Friday Links: This Land

Most people who visit Yosemite are apt to regard it as an exceptional creation, the only valley of its kind in the world. But nothing in Nature stands alone. She is not so poor as to have only one of anything. The explorer in the Sierra and elsewhere finds many Yosemites that differ not more than one tree differs from another of the same species. They occupy the same relative positions on the mountain flanks, were formed by the same forces in the same kind of granite, and have similar sculpture, waterfalls, and vegetation.

Features of the Proposed Yosemite National Park

We visited Yosemite in February of this year on a cold, overcast day. The road into the canyon eases you in, as the walls rise above you taller and taller, the river rolling below. Once inside the park, well, I won’t attempt to put it into words. My words would be hyperbolic and grandiose and still insufficient. John Muir — who spent years in the region — achieves much more with much less grandiose language, instead relaying the details with the clarity of a naturalist and the admiration of one intimate with the land.

TransCanada and their supporters say that we who are opposed to this pipeline are unreasonable, extremist, fear-mongers. They accuse us of being misguided and of spreading half-truths. They accuse us of being emotional. Well, if we are emotional, it is because this pipeline threatens our water, our health, our homes, and our way of life. If we are misguided and spreading half-truths, it is because TransCanada has misguided us and told us only half the truth.

Tar Sands Showdown in the Nebraska Sandhills

With the recent election results bringing the Keystone Pipeline back into the news, my mind was drawn to this profile of what the debate over the Pipeline looks like on a local level. Ted Genoways focuses on Ben Gotschall, a rancher in Nebraska who was fighting hard to keep the pipeline out of his community.

In years of normal climate, or what used to pass for normal, summer fires served as reset buttons, purging old trees to make way for young ones and clearing new groves for herds to graze. But the decade of high heat here has set the stage for cataclysm: superfires that leap past all containment. Montanans speak grimly of the summer of 2000, when the Bitterroot National Forest lost a fifth of its acres to 100 new fires a day, and of 1988, when a third of Yellowstone’s trees were devoured in a months-long inferno. Dire though those were, things could have been worse. “The Big Blowup of 1910 basically leveled Montana, burning everything in sight, including towns,” said Skoglund. “Everything’s in place for another fire-of-the-century event. All we’ve lacked – so far – is gale winds.”

Ghost Park

We visited Yellowstone just over a year ago. Our visit was on the day it reopened — along with the rest of the federal government — after being closed for 17 days. Because of the unexpected closing the park was basically empty that day, a ghost park of a different variety. This article, by Paul Solotaroff goes into the cataclysmic affects of climate change on the ecosystem of the park and surrounding regions. It’s just as encouraging and optimistic as you might think.

A cup of water is eight ounces. There are 16 of those in a gallon. In the water world, the main unit of measurement is not the gallon, but the cubic foot of water. One cubic foot is 7.48 gallons, or 62.4 pounds of water. Imagine an office water cooler, but 1.5 times bigger.

If a little bit of water is moving, it’s quantified in gallons per minute. A bathroom sink might deliver 1.5 gallons per minute. If a lot of water is moving, then the measurement of choice is cfs, cubic feet per second. A fire hose delivers about 4.5 cubic feet per second.

If water is sitting in a reservoir or being bought or sold, then people talk about acre-feet of water. One acre-foot of water equals 43,560 cubic feet, or 325,851 gallons. An unofficial rule of California water politics holds that if you want to make an amount of water sound large, use gallons. If you’d like to make it sound small, set your units to acre-feet or even million acre-feet.

American Aqueduct: The Great California Water Saga

Alexis Madrigal dives into the history of the California water supply, the proposed changes to it, and the debates surrounding these changes. The topic seems to be a local issue, but as Madrigal points out, California provides much of the food we rely on day to day so the results of these changes will ultimate affect us all.

Kiribati is a flyspeck of a United Nations member state, a collection of 33 islands necklaced across the central Pacific. Thirty-two of the islands are low-lying atolls; the 33rd, called Banaba, is a raised coral island that long ago was strip-mined for its seabird-guano-derived phosphates. If scientists are correct, the ocean will swallow most of Kiribati before the end of the century, and perhaps much sooner than that.

Drowning Kiribati

What is it like to know that your home is disappearing? What is it like to run a country that is disappearing; a country with 300,000 people? Anote Tong, the president of Kiribati, is living out these questions. Jeffrey Goldberg examines his difficult and perhaps impossible quest to find a solution.

All together, more than half the world’s people live in countries where water tables are falling. The politically troubled Arab Middle East is the first geographic region where grain production has peaked and begun to decline because of water shortages, even as populations continue to grow. Grain production is already going down in Syria and Iraq and may soon decline in Yemen. But the largest food bubbles are in India and China. In India, where farmers have drilled some 20 million irrigation wells, water tables are falling and the wells are starting to go dry. The World Bank reports that 175 million Indians are being fed with grain produced by overpumping. In China, overpumping is concentrated in the North China Plain, which produces half of China’s wheat and a third of its corn. An estimated 130 million Chinese are currently fed by overpumping.

The New Geopolitics of Food

Sustainability is a buzzword, a catchphrase, a marketing term, right? Sometimes I think the word has been greenwashed into oblivion. And yet the underlying concept of sustainability — that our practices related to consumption of natural resources ought to be non-destructive, replicable, and endurable — cannot be just a trend. It is of utmost importance as humans gain more and more power over the earth. Lester Brown explores the ways people across the globe are feeding themselves and enriching their countries based on short-sighted, unsustainable practices.

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