Sunday, November 11, 2018

A Systems Approach To It

The article,"Systems Thinking and How It Can Help Build a Sustainable World", makes an important point about looking at the bigger global climate picture and identifying all the parts of a problem in order to solve it:

"Rather than asking why one should think in systems, perhaps the more piercing question is: why has holistic thinking been stamped out of us again and again over time, most vigorously so during the modern industrial age? The simple answer is that power and control are not compatible with a well-educated citizenry that sees the big picture. Modern industrial civilization is built upon the mechanization and commodification of society and nature, with those at the top benefiting from the enormous outputs generated by the “cogs in the wheel” toiling at the bottom. If we become aware of this vast, complex machine and start to understand how it works, we might want to break or change it! We might want to create a different system in which all parts of society and nature can flourish, not just those in power."

This kind of a conversation must involve everyone who is affected by it. A dialogue about the Sustainable Development Goals has to be undertaken at a global level. "The important and widespread understanding that was reached at COP22 in Marrakech is that climate change needs to be addressed systemically and not with carbon-myopia...We are facing a planetary emergency at the species level and we do need all nations — and what’s more all people — of this Earth to unite in a shared vision to redesign the human impact on Earth from destruction to regeneration."

This problem of tackling climate change requires a multivalent, systems approach to its solution, not a linear one. The primary concern is how to tackle the carbon-to-zero issue in our energy systems and our land use approaches. A framework focused on worldwide decarbonization is a first, major step that relies on economic system changes and global agreement. Then there's the rest of it, which involves fundamental changes in our society, its economics, and our culture.

I would outline the systems approach as a multiple-front strategy that focuses on key parts of the big problem: human population, intelligent organization, technology, human expansion and the methodology of this expansion. One thing I've always advocated since completing my graduate architecture thesis in 1979 on an Orbiting Space Base is that extractive industries should be exiled to on-orbit and lunar industry operations because humans will never stop exploring and reaching out for resources. Same process the animal kingdom employs, but there are natural ecological balance mechanisms for that, and unfortunately we've managed to escape those with technology. Animal populations crash in natural environments repeatedly, that's part of how the systems work when a population gets out of whack, with its checks and balances on resources driven by planetary cycles. This also applies to human civilizations across history, as well.

Humans must commit to a simultaneous ecological footprint and population reduction, with the economics grounded in making environmental restoration the most profitable industry. In other words, impose our own "smart crash" that does the least amount of harm. And it's not like we don't know how to do that. (birth control, limits to growth, restore the environment) It's a fairly socialist approach, think Sweden, but that's just fine. I've been to Scandinavia and they're happier than we are. Here's my specific points:

Human Population

But how do you achieve this preservation of the common global resources with a population that has already exceeded earth's carrying capacity since 1980? An interview with Bill Ryerson, founder of the Population Media Center, outlines how groups of people can be taught through stories to change their behavior. These stories are entertainment, soap opera, and educational documentaries. What this could do is help populations of people become self-limiting by choice, and thus diminish the demands on ecosystems that use up all available resources and diminish the critical diversity of species that is necessary for functioning ecosystems.

The fiscal reality check that we're currently experiencing on a worldwide basis has its parallel in natural system collapse, which is something that can be averted by the development of a steady-state system that produces a livable environment without consuming the world's common resources. That's the tragedy of the commons. Everyone's self-interests ends up devouring more than the planet can bear.

Intelligent Organization

The idea that human habitation can be used as a tool to regenerate ecology is finally coming into its own after experimentation with projects all over the world. It's not a zero-sum game, it's a way of bringing together all the environmental and engineering factors together in a place such that it renews natural processes instead of destroying them. It takes a great deal of skill, knowledge and experience to work out the systems that result in the creation of place that interconnects all these factors. Many major corporate engineering, design and development firms are investing in think tanks to take this to the next level, such as Arup, a global design, planning and engineering firm.


The building demonstrates how closed loop systems developed by space-based technologies can be applied to structures on this planet to bring their energy and carbon impact down to zero. Ideas such as the structural exoskeleton, use of natural light and processes, as well as a "bare-bones" approach to materials use can reduce human habitation demands on ecosystems as well as assist in the restoration of the natural world.

The planets we imagined exploring turns out to be the one we're living on.

