We didn’t have a Pure Michigan summer. Pay attention to those climate warning signs.
Ali Abazeed – September 29, 2023
As summer draws to a close, it would be easy to forget the weather patterns and disruptions that took us about as far from a Pure Michigan summer as you can get. But we’re moving into an uncertain future, and we must pay attention to these warning signs.
Metro Detroit experienced unprecedented air quality alerts this summer, with over 23 days of air quality gauged unhealthy or worse, the first-ever air quality alert for the entire state, our own rash of fires due to unprecedented hot and dry conditions, and, thanks to Canadian wildfire smoke in early June, another air-quality alert first: a warning based on PM2.5, a form of fine particulate matter that wreaks havoc on the respiratory system.
Hospitals across the state reported increased admissions of patients suffering breathing problems due to poor air quality. For a region of the country that already ranks poorly in particle pollution, this summer’s alerts serve as a clarion call for action.
And it wasn’t just poor air quality. We’ve witnessed increases in extreme flooding, extreme heat, tornadoes and high winds, just this summer. If left unchecked, we are looking at scenarios that will lead to profound environmental degradation — and this for a state deemed a potential “climate haven” for its ability to weather the even more destructive effects of climate change.
Beyond the ‘hottest summer ever’: How climate extremes impact us
Flooding and erosion will likely disrupt Michigan’s precious freshwater systems, and could contribute to harmful algal blooms that damage aquatic life and pose a risk to human health. Just last week, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources added two new invasive species to the state’s watch list, likely the result of alterations in habitat conditions due to climate change. These environmental flags have far-reaching consequences for the region, our state’s social fabric, and public health.
The consequences of climate extremes extend beyond just the environment and health. The stress and uncertainty generated by extreme weather events also corrode our built environment and social square.
Upheaval due to extreme weather is leading to significant changes in the fabric of society. Research shows that climate change is causing “social tipping points”: fast and fundamental changes in human values, behaviors, the nature of relationships, technologies and institutions that are just as intractable and hard to undo as climate change itself.
Constant worry about the next flood or extreme weather event takes a toll on interpersonal relationships, and has a deleterious effect on community bonds. Neighborhood squares, once the bedrock of local culture and interaction, face an existential crisis as people are forced to move, houses are abandoned and the pressures of climate change reshape communities. The ironclad law of climate change is this: Underserved communities and communities closest to the pain will always bear the brunt of displacement, insecurity and devastation due to extreme weather.
This is to say nothing of the already growing political tensions likely to rise due to extreme weather.
Research has repeatedly shown that more extreme weather contributes to many adverse outcomes, including violent crime, political instability and even the collapse of global regimes. Locally, we have diverging views on accepting the science of climate change, let alone addressing its disastrous effects. Politicizing what should be a shared concern for our state will make it harder to enact meaningful change.
Climate change is a public health crisis – and a social challenge
So, what can we do?
First, we must accept that extreme weather is not just an environmental issue, but a public health crisis and a social challenge. A public health approach centers on the health and well-being of communities near and far, but also emphasizes the importance of our built environment and its effect on our health. If our built environment is constantly reconfigured and disrupted by the ensuing floods, droughts, storms, or wildfires, the consequences on our health will continue to be disastrous.
We must adopt and enforce policies that limit emissions and promote sustainable practices now.
It’s important to expand our conception of community, and invest in regional efforts vital to increasing the resilience of communities, like long overdue investments in regional transit.
Downstream communities like Dearborn cannot solve flooding alone — we need cooperation and support from upstream communities to improve resiliency.
Though climate change is often globalized, seen as a concept far removed from our day-to-day, local actions can provide significant outcomes in the short term. For example, research shows that though most climate-related actions save money and provide benefits in the long run, the benefits of emission reductions for improved air quality provide immediate results regarding improved health outcomes, agricultural benefits, medical expenses and economic benefits.
Actions at the local level matter, and there are essential steps you can take now in your own community: Encourage investment in green infrastructure that makes our terrain more resilient to inevitable extreme weather, shift toward renewable energy sources, and educate yourself and others on climate adaptation. Ask your local government whether it has a sustainability plan. When new developments are proposed in your community, make sure those developments move us closer to a green future. Political leaders should incorporate public health concepts and terminology into their climate policies to engage communities that are facing the brunt of the devastation.
The summer of 2023 was a glaring preview of what’s at stake for Michigan’s future. Our health, communities and shared social bonds are on the line.
The time for more decisive action was yesterday.
Ali Abazeed is a Dearborn native, founding director of public health for the City of Dearborn, where is is currently the city’s chief public health officer, and is a faculty member at Wayne State University.
Mobility, a novel by Lydia Kiesling, looks at the way fossil fuels defines life in public and private, shaping the very way we tell stories.
Jess Bergman – September 26, 2023 (October 2nd-9th, 2023 issue)
Elizabeth “Bunny” Glenn, the protagonist of Lydia Kiesling’s new novel Mobility, may work for the Turnbridge Oil Company, but that doesn’t mean she’s in oil. As she’s quick to remind anyone who asks, “I work for the non-oil part of it, the part that is moving away from oil; we are targeting batteries and energy storage, not oil.” And as she rationalizes to herself, all she does in her capacity as a marketer and administrator is “relay information, tell stories, shape narratives, soft things, things that didn’t really matter.”
