October 18, 2013 1:45 pm
It’s a running joke in some circles that there’s a countdown until the U.S. decides to invade Canada to tie up the northern country’s precious liquid resources. No, not oil—water. Canada holds claim to roughly a fifth of the world’s fresh water, and the U.S. is steadily running out. It would be a cute joke, if water wars weren’t a real thing.
According to a Circle of Blue study, from 2010 to 2012, the price of water rose 18 percent in 30 major US cities.
…At the same time, water infrastructure is rapidly deteriorating. In its 2009 report card, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave US drinking water infrastructure a D-, citing 7 billion gallons of drinking water lost daily from leaky pipes, an average of 850 pipe main breaks per day, and an $11 billion annual deficit to replace aged out facilities.
…From 2000 to 2010, average water rates and debt load carried by water utilities rose by 23 and 33 percent, respectively, after adjusting for inflation. One-third of water utilities account for a disproportionate percentage of this increase, with both debt and rate increases of over 100 percent. Half of that top third reported that their debt had increased over 200 percent.
Part of the problem is decaying infrastructure. Another part is that the U.S. is just plain running out of water. Large chunks of the country, particularly the Midwest, rely on drawing up stores of water that had been accumulating underground for thousands of years. These underground stores replenish, slowly, but when you draw out water more quickly than the stores are being renewed, that reservoir drains away. And when you pump non-renewable water up from the ground and let it drain into the ocean, you don’t get it back.
Sprawling human populations in water-scarce areas are driving people to rely on more costly methods of securing fresh water, too. Polycarpou:
As a city with very low annual rainfall, Santa Barbara has in recent years tried to reduce its dependence on a precarious allocation from the Santa Ynez River. In response to a severe drought from 1989 to 1991, the city built an expensive desalination plant which has since been put in “long-term storage mode” and will only be reactivated when demand can no longer be met with current supplies.
In Tampa Bay, Florida, when a falling water table threatened groundwater sources, the utility turned to more expensive surface water. Eventually, it too built a desalination plant, which it paid for in part by raising user water rates.
Fresh water is a finite resource. You can make more, but it’s going to cost you. Hopefully a solution can be found before it costs Canada, too.
More from Smithsonian.com:
October 17, 2013 3:12 pm
Mike Spencer Bown, 42, has been on the road since he sold his import company and, in 1990, left his home in Calgary. This week, upon arriving in Ireland, he completed his mission of more than twenty years—to experience every country in the world.
While many other people have also managed to visit more than 190 countries, in Bown’s book, many of those visits don’t count. “What they do is fly between major cities and especially capital cities, stop off in the airport or take a hotel for the night, and then say that they’ve ‘done’ such and such country,” he said on Canoe.ca.
Sometimes, Bown’s dedication to extensively visiting each place landed him in potentially dangerous situations. On his trip to Somalia, for example, he very well could have landed in prison. Officials there were flabbergasted when he insisted that he was a tourist, instead assuming that Bown must be a spy. Middle East Online reported on incident in 2010:
“They tried four times to put me back on the plane to get rid of me but I shouted and played tricks until the plane left without me,” the 41-year-old told an AFP correspondent in Mogadishu on his hotel’s roof terrace.
Somali officials then tried to hand him over to the African Union military force in Mogadishu, refusing to believe that he was in the city for pleasure.
“We have never seen people like this man,” Omar Mohamed, an immigration official, said Friday. “He said he was a tourist, we couldn’t believe him. But later on we found he was serious.”
Iraq was also difficult to visit, Bown said on his Facebook page. He tried not to talk while he was there, because he was attempting to pass as a local. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, he almost ran into a camp of genocidal rebels.
According to Canoe.ca, talk about a book and movie about Bown’s life are in the works. But if you’d prefer to experience the world’s highlights for yourself, Bown provided a list of the top 80 on Backpackology. Here are the top ten:
10. Living in a leaf hut with an African Pygmy tribe, Democratic Republic of Congo
09. Poling away from cantankerous hippos in a mocoro boat, Okavango Delta, Botswana
08. Pretending you’re Indiana Jones in the incredible, cliff-carved ruins of Petra, Jordan
07. Testing your liver on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, Russia
06. People watching over a sheesha pipe in an ahwa, Damascus, Syria
05. Coming face to face with Silverback Gorillas in Virunga Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
04. Red wine and wheels of cheese, anywhere in the Alps
03. Trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Peru
02. Standing in awe of the Great Herd Migration, Ngorogoro Crater, Tanzania
01. Looking down upon the world from Mt. Everest Base Camp, Nepal or Tibet
More from Smithsonian.com:
September 25, 2013 2:14 pm
Trilobites, extinct marine arthropods whose fossilized remains fill many a museum gift shop, turn out to have been pioneers of “one of the most successful defensive strategies of life on Earth,” the Guardian writes. A recently discovered 510-million-year-old specimen shows that they were the first known animal to roll up into a ball for self defense. The scared little guy in question, a species no larger than a fingernail, had been trapped in an ancient mudslide in what is today Alberta, Canada. Although the creature’s defensive strategy proved an evolutionary hit for millions of years to come, in this case, apparently, it didn’t serve its life-saving purpose.