Human Expansion

What about using a salvage yard in low earth orbit? It could provide a low-earth orbit platform for recycling and materials supply for providing industry outside of the atmospheric envelope, as well as conserving the metals used in the satellite construction which are already very highly processed. This is the essence of sustainability. We don't burn our trash in the back yard any more, why keep doing it out in the outer biosphere? Here's the online presentation of my low earth orbit base concept which could be used to develop industry and establish a foothold outside of earth's deep gravity well for interplanetary robotic launches and lunar mining processes.

Systems Design for Expansion

Key to this concept is understanding that to achieve this vision, there must be some major on-orbit infrastructure to support construction, development and launch of these exploration initiatives. My 1979 thesis outlines this strategy in a Relevance Tree and shows how a Low Earth Orbit platform, working in concert with lunar mining and large vehicle production outside of earth's gravity well allows for effective use of labor and materials, as well as providing "many futures" rather than just one projection line (dotted).

Update 11/12/18: A good climate policy rises above politics.

Update 11/16/18: Industrial agriculture and extractive industries must cease and be transformed.

Friday, November 9, 2018


The blaze that erupted in London's Grenfeld Tower in June of 2017, resulting in the utter destruction of the structure inasmuch as its steel framework remained standing, is under examination by the government as well as media sources. The search for blame for the inferno resulting from cheap exterior cladding has unearthed a disingenuous claim by the Daily Mail that environmental requirements were the cause of the faulty design, as cited by the Carbon Brief analysis published in The Guardian.

"On page eight is a full-page commentary from Ross Clark, sitting under the headline question: “So did an obsession with green targets lead to inferno?” Clark, who has published various climate sceptic articles and written a book attacking regulations he believes to be “strangling” the UK."

The 2012 planning documents cited by the Daily Mail – and studied by Carbon Brief – show that its reporting of their content to be highly selective and misleading, per the article. This amounts to another systematic attempt to deconstruct environmental regulations with the critique that they are onerous and lead to dangerous building structures. This kind of position could only be taken if one dismisses the facts of the matter, which are that the retrofit did not include fire sprinklers, and that a non-flammable exterior was available for an additional few thousand pounds. It's actually a result of willful disregard for life safety because of cost issues, not environmental issues.

In fact, the position of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) in their report on Grenfell is an emphasis on maintaining professional competency in the engineering profession with even more oversight of design and construction approaches in the building industry.

A documentary film by Jamie Roberts points directly at the impact of pro-business policies which have permitted these kinds of fires to continue to happen over the last half century:

"The Fires that Foretold Grenfell, a well-researched, powerful documentary, is essential viewing for anyone seeking to understand the causes of and background to the June 2017 Grenfell fire tragedy. It includes harrowing interviews with survivors of five fires across the UK over a span of 45 years, their families and firefighters.

It demonstrates that the inferno which claimed 72 lives was not an accident, but a social crime. It was the result of the pro-big business policies of successive governments which ignored the lessons of five tragic fires, resulting in many avoidable deaths."

This form of denial obviously needs to be thoroughly debunked before it becomes accepted as some kind of talking point, as it's clearly fueled by disinformation put out by the fossil fuel industry which supports people who say things like this. It is at the root of the obstruction of the necessary decarbonization of our built environment and energy production. Not only that, this kind of denial serves to confuse the issues and bury the facts in deliberate misinformation about physics and building construction.

For example, this fire is typical of what happens to steel structures that are fully engulfed in major fires; the building materials are consumed, but the steel frames remain intact. And yet another denial tries to construct an alternate reality about these kinds of structures in The 9/11 Commission Report and other reports by the NIST, which have been deconstructed by the 9/11 Consensus Panel, based upon further evidence obtained in many sources as well as accurate engineering analyses. This has been published in the book, 9/11 Unmasked, which points out that no other high rises have ever been structurally destroyed by fire. The Twin Towers came down at the speed of gravity on their footprints, which points straight at a demolition scenario in order to create a "Pearl Harbor" event.

As has been established extensively in the press, this event was used as a pretext for the Bush administration to instigate wars in the middle east on behalf of their Arab allies in order to procure further fossil fuel resources. Thus denial comes full circle as a tool in its deliberate destruction of human lives and our environment on an almost unimaginable scale of annihilation. That it may lead to the extinction of life on our planet by the end of this century is a responsibility that is shirked by the oil industry in its rapacious efforts to protect its profits.

