Taliban’s political stature rises with talks in Uzbekistan
By KATHY GANNON
Sunday, August 12
ISLAMABAD (AP) — In a rare diplomatic foray and the strongest sign yet of increasing Taliban political clout in the region, the head of the insurgents’ political office led a delegation to Uzbekistan to meet senior Foreign Ministry officials there, Uzbek and Taliban officials said.
Taliban political chief Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai represented the insurgents in the four-day talks that ended on Friday and included meetings with Uzbekistan’s Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov as well as the country’s special representative to Afghanistan Ismatilla Irgashev.
The meetings follow an offer made by Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in March to broker peace in Afghanistan.
Suhail Shaheen, spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, said in a statement to The Associated Press on Saturday that discussions covered everything from withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan to peace prospects and possible Uzbek-funded development projects that could include railway lines and electricity.
Shaheen said Uzbek officials discussed their security concerns surrounding the development projects.
“The Taliban also exchanged views with the Uzbek officials about the withdrawal of the foreign troops and reconciliation in Afghanistan,” he said in the statement.
Uzbek’s Foreign Affairs Ministry website offered a terse announcement on the visit, saying “the sides exchanged views on prospects of the peace process in Afghanistan. “
Still, the meetings are significant, coming as the Taliban are ramping up pressure on Afghan security forces with relentless and deadly attacks. Washington has held preliminary talks with the insurgents in an attempt to find a negotiated end to Afghanistan’s protracted war.
The Taliban have gained increasing attention from Russia as well as Uzbekistan, which view the insurgency as a bulwark against the spread of the Islamic State group in Afghanistan. The United States has accused Moscow of giving weapons to the Taliban.
Still, Andrew Wilder, vice president of Asia programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace said Washington would welcome a “constructive” Russian role in finding a way toward a peace pact in Afghanistan.
“What wouldn’t be helpful would be if the Uzbek efforts to facilitate lines of communication with the Taliban are not closely coordinated with the Afghan government,” he said.
“High profile talks by foreign governments with the Taliban that exclude the Afghan government risk providing too much legitimacy to the Taliban without getting much in return,” Wilder said.
On Sunday, Ehsanullah Taheri, the spokesman of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, a wide-encompassing body tasked with finding a path to peace with the government’s armed opponents, said Uzbek officials had the Afghan government’s approval for the meeting.
“Afghan government welcomes any effort regarding the Afghan peace process, especially those attempts which can lead us to an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process,” said Taheri.
Still, there was no indication from either side that progress toward substantive talks between the Taliban and the government was made.
For Uzbekistan, the IS presence is particularly worrisome as hundreds of its fighters are former members of the radical Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a declared terrorist group considered the architect of some of the more horrific attacks carried out by IS in Afghanistan.
Last year, there were reports that the son of Tahir Yuldashev, the powerful Uzbek leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, who was killed in a U.S. missile strike in Pakistan in 2009, was leading efforts to help expand IS influence in Afghanistan.
Last week, Afghan security forces reportedly rescued scores of Afghan Uzbeks who had declared their allegiance to IS when they came under attack by Taliban fighters in northern Afghanistan, not far from the border with Uzbekistan. The rescued Uzbek warriors subsequently declared they would join the peace process.
Most of those rescued were Afghan Uzbeks loyal to Afghanistan’s Vice President Rashid Dostum who wet over and joined IS after Dostum fell out with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and fled to Turkey in May last year to live in self-imposed exile there.
Coincidentally, the rescue of Afghan Uzbeks from the battle with the Taliban came just days after Dostum returned to Afghanistan and reconciled with Ghani’s government.
Associated Press Writer Rahim Faiez in Kabul, Afghanistan contributed to this report
Who are Pakistan’s Ahmadis and why haven’t they voted in 30 years
August 8, 2018
Professor of Religion, Wesleyan University
Peter Gottschalk does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Wesleyan University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Pakistani cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan, is all set to be the country’s new prime minister. His party emerged the single largest in recent elections.
It is only for the second time in the 71-year history of this second largest Muslim majority country that a democratically elected government, will transfer power to another after completing its full term. The nation’s military has intervened repeatedly to remove leaders and has directly controlled the country for about half of its history.
And so this recent milestone in Pakistan’s democracy has elated many citizens. However, one community boycotted the recent elections, as they have for over three decades: the Ahmadi, a religious minority.