Despite these disavowals, the fact is that Bunny has spent years trying to better understand the oil industry. It turns out to be a Sisyphean task: The basic schema of the industry—where many companies are vertically and horizontally integrated, mergers are a constant, and financialization has spawned its own sprawling sub-industry—intentionally obscures the full picture. The oil landscape is a quicksand of “names and names and names.” Every time Bunny learned a new one, “the map she had constructed in her mind shifted.” Meanwhile, her brother John, a do-gooder Peace Corps veteran who teaches English in Ukraine, teases Bunny that she’ll wind up like their uncle Warren, a garden-variety reactionary with a desk job at Motiva that earns him “a seemingly huge amount of money.”
More than halfway through the novel, John’s partner, Sofie—a Swedish journalist who covers fossil fuels—provides Bunny with a term that describes the oil industry’s elusiveness: “hyperobject.” Coined by the philosopher Timothy Morton in 2010, a hyperobject is something so large and complex, so distributed across both space and time, that it evades our comprehensive understanding, even as we cannot escape its presence in our life. “The more data we have about hyperobjects, the less we know about them—the more we realize we can never truly know them,” Morton argues. Oil is a hyperobject par excellence: Not only is it the result of a geologic process that is millions of years old, but there are reserves of crude oil all over the world, and its byproducts are found in innumerable consumer items: artificial limbs and toilet seats, lipstick and trash bags, refrigerators and contact lenses. As Bunny herself puts it, “It does touch everything. Absolutely everything.”
Even before Bunny started working at Turnbridge, her life had been touched by oil more directly than others’. As a Foreign Service brat in Azerbaijan in the late 1990s, her adolescence unfolded alongside the development of a new international order, and commodities like oil played a starring role in this transition. Four years before her family’s arrival in Baku, and three years after the country restored its independence from the Soviet Union, the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic and a consortium of 11 foreign oil companies signed what was called the “contract of the century”: an agreement to jointly develop—and share the profits from—oil fields in the Azeri sectors of the Caspian Sea. Several of those foreign companies, of course, were American. Bunny’s father is sent to Azerbaijan in part to protect his country’s investment.
In Baku, some of the consequences of the newly privatized oil economy are obvious even to a self-absorbed 15-year-old like Bunny: a sulfuric smell on the beach, or the “mansions with no context” piled up on cliffsides outside of the capital. But most of what she learns about the industry comes via a more sentimental education—namely, crushes on the young men who have flocked to Azerbaijan to witness the so-called end of history. There is Eddie, a mild-mannered Brit making a documentary about the Nagorno-Karabakh War, who rents a room in the apartment above the Glenns’; and then there is Charlie, a hedonistic, hirsute American who publishes a guerrilla newspaper called The Intercock (short for Inter-Caucasian Times) covering “foreign activity in the former Soviet Union.”
At one point, while attending a party at an oil prospector’s mansion in Baku’s ancient inner city, Bunny bumps into her crushes smoking cigars with a gray-haired Amoco bureaucrat. After frightening the oilman off with a veiled reference to his taste for sex workers, Charlie turns to Bunny. “Do you want to hear the story of oil in the former Soviet Union?” he asks. Following her noncommital “I guess,” Charlie proceeds to unspool a profane monologue about the scramble for the Caspian’s riches amid the breakup of the USSR, featuring cameos by Mikhail Gorbachev, Ilham Aliyev, “Condoleezza fucking Rice,” BP, Chevron, Exxon, and more.
This speech, which unfolds across four pages, is for Bunny’s benefit, but also our own. By embedding crucial context in naturalistic dialogue, Kiesling is able to establish the historical conjuncture in which her book is set without resorting to dull exposition. But this formal choice is more than just a canny bit of craft; it also hints at the novel’s true subject. Recognizing the epistemological impasse that Bunny runs up against in her quest to master the industry’s inner workings, Mobility is not really about oil qua oil, but the way it is narrativized—both for good and for ill.
Mobility teems with storytellers, from investigative reporters, podcasters, and filmmakers to spin doctors, government public information officers, and oil CEOs, dictating their memoirs to underpaid female assistants. When Bunny eventually joins their ranks, it’s due less to any conscious choice than to circumstance. Personally and professionally adrift after graduating from college in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis, she moves in with her recently divorced mother in Texas and finds a job through a temp agency at Miles Engineering Consultants, a firm that provides “client satisfaction in the diverse fields of geophysics and seismology, hydrology, hydrogeology, and construction support.” Bunny is assigned to the admin pool, where she puts her English degree to work copy-editing inscrutable reports about prospective megaprojects, such as a nuclear power plant in the Persian Gulf. However tedious, it’s a task at which she excels.
Not long after Bunny is hired, she meets Frank Miles—son of the company’s founder, and son-in-law to oil magnate Frank Turnbridge—who recognizes in Bunny a potential asset to his own ambition. Before long, Frank convinces her to jump ship to Turnbridge, where he’ll be heading up a new arm of the business: one that “over time,” he promises, will begin investing in “renewables, batteries, clean energy.” As she’ll learn, it’s a future that’s always just on the verge of arriving.