Update 11/9/18: Bill McKibben - Up Against Big Oil in the Midterms

Update 11/14/18:  There is a huge fight by the fossil fuel industry against cheap renewables.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

How Dry I Am

As of the year 2010, Lake Mead's water levels on the Colorado River had dropped to levels below that of the 1930's, threatening water supplies throughout the southwest. The New York Times covered this in an article that laid out the issues with the water supply for the entire region as a La Niña condition develops in the Pacific Ocean, meaning a long, dry spell.

Lake Mead, behind Hoover Dam, is downstream from Lake Powell, which is a reservoir built to back up Mead, and Diamond Valley Lake was also completed recently for emergency water storage. All of these are being drawn down, with Mead being the foremost indicator of the systemic loss of capacity.

Approaches to this situation include developing more water sources as well as implementing conservation measures. Dr. Jay Famiglietti, head of the UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling, and member of the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board, has made a presentation on water resource management during this deepening drought. He is also a former Senior Water Scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

As Dr. Famiglietti put it,“There are different ways to approach the problem.  There is the supply side and there is the demand side.  One of the reasons why I default to the demand side is that it’s cheap and it’s easier to get people on board.  On the supply side, our capacity to do sewage recycling is basically limited by our population, and while I think the San Diego plant is great, there are issues.  The issues are the ones that are well-known; it’s expensive, it’s energy intensive, and I don’t think we have a long-term solution for how to handle brines.  Think about the California Coast; if we add a desal plant every 20 kilometers, that’s an awful lot of discharge.  I haven’t seen any discussions about the impact of that, so until we have the answers to those questions, I think that we are quite safe and conservatively thinking about conserving before developing new supplies.”

In the 1-hour video above from May 5, 2016, Dr. Famiglietti presents our knowledge of California’s snowpack, soil moisture, stream flow, reservoir and groundwater levels, all of which are at near record lows. He discussed the efficacy of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014, as well as the future of water and food security in California and the United States.

Focusing on California, Famiglietti pointed out the glaring fact that we do not have enough water to do what we are doing. The drought is bad and it is not over, he reminded us. El Nino did not dig us out of our The major problem, the professor pointed out, is that California is draining its aquifers to feed the entire country and some of the world as well.

Of the 10 to 12 million total acre feet of water a year used by all Californians for all uses, state agriculture soaks up 80 percent. But California now loses 16 million acre feet of water a year. Thousands of wells are going dry. Our lakes and rivers shrivel. Simple math shows we are farther and farther behind. A graph on one slide had a line jiggling somewhat reassuringly up during wet winter seasons and down during summer seasons until about 2012. At that point, the line lost its upward thrusts and plunged down to 2016. Since ground water is not as apparent as rain, snow, rivers, and lakes, Famiglietti feels we have ignored its significance at our peril. Our aquifers are not refillable. At this point Famiglietti showed slides of the entire globe and its thirty-seven major aquifers, half of which are shrinking as well, especially through highly populated southeast Asian regions.

What can be done? Famiglietti’s answers posed drastic solutions. California must stop draining its aquifers to feed the rest of the nation. Agriculture will have to go elsewhere. Or, perhaps Californians will have to go elsewhere. The present water crisis will dictate massive change. One fortunate fact: half the world gains water while the other half loses it. Famiglietti believes that we may see huge water pipelines transporting the precious liquid. He believes that it is only fair: California sends you food, you send us water.

NASA has been mapping underground water reservoirs with its Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite, which has been operational since 2002. This gives us a picture of the state of the underground aquifers that have been tapped by agriculture. It's used to determine the extent of water resources and how much has been drawn down by pumping and extraction. Quite a lot, it turns out, and the aquifers in the western United States are becoming badly overdrafted. Dr. Famiglietti has been using these maps to point out the need for management of this groundwater depletion as part of an array of strategies to ensure adequate water supplies in the western United States.

A strategy will need to be developed very soon for managing the water deficit in our state, before the serious shortages start to kick in and create a virtual war between agriculture and the urban areas. This will play out in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan water projects. It will be the biggest impact of climate change in California alongside the ever-expanding forest fire season we're experiencing now.

Update 10/22/18: Saudi Arabia and China are among the countries that have turned to the United States and elsewhere for more water supplies.

Update 10/23/18: Israel’s Sea of Galilee and Dead Sea are dying.

