It’s Shark Week! That time of year where television networks pretend sharks are the most dangerous animal out there. Here we compare how many people are killed by sharks per year versus the two deadliest animals for humans – mosquitoes and other people. Want to learn more? Watch the video here where we highlight 15 of the deadliest animals out there.
How profoundly depressing this is…
July 10, 2015
Susan Schneider of the University of Pennsylvania is one of the few thinkers—outside the realm of science fiction— that have considered the notion that artificial intelligence is already out there, and has been for eons.
Her recent study, Alien Minds, Schneider asks: “how might aliens think? And, would they be conscious? I do not believe that most advanced alien civilizations will be biological, Schneider says. The most sophisticated civilizations will be postbiological, forms of artificial intelligence or Alien superintelligence.”
Search for Extraterrstrial Intelligence (SETI) programs have been searching for biological life. Our culture has long depicted aliens as humanoid creatures with small, pointy chins, massive eyes, and large heads, apparently to house brains that are larger than ours. Paradigmatically, they are “little green men.” While we are aware that our culture is anthropomorphizing, Schneider imagines that her suggestion that aliens are supercomputers may strike us as far-fetched. So what is her rationale for the view that most intelligent alien civilizations will have members that are superintelligent AI?
Schneider presents offer three observations that together, support her conclusion for the existence of alien superintelligence.
The first is “the short window observation”: Once a society creates the technology that could put them in touch with the cosmos, they are only a few hundred years away from changing their own paradigm from biology to AI. This “short window” makes it more likely that the aliens we encounter would be postbiological.
The short window observation is supported by human cultural evolution, at least thus far. Our first radio signals date back only about a hundred and twenty years, and space exploration is only about fifty years old, but we are already immersed in digital technology, such as cell-phones and laptop computers.
Devices such as the Google Glass promise to bring the Internet into more direct contact with our bodies, and it is probably a matter of less than fifty years before sophisticated internet connections are wired directly into our brains.
JUL 7, 2015 // BY BRIAN KAHN, CLIMATE CENTRAL
It appears that Greenland’s melt season is making up for lost time.
After a cool spring kept Greenland’s massive ice sheet mostly solid, a (comparatively) warm late June and early July have turned half the ice sheet’s surface into liquid, well outside the range of normal for this time of year.
Despite the ice sheet’s remote location, its slushy fingers reach across the globe, influencing sea levels and how fast the Gulf Stream current moves. As temperatures rise, its influence could grow larger as major summer melt events become regular occurrence. Recent warming has already contributed to ice loss in some areas previously thought to be stable and sped the trip of some glaciers into the sea.
Persistent high pressure has been camping over Greenland since mid-June. More recently, the weather pattern driving the European heat wave, dubbed an atmospheric shruggie — ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ — by Mashable’s Andrew Freedman (and an omega block by stodgy, old weather watchers), is also responsible for continuing to help keep Greenland warmer than normal.
The high temperatures in Europe have been more eye-popping, clearing 100°F from Spain to the Netherlands and setting an all-time July temperature record at London’s Heathrow Airport. But temperatures in the upper 30s and low 40s are still doing a number on Greenland’s ice sheet. Estimates from the National Snow and Ice Data Center indicate that roughly half the ice sheet’s surface is melting, well above the average of around 25 percent for this time of year.
In addition to warmer than normal temperatures, Greenland’s ice sheet has been getting steadily darker. This year currently ranks as the third-darkest on record for early July.
The darker the ice sheet is, the more incoming radiation from the sun is absorbed and the more it can melt. Water is darker than snow, but dust as well as soot from wildfires can also be swept up from far off locales and deposited on the ice sheet. It’s unclear if the wildfires currently raging in Alaska and Canada are having an impact.
But in July 2012, a combination of soot from fires in Siberia coupled with warm temperatures caused a record-setting 95 percent of the ice sheet to melt over the course of a week. That event in turn contributed to the largest annual ice loss on record. From June 2012 to June 2013, the island shed 474 gigatons of ice, enough to cover the National Mall in layer of ice 189 miles thick.
This year’s sudden uptick doesn’t necessarily portend a similar monster melt. But rising temperatures and a corresponding increase in wildfire activity could make 2012-level melt happen yearly by 2100. More dust has also been accumulating on the ice in recent years as spring snow recedes early in the Northern Hemisphere.
With 684,000 cubic miles of ice, the complete disappearance of the ice sheet isn’t going to happen anytime soon. But any speed up in the melting could have major global consequences.
The ice sheet’s fate is intimately tied to sea level rise. Its melt is responsible about 30 percent of observed sea level rise since the 1990s. Over the past two decades, Greenland has seen its contribution to sea level rise increase.
That trend is projected to continue as the planet warms and could put coastal cities at risk and cause trillions of dollars in damage.
In addition to sea level rise, the influx of freshwater could also be slowing the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, a crucial ocean current that transfers heat from the tropics poleward. If that pattern stalls out, it could reduce nutrients in the North Atlantic and alter circulation in other parts of the world’s oceans.
More From Climate Central:
A new study explains why we owe the spiciness of mustard, horseradish and wasabi to an ancient ‘arms race’ between plants and caterpillars that dates back to the dinosaurs.
By: Russell McLendon – July 1, 2015
Mustard is a summertime staple in the U.S., from the yellow spread on hot dogs to the piquant greens in salads. But while people have eaten it in various forms for several thousand years, its tang has a much longer — and less benign — history.
The origins of mustard, along with related foods like horseradish and wasabi, date back nearly 90 million years. As a new study explains, they’re the result of an “arms race” between plants and insects that’s been going on since the age of dinosaurs.
Despite humans’ taste for mustard, it evolved as a pest deterrent. Mustard plants start by making compounds known as glucosinolates, which in turn produce pungent mustard oils when chewed or crushed. This was prompted by relentless nibbling from butterfly larvae, but as caterpillars evolved new ways to cut the mustard, plants had to up the ante — thus growing zestier and zestier over time.
The new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, sheds light on the genetics behind this co-evolution of butterflies and Brassicaceae, a plant family that includes more than 3,000 spicy species.
“We found the genetic evidence for an arms race between plants like mustards, cabbage, and broccoli and insects like cabbage butterflies,” says co-author and University of Missouri biologist Chris Pires in a statement.
Mustard and catch-up
Plants began evolving glucosinolates sometime in the late Cretaceous Period, and eventually diversified to produce more than 120 varieties. These compounds are highly toxic to most insects, but certain species evolved ways to catch up with mustard by detoxifying the plants’ chemical defenses.
This is an example of co-evolution, in which two species can mutually influence the way each other evolves. It was first revealed by scientists in a famous 1964 study, but the new research offers details on how it happened — and how humans might leverage this relationship for more than just a spicy condiment.
The researchers used genomes of nine Brassicaceae plants to make an evolutionary family tree, letting them see when new defenses emerged. They compared that with the family trees of nine butterfly species, revealing three big evolutionary waves over 80 million years in which plants debuted defenses and insects adapted.
“We found that the origin of brand-new chemicals in the plant arose through gene duplications that encode novel functions rather than single mutations,” says Pat Edger, a former postdoctoral researcher at University of Missouri and lead author of the study. “Given sufficient amounts of time, the insects repeatedly developed counter defenses and adaptations to these new plant defenses.”
The spice of life
The pressure of this rivalry led to more biodiversity, of both plants and insects, than in other groups without the same back-and-forth battles. It also led to the spicy flavors now enjoyed by modern humans, although we’re starting to discover our debt to these caterpillars and plants may be even greater than we thought.
For one, learning the secrets of natural insect deterrents might help farmers protect crops without synthetic pesticides. “If we can harness the power of genetics and determine what causes these copies of genes,” Pires says, “we could produce plants that are more pest-resistant to insects that are co-evolving with them.”
And despite their effects on insects, mustard and its relatives also offer notable health benefits for humans who eat them. Mustard seeds are high in selenium and magnesium, for example, and research suggests the glucosinolates in both mustard greens and seeds may reduce the risk of heart disease and even fight cancer.
The coast of Maine is alive with seabirds—see for yourself.
By Jennifer Huizen
June 09, 2015
Hear that sound? It’s the “whirrrrrr” of a chainsaw, buzzing through the forest and the clear ocean air. But wait, there are no trees on this island: only 65 acres of bare rock and bird poop. So that sound must be a puffin, buried in its burrow on Seal Island Sanctuary, a little spot off the coast of Maine that gives rise to a booming colony of seabirds every summer.
Puffins have a strong homing instinct, and each spring adults fly back to their birth site after spending the winter at sea. This year’s returning inhabitants are the descendants of seabird restoration efforts that date back to 1984. The island was desolate for decades until biologists relocated 1,000 chicks here from Newfoundland, Canada; by 1992, breeding pairs were once again nesting on the island. Convincing the first of the puffin pioneers to recolonize the island required numerous tricks, including decoys and playing recorded calls.
Since 2012 the Seal Island web cams have offered viewers a front-row seat to the private lives of the inhabitants, and this year is no exception. Three 24/7 live feeds are now available on explore.org: one offering a rare glimpse into the nesting burrow of a mating puffin pair (see below), another giving a view of the ledge outside the burrow, and the last zooming over the boulders and rock crevices around the sanctuary. The cameras are also capturing the antics of other avian species that live alongside the puffins, including Razorbills, Arctic Terns, and Black Guillemots.
Here are some facts that you should know before you get sucked into the drama on Seal Island.
Puffins are slow bloomers.
“Once mature they return to the island where they grew up, then spend years ‘prospecting’ between other fairly close locations,” says Kress. “Puffins may be as old as 7 before picking one location to build a burrow and nest. They then wait a year or so before mating—like an engagement.”
Kress says little is known about the mates’ romance out at sea. Even if the couple doesn’t migrate together, each spring they somehow find each other and pair up.
Burrows are pretty cozy.
Puffins usually make their burrows in protective rock crevasses, but they might also dig them into the soil. This is the third time that this pair, Phoebe and Finn, is known to have returned to Burrow 59, tucked among granite.
“This year’s nest is made almost entirely of grass, which lines the whole burrow to offer padding and warmth,” says Kress. “But it can include bits of seaweed or moss.”
The nests have plenty of design features that keep chicks safe, too. “The egg is laid in a corner, so if a predator like a gull sticks its head in there, it will probably be too dark for them to notice the tiny egg or chick.”
Puffins are a rather conservative bunch.
Phoebe and Finn are incubating one egg—the puffin norm. It may sound risky to put all reproductive hopes in one egg, but puffins invest an incredible amount of time and energy in each offspring, right from the shell stage.
“Eggs require 20 percent of the female’s body weight and are bigger than an extra-large chicken egg. Puffins are only 10 inches tall, more like Bantam chickens,” says Kress.
The birds also mate on the water, making it hard to determine a precise lay time. But they generally begin breeding in April, and this year’s egg was found on May 23. That means Phoebe and Finn’s chick ought to hatch date around early July.
You can get involved, too.
The unborn bird is already spurring friendly competition among humans. The Baby Pool—in which users predict the puffling’s birthday—has 23 bettors who stand to win serious bragging rights. There’s also a contest to name the pufflings, hopefully with more success than their parents.
“Phoebe and Finn were named before they were sexed, but upon closer inspection Phoebe’s larger build and bill dimensions made him the father, not mother,” says Kress.
There are other ways to pitch in. Viewers can help read the numbers on the pair’s leg bands to identify the individuals. The live feeds also have a snapshot feature (a clickable camera icon) that allow users to share special moments from the island. Kress also encourages users to leave their observations (date and time-labeled snapshots, queries, or remarks ) in the comment section to create a sort of dataset.
“Right now we’re only monitoring things like feeding times, but this method could provide information on things we normally don’t, or can’t look at, like hatching,” says Kress.
Any time is puffin time.
Currently, there is no wrong time to tune into the puffin cams, says Kress. The feeds are buzzing with activity all throughout the day.
“The couple is incubating for the next month or so; then we’re on pip watch,” he says, referring to the special fractures in the shell that the chick’s egg tooth is designed to chip through while hatching.
Audubon will be covering the unfolding story of Phoebe and Finn (plus their soon-to-be, still-unnamed puffling). Check back to read more about their journey.
“That’s a cute little bug, evolution!”
“Yes, thank you! It’s a beaded lacewing. I’m just finishing up the larval form’s feeding mechanism now.”
“Oh yeah? What do the larvae eat?”
“Hm. Those can be hard to catch, can’t they? Don’t you want to give the lacewing some stronger legs or giant trap-jaws or something?”
“Nah, it’s fine. It’s going to paralyze the termites first.”
“Paralyze them? How will it do that?”
“With toxic gas.”
“Come on, where does it get toxic gas?”
“From its anus.”
“… I’m sorry, what?”
“It can release toxic gas from its anus.”
“It sneaks up and farts on the termites’ heads until they pass out, and then it eats them. I don’t know what you’re not getting about this.”
“I just… I don’t… um…”
“It’s doing the termites a favor, really. That way they don’t have to feel it when the lacewing punctures their abdomen with its mouthparts and starts digesting them from the inside. Anyway, break for lunch?”
“No thanks, I think I’m good.”
Source: Flickr / cotinis / licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Read more: Silent and Deadly: Fatal Farts Immobilize Prey by Gwen Pearson at WIRED
SATURDAY, JUN 27, 2015
In the span of a few words, Limbaugh smears atheists, ignores science and appears to struggle with simple metaphors
STEVE NEUMANNShortly before beginning to write this, I read a transcript of a recent Rush Limbaugh show titled “The Pope’s ‘Science Advisor’ Is an Atheist Who Worships the Earth,” which begins:
“My friends, not one to let things go, I have dug deep, and I have found out practically everything there is to know about the science advisor to Pope Francis on this encyclical. And the main thing you need to know, the guy’s an atheist.”
Why is that the main thing we need to know? Because atheists are evil, of course, and therefore their judgment can’t be trusted. But then Limbaugh says “the word for it in the story that I found, one of the most credible stories, is a pantheist, which is a variation of atheist.” Really? An a-theist is someone who doesn’t believe in God, but apan-theist is someone who believes that God is the universe, or that the universe is a manifestation of God. (You know, “pan” means “all” and “theos” means “God,” and all that.) But Limbaugh says that a “pantheist is somebody that believes the earth is a living organism that has the equivalent of a brain and reacts to horrible things done to it by humans,” and that in this view “the earth becomes the deity and there is no God.”
Limbaugh’s deep digging raises more questions than it answers. Does the Pope’s science advisor, Hans Schellnhuber, really believe that the Earth is a living organism like you or me — or God? And if he does, does it matter? Do only atheists believe in anthropogenic global warming? If so, how do you explain someone like Katharine Hayhoe, an Evangelical Christian who “believes her religious faith obligates her to spread the word about climate change”? Can we trust her judgment? Limbaugh should really worry more about her because, as member of their tribe, she has the power to change Christian minds. Christians certainly aren’t going to be swayed by an evil atheist pantheist.
A search for Katharine Hayhoe on Limbaugh’s site turned up only one mention of her name. In a 2011 show where he interviews Marc Morano, who runs the climate denier blog Climate Depot, Limbaugh brings up the fact that Hayhoe was slotted to have a chapter in an upcoming book by Newt Gingrich:
“This woman is writing Newt’s chapter on climate change in the new book. She says, ‘It is primarily laypeople like talk show hosts who are perpetuating the idea that there is no scientific consensus.’ Marc Morano, our man in Washington, claims that Newt’s new book has a chapter written by a babe named Hayhoe — no offense, Reverend Jackson — that man-made global warming is happening, caused by man.”
Limbaugh doesn’t try to understand how an Evangelical Christian could believe that “among climate scientists, people who spend their lives researching our world, there’s no debate regarding the reality of climate change and the fact that humans are the primary cause.” He doesn’t even mention the fact that she’s a Christian. It turns out that just mentioning her on his show was enough to discredit her, though; Gingrich subsequently cut her chapter out of his book completely.
But back to Schellnhuber. Does he really believe in her holiness, Mother Gaia? I’m not 100 percent sure, but I doubt that he believes the Earth is literally a god to be worshipped. In a Nature article from 1999, titled “‘Earth system’ analysis and the second Copernican Revolution,” Schellnhuber argues that “sophisticated information-compression techniques including simulation modelling are now ushering in a second ‘Copernican’ revolution” that strives to understand the Earth holistically, hoping to develop concepts for global environmental management from that. A holistic approach is common in medicine, for example: the treatment of the wholeperson, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the physical symptoms of a disease. A holistic approach to understanding the Earth seeks to take into account every relevant factor, too. Doesn’t seem too controversial.
Where people like Limbaugh really blow a gasket is when Schellnhuber writes that “ecosphere science is therefore coming of age, lending respectability to its romantic companion, Gaia theory.” To Limbaugh, this is an admission of allegiance to a pagan religion. But the “ecosphere” is just the biosphere of the earth, with emphasis on the interaction between its living and nonliving components. Gaia theory is a hypothesis formulated by the chemist James Lovelock and co-developed by the microbiologist Lynn Margulis in the 1970s, that proposed that organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a self-regulating, complex system that contributes to maintaining the conditions for life on the planet.
The philosopher Michael Ruse notes in 2013 that “as science, Gaia never really made it, but it has provoked important scientific work nonetheless. The world as a whole, its homeostasis or lack of it, is interesting, important, and worthy of investigation,” and that even if Gaia theory hasn’t been accepted by most scientists, he says that “‘Earth Systems Science’ flourishes.” A charitable reading of Schellnhuber would lead us to conclude that he’s not shilling for a new religion. Consider his use of the adjective “romantic” to describe Gaia theory. He’s not taking Gaia theory literally, he’s saying that it’s “suggestive of an idealized view of reality,” as my Oxford dictionary defines “romantic.”
In other words, he’s using it as a metaphor to help him understand the issue. Schellnhuber also says that this “hotly debated ‘geophysiological’ approach to Earth-system analysis argues that the biosphere contributes in an almost cognizant way to self-regulating feedback mechanisms that have kept the Earth’s surface environment stable and habitable for life.” Notice that he uses scare quotes to describe Lovelock’s idea of studying the Earth’s “body.” Schellnhuber also utilizes metaphorical language again when he says that the Earth acts in an almost cognizant manner. That is, almost but not really.
Science thrives on the use of metaphor and analogy, especially when trying to communicate complex ideas and processes. Think of Richard Dawkins’s concept of the “selfish gene,” or pretty much anything written on physics by Brian Greene. In anepisode of “The Big Bang Theory,” Greene has a cameo appearance where he uses a metaphor to introduce a wacky quantum effect:
“You can think of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle much like the special order menu that you find in certain Chinese restaurants, where you have some dishes in column A and other dishes in column B, and if you order the first dish in column A you can’t order the corresponding dish in column B — that’s sort like the Uncertainty Principle.”
Does Greene really believe that quantum physics is like a Chinese menu? Do I really need to answer that question?
I don’t think these subtleties are lost on people like Limbaugh; I think they believe they’re used as subterfuge by what they consider to be evil, liberal secular fascists to control the world. But that still doesn’t explain people like Katharine Hayhoe, who recently commented on the Pope’s “Laudato Si” encyclical at fellow Evangelical and scientist Francis Collins’s BioLogos website. The title of her post is “Why All Christians Should Heed Pope Francis’ Call to ‘Care for Our Common Home,’” where she writes:
“This is why the Pope’s unprecedented encyclical on climate change matters so much. It makes a moral call for action based on the fundamental premises of the Christian faith – premises so fundamental that we can all, and must all, agree…In this world, there is only really one thing we Christians are called to do: to fearlessly express Christ’s love to others. In the case of climate change, how do we express this love? Through acknowledging the reality of the issue; supporting action to help others who are being harmed now, today, and in the future; and taking our responsibility to care for God’s creation seriously.”
I think it’s clear that the Earth system science that people like Schellnhuber and others engage in makes generous use of metaphors to both understand the issue of global climate change and to communicate that understanding to the rest of us. Whether it’s called “Gaia” or “God’s creation,” it’s a poetic metaphor that has the power to motivate us to make the necessary changes because it shows how much we’re actually invested in it.
Speaking of poetic metaphors, the late poet Denise levertov, a former agnostic who converted to Catholicism in her sixties, combines Schellnhuber’s Gaia and Hayhoe’s Creation in her poem “Tragic Error” from her 1992 book Evening Train:
Surely we were to have been
earth’s mind, mirror, reflective source.
Surely our task
was to have been
to love the earth,
to dress and keep it like Eden’s garden.
That would have been our dominion:
to be those cells of the earth’s body that could
perceive and imagine, could bring the planet
into the haven it is to be known.
But as is usual for Limbaugh and others like FoxNews hosts and pundits, the invocation of an atheist who believes in Gaia is meant to instill fear in the GOP base, motivating them to vote against the Democratic Devil.
JUNE 25, 2015
In 1922, seven Western states — Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming and California — drew up an agreement on how to divide the waters of the Colorado River. But there was one big problem with the plan: They overestimated how much water the river could provide.
As a result, each state was promised more water than actually exists. This miscalculation — and the subsequent mismanagement of water resources in those states — has created a water crisis that now affects nearly 40 million Americans.
Environmental reporter Abrahm Lustgarten began investigating the water crisis a year and a half ago for the ProPublica series Killing the Colorado. He tells Fresh Air’s Dave Davies that he initially thought the water crisis was the result of climate change or drought. Instead, Lustgarten says, “It’s the policy and the management that seem to be having a greater effect than the climate.”
Lustgarten says conservation and increased efficiency in farming could reintroduce enormous quantities of water back into the Colorado River system. By Lustgarten’s estimate, if Arizona farmers switched from growing cotton to growing wheat, it would save enough water to supply about 1.4 million people with water each year.
But, Lustgarten adds, “There’s nothing really more politically touchy in the West than water and the prospect of taking away people’s water rights. So what you have when you talk about increasing efficiency or reapportioning water is essentially an argument between those who have it, which are the farmers and the people who have been on that land for generations, and those who don’t, which are the cities who are relative newcomers to the area.”
On how, in the 1920s, seven Western states decided how they would divide up the waters of the Colorado River
The states came together and negotiated, actually, at the behest of Herbert Hoover, for how they would divide up that river. To do that, they calculated what they thought was the total flow of the river, thought they’d leave a little bit in the river for the health of the ecosystem, and divided up what they thought remained. It has turned out over the years that far less than that flows in the river. … What that means is from the very start the Colorado River has been over-allocated — not all of those states yet take the maximum amount they’re allowed to, but if they did, each of those states have been promised collectively more water than actually exists, and that’s the very premise of water use in the West. Before drought, before climate change, before expansion and population, they began with the premise of thinking they had more water than they actually had.