Whatever “unease” Bunny feels as a reflexive liberal who believes in global warming but who is now working for an oil company is allayed in short order by the material comforts that the job enables her to obtain: a well-appointed apartment in Houston, Ted Baker dresses, Bare Minerals makeup, Jo Malone perfume (the novel is littered with brand names that increase in value in tandem with Bunny’s professional advancement). It’s a state of affairs that Sofie mocks during a visit to Texas: “I’m sorry, but this is such an American tragedy! You work for the oil complex so you can have health insurance and a place to live!” However much Bunny clings to these justifications, the truth is that she starts to find something magnetic about the industry after immersing herself in its literature.
While attempting to better understand her new workplace, Bunny spends many Saturdays at the Turnbridge Petroleum Library, donated by Frank to a local college, where she reads introductory textbooks (“useful but boring”) as well as “narrative histories, which she infinitely preferred.” The latter are seductive in both the cinematic quality of their imagery and in the sheer enormity of the feats of engineering and labor they describe—so monumental that they reduce the “dead people and filth strewn all over the pages of these books” to mere footnotes. “These tragedies were made small against the inexorability of a steel tube drilling down thousands of feet, drilling sideways a thousand feet more, seeming to subvert the laws of geology or physics,” Bunny thinks. “Literal pipelines laid under the ground and spanning two continents, traveling under the ocean itself, to bring them their standard of living.”
Her encounter with these texts is formative in more ways than one: Bunny will eventually stake her career on building a Lean In version of this emphatically masculine mythos. In 2016, she attends a women-in-energy luncheon in a frigid Texas conference room where the keynote speaker is “one of the first Black women special agents in the FBI.” Bunny, then unmarried and childless, is seated with a number of colleagues discussing the challenges of being a working mother in the oil industry. A geologist with twins who’s recently been let go from Exxon jokes—if you can call it that—that “they always lay the moms off first.” Then one of the only men present at the lunch drops by their table. “What are we talking about here?” he asks. “Shoes?” A less keen novel might leverage this interaction into an epiphany for Bunny, but Kiesling is working in an ultimately ironic register here. At the end of the scene, Bunny lifts a foot out of her “Tory Burch square-heeled croc pumps that didn’t have quite enough room in the toe box…before turning her attention back to the podium.” She, at least, had been thinking about shoes after all.
Over the course of Mobility, Kiesling develops a critique of the fossil fuel industry’s use of women as both a shield and a source of legitimacy. This applies to women on the outside: A recurring motif is the line, supplied by industry flacks like Bunny, that it’s thanks to oil and gas that mothers can give birth in brightly lit, temperature-regulated hospitals, full of high-tech devices made from petrochemical byproducts, rather than in unsanitary sheds, the United States’ high rate of maternal mortality be damned. But it’s women working on the inside who prove to be most useful to the industry. Of course, the benefits flow both ways: On the one hand, the industry’s embrace of corporate feminism allows individual women to recast their environmentally destructive and highly remunerative work as a radical riposte to the old boys’ club. More significantly, this PR strategy plays into the narrative that a lack of diversity, not a profit motive antithetical to life, is responsible for oil’s gravest ills. In this way, reforming the energy industry’s relationship to women and other minorities becomes a metonym for reforming the industry itself. At yet another conference, Bunny listens to a chipper blonde introduce a new professional network for women backed by companies like Shell and Halliburton. Her ambitions for the project are grand: It’s “something that will benefit not only us, but our entire oil and gas industry.” Notably, the woman is a special guest at an event titled “Storytelling Oil and Gas.”
By focusing primarily on the recent past and covering mostly real disasters, natural and otherwise—the Deepwater Horizon spill; Hurricane Harvey—Mobility sets itself apart from most so-called climate change novels, which tend to take place in an alternative present or near future menaced by mysterious adverse weather events. So when the book flashes forward to 2051 in a brief coda knowingly titled “Downstream”—referring to the refining of crude oil and all of its byproducts, as well as their marketing and sale—it comes as a somewhat deflating capitulation to the conventions of the genre. Kiesling depicts this future bluntly; its crises are represented in broad strokes, with minimal stylistic flourishes: “On the first 120-degree-Fahrenheit day [Bunny] ever felt, nearly everything shriveled and died and the crows fell out of the trees.”
Given the destructiveness of Mobility’s final act, it’s tempting to read it as an environmentalist parable, or even an intervention. But the novel is fundamentally ambivalent about the usefulness of stories in fighting climate change. Through Bunny’s occasional insecurities about the meaning of her work for Turnbridge, Kiesling breaks the fourth wall. “Sometimes Elizabeth marveled at how simultaneously irrelevant and critical the shaping of narrative was to reality,” she writes.
Decarbonization was more important than ever. The majors were pulling out of the Permian and Bakken right and left…. And yet Europe was preparing to freeze without Russian gas. The EU had signed a deal to double its supply of LNG from Azerbaijan, great news for Azerbaijan and BP.
In Mobility, the primary function of the stories told by fossil fuel companies is to approximate the feeling of change without actually changing anything—except, perhaps, their names.
