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Our Daily Planet: CA Resorts Go Solar, Cape Town, Murder of Trafficking Investigator, Herbicide Drift, Mercury & Permafrost, Best Food Waste Apps
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By: Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

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Tuesday, February 6th, 2018

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Residents fill containers with water at a source for natural spring water in Cape Town, South Africa. Photo: Halden Krog/AP
As Cape Town Nears "Day Zero", What's the Next City That Could Run Out of Water?

While Cape Town has moved "Day Zero" (the day the city will officially run out of water) from April 161h to May 11th, the situation is no less dire on the ground. Residents have been restricted from using 23 gallons a day just a month ago to now only an allotted 13 (for reference, the average American uses over 17 gallons of water for one shower). As we've written before, once water officially runs out, residents will have to travel to one of 200 municipal taps to source their water raising fears from city officials of anarchy. 

However, as New Republic's Emily Atkin reminded us, there are going to be more Cape Towns. Drought happens all over the world and it is being made worse by climate change. Couple that with water mismanagement and dwindling groundwater and reservoirs and more cities will run out of water in the future. A USA Today investigation found vast depletion of aquifers "from the United States to Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America." "In the United States, the largest reservoir in the country—Lake Mead—lost more than half of its water from 2000 to 2015. According to Arizona Public Media, the lake that provides water to Arizona, Nevada, and California is still shrinking, hovering close to levels that would trigger an “official shortage,” and thereby water rationing. Brasília, the capital of Brazil, with a population of 2.6 million, has already declared a state of emergency due to long-term drought, but is only one of 800 municipalities across Brazil where water is being rationed."

Why This Matters: Cape Town should serve as a wake-up call for cities and countries to start dealing with climate change and water management far more aggressively than they currently are. Francesco Femia, president of the Center for Climate and Security, puts it well when he says that nations must act on climate more broadly and holistically adding, "It's still the realm of what many in national governments consider to be the low-level, low-politics ministries, and I think that's part of the issue." 


Herbicide Drift is Harming Organic Farms

Dicamba has been used as a pesticide for many years but recently Monsanto has taken to using it more broadly, creating dicamba-resistant crops and developing a new method of applying it through broad spraying. The problem is that broad spraying allows the pesticide to vaporize and drift wherever the wind takes it--often to farms not growing the resistant crops who suffer crop losses as result (it's also harming trees in forests where it drifts). All this encouraged the EPA to label dicamba a "restricted-use pesticide" which doesn't actually ban it and hence the broad spraying has continued. 

This has hurt organic farmers like Mike Brabo, who with his wife Carol, owns Vesterbrook Farm in Clarksville, Missouri. Brado started his organic farm after a battle with cancer as a way to bring organic produce to his community at affordable prices. His farm sustains a 150-member community supported agriculture (CSA) program and has seen steady growth over the past few years. That was until pesticide drift from his neighbor's farm devasted Vesterbrook, killing nearly all of Brabo's crops and causing an estimated $300,000 in damage. The Brabos are effectively out of business and will have to start over, which could take 3 years to plant cover crops and regain their organic certification (not to mention cost as much as $1.6 million). 

While Brabo could grow conventional produce he says, "as a cancer survivor I'm not going to be complicit in putting something in the food supply that could make someone sick." Currently, the family is working with attorneys to reach a settlement with their neighbor's insurance company.

Why This Matters: This story demonstrates just how devastating pesticide drift can be for small family farms, especially the ones that try to farm sustainably. These farmers don't have the political sway of large agrichemical companies like Monsanto and suffer great losses when EPA doesn't adequately protect their livelihoods. Small organic farmers especially face a lot of challenges to bring healthful produce to people, so if you're so inclined, find a CSA near you and support your local farmers. 
Farmer Mike Brabo and his family. Photo: Vesterbrook Farm 
How You Can Help: You can watch the Brabo family's story and donate to help Vesterbook Farm recover from its loss here. 


Thawing permafrost in the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area of the National Petroleum Reserve, Alaska. Image: USGS/Flickr
Thawing Permafrost Reveals Extraordinary Levels of Mercury

We've written previously about northern permafrost and how climate change is causing it to melt, releasing GHGs and ancient microbes in the process. Now scientists have discovered that this frozen northern soil has other toxins frozen in within it--most notably, mercury. Researchers analyzing soil samples stumbled upon the discovery of mercury in the soil and estimate that there are 32 million gallons of mercury, (the equivalent of 50 Olympic swimming pools) trapped in the permafrost. According to the researchers, that’s “twice as much mercury as the rest of all soils, the atmosphere, and ocean combined."