Who are the Ahmadis and what does their boycott tell about the role religion has played in Pakistan’s nationalist politics?
The Ahmadi of Pakistan
The origin of the Ahmadi community goes back to the British-ruled India of 1889. At the time, in the province of Punjab (a region that would later be split between an independent India and Pakistan), a Muslim religious leader, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, became disenchanted with what he viewed as Muslim decadence that allowed for the humiliating experience of foreign rule.
Like many Indians, he wondered what needed to change in order to overcome the invaders.
Many European missionaries wanted to “free” Indians – both Muslims and Hindus – of what they characterized as their religious ignorance by bringing them to the “truth” of Christian traditions.
With the British government’s consent, some traveled through cities and rural areas to publicly denounce Islamic and Hindu traditions, while others published pamphlets doing so.
To restore the wholesomeness of Islamic traditions that had once influenced much of South Asia, Ghulam Ahmad reinterpreted branches of Islamic thought. He broadcast the message of reform through his prolific writing. Most prominently, he claimed to be both the Messiah and a prophet.
Most Muslims believe that Isa, or Jesus – whom they recognize as a prophet akin to Muhammad – will return as a Messiah, a figure expected to prepare the world for Judgment Day. In contrast, Ghulam Ahmad claimed to displace Isa in this role and announced that the end times were near.
What was more problematic, particularly to Islamic scholars, was his claim as a prophet. Most Muslims understand Muhammad as the “seal of the prophets,” the last sent by God. The Quran represents the final revelation offered to humanity by God. Ghulam Ahmad addressed these concerns by claiming to be a lesser type of prophet.
His message attracted growing numbers of followers among Muslims struggling to deal with the realities of British rule. Many were drawn partly to his strident criticism of Christian missionaries and Hindu activists who denigrated them. In 1889 he inaugurated a small group called the Jamaat-i Ahmadiyya (the Organization of Ahmad), that helped spread his message.
Although some Ahmadis later turned away from their leader’s most disputed assertions, the Jamaat-i Ahmadiyya held steadfast to his claim to prophethood. This group viewed him as nothing less than the Messiah who had returned to help humanity as it faced its end.
They made Rabwah, a town in Pakistan’s province of Punjab, their headquarters.
During Ghulam Ahmad’s life, Islamic scholars expressed disapproval with other scholars or individual Ahmadis. However, in 1947, after Pakistan was established as a separate Muslim homeland, some Islamic scholars publicly attacked the theology of the Ahmadis. Various politicians harnessed the controversy to their nationalist politics.
The politics of defining the true Muslim
The first major expression of anti-Ahmadi sentiment targeted an Ahmadi, Chaudhry Zafarullah Khan, who held the foreign minister’s post in 1953.
Some Muslims circulated rumors that Ahmadis proselytized among Muslims and represented a Western-supported conspiracy. This spurred riots throughout the country in 1953 that led to six deaths. Subsequently the government removed all Ahmadis, including Zafarullah Khan from prominent official posts.
A minaret of the Ahmadi’s Garhi Shahu mosque. AP Photo/K.M.Chaudary
For the next two decades, the campaign against the Ahmadi proceeded haltingly, staggering between occasional local tensions and evolving political agendas.
In 1974, however, the town of Rabwah became the epicenter of antagonism. Following riots targeting Ahmadis in many parts of Pakistan, Prime Minister Zulfikar Bhutto – among the least religiously inclined of Pakistan’s leaders – bowed to Islamist pressure to make constitutional amendments declaring Ahmadis as non-Muslims.
Later in 1984, legislation prohibited Ahmadi from proselytizing or even professing their beliefs.
Matters worsened a year later when the government divided Pakistan’s electorate into “Muslim” and “non-Muslim.” This required voters to declare whether they accepted Muhammad as the final prophet. Ahmadi who declared themselves Muslim faced penalties.
The bottom line is since 1985 most have not participated in an election. Casting a vote would require them to explicitly denounce themselves as non-Muslims, which would have its own consequences.
What is important to understand is that the roots of the current electoral conflict do not inherently lie either in Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s message nor the Ahmadiyya community.
The conflict emerges from an ideology of nationalism that inherently promotes a sense of belonging in its citizens, at the risk of exclusion of certain “outsiders.”
As Britain abandoned South Asia in 1947, Pakistan’s founders established a secular state meant to protect Muslims as a separate homeland from the political threats they saw in a Hindu-majority India. Certain Islamist political groups and politicians combined religious identity, language and symbols to foster national unity.
