: water bonds at risk

Latest Victim of California’s Drought: Water Bonds
Investors steer clear of debt issued by water utilities
by Aaron Kuriloff
May 4, 2015
The Wall Street Journal 
California’s drought is starting to spread to the market for bonds issued by water utilities, long considered one of the safest types of debt sold by state and local governments.
Some investors are steering clear of the bonds from hard-hit areas of the U.S. west, amid concerns that restrictions on water use will drive down water-authority revenue. Some authorities may have a tough time raising rates to offset that lost income.
If shortages persist, credit ratings may weaken and prices for outstanding bonds fall, according to analysts and rating firms.
California water and sewer bonds lost value in April for the second month in three, falling 0.61% after Gov. Jerry Brown imposed mandatory water restrictions. All California municipal bonds posted a 0.55% decline for the month, counting price moves and interest payments, according to Barclays PLC.
California is in its fourth year of drought, one of the worst on record for the nation’s most populous state. It is costing billions of dollars in losses in its agricultural sector and prompting the first-ever mandatory statewide cutbacks in water use.
It is also a rare fissure in one of the most-secure and widely traded sectors of the $3.7 trillion municipal-bond market. During last year’s rally in bonds, water and sewer debt nationwide outperformed the market, rising 9.7% compared with 9% for tax-exempt bonds overall, according to Barclays. California water and sewer agencies have issued about $28.8 billion in bonds since 2010, according to Thomson Reuters.
Water-utility bonds seldom default because they’re typically backed by residents’ payments on an essential service. And so far the drought hasn’t kept water authorities from tapping the debt market.
Lots more in the report but I'll skip to this passage:
Maintaining investor demand will be important in California, where officials are accelerating parts of a voter-approved plan to sell more than $7 billion in general obligation bonds to pay for new water projects. That plan includes grants to local authorities, who may sell their own bonds.

Brain damage, malnutrition and drought: many kids really can't spell "internet"

Rainforest cleared for oil palm plantations. Photo: Rhett A. Butler

I'm tossing this one out for those who ask whether there's a real emergency with water shortages. Oh no, it's just that I have nothing to do with my time except put up posts on water issues.  All right, Pundita, don't start in.  Yes there's an emergency, for several reasons that are aren't readily obvious. 

One is that solutions can have long lead times to implement. Particularly because many solutions include dismantling preexisting solutions.

Meanwhile, it's not what we do today, it's how fast we can do it. Turn around and a business has become an industry, then blink and it's a global industry.  

How?  Templates. It took many years to hash out the templates for setting up an industry such as factory work outsourcing in foreign countries.  But once the template was created, then even a small business could play at being big-time global corporation.  

So you have these two factors pushing against each other:  long lead time for solution, against short lead time for expansion.  

And it's a really long lead time for a solution when it involves the livelihoods of millions and even hundreds of millions of people.  Biofuel is a perfect illustration.  That industry became globalized within about a decade, and it's not just agribusiness.  Tata in India came out with a $2,500 car that runs on biofuel.  And how many farm laborers globally work for agribusinesses that grow plants for biofuels?   

So when people say, 'Oh now we see that biofuels are no good' -- yeah, well, it's a little late in the day to roll up that industry in quick time.  Meantime, the downsides of biofuels pile up faster and faster. 

Welcome to the 21st Century, wherein "back to the drawing board" takes on a whole new meaning. You have to wear rolllerblades just to catch up with the board.

Another reason an emergency is afoot is that the human brain's highest cognitive functions are the first to go in the fetus when the mother carrying the fetus is severely malnourished. 

Don't quote me on this but I vaguely recall the phenomenon was first studied in organized fashion during a famine in an African country, maybe Ethiopia, maybe something like 40 years ago.  The tragic circumstances, which could never be humanely replicated in the lab, provided brain scientists with the rare opportunity to study what happens to the human brain when it's born of a severely malnourished mother.  

I do clearly recall one scientist saying there was no way to make up the difference; babies born of the famine would never be able to process highly abstract information when they grew up.  

That turned out to be the problem in Haiti. Many of the mothers there were severely malnourished, even resorting to eating baked mud to fill up their stomachs. USAID and some other agencies got the idea of turning the country into a mini-Shenzhen factory plantation, to get the Haitians working. Then they found out many of the Haitians they tried to train for the factory work couldn't mentally process the instructions needed to work on the assembly line.

