Op-Ed: “Environmental Bankruptcy” Starts the World in the Face – Wastewater destroys the world’s waters
“The health of our oceans and our planet is at stake,” said WTO chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala – © AFP STR
“Environmental bankruptcy” is a really horrible concept. I hate buzzwords, let alone making them up, but they say what they need to say.
The problem is, it seems too possible. Recent research on the global impacts of wastewater has provided very grim data. Researchers at the University of California and Columbia University produced a unpleasant looking yellow stained card of the world. Research provides a lot of very serious information on the state of the waters.
The biggest problem is nitrogen, a serious contaminant in ecosystems affecting the entire food chain. Large amounts of nitrogen are released, and the effects on 135,000 watersheds around the world are like what they are, a train wreck. It is as bad as air emissions are in global warming, and just as much of a problem in terms of global pollution.
Both treated and untreated wastewater play a major role in this truly hideous environmental toxic cocktail. Untreated effluent is bad enough and stupid enough.
- China, India and the United States are the biggest contributors.
- Europe, China, India and North America are literally wading through sewage contaminants.
- 25 of the watersheds produce about half of the nitrogen. This is mainly due to the configuration of the supplies in the watersheds. For example – The Yangtze is the largest producer, providing about 11% of the nitrogen. (No big surprise there; the Yangtze is fed by a wide range of tributaries. Louisiana’s famous “offshore badlands” are also fed by the Mississippi.)
- The additional nitrogen comes from agricultural fertilizers as well as wastewater. (This is a long-standing problem. Everyone knows about farm inputs and nothing has been done about it.
- Nitrogen is an essential component of most fertilizers (the N in the NPK mixture) and the volumes of nitrogen entering watersheds are inevitably very high. The problem with so much nitrogen added to watersheds and oceans is that it has fundamental environmental impacts.
Nitrogen is a determining factor in many types of algal blooms, which on their own can completely wipe out local ecosystems, destroy fisheries, poison waters, etc. Red tides are classic examples and are super toxic. It is no exaggeration to say that swimming in cyanide could Actually be a better option.
Additional physical wastes like sewage, plastics, and materials deposited by runoff don’t help either. The huge volumes of material wreak havoc in rivers and oceans.
Add to that another horrible little problem – anoxic coastal waters. These are oxygen poor areas, and if you look at a map of anoxic zones, they closely resemble the results of new research on sewage contamination.
It is not a coincidence. Mankind, as usual, has thrown its waste issues into the environment for centuries. Now the problems come back to say hello.
Doomsday is unaffordable – “Environmental bankruptcy”
The absolute end result is far too close in wastewater and ocean management. The main marine and river environments are in great difficulty. Water is essential for life. Unusable water = no life. There is no way around this equation.
As it stands, the world’s freshwater resources are under ridiculous levels of overuse, entirely due to mismanagement. The oceans are horribly contaminated, as this research proves, once again. This is cubic irresponsibility, and the winning is an extremely large and overdue bill.
What is different this time is that almost 8 billion people cannot live in an environment where the food chain and water supply are totally destroyed in many ways. It’s another environmental gravestone from the last 50 insane years that comes to us saying “Hi! How are you? ”“ Leaving ”is exactly what a lot of people are going to do, and they’re not coming back.
The whole world could be like Yemen at this rate. The great moment of inevitable crisis is here, just in time to go along with all the other disasters. It is a real environmental Alabama bankruptcy laws. It is not a price that everyone can afford to pay.
The fix is simple but not fixing it is not an option
To use the Alabama bankruptcy laws metaphor a little longer – Directors MUST be called. In this case, “wind up” is a very apt analogy, not just a disgusting pun.
Water treatment is complex. It has to handle any range of contaminants and has to deliver very high volumes of treated water in the global context. The water treatment capacity must be agile and adaptable. Who knows what wonderful new contaminants are in store? Nano shit? Not at all impossible, in fact, it was predicted a few years ago.
- Multi-Stage Water Treatment – This is common practice, but it can be improved to handle very high volumes of water, by removing garbage.
- Molecular Filters – This is a technology from the 1970s, since perfected, but capable of producing drinking water from wastewater.
- Microbial and mycological extraction of contaminants is also possible, but that would require a real encyclopedia to discuss it in depth. Let’s say it has been tried and it works.
- Waste recovery can also be commercially viable. Nitrogen is a very salable product, for example. Recycling it would be profitable. In theory, you could recycle the entire element table using the right filters and efficient extraction.
- You’ll notice that I didn’t even mention groundwater. This in itself is the equivalent of an additional ocean or more. The same problems apply, but with somewhat different environmental dynamics. Treatment should be in accordance with local conditions, which can be anything, even horrible.
Huge down payment against certain death
The range of solutions equates to just one possibility – Pay to fix the problem or ask where your water is coming from in about 20 years. Nice choice, isn’t it?
Treating water on this scale means big, like super-colossal, gigantic money spent. In theory, but not yet in practice, micro-treating water up and down the supply chain could reduce costs, but the technology is not really rushing to market.
The much less obvious problem is creating a huge infrastructure monster to maintain. Processing works when the infrastructure is kept able to do its job. In this case, this infrastructure must operate on a large scale.
Thus, a supply chain structure for contaminant management makes much more sense. “Just tear out a faulty component and replace it” is worth “rebuilding it all” at any time.
Is it really your money or your life? Any theories on how to answer?