Specific domestic religious groups were targeted as the enemy of the public in order to garner popular support. In 2011, Pakistan was ranked at the top on Pew Research Center’s index on social hostilities involving religion. The Ahmadis were one targeted group.
Just as the Trump administration questions the loyalty of Muslim-Americans and simultaneously defines “true” Americans, increasing numbers of Pakistani politicians and Islamists after 1947 portrayed the Ahmadis negatively in order to project themselves as protectors of “true” Muslim Pakistanis.
By 2012, only 7 percent of Pakistanis considered Ahmadis as Muslims.
Target of attacks
An Ahmadi mosque in the eastern city of Sialkot, Pakistan, demolished by extremists in May 2018. AP Photo/Shahid Ikram
In this environment the Ahmadis, representing perhaps 0.2 percent of Pakistan’s 208 million population, continue to struggle. They have been been the targets not only of electoral discrimination but also of vandalism against their places of worship. They have been accused of blasphemy, and laws have made it illegal for them to recite the Quran. They are also not allowed to have Islamic inscriptions on headstones, or even call their places of worship “mosques.”
Many have despaired of finding acceptance in their national homeland and emigrated to other nations. In Pakistan, as the recent election shows, they continue to struggle with a nationalist politics of exclusion.
Opinion: Why the Sudden Silence on Human Rights in N. Korea?
By Donald Kirk
SEOUL — Remember the “human rights” issue? Once upon a time, just about everyone was complaining about egregious human rights violations in North Korea.
Interestingly, you don’t hear a lot about that stuff any more. President Donald Trump is so busy patting himself on the back for having resolved the North Korean problem, which he happily notes all his predecessors failed to do, that he won’t go near it. Instead, he praises his new pal Kim Jong-un for having been so kind as to release 55 sets of remains that may or may not be among those of the 5,300 Americans missing from the Korean War.
A couple of issues here. Trump, eschewing mention of human rights violations in North Korea, is going right to bed with all the leftists and liberals, pro-northers and defenders of the faith of Kim, Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il and his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, to whom the North Korean human rights issue is taboo. The more rational among them acknowledge the issue but prefer to change the subject, blaming the United States for compelling the Kim dynasty to develop nukes and missiles in “self-defense.”
The more extreme, echoing North Korean rhetoric, say North Korea is not guilty of human rights violations at all and there’s no gulag system in which tens of thousands are imprisoned, tortured, worked to death or executed for the least opposition to the regime or maybe for just for having annoyed the wrong people.
South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, in his zeal for rapprochement with North Korea, is also cooling it on human rights, not saying a thing about it for fear of offending the Kim regime. Why harp on human rights, a topic that is sure to invite a fusillade of angry commentaries in the North’s state media, while trying to open up rail traffic with the North, to bring about visits among fast-dying members of families divided by the Korean War, and maybe encourage commerce despite sanctions?
The Moon government’s worries about the issue, notes Lee Jung-hoon, Yonsei professor who served as ambassador for North Korean human rights under conservative governments, is such that no one’s been appointed to that position since Moon’s election. As far as Lee is concerned, overlooking the human rights issue is no minor matter. “Without improvement in human rights,” he told a forum at Hankuk University, you can’t expect resolution of other issues, including “denuclearization.”
Nor are the presidents of the United States and South Korea the only ones who prefer to downplay the North’s human rights record. Lee recalls, when he tried to get American celebrities to take an interest, maybe to stage a concert on behalf of victims of human rights abuses in North Korea, he got zero responses. “The international community is not actively engaged,” he lamented. In fact, if foreign celebrities considers the issue at all, it’s often to follow the lead of the pro-northers by blaming the United States for creating the problem, for failing to provide “security guarantees,” then for imposing sanctions.
It’s unlikely the transfer of 55 sets of remains to North Korea is going to do much aside from create the false impression that North Korea actually is complying with the brief statement signed by Trump and Kim at Singapore on June 12. Sure, point four did “commit” to return of remains, but that was hardly the reason for the summit. By making a fuss over remains, both Trump and Kim have obscured what should be plain to everyone: North Korea is not going to give up its nuclear and missile program.