Update 10/24/18:  Here’s Where the Post-Apocalyptic Water Wars Will Be Fought

Monday, October 8, 2018

Keep It Simple

The IPCC Special Report is here from the UN. It documents the immediate impacts on the environment that 1.5C will likely have. It warns that strong efforts would be required to prevent disastrous consequences from dangerous levels of climate change. This means that World War II was a cakewalk compared to this, all hands on deck. An analysis of the report: "The best time to start reducing emissions was 25 years ago. The second best time is today."

Johan Rockström, chief scientist at Conservation International speaks about it.“Climate change is occurring earlier and more rapidly than expected. Even at the current level of 1C warming, it is painful,” he told the Guardian. “This report is really important. It has a scientific robustness that shows 1.5C is not just a political concession. There is a growing recognition that 2C is dangerous.” In order to blunt the coming climate change at that level, it's necessary to abandon coal and other fossil fuels in the next decade or two.

Having said all that, there's immediate, large-magnitude things that can happen right away to drastically reduce emissions. Such as protecting, preserving and restoring our great forests. Such as elimination of fossil fuel subsidies by governments across the globe. Such as rapid technology advancement in wind and solar, along with the upgrading of the electrical grids and establishing many stand-alone power sources at its periphery. Transportation in all areas, such as auto, truck, rail, airlines, and especially port traffic from overseas, will need to become electrified and supplied with renewable fuels. These strategies are not difficult, and can be widely employed in all countries, which need to develop the revenue for this. Decarbonization also has possibilities in the future with the nascent carbon capture industry that's progressing now.

There are many other things that can be done by private industry and by municipalities that can contribute to the lowering of carbon emissions in the very near future. But we don't have much time, and we need to mobilize. All of us.

Update 10/8/18: Nobel Prizes are awarded and given to economists referencing ways to adapt growth to climate change.

Update 10/9/18: 2C is nowhere near safe from a climate impacts perspective; now it's 1.5C

Update 11/2/18: Absurd for society to kneel before the dictates of the marketplace and that its primacy should determine how you structure government.

Update 11/12/18: The IPCC report tells us that climate breakdown is inevitable if we continue with growth-based neo-liberal economics.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

A Letter from Gaia

 Oil Change International - California Hypocrisy

Last week, as leaders from across the world gathered for the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) in San Francisco, hundreds of people, with Indigenous and frontline leaders out front, took to the streets outside the convention center, marching right up to the entrance to demand real climate leadership, not half-measures.

It was fitting that the summit took place in California, a state that has done a lot to incentivize renewable energy, yet continues to also be a substantial oil and gas producer. While California’s Governor Brown talks a good game on climate change, he’s resisted any effort to take on the state’s oil and gas producers.

The rationale for tackling California’s oil and gas production couldn’t be more clear, and now with a new video that Climate Truth Org created with our partners at Oil Change International, the logic is plain to see for anyone with a minute to spare.

Inside the summit, elected officials, celebrities, and business leaders patted themselves on the back for their work on renewable energy programs and other efforts to reduce fossil fuel demand. But a critical half of the conversation was missing: Standing up to the fossil fuel industry to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

While the eyes of the world were on GCAS, we teamed up with our partners in the Brown’s Last Chance coalition to reframe the definition of what real climate leadership looks like. And we were successful! We made it clear: If decision makers like California’s Governor Jerry Brown aren’t working to keep fossil fuels in the ground, then they cannot consider themselves climate leaders.

If Governor Brown really wants to be the climate leader he claims to be, he must put California on a path of managed decline of fossil fuel production in the state. With just about 100 days left in office, this is Brown’s Last Chance! We know what’s necessary from our elected leaders like Gov. Brown: political courage, not more talk. We know that climate action that ignores people and gives Big Oil a pass is unacceptable.

Together, we’re going to keep making noise, keep making headlines, and keep changing the debate. With your continued support we’ll continue to make a real impact. 


David Turnbull
Sept. 22, 2018

Many environmentalists have been tracking the efforts by the Brown administration in California with respect to its climate change policies as well as the international cap-and-trade agreements put into place a decade ago, and have spotted the actions that failed to follow the talk. The fact that he's been relying on oil revenue to balance the state budget was no secret, and Brown replied to the criticism at the summit by saying "politics runs on money".