Why This Matters: Mercury is a known neurotoxin that poses a serious hazard to human health and it's often ingested by eating contaminated fish. We don't yet know where the mercury will flow once the permafrost is thawed and scientists are working to pinpoint how it is released into the atmosphere and waterways. As Earther reported, "In thawed soils and water, certain microorganisms will transform elemental mercury into methyl mercury, a potent neurotoxin that can bio-accumulate up the food chain." This is troubling news for subsistence communities and Native Alaskan tribes who rely on fish in Alaskan waters for their survival. 


At California Ski Resorts, Renewables Heating Up

Two of the most popular ski resorts in the country, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows in Lake Tahoe, California, announced on Monday that they will be powered 100% by renewable energy by the end of 2018.  This announcement comes on the heels of a similar one by another major ski resort operator, Vail Resorts of Colorado, which said it intends to use 100 percent renewable power and reach its goal of zero net emissions by 2030.  The improvements will allow the California resorts to cut their carbon footprint by more than half, and will provide much-needed electric reliability and resilience at no extra cost.  

It took more than six years to get to this point, said Andrew Wirth, president and CEO of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows. The first step was getting off coal. "We called our utility to say, ‘As your No. 1 private customers, we’re asking that you develop a path to exclude coal in our energy supply," Wirth said. He also complained that the grid serving his property was outdated, unreliable and prone to blackouts and brownouts. Going forward, Squaw Valley’s utility company, Liberty Utilities, will supply the ski resorts with 100 percent solar, wind, hydropower and other renewables, and the utility plans to install a pack of Tesla batteries that will provide backup power to the resorts and to the wider community.  

Why This Matters: Ski resorts are undoubtedly impacted by global warming.  It is important for them to be part of solving the problem.  And this shows that when customers demand fuel switches from fossil fuels to renewables, utilities are listening.  Squaw Valley intends to produce its own renewables -- they plan to install a 700-kilowatt solar-panel array to provide on-site clean energy. It makes economic sense to simply generate clean power where it’s used.  Let's hope more ski resorts will follow suit.


Esmond Bradley Martin speaking at the National Press Club in Washington in 2008.
Photo:  Tim Sloan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
American Wildlife Crimes Investigator Mysteriously Murdered 

One of the most famous Americans involved in combatting illegal wildlife trade was murdered at his home in Kenya on Sunday.  Esmond Bradley Martin, 75, was remembered by environmentalists the world over as a tireless advocate for elephants and rhinos, while police searched for suspects.  His research, most of which was published by the conservation group Save the Elephants, included a 2017 report that found that the Lao People’s Democratic Republic was home to the world's fastest-growing retail market for ivory, as well as a 2016 study that detailed how demand for ivory in Viet Nam was threatening elephants in Africa. Iain Douglas-Hamilton, the founder of Save The Elephants, paid tribute to his longtime friend and colleague: “Esmond was one of conservation’s great unsung heroes. His meticulous work into ivory and rhino horn markets was conducted often in some of the world’s most remote and dangerous places and against intensely busy schedules that would have exhausted a man half his age."  It appears that his killers intended to rob him, but some in the community wondered whether it was his work that made him a target.  

Why This Matters:  Illegal wildlife trafficking is a dangerous business and increasingly, because of the great demand for the products in Asia, undertaken by international criminal networks.  In its obituary, the New York Times surmised that Edwards had made many enemies as a result of writing numerous 
reports that exposed the depth of the ivory and rhino horn trade across the world that has killed tens of thousands of endangered animals.  He will be missed.  

To Go Deeper:  Read this inspiring interview with Bradley Martin from October of last year. 


Food Waste - There's an App for That

According to a 2017 report, as much as forty percent of the food in America ends up in landfills, which is, on average, 400 pounds of food per person every year. But now, with the help of technology, it is possible to become part of the solution.  Four new apps aim to solve this problem.
  • Olio is a food sharing app that empowers neighbors to post, and claim extra food. This peer-to-peer network depends on a significant user base for peak performance—something that’s happened only in major cities so far. There, stuff goes fast: 40 percent of listings are claimed within an hour.
  • Food For All is a restaurant app that shows which restaurants are offering deep discounts on stuff they’d otherwise throw out, sometimes for as much as 80 percent off.  The problem is it is currently limited to New York City and Boston but there will be five more locations by summer. 
  • Food Rescue Us activates a network of 1,900 “food heroes” in 12 locales who receive alerts when surplus eats need to be picked up (typically from grocery stores, farmers markets, or caterers) and delivered to soup kitchens and other hunger-prevention organizations.
  • Food Keeper is an app to set calendar reminders so that food won't waste in your fridge or freezer -- you’ll automatically be reminded that it’s use-it-or-lose-it time. Plus it has videos with helpful tips like the safe way to thaw meat.  
Why This Matters: Growing, processing, transporting, and disposing of that uneaten food has an annual estimated cost of $218 billion, costing a household of four an average of $1,800 annually.  Not to mention all the methane gas that is created when this food sits in landfills.  Food waste is a problem that we can all work at solving.  
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