For the industry, this proves to be a winning strategy: “Many of the people who got rich from oil put themselves directly atop the next generation of energy just in the nick of time.” For its opponents, the value of narrative is less clear. We learn little about the impact of Sofie’s journalism, other than that her career goes “gangbusters” after she becomes a household name during the Standing Rock protests. And when Bunny bumps into Charlie many years after their initial meeting in Baku, he’s traded in harassing fossil fuel executives for reporting on drone war, because, he explains, “There’s more people with a deep state paranoia who will subscribe to your podcast than there are people who want to hear about oil companies.” Stories, Kiesling suggests, can make us feel better about the path of least resistance, or they can prompt us to consider the cost of our familiar comforts. But given that they tend toward tidy resolution, stories are more likely to produce inertia than action on a mass scale. This makes them no match for the resources of an industry that scaffolds our geopolitical order and produces trillions of dollars in profits a year.
Rather than styling itself as a rallying cry, the closest thing that Mobility offers to a concrete solution is smuggled into a joke in a scene some years before the apocalyptic flash-forward. During a visit to the United States in 2014 from his posting in Tajikistan, Bunny’s diplomat father tells his grown children that the long-defunct oil field their grandparents owned a small interest in might soon become active again, thanks to a tertiary form of oil recovery in which pressurized carbon dioxide is blasted into old wells to loosen whatever remains. Any money it yields, he says, will be passed on to them. Bunny’s brother John is horrified by the prospect of profiting from oil. “Can you do something to shut down production?” he asks.
Bunny laughs. “He owns one-seventy-somethingth of it,” she tells her brother. “Is he supposed to throw a grenade down the well?
Jess Bergman is a senior editor at The Baffler and a contributing writer at Jewish Currents.
Now that problem has reached the news pages of southern Ohio, and this will likely just be the beginning of coverage of fracking-related damage to the country’s groundwater supplies. (There has been much coverage of studies that suggest such harm is inevitable and likely happening from fracking. But, we are now shifting into the stage where the actual harm will start to be discovered—almost certainly too late to prevent contamination in many cases.)
The main culprit (for now) is not the oil and gas wells themselves, but the injection wells used to dispose of huge volumes of water laced with toxic chemicals that have been injected into wells under great pressure to fracture underground rocks containing oil and natural gas in shale deposits. A lot of that water comes back to the surface and so must be disposed of. One of the easiest ways to do that is to pump it deep underground—many thousands of feet down—where it can supposedly be safely deposited away from the surface and far below drinking water aquifers used by us humans.
The trouble is—as I pointed out in my piece 11 years ago—the injected wastewater doesn’t necessarily stay put. And, that’s the problem in southern Ohio. In the Ohio case, “the [Ohio] Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management found that waste fluid injected into the three K&H [waste injection] wells had spread at least 1.5 miles underground and was rising to the surface through oil and gas production wells in Athens and Washington counties.”
This is why a former EPA scientist referenced in my 2012 piece believes that groundwater practically everywhere there is any kind of drilling will become contaminated within the next 100 years as toxic fluids migrate from working and abandoned oil and gas wells and wastewater injection wells into fresh drinking water aquifers.
Part of the problem is the piecemeal regulation of oil and gas operations and wastewater injection. States do the regulation and currently face large and powerful oil and gas companies and the companies that haul their toxic fracking wastewater away. The states have a difficult time monitoring what these companies are dumping, not least of all because the composition of the fluids used to fracture shale oil and gas deposits is considered a trade secret. States cannot easily pry open the files of these companies to find out exactly what is in these fluids.
The fact that companies which use hazardous chemicals that can easily get into the drinking water supply are not obliged to divulge publicly the formulas for the mixtures they inject underground ought to shock the public. But unless Congress fixes some or all of the exemptions from federal disclosure laws enjoyed by the oil and gas industry, the public will continue to be in the dark about the makeup of the waste fluids from oil and gas drilling, especially in shale oil and gas fields, and associated injection of toxic fluids deep into the Earth.
Without crucial information about contaminants which threaten public drinking water supplies, regulators and the public will be shadow-boxing their oil and gas industry foes. My guess is that if companies were obliged to release their fracking formulas and be subject to analysis of the actual fracking fluids and every community was by law informed of this information and its implications for public health, regulation of these practices would be far stricter and some current practices, such as injection of wastes underground, would be banned. Permian Basin fracking (2014) by Rhod08 via Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Permianbasinfrac082014.png
Kurt Cobb is a freelance writer and communications consultant who writes frequently about energy and environment. His work has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, Common Dreams, Le Monde Diplomatique, Oilprice.com, OilVoice, TalkMarkets, Investing.com, Business Insider and many other places. He is the author of an oil-themed novel entitled Prelude and has a widely followed blog called Resource Insights. He is currently a fellow of the Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions.
Saltwater intrusion creates drinking water emergency for southeast Louisiana
Greg LaRose – September 22, 2023
NEW ORLEANS — The historic drought currently baking Louisiana has created an emergency for areas in the southeastern part of the state that depend on the Mississippi River for their drinking water. The flow of saltwater upriver from the Gulf of Mexico is expected to reach New Orleans in exactly a month and has already impacted communities below the city.
Unless rainfall in the upper Mississippi and Ohio River valleys increases dramatically — forecasts say it won’t anytime soon — water systems in Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes could have to depend on an emergency bulk water supply to dilute treated saltwater coming from the river.
The influx of saltwater has the potential to affect the drinking water of nearly 900,000 Louisiana residents, based on the most recent U.S. Census estimates.