On why farmers grow such a “thirsty” crop as cotton in arid Arizona
Cotton is one of the most water-intensive crops that farmers can grow. It’s not the most — grasses, like alfalfa, which are also grown in abundance, use far more water. But [among] the long list of options, cotton uses about six times as much water as growing a crop of lettuce and about 60 percent more than growing wheat. Cotton has been a staple of Arizona’s agriculture economy for many years. It’s in decline. There’s much less of it today than there used to be, but there’s still more than 100,000 acres of cotton grown in Arizona.
Arizona is probably the worst off when it comes to water of the seven states in the Colorado River Basin, so that decision to continue to use its water to grow one of the thirstiest crops is something that caught our attention very early in our reporting. … When you look at cotton, it’s not actually a really good business. There’s a glut of cotton on the market, there’s not a lot of demand for it, and in recent years the price has been really low, so it wouldn’t appear to be a very good business decision for farmers. What we found is that under the U.S. farm bill, the federal government heavily subsidizes cotton, it subsidizes other crops but no crop in Arizona received more money than cotton through a variety of forms. The farmers that I spoke with basically said that this money helps them bridge the gap between good years and bad years and keeps them in the black. If they didn’t grow cotton, they wouldn’t be eligible for as much money. Their entire farming operations would likely suffer.
On how much water it takes to grow alfalfa, which is grown to feed cows
If you were to pick any one crop that uses the most water in the Colorado River Basin, it’s alfalfa. There’s a lot of surprising aspects to alfalfa usage, not just that it supports our meat and dairy industries but a lot of it is actually exported to support other countries’ meat and dairy industries. There’s large alfalfa farms in Southern California and southern Arizona for example that are owned by the United Arab Emirates, or other Middle Eastern countries. I calculated, based on the very high water intensity of say a steak, you can calculate that if Americans theoretically ate one less meal of meat each week it would save an amount of water that could be the equivalent of the entire annual flow of the Colorado River.
On one of the massive geo-engineering projects that were built to carry water from the river to the arid lands in the West
The Navajo Generating Station is a three-generator, coal-fired plant. It’s one of the largest in the country, and it sits in the northern edge of Arizona along the Colorado River, outside the town of Page as a phenomenally massive monument to industry. It sits in an otherwise plain and open wilderness landscape, red sandstone spires and desert buttes, and then all of a sudden is this enormous, thrumming, loud facility with three smokestacks that reach almost 800 feet into the air. It consumes about 22,000 tons of coal each year and powers a number of Southwestern cities, but mainly [it] provides the power to move water through the Central Arizona Project canal into the middle of Arizona. …
About 300 miles south of Page along the Colorado River, the river sits in a small reservoir called Lake Havasu, and from Lake Havasu there’s a couple of intake pipes that move the water out of the river, about 10 percent of the flow of the river, carry it up a total elevation gain of about 3,000 feet and across 336 miles through the cities of Phoenix and Tucson into the central part of the state of Arizona. Moving that much water up that much elevation gain requires an enormous amount of energy, and to acquire that energy the federal government basically built the Navajo Generating Station in the early 1970s.
On the pollution created to move the water from the river to farms and cities
The Navajo Generating Station is the nation’s third largest emitter of carbon dioxide, climate warming gases, of any power facility in the country. In addition to the carbon dioxide, it has historically emitted enormous amounts of nitrogen oxide, mercury, going back some years, sulfur dioxide and a slew of other pollutants that have essentially blanketed that part of the country in a fog of haze and smog. …
It was anticipated. The earliest environmental impact statements that I was able to find, dating back to 1972, warned that the Navajo plant and another that was being built at the time would cause an exponential rise in air pollution in the region. The Union of Concerned Scientists called that part of the country a “national sacrifice area” if the country proceeded with its plan to mine coal and burn it for power and those concerns have essentially manifested today.
On how government policies are contributing to the water shortage
What I hear repeatedly from some of the smartest thinkers in the West … is that there is plenty of water in the West, so the question is really about how do you use it better. … The changes that we talked about in terms of farming, prioritizing which crops are grown and increasing efficiency about how water is used in the cities, they believe would make the region self-sustaining for many, many, many decades into the future.