Much modern factory work is demanding on the higher cognitive functions; the manuals can require a college education to understand

So that's how a city that wasn't built for that many people got stuffed with a rapid influx of tens of thousands, many of whom died in the 2010 earthquake.  Haitians from all over the country had piled into Port au Prince, waiting for their factory jobs, jobs that never materialized.  

The situation exists even here in the USA.  There is so much food, so many free feeding programs, that one would have to be living far out in the boonies to ever go hungry.  But that doesn't take into account dope.  

Doper pregnant women can be so strung out on crack or meth or heroin or whatever that they're too messed up to hie themselves to the soup kitchens, food banks, etc.  Their offspring show the same brain damage found in famine babies.  It could be the same for offspring of alcoholics.

The point is that we shouldn't have to see the bodies piled up or waves of drought refugees trying to get across a national border before recognizing there's an emergency.  

Americans are very limited in what they can do to solve the water shortage crises in other countries -- except in one respect. That is the famous Monkey See Monkey Do aspect of human nature. 

It was barely 15 minutes before protests against police brutality broke out in the USA before Israelis just had to have their own protests.

No matter how many complaints there are about America, everyone wants to have what the top dog has and act the way the top dog does.  That impulse applies through history. Gurdjieff once observed that around the turn of the last century, you could sell anything to the Russians if you called it French. 

Part of the impulse is competitive, of course, but that's just the point.

The biggest thing Americans could do for the rest of the world right now is get very busy in a very obvious way dealing with their own water problems.  That would make it chic, you understand.  


California dam built on earthquake fault (eye roll) is being taken down

Well it was built in 1921; what did they know back then about quake faults?  Another reason for removing the dam is that the reservoir behind it is 95 percent packed with mud.  As to how many other reservoirs for old U.S. dams and ones around the world have the same problem -- [Gallic shrug]

To dam or not to dam?  That is the question.  I've stayed away from trying to learn the answer because it would be about six months out of my life before I could even begin to think in informed fashion on the question. 

As for taking the case-by-case approach to the question:  this means dealing with statistics on the particular dam -- there being statistics, damn statistics, and dam statistics. So much money is involved in dam projects, and so many people  affected, those on either side of the debate can marshal cadres of engineers who will swear on a stack of data that the dam is critically needed or the dam is going to doom the region.  

It's like watching a tennis match.  

This said, from what I have picked up over the decades about various dam projects, it seems this is a last resort that became a huge fad starting in the post-World War Two Development Era.  They went so dam happy since then, now in many parts of the world including California they're running out of sites for dams!

It was as if the amazing technologies connected with dams became their own rationale for dam building, one that took precedence over very complex water storage issues that only in this era of satellite-driven data collection are becoming more clearly understood.  It's getting to the point where the known unknowns, as Rumsfeld termed it, are clearer.    

In short, questions about the impact of dam building on regional water security seem to be shifting from engineering to scientific disciplines that didn't exist even a quarter century ago.

All that is introduction to a report from a San Diego daily newspaper on the battlespace being staked out on whether California needs more reservoirs and dams.  Note it's a three-page report.  

Caveat:  political templates aren't helpful in a drought of such magnitude.  I kept that in mind when reading the report.

File - In this June 1, 2006 file photo is the San Clemente Dam on the Carmel River in Carmel Valley, Calif. The largest dam removal project in California history has hit an important milestone with the diversion of a half-mile section of the Carmel River into a man-man river bed. San Clemente Dam has to come down because it was built in 1921 on an earthquake fault and because the reservoir behind it is 95 percent packed with mud. State regulators are worried that if the privately owned dam collapsed homes and businesses downstream would be flooded by muck. (AP Photo/Monterey County Herald, Vern Fisher) The Associated Press [via U-T0

Dams, reservoirs may not be best answer
Critics say projects are costly, offer limited supply for cities, farms
By Chris Nichols
3 P.M.MAY 3, 2015Updated 9:57 A.M.MAY 4, 2015U-T San Diego

SACRAMENTO — With dead almond trees propped on the Capitol steps and school children clutching signs that read “We need water. Build storage now!”, advocates for new dams and reservoirs in California offered a striking set of visuals in Sacramento last week.

Legislation to advance those traditional GOP arguments, however, faded away faster than this year’s Sierra Nevada snowpack, rejected later in the day by Democrats who tightly control decisions under the Capitol dome.

“I think (surface storage) is a dinosaur. The fact is it’s an inferior way to store water,” said Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, who chaired a panel that rejected a Republican bill to speed up dam and reservoir construction last week. “It will be a piece of the future, but a very small piece.”

The construction of dams and reservoirs has slowed dramatically in California over the past 40 years due to stronger environmental regulations, the lack of remaining suitable sites and growing momentum for more cost-effective methods of storing water.

But faced with a fourth straight year of drought and growing water shortages for agriculture, Republican lawmakers and Central Valley farmers say there’s no better time than now to build additional above ground storage, to ensure future drought’s aren’t so brutal.

“(The drought) started in agriculture, but now it’s touched all parts of the state — we know the solution is water storage,” Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Nicolaus, told the farmers, lawmakers and children at last week’s Capitol steps rally.

Gallagher authored the bill, AB 311, to expedite reservoir construction. Like the almond trees on the steps, his legislation was dead just hours after the rally, defeated by a 6-3 party line vote in the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, with all Democrats opposed

Lacking in detail, and pursuing a solution Democrats simply don’t agree with, the legislation was flawed from the start, said William, the committee chair.

“It was a political stunt,” Williams added of the rally.

History and high cost

California is home to more than 1,400 regulated reservoirs, the largest of which were built in Northern California by the state and federal governments from the 1950s through the 1970s. Since the completion of New Melones Dam in the Sierra foothills in 1979, however, only regional water authorities have invested in large-scale dams and reservoirs.


All right; that's not even the entire first page of the report.


"California Drought Killed 12 Million Forest Trees Since Last Year"

Jeffrey pine and oak mortality in the Cleveland National Forest in San Diego County, April 2015., via KBPS

... 67 percent of California remains in an “extreme” or “exceptional” drought, and conditions are expected to worsen as the dry season sets in.
“Most of those [burned] areas aren’t even coming back into trees at all. They’re kind of being switched over now into Chaparral plants because they burned so hot the seed source is gone.”

"These dead forests are going to be more primed for any type of fire. Also, it’s going to impact water quality as there’s going to be more particulate that will go running off these hillsides into the rivers and streams.”

"A tree’s survival often depends on its proximity to other trees."

Forest fragmentation. I've been learning that's the big killer. Sets up a vicious cycle that sets off runaway chain reactions. Also, note that the research team KBPS reports on didn't attempt to survey beetle damage to the forest trees.  

Has California reached the point of no return?  With the KBPS report I think the question is now on the table for parts of the state. The mention of chaparral reminds me of Amazon rain forest areas turning into savannah. Again, a vicious cycle is set in motion.  Forest to grasslands, no reversion to forest.
See the KBPS  website for two graphics on tree mortality in California and the latest US Drought Monitor (April 30):  "Much of San Diego County, shown in red, is in an "extreme" drought. At this level, major crop and pasture losses are common, fire risk is extreme, and widespread water shortages can be expected, requiring restrictions."  

California Drought Killed 12 Million Forest Trees Since Last Year
by Susan Murphy
KBPS (San Diego, California Public Radio)
Monday, May 4, 2015

An estimated 12 million trees across California’s forestlands have died over the past year because of extreme drought conditions, according to an aerial survey conducted April 8-17 by the U.S. Forest Service.

In San Diego County, 82,528 trees, mostly Jeffrey pines across Mt. Laguna, have succumbed to a lack of rainfall, with many more struggling to survive, said Jeffrey Moore, interim aerial survey program manager for the U.S. Forest Service.

There is “very heavy mortality, a lot of discoloration in the pine trees that probably will expire sometime during this growing season, as well as oak trees that are suffering,” Moore said.

Moore was part of a team that surveyed the trees visually, using a digital mapping system while flying in a fixed-wing aircraft 1,000 feet above ground.

A tree’s survival often depends on its proximity to other trees, he said.

