A 2019 report from the N.R.D.C., Environmental Justice Health Alliance, and Coming Clean found widespread violations and poor enforcement of the S.W.D.A., with communities of color hit the hardest. Between June, 2016, and May, 2019, there were more than a hundred and seventy thousand violations across community water systems, affecting nearly forty per cent of the U.S. population.
Your title implies that it’s up to us as individuals to deal with this. What’s the right mix between individual action and getting the government to do its job?
I think the title implies that we can all be more proactive when it comes to our water. This book is for everyone. I wrote it to moms, to city-council members, to water-treatment operators, to E.P.A. officials, to senators, and to Big Oil execs alike. My hope is that everyone can open their eyes to this important issue and make a difference. Sometimes we forget that government employees work for us. It’s vital to put the pressure on, when needed, for the government to do its job. We have to remember that much of our drinking-water pollution comes from industry and agriculture. The government needs to set standards for pollution so we don’t end up back in 1969, with the Cuyahoga River, in Cleveland, Ohio, bursting into flames from industrial waste and sewage.
I’d love to see business leaders and entrepreneurs working on these issues with us, and get away from an us-versus-them mentality. We all need to drink the water. We all need to work on solutions to fix this crisis.
Climate change makes drought more likely and flood more common. What’s it likely to do to water quality?
We’re already seeing the impact of climate change on water. As temperatures rise in different parts of the country, we lose snowfall, which is what populates our freshwater bodies.
Less snowmelt means lower water levels. The Washington Post reported that the Colorado River has seen a climate-induced drop that amounts to roughly 1.5 billion tons of water—or the yearly water supply for about fourteen million Americans.
Those rising temps also contribute to toxic algae blooms, which have increased many times over since the nineteen-sixties, and which affect the health of people and marine ecosystems, along with local and regional economies.
Our own E.P.A. says that nutrient pollution (too much nitrogen and phosphorus) makes the problem worse, leading to more severe and frequent blooms, along with warm water, water stagnation, and stormwater runoff that contains pesticide residue from lawns and commercial farms.
Plus, increasingly intense and powerful storms, such as Hurricanes Maria, Irma, Matthew, and Florence, flush large quantities of sewage and pollutants into freshwater supplies like bays, rivers, and lakes, causing big problems for our water and wastewater infrastructure.
As we noted last week, the oil industry is attempting to “pivot to plastics” in an attempt to keep demand up for petroleum even as electric vehicles start to undercut the demand for gas. Kingsmill Bond, of the Carbon Tracker Initiative, provides an extensive report indicating why this destructive strategy probably won’t work—bottom line, we’re learning to use less plastic, and to recycle it more effectively.
Individual action, at this point, isn’t going to solve the climate crisis. But a new tool from YouChangeEarth.org does point people in useful directions, allowing them to plug in their particular circumstances and get an individualized plan of action—a plan that usually includes joining in the movement building that can change policy at a large scale. Meanwhile, the builders of EnvisionClimate.org have put together a Web site that makes it easy to try to persuade swing-state voters to cast their ballots with the climate in mind.
Last week, I wrote about the rapid escalation of global warming across the planet, using what was then the accepted figure for the energy imbalance created by our greenhouse gases: about three-quarters of a watt per square metre. A new paper this week, here ably explained by James Hansen, the planet’s premier climatologist and a co-author of the report, shows that that number is now higher, closing in on nine-tenths of a watt per square metre. Not good news.
For the first time, the world last year added more solar and wind power, combined, than any other form of energy generation, according to a new accounting from Brian Eckhouse, at Bloomberg. That’s happy news, but, as he points out, any effort to meet climate targets requires not just adding more renewables but quickly shutting down gas- and coal-fired power. That’s not happening anywhere nearly fast enough. But the life of fossil-fuel execs just keeps getting harder: a U.K. government assessment found that electricity generated from sun and wind was thirty- to fifty-per-cent cheaper than officials had originally estimated.
As if to make sure that no one could have any doubts about the meaning of November’s election, President Trump’s E.P.A. chief said last week that the Administration will weaken environmental regulations even more if Trump is reëlected.
The fires raging on the West Coast are beyond description (though Rebecca Solnit does an admirable job in today’s Guardian). As cities in California, such as San Luis Obispo, saw temperatures reach a preposterous hundred and twenty degrees, the second-, third-, and fourth-largest wildfires the state has ever seen are burning at the same time. In Oregon, much of the city of Medford, with a population of eighty-two thousand people, is under an evacuation order. In Fort Collins, Colorado, triple-digit temperatures on Saturday were followed, two days later, by snowfall, as a massive front moved through. Oregon’s governor, Kate Brown, declared a state of emergency and called the extreme weather a “once-in-a-generation event,” but, sadly, I think she’s almost certainly wrong. Still, people are doing their best to slow the damage. Even amid the flames, Oregonians continued trying to resist plans for a liquefied-natural-gas pipeline, which would run more than two hundred miles across the southwest corner of the state to Coos Bay.
Albedo is a measure of the planet’s reflectivity, which, sadly, is decreasing, as white Arctic ice changes to blue seawater. Here is the band Al Bedo and the Reflectors performing “Too Much Oil.”