“Unfortunately, we just haven’t had the relief from dry conditions that we need,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said Friday at a news conference in New Orleans. State and local leaders, emergency management officials and representatives with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers joined the governor for an impromptu Unified Command Group meeting in city.
The corps previously constructed a sill, or an underwater levee, rising from the river bottom to 30 feet below the surface to prevent saltwater intrusion from entering drinking water systems. It used the same method last summer in drought conditions that didn’t persist as long as the current dry weather has.
Col. Cullen Jones, commander of the corps’ New Orleans district, said saltwater topped the sill Wednesday. Its height will be increased to 5 feet below the river’s surface over the next three weeks, which Jones said should delay saltwater moving up the river for 10 to 15 days.
The sill will still have a notch 55 feet deep to accommodate river traffic, the colonel said.
Even with a higher sill in the river, Jones provided a timeline for when areas upriver should expect saltwater to reach the intakes of their drinking water systems, starting with Belle Chasse by Oct. 13.
The city of New Orleans and Jefferson Parish have separate drinking water intakes on each side of the river. Saltwater is forecast to reach the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans intake in Algiers by Oct. 22, and the east bank intake at its Carrollton treatment plant by Oct. 28.
The corps’ timeline calls for saltwater at Jefferson’s intake in Gretna by Oct. 24, one day later at its west bank intake upriver, and Oct. 29 for its east bank intake.
Jones said the corps has already arranged for barges to carry up to 15 million gallons of freshwater by next week for systems that need to dilute the river water they treat for consumption. Ultimately, demand could reach 36 million gallons of freshwater per day to support drinking water plants from Gretna downriver to Boothville in Plaquemines Parish, Jones said.
The emergency freshwater supply will be taken from the river about 10 miles above the advancing saltwater wedge, according to the corps.
Ricky Boyett, a corps spokesman, said it’s not clear at the moment whether the affected water systems will need all 36 million gallons of emergency water supply. The corps’ barge fleet includes new vessels that will be put into use, but Boyett wasn’t able to say how many might be needed to handle the demand.
About 2,000 residents in lower Plaquemine have been provided bottled water in recent weeks because of the saltwater intrusion. Smaller systems there are using reverse osmosis to remove saltwater from their drinking supply.
As for an emergency water supply for intakes in New Orleans and Jefferson above Gretna, Jones said local water systems are pursuing different options. They might include having freshwater piped in from systems upriver, he said.
Rain outlook bleak
Weather forecasts call for a wetter than usual winter, Edwards said, but the short-term outlook precipitation isn’t as promising.
“We do need some rain. We’re not in charge of that,” the governor said, asking residents to pray for relief.
The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center for September called for lower-than-normal precipitation in the upper Mississippi River basin, where Edwards said rain must fall in significant quantities to increase river flow.
The flow needed for the Mississippi River to hold back saltwater is 300,000 cubic square feet per second (cfs), according to Jones. Its current drought-slowed flow rate is 140,000 cfs.
It would take 10 inches of rain across the entire Mississippi Valley to drastically change the situation downriver, Jones said.
Governor: No need for panic water buying
Edwards urged residents not to rush out and “panic buy” bottled water, adding that a similar recommendation he gave at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic led to toilet paper shortages.
“The more they were told (not to hoard it), the more they said, “I better go get some toilet paper,” the governor said.
A key difference between the saltwater intrusion emergency and the pandemic consumer crunch is that only a small portion of the country is affected by the current situation, the governor said. Retailers will be urged to increase their stock of drinking water, he added.
There are no known impacts to industrial water use from the river, but Edwards spokesperson Eric Holl said local water system officials could potentially ask high-volume customers to cut back their consumption if the saltwater situation worsens.
The most recent experience Louisiana has had with drought conditions impacting drinking water supplies was in 1988, when a saltwater wedge reached the city of Kenner. That emergency lasted just two days, while the current crisis has the potential to last months, Edwards said.
Possible health risks
Dr. Joseph Kanter, the state’s medical officer, said high salinity in the drinking water supply poses a danger to certain patient populations: people with high blood pressure, who are likely to be on low-sodium diets; pregnant people in their third trimester, when they are at higher risk for hypertension; and infants reliant on formula mixed with water.
For these segments and others, there’s little chance they will consume any saltwater because it’s not palatable, Kanter said
“You will stop drinking the water because it doesn’t taste right, well before it becomes a danger to your health,” he said.
Saltwater intrusion into distribution systems could corrode lead and galvanized steel pipes, causing heavy metals to leach into drinking water, Kanter added. Such corrosion is difficult to predict, he said.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, who signed a citywide emergency declaration Friday, said the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans will actively monitor its water quality and be transparent with testing results. She acknowledged lead pipes, banned from use in U.S. water systems in 1986, remain in use in New Orleans.
The city, like others around the country, doesn’t have an accurate map of where lead pipes are in use. The Sewerage and Water Board is taking part in a program to identify them ahead of President Joe Biden’s ambitious October 2024 deadline to end all use of lead in drinking water systems.
The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness has added updates on the saltwater intrusion situation to its website, emergency.la.gov. Cantrell urged New Orleans residents to follow ready.nola.gov, where they can sign up for text message updates.
Kanter said local officials will put out health advisories if salinity levels in the drinking water reach 250 parts per million, a level considered threatening to health.