“A lot of trees are competing for whatever available moisture there is in a drought situation,” Moore said. “When you have too many trees in an area, it makes it hard on all of the trees.”

In Southern California, the researchers tracked more than 4.2 million acres in Cleveland, San Bernardino, Angeles and Los Padres National Forests, where they found an estimated 2 million perished trees. They combed another 4.1 million acres in the Southern Sierra Nevada, where they documented approximately 10 million dead trees. Their findings were compared to similar surveys taken in July 2014, Moore said.

In San Diego County, Moore said they found substantial pine mortality near Descanso Road in the Cleveland National Forest, and throughout Mt. Laguna.

The team did not attempt to map gold-spotted oak borer beetle-related mortality in this survey, he said. Nor did they track black oak trees, since it's unclear whether those without leaves are dead or just “leafing out”—bare but in the process of growing their new leaves for the spring.

The county’s forests are already reeling from the 2003 Cedar Fire that devoured 280,000 acres, including in the Cuyamaca Mountains. The region was formerly blanketed by a coniferous forest, but recovery has been poor, Moore said.

“Most of those areas aren’t even coming back into trees at all,” Moore said. “They’re kind of being switched over now into Chaparral plants because they burned so hot the seed source is gone.”

Large trees, such as the Jeffrey pine, are important for storing carbon from the air. They also provide food and habitat for various species, including squirrels, deer and birds, such as the Pygmy Nuthatch that probes into clusters of pine needles for small insects.

“When you start thinking about what it takes for a tree, which is usually a fairly hearty type of plant to die off, it’s telling you a pretty clear signal of just how intense the drought has been,” said Brian Fuchs, climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center.

“These dead forests are going to be more primed for any type of fire,” Fuchs said. “Also, it’s going to impact water quality as there’s going to be more particulate that will go running off these hillsides into the rivers and streams.”

Fuchs said 67 percent of California remains in an “extreme” or “exceptional” drought, and conditions are expected to worsen as the dry season sets in.

“The heat of the summer really amplifies some of that development,” Fuchs said.


The Train, Part 1 of 2

First they said biofuels were good. Then they said biofuels were bad. Now they're all going straight to hell. Why?  

They made an unwarranted assumption. If they'd just stopped there but they didn't. Drunk with power, puffed up with vast intellect, oozing moral superiority, they used governments to ram through laws and channel obscene amounts of tax money into saving the planet from getting too warm.  

The unwarranted assumption, however, was that whatever warming they feared was the direct result of excessive burning of fossil fuels.  And from this they somehow decided that one way to save the planet was if everyone switched from fuels made from crude oil to fuels from plants.

As one forest after another around the world was razed to make way for soybeans, palms, and sugar cane for biofuels, a Brazilian scientist was trying to make his voice heard over ringing cash registers as farmers racked up fortunes from biofuel plantations and carbon credit swaps specialists cleaned up.  

See, he explained patiently, you are going to get drier weather if you keep chopping down so many forests and especially so much of the Amazon rain forest.   

Then he'd get down on his tummy and draw stick figures for the geniuses of global warming to show how trees transpire moisture into the air, and how this moisture rises up and makes huge vapor rivers -- oceans of vapor, actually. 

Then he'd stand and make flapping motions with his arms to illustrate how the vapors rise and sail through the sky.*     

These vapors, he explained, are critical to maintaining adequate rainfall and if no rainfall, well, this is how you have a drier planet.   

But where were the soybeans?  The carbon credits?  Where was Al Gore?  And what did chopping down trees have to do with melting glaciers except the dead trees released carbon dioxide or something like that and there you are, manmade greenhouse gases destroying the planet.

The decades rolled on.  By the time the first biofuels food riots broke out in 2007, some people in the Green movement were openly questioning the wisdom of biofuels, which were skyrocketing the price of basic foodstuffs in the poorest regions of the world, and making big inroads on forests. By that same year Brazil's government had put a satellite in the sky with the pointed acronym DETER to deter loggers and farmers from cutting down too many trees so the planet wouldn't die from manmade greenhouse gases.