The Guardian elaborates on the discovery:
Javier Ortega-Hernández, a paleobiologist at Cambridge University, was going through the Canadian fossils when he noticed a tiny trilobite from a group called Olenellida. It appeared to have spines poking out of its head. But closer inspection under a microscope revealed that the spines came not from the head, but from the trilobite’s tail, which was tucked under its body.
The trilobite wasn’t exactly a champion ball-roller. It had rolled into a sort of loosey-goosey ball, “as best it could,” the Guardian writes. It would take vastly more time and evolutionary tinkering for the tightly-balled animals of today, like armadillos and pill bugs, to emerge.
The lack of a locking mechanism in older, more primitive trilobites might explain why none has been found curled up before: unless they are swiftly entombed in the position, they flatten out as their muscles fail them.
Nevertheless, Ortega-Hernández did find a second curled up specimen, supporting his hunch that the rolled up trilobite was not just a fluke and meaning that the tiny trilobites have taken the ball-rolling champion lead by millions of years.
More from Smithsonian.com:
August 23, 2013 10:29 am
So there you are, trundling through the forest. A powerful black bear, lord of the food web, you’re eating up berries, maybe catching some fish, when, all of a sudden, you’re being eaten by a massive grizzly.
That scene, or something like it, played out in Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada, earlier in August, when hikers came across a grizzly eating a black bear.
The U.S. Fisheries and Wildlife Service says that grizzly bears are opportunistic omnivores:
It will eat plants, as well as insects and other animals. Scavengers by nature, grizzlies spend most of their waking hours searching for food. Forbs, roots, tubers, grasses, berries and other vegetation, and insects comprise most of the bear’s diet. But grizzlies are very adaptable, finding and subsisting on a variety of foods if necessary.
In Yellowstone this means moths, snapped up by the tens of thousands. In Banff, apparently, it means other bears.
Steve Michel, who works at Banff, says “he suspects the kill was opportunistic,” says the CBC.
“Grizzly bears are opportunistic hunters,” he said. “They will take advantage of any food source that presents itself.”
Bears eating other bears isn’t entirely new—polar bears will eat each other, especially each others’ young. But for grizzlies it’s much more novel. Though how novel is up for debate. Michel told the CBC that he “knows of four other instances when a grizzly has hunted, killed and eaten a black bear in Banff.”
“It may not be as rare as we think it is,” he said. “But it is rare that we actually are able to document it. We tend not to know about it all.”
More from Smithsonian.com:
August 8, 2013 1:02 pm
As Russia moves into the final stages of preparation for hosting the Winter Olympics, a movement is heating up to pull the games out from underneath them. Recent violence against homosexuals and a government ban on “pro-gay” activities has people concerned that gay athletes and fans will not be safe at the games. Activists have started circulating petitions to have the games moved out of Russia and have garnered support from high-profile advocates like George Takei and Stephen Fry. But how feasible is a move this late?
Preparing to host the Olympic games is an incredibly expensive venture. The London Olympics cost something like $15 billion to set up. Business Insider estimates that the Winter Olympics in Russia could cost the nation $51 billion, and much of that money has already been spent on building venues and housing and the trappings required for an Olympic game. This budget would make Sochi the most expensive Olympic games ever. For comparison, Vancouver only dropped $6 billion on its 2010 Winter Olympics.
Vancouver is, in fact, the place where many are suggesting the games be moved. The petition that seems to have the most signatures (84,852 at the time of writing this post) says:
We’d like too see the IOC move the games to Vancouver who held them (very successfully) in 2010. The venues are there already so getting them up and running again wouldn’t be too much of a hassle and could be done in the limited time allowed.
But just because Vancouver has hosted the games in the past doesn’t mean its facilities are still in working condition. There’s a long history of Olympic venues being modified for new uses, torn down or abandoned. The speed skating oval has been converted into a massive community recreation center, with gyms and an ice rink. Whistler, the famous skiing area, is used by tourists and visitors throughout the winter.The Olympic Village that Vancouver built has been turned into hard-to-sell apartment units. (The city will probably have to absorb nearly $300 million of the cost of building them.)
And it’s not just physical spaces that have to be sorted out before the games begin. The jockeying for broadcast rights, media coverage and advertising begins long before the buildings are even begun. The rights to broadcast the Olympics is worth over $4 billion dollars to NBC. Ten Network Holding secured the rights to broadcast the Russian games for $20 million. Advertisers have spent millions of dollars, and months planning ads for Sochi.
Some have pushed the International Olympic Committee to refuse Japan’s 2020 Olympic bid due to their dolphin and whale hunting policies. But this is the largest concerted effort to pick up and move an already planned Olympic game.
And the games have never been moved this late. In 1916, the games were supposed to be held in Berlin but were cancelled due to World War I. Similarly, the 1940 Summer Olympics were cancelled when World War II broke out, and the games didn’t resume until 1948. But they’ve never been moved from the host country.
Despite support from the petition, most admit that moving the games away from Russia simply isn’t possible. Yahoo’s sports blog calls the idea “delusional” and the site Think Progress admits that it’s simply not doable. Instead, TP says that the Olympic Committee needs to commit resources to protecting LGBT athletes. Since the games almost surely won’t be moved, LGBT supporters will have to shift their support and energy elsewhere.
More from Smithsonian.com: