October 22, 2014

Abusing finite resources

8/22/13

I recently heard a report on the radio about how the massive, ancient Ogallala Aquifer running underneath much of the plains states, like Kansas and Nebraska, is beginning to dry up. After decades of farmers there using it to irrigate feed for cattle and more water-intensive crops like corn that otherwise would struggle in the conditions there, my first thought was, “Really? They just now figured that out?”

Consider that aquifer. It takes millions of years for water to flow into those underground reservoirs, and people living out there have been pumping it out for drinking water, for watering their lawns, and for farming. But it wasn’t until recently, when ranchers and farmers found their wells going dry, that anyone has really considered this a problem. It’s obvious the good times are not going to last forever, and what happens then?

As much as I think most people would rather not admit it, I feel the current trajectory of our resource usage — water, land, wildlife, fossil fuels, etc. — is completely irresponsible at best and reckless at worst.

For this reason,I also have a problem with hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The basic premise is using water at high pressure to free natural gas and oil from rocks; the problem is that you’re using massive quantities of water from wells and aquifers to do it, and that water is generally contaminated afterward and no good for drinking. Fresh water is a pretty valuable commodity, and while I enjoy not having to spend even more money for oil and heating gas, I’m not sure I like the idea of blowing through something we need to live for something that makes life a lot more convenient.

And that’s not even considering the pollution caused by this newly-available oil! While there are quite a few people in government who want to see the Keystone XL pipeline be constructed, the fact that oil leaks do tend to happen is problematic, especially when a leak could happen around that same Ogallala Aquifer and the Sand Hills region that sits atop it. Look at the problems they still have around Kalamazoo from that spill a few years ago — I would be very wary of having a pipeline sitting atop an ecologically sensitive site like that, particularly since the type of oil it transports has a tendency to sink in water.

It’s not just there, either. Look at aquatic creatures that are routinely harvested in massive quantities for food. Bluefin tuna populations are nearly collapsed because of the insatiable demand for these creatures and the fact that there’s no political will to set a moratorium or restrictive catch limit on them. Millions of sharks are taken each year for their fins, which brings into question why we should fear sharks when we’re doing a way better job of killing them than they are us.

A variety of other fish species are also in danger either from direct harvest or the harvest of their predators or prey, and with the aquatic climate turning more acidic and hostile, we really should be way more careful about what we’re taking out of the sea. That sort of thinking, that these animals are plentiful so there is no problem harvesting them, is what led to the extinction of the passenger pigeon and near-extinction of the American bison.

The simple fact is, very little of what we have will last forever, and we may even see scarcity battles in our lifetimes. We as a nation and as a species need to be far more careful with what’s around us. We should be getting away from these endangered species and onto ones that are numerous, fast growing, and/or a nuisance (I hear Asian carp is pretty tasty, and we sure have no shortage of those invasive creeps). And moreover, we should be putting a lot more funding into getting away from fossil fuel-based technologies before they ultimately heat the planet, and us, to death.

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