The Louisiana Illuminator is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization driven by its mission to cast light on how decisions are made in Baton Rouge and how they affect the lives of everyday Louisianians, particularly those who are poor or otherwise marginalized.
Drought sparks drinking water concerns as saltwater creeps up Mississippi River
Sara Sneath – September 22, 2023
The New Orleans mayor, LaToya Cantrell, signed an emergency declaration for the city on Friday amid concerns about saltwater from the the Gulf of Mexico that has been creeping up the drought-hit Mississippi River in Louisiana.
The declaration came amid concerns the saltwater, which is impacting the river because it is at such low levels, could impact the drinking water of thousands of residents in the next few weeks
The Louisiana governor, John Bel Edwards, said the state would be requesting an emergency declaration from the federal government in the next couple of days as well to get federal funds and agencies involved.
For those who rely on the Mississippi River for drinking water, the saltwater intrusion is a potential health risk, as high concentrations of salt in drinking water may cause people to develop increased blood pressure and corrode drinking water infrastructure.
The saltwater has already entered the drinking water of communities south of New Orleans – from Empire Bridge to Venice, Louisiana – making the water undrinkable for about 2,000 residents and causing water outages at local schools. As the saltwater moves upriver, it could affect the drinking water for another 20,000 people in Belle Chasse. After that it could reach the drinking water intake for the New Orleans community of Algiers, across the river from the French Quarter.
To slow the progression of the saltwater, the army corps of engineers constructed an underwater barrier in downriver from New Orleans in July.
On Friday, the corps released an updated timeline of the saltwater intrusion in the river that includes the delay added by the underwater barrier. With the barrier in place, the saltwater would not reach the Belle Chasse drinking water intake until 13 October and the Algiers intake until 22 October.
Governor Edwards said his team is working with the four parishes at the end of the Mississippi River that are already affected by the low river water. “I found out today that the forecast is for above average amounts of precipitation in winter. But that’s still several months away,” he said. “And what we need most in Louisiana right now, for the Mississippi River, we need rain further up north in the Ohio Valley.”
Colonel Cullen Jones of the army corps of engineers said that 10in of rain would be needed across the entire Mississippi Valley to increase the Mississippi River flow high enough to push back the seawater.
The mouth of the Mississippi River is below sea level. Because saltwater is denser than freshwater it is moving underneath the freshwater along the bottom of the river in a wedge shape.
The lowest Mississippi River levels recorded in modern history were in 1988, when seawater entered the water systems of New Orleans for a couple of days before it was pushed back down the river by freshwater. But forecasts show the current day low river levels could become more severe, potentially allowing saltwater to remain in the system from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, said Colonel Jones.
The corps is also working on a plan to deliver 15m gallons to the southern parishes by next week. Together the water treatment systems that could be contaminated with saltwater by 24 October use 36m gallons of water per day.
The barrier was intended to slow the upstream movement of the saltwater, but the salt wedge has overtopped the barrier. Similar barriers were constructed in 1988, 2012 and 2022. This is the first time the barrier has needed to be built in back-to-back years. Last year, the barrier wasn’t overtopped, he added.
Communities along the river are keeping a close eye on the upstream movement of the saltwater wedge and testing the salinity levels near their water system intakes, said Dr Joseph Kanter, the state health officer and medical director for the Louisiana department of health. “Everyone along the river knows where the wedge is and when it’s approaching. That’s not going to be a surprise,” he said.
While salt is not a federally regulated contaminant, it could be a health concern for people who are on low salt diets and for those who are pregnant. The World Health Organization’s drinking water guideline suggests that 200mg of sodium a liter is the threshold at which most people will not want to drink the water because of taste. When saltwater is pumped through a water distribution system it can cause pipes to corrode, potentially leaching heavy metals from the pipes and pipe fittings into drinking water.
But it is difficult to predict which metals might leach from pipes, as distribution systems are all different and some do not have full maps of their systems. “So, a hallmark of the response is going to be frequent testing of the water that is going through the water systems distribution network,” Kanter said.
The corps of engineers is exploring barging river water from upriver to areas being affected by the saltwater intrusion and smaller communities south of Louisiana are sourcing reverse osmosis devices capable of desalinating water, Kanter said. But those measures would probably not be able to replace the amount of water used by New Orleans, with a population of nearly 370,000 people.
Kanter reiterated that the current estimates are worst-case scenarios.
Multiple days of rainfall in the Missouri and Ohio River Basins would be necessary to increase the freshwater flow of the Mississippi River, said Julie Lesko, a senior service hydrologist with the National Weather Service New Orleans/Baton Rouge office. “When we look at what could happen over a two-week period we’re not seeing anything significant that would make its way down river to alleviate the problems,” she said.
Coastal communities across the US are facing similar challenges with saltwater intrusion, said Allison Lassiter, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania focused on urban water management.
Desalination systems have limitations because they are expensive and don’t produce a lot of water. “This will be a difficult nut to crack,” she said.
Sea level rise will make the conditions that allow saltwater intrusion into the Mississippi River more likely in the future, said Soni Pradhanang, an associate professor of hydrology and water quality at the University of Rhode Island. Climate change is also expected to exacerbate droughts by making them longer and more frequent. “We’re only going to see this happening more,” she said. “Sea level rise will lead to increased salinity as more of this seawater pushes up into the estuaries and inland.”
DeSantis wants to rollback climate measures as he embraces ‘drill, baby, drill’ mentality
Zac Anderson, Sarasota Herald-Tribune – September 20, 2023
Gov. Ron DeSantis dismissed fears about climate change plunging the planet into crisis Wednesday during an event in Texas where he rolled out an energy policy platform focused on developing new sources of fossil fuels.
Once hailed by environmental advocates for his green initiatives as governor, DeSantis positioned himself Wednesday as an ardent critic of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by transitioning to renewable energy sources and electric vehicles.
“We’ve seen a concerted effort to ramp up the fear when it comes to things like global warming and climate change,” DeSantis said.
Noting that phrases like “climate crisis” and “climate emergency” have grown in use, DeSantis said: “This is driven by ideology, it’s not driven by reality. In reality, human beings are safer than ever from climate disasters.”
The comments are among DeSantis’ most aggressive and extensive in pushing back against climate change concerns, which are especially pertinent in his home state of Florida where sea level rise and stronger hurricanes fed by warming waters are a major worry for climate scientists.
President Joe Biden raised concerns about climate change making natural disasters worse after Hurricane Idalia – which rapidly intensified in the warm Gulf of Mexico waters – smashed into Florida, prompting a rebuttal from DeSantis. The governor’s energy plan is an extended rebuttal to Biden’s energy and climate policies.
DeSantis wants to end subsidies for electric vehicles and pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord. He would withdraw from the Global Methane Pledge and any commitments to move toward net zero emissions, and also wants to remove the words “climate change” from some federal planning documents.
“We will also replace the phrase climate change with energy dominance in natural security and foreign policy guidance,” DeSantis said.
The governor delivered his remarks in front of an oil rig in West Texas, a major oil and gas drilling region. He promised speedy permitting of new oil and gas permits, saying his goal is to get gasoline prices down to $2 a gallon.
“We’re going to unleash our energy sector,” DeSantis said, adding: “We will green light oil and gas drilling extraction… I will demand faster approvals than any president in history. If bureaucrats are slowing down projects then those bureaucrats will lose their jobs.”
DeSantis first ran for governor in 2018 on an environmental protection platform as Florida faced a series of devastating algae blooms. Shortly after taking office he issued an executive order focused mostly on water quality initiatives, but it also incorporated efforts to help Florida prepare for climate impacts, raising hopes among environmental advocates that he would provide leadership on the issue.
DeSantis established a new state office to deal with sea level rise led by the state’s first chief resiliency officer, and pushed to fund climate mitigation efforts. His first budget proposal called for funding to address “the challenges of sea level rise, intensified storm events, and localized flooding.”
Leading environmental activists hoped DeSantis would go beyond preparing Florida for the impacts of climate change and take strong actions to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, which are released by burning fossil fuels and create a greenhouse effect when they accumulate in the atmosphere, warming the planet.
DeSantis touted Florida’s heavy reliance on natural gas as an energy source Wednesday, noting it produces lower emissions than coal. But environmental activists have been disappointed by the state’s energy policies and have pushed for emissions-free sources.
DeSantis questioned the dependability of some energy sources.
“We will not rely on unproven technologies that lead to blackouts… we need reliable energy in this country,” he said, adding: “When disaster strikes, when you need to get people’s electricity back on I can’t rely on windmills, I need oil and gas to get the job done.”
Ron DeSantis unveils energy platform, aims to “stop inflation and achieve $2 gas in 2025”
Katie Akin, Des Moines Register – September 20, 2023
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis unveiled an energy platform Wednesday that emphasizes American fuel production and dismisses concerns about climate change.
DeSantis announced a six-point energy plan during a campaign visit to Texas on Wednesday. The plan centers on increasing domestic production of oil and gas, while repealing or withdrawing from initiatives meant to lower carbon emissions and curb the effects of climate change.
“As president, I will fight to ensure our energy is abundant, affordable, and American,” DeSantis told the Des Moines Register in a statement. “That means protecting all liquid fuels, including biofuels, from harmful government regulation and preventing California from setting America’s environmental standards. Under my administration, we will get back to commonsense energy policies that help Iowa farmers and families, starting with eliminating mandates for electric vehicles and ending our energy sector’s reliance on China.”
DeSantis said prioritizing “American energy dominance” will “stop inflation and achieve $2 gas in 2025.”
What does Ron DeSantis have planned for Iowa biofuels?
In a Wednesday news release, DeSantis pledged to protect biofuels from “harmful government regulation” and to eliminate surtaxes on liquid fuels.
However, his policy announcement did not include details about the renewable fuel standard, a goal set by the Environmental Protection Agency to mix a certain amount of renewable fuels — like ethanol — into gasoline and diesel.
While serving in Congress, DeSantis co-sponsored a bill that would eliminate the renewable fuel standard.
A column published in the Register earlier this month offers more insight into DeSantis’ plan for biofuels. DeSantis wrote that he will work with Gov. Kim Reynolds to support the year-round sale of E15, and he would introduce higher ethanol blends, like E30, to consumers.
How would Ron DeSantis address climate change?
DeSantis calls for American energy dominance to take priority over “climate change ideology.”
He would repeal President Joe Biden’s incentives for Americans to buy electric vehicles and Biden-era rule to protect thousands of small waterways. DeSantis said he would also withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords, the Global Methane Pledge and all “Net Zero” commitments.