That reality, however, does not mean that pressure for relaxation of tensions, for reconciliation, is misplaced. Nor should Trump reverse course again and revert to the hard line of last year when he threatened to rain “fire and fury” on the North. It does mean, however, we should have no illusions about North Korea’s compliance with the vision of the Moon-Kim summit of April 27 or the Trump-Kim summit of June 12.
Obviously, pressure on the North to comply with the spirit of these summits has to intensify while sanctions remain in place. It also means diplomats and negotiators should be asking hard questions about North Korea’s record on human rights regardless of the taboos of pro-northers or the certainty of North Korean outrage.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Donald Kirk has been a columnist for Korea Times, South China Morning Post many other newspaper and magazines. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Opinion: Reasons Conservatives Should Love Wind Energy
By Heather Reams
Last year, wind energy officially emerged as the nation’s top source of renewable energy for the first time. That is probably not that surprising for anyone in the energy sector, but it may be surprising to others that conservative policymakers have been a driving force in wind’s growth.
Recent polling shows a strong majority of conservative voters support the development of wind energy. The fact is, conservative principles and values naturally align with the benefits of wind energy, so there are several reasons it should be particularly appealing to voters and lawmakers alike.
First, it is about job creation. According to the American Wind Energy Association, this sector now supports more than 100,000 jobs in all 50 states, and the industry added jobs at a rate nine times faster than the overall economy in 2016. Job creation is associated with every phase of wind development, including project planning, siting, construction, manufacturing and operations. Most of these are good-paying, long-term careers that offer families reliable employment across the country.
Second, wind energy is essential to broader economic growth. Wind is the fastest growing energy resource, and the industry has attracted nearly $150 billion in investments to date, averaging more than $14 billion a year over the past decade. Landowners, especially farmers and ranchers, receive land lease payments that average $245 million annually, which is often reinvested in agricultural development. Wind energy projects usually require a robust supply chain, which means countless small businesses downstream receive a financial boost.
Another reason for the appeal is that wind energy is particularly important to rural communities where many conservative voters live. In fact, more than 99 percent of wind power capacity is in rural areas, and 71 percent is in low-income counties. Wind energy projects increase local spending, which strengthens those local economies. They also greatly expand local tax bases, which means they contribute to community development by increasing revenue to better fund local schools, parks, emergency services, roads and so on.
From a political perspective, one more reason conservatives love wind energy is that the states most suitable for it are traditionally “Red States.” In fact, look to the top three states for wind capacity — Texas (23,262 megawatts), Oklahoma (7,495 megawatts) and Iowa (7,312 megawatts). In addition to Iowa, wind energy now accounts for more than 30 percent of electricity generation in Kansas, Oklahoma and South Dakota.
The final reason conservatives should love wind energy — and other energy innovations — is because it strengthens our national security. Wind energy has become an essential part of the nation’s all-of-the-above energy portfolio, accounting for 6.3 percent of the nation’s electricity generation in 2017. If our country wants to remain energy independent, diversifying our supply is the only way to guarantee a future with access to affordable, reliable energy that is not affected by geopolitics.
Aug. 5-11 was American Wind Week, an event aimed at raising awareness about the success of wind energy and promoting favorable policies with lawmakers in Washington and in state capitals. Wind energy’s success signals an important juncture in American clean energy history as the industry and other clean energy industries are finally maturing, acquiring more market share and generating profits. Conservatives need to help keep up the momentum to benefit our priorities as well as our nation.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Heather Reams is the managing director of Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions, a clean energy advocacy organization. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Report: OH Consumers Saved More Than $40 Billion Over 10 Years from Lower Natural Gas Prices
Consumer Energy Alliance Examines Benefits of Energy Production to Ohio’s Families, Small Businesses and Manufacturers in New Report
COLUMBUS, O.H. — Thanks to increased production and new technologies, which have decreased the price of natural gas, Ohio energy consumers saved more than $40.2 billion between 2006 and 2016, according to a new report released today by Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA).
Residential users saved almost $15 billion, while commercial and industrial users saved upwards of $25.3 billion, the report, titled “The Benefits of Ohio’s Natural Gas Production to Energy Consumers and Job Creators,” said. The analysis examined how the shale revolution across the Marcellus and Utica region has provided benefits to Ohio’s energy consumers by boosting disposable income and revitalizing communities.
CEA’s report examines the benefits of Ohio’s energy production and its role in providing reliable and affordable energy that keeps the lives and the businesses of Ohio moving. CEA continues to strongly support the development of natural gas and other traditional and alternative energy sources while urging policymakers in Ohio to embrace the benefits and growth potential that Ohio energy production brings to families, farms, and factories across the state.
Highlights from the report include:
Due to increased production and new technologies, Ohio natural gas consumers have saved over $40.2 billion between 2006 and 2016 simply because of the decreasing price of natural gas, with residential users saving almost $15 billion, while commercial and industrial users saved upwards of $25.3 billion.
Prior to the shale revolution, prices for natural gas in Ohio peaked at $10.66 and has steadily decreased to just under $4.
After Ohio gas prices peaked at an average of $4.15 per gallon in 2011, increases in shale oil production helped prices fall to some of their cheapest marks in 10 years. In one year alone, AAA found drivers saved $115 billion, an average of $1,100 per household.
In the last seven years, shale-related industry employment increased 7.8 percent, employing over 389,000 Ohioans. Average wages across shale-related industries also increased to $98,613 – over $49,000 greater than the average for all industries in the state.
More than 700 new businesses have been established statewide to support the shale industry, bringing in over $63.9 billion in new investments.[i] These businesses invested in all aspects of shale energy, from production and transmission, to end-use power generation, petrochemical plants, and plastic manufacturing.
“This report highlights the benefits Ohio’s communities are receiving as a result of the state’s role in the U.S. energy revolution and investment in our state’s energy infrastructure,” Chris Ventura, CEA’s Midwest Executive Director, said. “Lower fuel prices have helped Ohioans save over $40 billion in the past decade. This means families have more money to pay for school clothes, grocery bills, and perhaps even to take a vacation that has been put off for far too long.”
Ventura added, “Fortunately, the benefits from increased production of Ohio’s energy resources are not just limited to residential consumer savings, energy development has also led to the increase in economic investment and job creation we’ve seen over the past decade.”
“Despite the tremendous benefits and critical importance of energy production to Ohio’s families, farmers, and factories, out-of-state activists continue to work to eliminate the production of safe, affordable sources of energy without offering any solutions to help meet consumer demand as well as our environmental goals. CEA believes that it is critical for Ohio’s policymakers, regulators, and leaders to continue to come together in support of Ohio energy production that will keep our state thriving.”
To view the report, click here.
About Consumer Energy Alliance
Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) brings together families, farmers, small businesses, distributors, producers and manufacturers to support America’s energy future. With more than 500,000 members nationwide, our mission is to help ensure stable prices and energy security for households across the country. We believe energy development is something that touches everyone in our nation, and thus it is necessary for all of us to actively engage in the conversation about how we develop our diverse energy resources and energy’s importance to the economy. Learn more at ConsumerEnergyAlliance.org.
What is causing Florida’s algae crisis? 5 questions answered
August 10, 2018
Professor, Director of Florida Sea Grant, University of Florida
Karl Havens does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
University of Florida
University of Florida provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Two large-scale algae outbreaks in Florida are killing fish and threatening public health. Along the southwest coast, one of the longest-lasting red tide outbreaks in the state’s history is affecting more than 100 miles of beaches. Meanwhile, discharges of polluted fresh water from Lake Okeechobee and polluted local runoff water from the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee watersheds have caused blooms of blue-green algae in downstream estuaries on both coasts. Karl Havens, a professor at the University of Florida and director of the Florida Sea Grant Program, explains what’s driving this two-pronged disaster.
What’s the difference between red tide and blue-green algae?
Both are photosynthetic microscopic organisms that live in water. Blue-green algae are properly called cyanobacteria. Some species of cyanobacteria occur in the ocean, but blooms – extremely high levels that create green surface scums of algae – happen mainly in lakes and rivers, where salinity is low.
Red tides are caused by a type of algae called a dinoflagellate, which also is ubiquitous in lakes, rivers, estuaries and the oceans. But the particular species that causes red tide blooms, which can literally make water look blood red, occur only in saltwater.
Algae is clearly visible in this satellite image of southwestern Lake Okeechobee, taken July 15, 2018. NASA Earth Observatory
What causes these blooms?
Blooms occur where lakes, rivers or near-shore waters have high concentrations of nutrients – in particular, nitrogen and phosphorus. Some lakes and rivers have naturally high nutrient concentrations. However, in Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries, man-made nutrient pollution from their watersheds is causing the blooms. Very high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus are washing into the water from agricultural lands, leaky septic systems and fertilizer runoff.