This kind of fossil fuel activism can reach to the federal level with highly focused actions and programs:

"The Paris Agreement was watered down at the behest of the Obama administration compared to a more rigorous treaty, with common base year and targets, recommended by the European Commission (Spash, 2016a). Obama made clear his commitment to protect American jobs over the environment and specifically over any need to address human induced climate change. In this logic, environmental policy is justified if it creates jobs and growth, which always come first despite the inevitable contradictions. Obama’s administration massively expanded domestic oil and gas exploration to make the USA the worlds largest oil exporter (Spash, 2016a: 70). Non-conventional oil has been part of this strategy, despite the world already having over 6 times the reserves it could possibly burn and still have a ‘likely chance’ of the 2°C target (Spash, 2016b). Obama boasted that under his administration enough oil and gas pipelines had been built to ‘encircle the Earth and then some’ (see full quotation in Spash, 2016a). He ignored the associated ecological and social harm, not least that to indigenous communities. In 2016, Native American protestors at Standing Rock opposing construction work on the Dakota Pipeline that, now operational, transports fracked oil, were brutally suppressed by the combined efforts of the construction corporation’s security forces, riot police and the national guard. All that was before the election of a climate denialist with personal investments in fossil fuels."

As an example of how this environmental policy action develops, here is the Climate Silence Case Study from Action, which is a program of Oil Change USA, a nonprofit organization. It shows how it forced President Obama to address Federal responsibility for climate action policies.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

California Climate Policies

This video from CalMatters looks at what happens when a state responsible for about 1 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases goes all-in to fight climate change. Leadership involves some missteps, too.

Can a nation, or indeed the world, bring its greenhouse gas emissions down to zero? An analysis of this goal will be issued on October 8, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) publishes its Special Report on the 1.5ºC target.

Governments commissioned this report at the Paris Summit in 2015. The rationale was that until that point, scientific and technical analysis based on the 1.5ºC target was sparse; the agreed political target had always been 2ºC, and so this was where academics had focussed their attention. Since then, scientists, economists and the technical experts who map possible emissions reduction pathways for various industries have been getting to work – and the IPCC report will be the distillation of their work.

California isn't waiting to take action on this. In response to the state's Fourth Climate Change Assessment, Governor Brown was the principal organizer and reluctant star of the Global Climate Action Summit in September 13-15, a high-octane gathering of lawmakers, executives and scientists working to beat back global warming. But even as he sought to rally other politicians to the cause, Governor Brown’s conference underscored the limits of what politicians can do to avert the most catastrophic effects of climate change — even the politician who leads California, the wealthiest state in the country and the world’s fifth-largest economy.

Can California realistically do it? Nearly all of the remaining 44 percent of the state's electricity is currently generated by burning natural gas, and virtually none comes from coal. Going completely zero-carbon would require phasing out the state's natural gas power plants. The new law actually sets multiple targets rather than just one. It commits California to draw half its electricity from renewable sources by 2026, a share that would rise to 60 percent by 2030.

To take the next step, rather than mandating that all power be renewably sourced, state lawmakers established a 100 percent "zero-carbon" goal. They did not define this term, but it is understood as including wind and solar power, big hydropower plants, and other sources of electricity that do not generate carbon dioxide.

The timeline for these significant actions in California originate with the August release of its Fourth Climate Change Assessment document, which outlined the very extreme impacts that arise from carbon emissions even below the most-desired outcome of the agreed-to 1.5ºC temperature increase in the Paris Agreement of December 2015.

Sept. 14, 2018: With the Global Climate Action Summit underway in San Francisco, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) today announced its commitment to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 60 percent or more below 1990 levels.

Sept. 12, 2018: Governor Brown signed a package of climate-related bills. Among them were three bills supporting building decarbonization. AB 3232 directs the California Energy Commission to assess the potential for California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from residential and commercial buildings by 40 percent by 2030; SB 1477 will establish an incentive program for low-carbon space and water heating equipment; and AB 2195 directs the California Air Resources Board to track GHG emissions from natural gas leakage and venting during the production, processing and transporting of natural gas imported into California.

Sept. 12, 2018:  LA Times op-ed from Jerry Brown and Michael Bloomberg. They are two of the six co-chairs of the Global Climate Action Summit. They are also part of the America's Pledge coalition.

Sept. 10 2018: Governor Jerry Brown has signed legislation that requires California to generate 100 percent of its electricity from clean sources by 2045.

Contrary to the conservative mythology that clean energy slows economic growth, the state is already reduced its greenhouse emissions by 13 percent, even as the economy has grown by 26 percent. Clean energy also creates more jobs than fossil fuels and more people already work solar than coal, gas, and oil extraction combined.