But stopping unlawful deforestation turned out to be devilishly hard . By 2008 Monga Bay's Rhett Butler and his crew, keeping tabs on a small but growing number of scientists who were questioning hyperfocus on carbon emissions and biofuels, reported on what had been a mystery.  With all the energetic government policies in Brazil to stop excessive deforestation of the Amazon, how did it to continue to spread like a metastasizing cancer? 

The answer was "indirectly:"
William Laurance, a senior scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, says that massive subsidies to promote American corn production for ethanol have shifted soy production to Brazil where large areas of cerrado grasslands are being torn up for soybean farms. The expansion of soy in the region is contributing to deforestation in the Amazon.

"Some forests are directly cleared for soy farms. Farmers also purchase large expanses of cattle pasture for soy production, effectively pushing the ranchers further into the Amazonian frontier or onto lands unsuitable for soy production," said Laurance.
"In addition, higher soy costs tend to raise beef prices because soy-based livestock feeds become more expensive, creating an indirect incentive for forest conversion to pasture," added Laurance. "Finally, the powerful Brazilian soy lobby has been a driving force behind initiatives to expand Amazonian highway networks, which greatly increase access to forests for ranchers, farmers, loggers, and land speculators."

Satellite imagery from NASA supports Laurance. [...]
By 2009 even Bill Clinton was worried about the relentless pace of deforestation in the Amazon. Tree Hugger reported on June 4 of that year:
I guess when you're a former US president with a well-respected eponymous humanitarian foundation you can really lay into a touchy subject without much mincing of words. The example: Bill Clinton talking to Brazil on how being a world leader in ethanol production is no victory if it is coupled with escalating carbon emissions from deforestation:Speaking at the Ethanol Summit 2009, Clinton was quoted as saying by Reuters:
"What people are worried about, Brazil, is not whether you have the most efficient biofuel in the world ... everybody knows that is true. But the world would say if we let Brazil help us solve our problem at the price of more rainforest destruction, have we really gained anything? That's what you have to answer."
Clinton also pointed out that though Brazil has made great strides in renewable energy, 75 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions come from deforestation and agriculture. When these are included in the country's total, Brazil rises to being the world's third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases. [...]
On December 18, 2009, six months after Clinton's speech, Christine Dell'Amore reported for National Geographic on an odd claim made at the Copenhagen Climate Conference. The claim sounded suspiciously like a counter-theory to the manmade greenhouses gases theory of global warming -- although as I think I noted the first time I mentioned the report Dell'Amore strove to square the circle:
Amazon Losing "Flying Rivers," Ability to Curb Warming
The Amazon's "flying rivers"—humid air currents that deliver water to the vast rain forest—may be ebbing, which could have dire consequences for the region's ability to help curb global warming, an expert said this week at the Copenhagen climate conference.
Rising temperatures in the Amazon region, in large part due to climate change, are creating more arid savannas, which disrupt the water cycle vital to Brazil's farming and energy industries.
Deforestation also plays a role. As more of Brazil's rain forests fall to logging and agriculture, there are fewer trees to release the water vapor that creates these flying rivers.
Until recently, Amazon forest loss has been primarily linked to the trees' role in trapping greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), which are a root cause of global warming.
"Most people look at the Amazon as the lungs of the world, or as a solution to capture CO2," said Gérard Moss, an engineer and founder of the Flying Rivers Project, an ongoing effort to document the humid air currents and their effects.
"But I'd like people to realize that the Amazon Basin is a huge water pump—rain is [our] most valuable asset," he said by phone Wednesday in Copenhagen, where he gave a press briefing on the project earlier this week.
Flying rivers may transport as much water as the Amazon River itself, he added. "This huge rain machine needs to be preserved." [...]
Unlike the scientists Eneas Salati and Antonio Nobre, who'd taken the purist approach to explaining the importance of flying rivers, the more practical-minded Moss had clearly decided if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.  As long as he sprinkled his talk with "warming," he could get his research findings, and the findings of Salati and Nobre, past the gates at a big international climate change confab.

Yet the fact that National Geographic had picked up on his points was like the mournful whistle of a freight train coming nearer in the night.

*  I hope the good Dr Salati would indulge the poetic license I've taken in describing his efforts to explain the significance of flying rivers, which were surely more dignified than I've imagined.

The Train, Part 2


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