Red tides form offshore, and it is not clear whether or to what extent they have become more frequent. When ocean currents carry a red tide to the shore it can intensify, especially where there are abundant nutrients to fuel algae growth. This year, after heavy spring rains and because of discharges of water from Lake Okeechobee, river runoff in southwest Florida brought a large amount of nutrients into near-shore waters of the Gulf of Mexico, which fueled the large red tide.
Florida’s red tide outbreak as of Aug. 8, 2018. Florida FWC
The red tide has killed thousands of fish and other aquatic life, and state agencies have issued public health advisories in connection with both blooms. How dangerous are they for humans and the environment?
The public health advisories about red tide are related to respiratory irritation, which is a particular concern for people with asthma or other respiratory issues. But almost anyone, including me, who has walked a beach where there is a red tide will quickly experience watering eyes, a runny nose and a scratchy throat. The algae that cause the red tide release a toxic chemical into the water that is easily transported into the air where waves break on the shore.
Some people are allergic to cyanobacteria blooms and can have contact dermatitis (skin rash) on exposure. Several of my colleagues have developed rashes after submerging their hands to collect water samples. It is not advisable to purposely contact water with a cyanobacteria bloom. And if farm animals or pets drink water with an intense bloom, they can become seriously ill or die.
The blooms are causing widespread fish kills and threatening Florida’s tourism industry.
How can states prepare for these events?
The onset of algae blooms is unpredictable. We know high levels of nutrients allow a lake or shoreline to have blooms. We even can predict with some certainty that a bloom is likely in a particular summer – for example, if in the preceding spring heavy rainfall and runoff from the land delivered large amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus into the water.
But we can’t predict exactly when a bloom will begin and end, because that depends on things we can’t project. Why did the cyanobacteria bloom start in Lake Okeechobee this summer? Perhaps because there were several successive hot sunny days with little cloud cover and little wind. For some lakes in Florida and many others across the nation, we have loaded the surrounding land with so much phosphorus and nitrogen from agricultural and urban runoff that all it takes is the right weather to trigger a bloom: A rainy spring and then a few perfect sunny days in summer.
We cannot control the weather, but we can control nutrient pollution, both by reducing it at its sources and by capturing and treating water running off of large land areas. Florida has many such projects under way as part of the greater Everglades restoration efforts, but they will take decades to complete.
Nutrient pollution sources include decaying organic material; fertilizers applied to crops, lawns and golf courses; manure from fields or feedlots; atmospheric deposition; groundwater discharge; and municipal wastewater discharge. USGS
One key aspect of rehabilitating polluted lakes, rivers and estuaries is knowing whether actions are having a positive effect. This requires long-term environmental monitoring programs, which unfortunately have been scaled back in Florida and many other states due to budget cuts.
Carefully designed monitoring could help us understand factors affecting the kind of blooms that occur and what triggers them to start and stop at particular times, and provide guidance on nutrient control strategies. We are not monitoring at that level now in Florida.
Is climate change influencing the size or frequency of these outbreaks?
Scientists have clearly shown that there is a positive and synergistic relationship between water temperature, nutrients and algal blooms. In a warmer future, with the same level of nutrient pollution, blooms will become harder if not impossible to control. This means that it is urgent to control nutrient inputs to lakes, rivers and estuaries now.
Unfortunately, today the federal government is relaxing environmental regulations in the name of fostering increased development and job creation. But conservation and economic growth are not incompatible. In Florida, a healthy economy depends strongly on a healthy environment, including clean surface waters without these harmful blooms.
The Conversation US, Inc.
Farmers are drawing groundwater from the giant Ogallala Aquifer faster than nature replaces it
August 7, 2018
W. M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis and History, Pomona College
Char Miller does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Every summer the U.S. Central Plains go dry, leading farmers to tap into groundwater to irrigate sorghum, soy, cotton, wheat and corn and maintain large herds of cattle and hogs. As the heat rises, anxious irrigators gather to discuss whether and how they should adopt more stringent conservation measures.
They know that if they do not conserve, the Ogallala Aquifer, the source of their prosperity, will go dry. The Ogallala, also known as the High Plains Aquifer, is one of the largest underground freshwater sources in the world. It underlies an estimated 174,000 square miles of the Central Plains and holds as much water as Lake Huron. It irrigates portions of eight states, from Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska in the north to Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas in the south.