Published in the Los Angeles Times on Aug.28, 2018. 
Right-click the image and "save as" to your computer to read at 100 percent size

California is moving into the forefront of environmental action and climate change issues. The legislature just passed a truly transformative bill, SB100. By setting the marker at 100% clean energy by 2045, California stands to cultivate and capture a huge slice of the domestic renewable energy market and again lead in innovation.

Governor Brown also signed an executive order (B-55-18) to make California carbon neutral by 2045. Full carbon neutrality is now on the table for the world’s fifth largest economy.

Sept. 4, 2018: Los Angeles County

 The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, on Tuesday Sept. 4, 2018, joined other counties, states and cities in support of the goals of the Paris Climate Accord.

Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis recommended registering the county with the We Are Still In coalition, saying impacts of human-driven climate change will include less frequent but more intense rainstorms, more frequent and longer droughts, increased wildland fires and urban forest die- offs, more vector-borne disease, rising seas, lower air quality and longer and hotter heat waves.

August 2018: The California Natural Resources Agency just released its fourth Climate Change Assessment, a call to action on rising global temperatures — the state’s first in six years. Takeaways from California’s New Climate Assessment: water is a critical issue.

Update 9/21/18: Southern California just saw its longest streak of bad air in decades

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Down and Dirty

NASA has been mapping underground water reservoirs with its Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite, which has been operational since 2002. This gives us a picture of the state of the underground aquifers that have been tapped by agriculture. It's used to determine the extent of water resources and how much has been drawn down by pumping and extraction. Quite a lot, it turns out, and the aquifers in the western United States are becoming badly overdrafted.

Jay Famiglietti, head of the UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling, and member of the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board, has been using these maps to point out the need for management of this groundwater depletion. In 2014, he made the point that "In the future we're going to see big inequities. As the water table drops, it becomes more expensive to pump. You may have to dig a deeper well, which is very expensive. As you get to lower levels of groundwater, the quality degrades so there's that treatment cost. Smaller farmers may go out of business. That's the future."

Well, now it's 2018 and the future has arrived. A major investigation of the impact of dwindling aquifers in Arizona by the New York Times has made it abundantly clear that the overdraft of these aquifers is unsustainable and possibly unrecoverable. It's a long story that's critically important, and it's unfolding all over the planet.

This overdraft is the direct result of industrial farming that has grown in Arizona, which is causing local wells to go dry for residents and small farmers. The big industrial farms can afford to build deep wells with large pumps to supply their crops - generally very water-intensive crops. This is known as "groundwater mining", which is going on in all of the western states that are extracting groundwater to the point that the ground has sunk by many feet in Arizona, but especially in California's San Joaquin valley which is the vast agricultural central valley that grows thirteen percent of the nation's produce.

"Dr. Jay Famiglietti and his team noticed that many of the most significant sites of water loss were actually below ground. Of the planet’s 37 major aquifer systems, they discovered, 21 were on the verge of collapse. In the Great Plains, farmers had exhausted a third of Ogallala’s potable water in just 30 years. In California, the Central Valley aquifer was showing signs that it could drop beyond human reach by the middle of this century. But the worst declines were in Asia and the Middle East, where some of the planet’s oldest aquifers were already running out of water. “While we are so busy worrying about the water that we can see,” Famiglietti told me, “the water that we can’t see, the groundwater, is quietly disappearing.”

This has resulted in the loss of many small family farms, to the extent that some of them are now facing the prospect of being turned into residential developments, which use far less water, but demand tremendous amounts of energy and fuel use. And land that is paved over no longer absorbs the water necessary to replenish the aquifer. So the problem isn't getting solved, but merely kicked down the road. Multiply this scenario all across the planet, and we can now see that water is becoming more and more scarce as these aquifers dry up, along with the shrinking lakes, rivers and glaciers due to climate change.

As the water disappears, the ecosystem disintegrates and fades into dirt. And that's when our human existence faces its inevitable trajectory, which no amount of energy can reverse.

Update 9/3/18: Most ecosystems risk ‘major transformation’ due to climate change

Update 9/4/18: California water wars face Federal intransigence

Update 9/7/18: The sinking of California - subsidence in the central valley

Update 9/21/18: Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) will need to avoid six specified “undesirable results

Update 9/25/18: Oil industry threatening the state's limited groundwater.