During the first GOP presidential debate, candidates were asked to raise their hands if they believe human activities are warming the planet. DeSantis bristled at the question, telling the moderators “We’re not school children” and launching into a criticism of the media.
When pressed on the question, DeSantis said, “No, no, no — I didn’t raise a hand.”
USA Today reporter Zac Anderson contributed reporting.
How one arid city is attempting to grow 15 soccer fields of crops in the desert: ‘The world’s most food self-sufficient city’
Wes Stenzel – September 19, 2023
Saudi Arabia has enlisted Dutch greenhouse company Van Der Hoeven to synthesize a climate that will “make the desert bloom,” according to Al Arabiya News, with the goal of building “the world’s most food self-sufficient city.”
What is Saudi Arabia’s synthetic climate project?
Saudi Arabia is building Neom, a brand-new city, in the desert on the coast of the Red Sea. In order to supply food for Neom, the kingdom is paying Van Der Hoeven $120 million to create a synthetic oasis about the size of 15 soccer fields, which will allow crops to be grown in an area that ordinarily cannot sustain much life.
The greenhouses are intended to yield over 300,000 tons of produce in the next eight to 10 years.
The project is expected to begin operating its first site in August 2024 and will be using vertical farming, artificial intelligence, solar and seawater-driven cooling systems, advanced water filtration, and numerous other technologies to bolster Neom’s agricultural capabilities.
“We will scale up to hundreds of hectares with different types of greenhouses,” said Juan Carlos Motamayor, the CEO of Neom Food.
Why is this project important?
Expanding countries’ agriculture infrastructure via synthetic means, like greenhouses, will be an essential part of adapting to our planet’s overheating.
As ecosystems change with rising temperatures, so will their capabilities to grow particular kinds of food, as many fruit, vegetable, and grain plants can only survive in a fairly narrow window of average temperatures.
As such, hotter regions may be unable to grow staple crops that they used to be able to produce to feed their populations, which means they will have to turn to alternative synthetic methods like greenhouses.
By developing and improving technologies and systems that make agriculture possible in difficult climates, we better prepare our societies for rising temperatures.
Greenhouse farming is already an important part of our agricultural systems. In the United States, greenhouse vegetable production made $3 billion in 2021, according to Extrapolate. Tomatoes make up the majority of greenhouse veggies grown in the U.S., but cucumbers, bell peppers, lettuce, and herbs are also commonly grown in greenhouses.
“We are building a synthetic climate where outdoor growing is difficult, with a goal for plants to yield produce year-round,” said Michiel Schoenmaeckers, the CEO of Van Der Hoeven.
“There is no other place in the world that is trying to develop at the scale we want to develop and implement agriculture for arid conditions,” said Motamayor.
PFAS, also known as forever chemicals because of their practically endless lifespans, are compounds manufactured for special properties, including fire and water resistance. They appear in products ranging from fire extinguishers to dental floss.
Robert Verkerk, founder of ANH, told the Guardian that his group tested kale “to look at an archetypal healthy vegetable.” Researchers expected to find small amounts of PFAS, but the levels “stunned” them.
“The fact that kale, one of the healthiest foods you can get at the supermarket, is contaminated, is particularly concerning,” ANH notes online.
Verkerk told the Guardian it was also a “shock finding” that organic kale had high PFAS levels. The contamination source is unclear, though Verkerk suspected dirty water or sewage sludge spread as fertilizer.
The results, released in June, contradict previous Food and Drug Administration (FDA) analyses that reported no PFAS kale contamination.
The FDA states online that “we have found that most foods not grown or produced in specific geographic areas with known PFAS contamination do not have detectable levels of PFAS.”
ANH takes issue with the FDA and Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) testing as “grossly inadequate.”
For its part, ANH plans more tests, and it calls for government agencies to improve their tests and regulations: “The issue isn’t PFAS-contaminated kale per se, it’s more that we likely live in a PFAS-contaminated world.”
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These microplastics resemble fish eggs. Nurdles are frequently clear or white, but you may come across brightly colored pellets as well. They are lentil-sized, or about 3 to 5 millimeters in diameter.
“So many nurdles after a rain,” the Redditor writes. “I friggin hate nurdles.”
This Redditor’s quest is a noble environmental pursuit. Billions of nurdles have entered ecosystems around the world, as ships have repeatedly spilled tons of them into oceans during transport.
Roughly 253,000 tons of nurdles enter oceans each year. These toxic pellets then make landfall on coastlines, and they are especially prevalent after rainfall.
Research shows these pellets absorb and transport toxic chemicals into marine environments. Seabirds, fish, and crustaceans will mistakenly eat them because they resemble fish eggs.
This mistake can be extremely harmful, if not deadly, to these animals. Nurdles can cause stomach ulcerations that lead to starvation and introduce harmful chemicals to animals and the greater food chain.
This Redditor is one of many nurdle hunters who want to protect coastlines, wildlife, and water sources. Fellow Redditors have applauded their efforts in the post’s comment section.
“I live on the coast and saw a bunch of them in multiple colors,” one user comments. “I spent 20 minutes picking them up (especially the brightly colored ones since I didn’t want the birds or wildlife to eat them) but there were probably thousands left on that beach.”