But the current drought plaguing the region is unusually strong and persistent, driving farmers to rely more on the aquifer and sharpening the debate over its future. A current assessment by the U.S. Drought Monitor, published by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, shows large swaths of the southern plains experiencing drought ranging from “severe” to “exceptional.”
These worrisome prospects form the dramatic backdrop to “Ogallala: Water for a Dry Land,” now out in its third edition. In it, my fellow historians John Opie and Kenna Lang Archer and I set current debates over the Ogallala Aquifer in the context of the region’s equally conflicted past.
Draining the source
In the 1880s, farmers in the region asserted that there was a steady movement of water beneath their feet, which they called “underflow,” from the Rockies east. Geologist F.N. Darton of the U.S. Geological Survey located the first outlines of the aquifer near Ogallala, Nebraska. His discovery nourished the ambitions of farmers and irrigation promoters. One booster, William E. Smythe, visited Garden City, Kansas, and cheered the irrigated future. Pumping underground water, he told his audience, would build “little homes of pleasing architecture. We will surround them with pretty lawns and fringe them with trees and hedges … in a new Kansas dedicated to industrial independence.”
That bucolic vision took decades to realize. Windmills could only pump so much water, which constrained the amount of land farmers could put into production. And the Ogallala’s sand and gravel composition slowed the downward flow of surface waters to refill it, even in wet seasons.
This did not matter until farmers started adopting better drilling technology, gas-powered water pumps and high-tech irrigation systems after World War II. These advances turned the Central Plains into the world’s breadbasket and meat market, annually generating US$20 billion worth of foodstuffs.
As more pumps were drilled into the aquifer to capture its flow, some started to come up dry, which led to more drilling and pumping. Between the late 19th century and 2005, the U.S. Geological Survey estimates irrigation depleted the aquifer by 253 million acre-feet – about 9 percent of its total volume. And the pace is accelerating. Analyzing federal data, The Denver Post found that the aquifer shrank twice as fast from 2011 through 2017 as it had over the previous 60 years.
The current drought is only adding to these woes. University of California-Irvine hydrologist Jay Famiglietti has identified the Ogallala region and California’s Central Valley as the two most overheated and water-starved areas in the United States.
Relying on technological fixes
This is not the first time that humans have pushed ecosystems on the Central Plains to the breaking point. Starting in the late 19th century, settler-colonists plowed up native grasses that protected the soil. When a series of intense droughts struck in the 1930s, dried-out topsoil was primed to erode in the infamous Dust Bowl. Howling windstorms widely known as “black blizzards” blotted out the sun, blowing away exposed soil and displacing much of the human population.
Farmers who hung on through World War II placed their hope in highly engineered solutions, such as high-powered pumps and center-pivot irrigation systems. These innovations, along with ongoing experiments to determine the most profitable kind of crops to grow and animals to raise, profoundly altered global food systems and the lives and livelihoods of Plains farmers.
Today some advocates support a similar fix for farmers’ water needs: The so-called Great Canal of Kansas, which would pump vast quantities of water from the Missouri River in the east over 360 miles west to the most arid Kansas counties. However, this project could cost up to $20 billion to build and require annual energy outlays of $500 million. It is unlikely to be constructed, and would be a Band-aid solution if it were.
The end of irrigation?
In my view, Plains farmers cannot afford to continue pushing land and water resources beyond their limits – especially in light of climate change’s cumulative impact on the Central Plains. For example, a recent study posits that as droughts bake the land, lack of moisture in the soil actually spikes temperatures. And as the air heats up, it further desiccates the soil.
This vicious cycle will accelerate the rate of depletion. And once the Ogallala is emptied, it could take 6,000 years to recharge naturally. In the words of Brent Rogers, a director of Kansas Groundwater Management District 4, there are “too many straws in too small of a cup.”
Some far-sighted farmers are responding to these interlocking challenges. Even as they pursue efficiencies in irrigation, many are shifting from water-intense crops like cotton to wheat. Still others, notably in west Texas, are converting back to non-irrigated dryland agriculture – a recognition of the stark limitations of irrigation dependency. Farmers who are depleting other aquifers in Latin America, eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia could face similar choices.
Whether these initiatives will become widespread, or can sustain agriculture on the Central Plains, is an open question. But should instead farmers and ranchers drain the Ogallala Aquifer in pursuit of quick profits, the region may never recover.
The Conversation US, Inc.