Cape Town water supply near 'point of no return' as reservoirs run dry
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- Cape Town is running out of water, fast
- HQ bidders make it rain for Amazon
- War on plastic intensifies as bags and bottles pile up
Running dry in South Africa
Cape Town's four million residents are in danger of running out water.
An ongoing drought, the culmination of three years of below-average rainfall, have put the municipal water supply under severe strain. Reservoirs have dropped below 30 per cent capacity.
"We can no longer ask people to stop wasting water. We must force them," she told reporters.
Starting Feb. 1, the coastal city's inhabitants will be put on a strict ration: 50 litres of water per day per person. There is a complete ban on watering lawns and gardens, filling pools or washing cars, and people are being told to shower rather than bathe, and keep it quick — under two minutes.
At the current rate of water usage, "Zero Day," as it is being called, will arrive April 21. Cape Town would earn the dubious distinction of becoming the first major world city to run dry.
Residential customers remain the biggest problem. The city has been begging them to change their habits for months, to little avail.
Cape Town denies that it's trying to "name and shame," but the available information includes every property's individual water usage and street address.
And such hardball water management tactics might be the way of the future.
That same year, a UN report predicted that the world could face a 40 per cent shortfall in fresh water as soon as 2030, due to the effects of climate change, population growth and agricultural and industrial activities.
Among the cities already at risk: Tokyo, Cairo, Miami and rainy London.
Cape Town may simply be the early warning.
Making it rain for Amazon
Internet giant Amazon has unveiled its lengthy "shortlist" of potential sites for a new corporate headquarters.
The $5 billion US construction project, which the company promises will bring 50,000 "high-paying" jobs to the winning community, attracted bids from 238 cities across North America.
"We are excited to have this opportunity and to be able to tell Toronto's unique story," Mayor John Tory said in a statement. "There is no other city region in North America that can boast the same talent, the same quality of life, the same vibrancy and economic strength."
Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Montreal, Halifax and five Ontario communities all failed to advance, but they are not alone. No Mexican cities will be considered in the second phase. And Amazon's list appears heavily weighted to the major American metropoles: Boston, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Atlanta, Dallas, Philadelphia and Washington.
Austin remains in the running. By some estimations the Texas capital is actually a dark horse favourite, because it's already home to the HQ of Amazon-owned Whole Foods.
The Seattle-based company set out a number of criteria for its second corporate home:
- A population of over a million.
- A community with the potential to attract and retain talent.
- A location within 45 minutes of an international airport.
- A site with direct access to mass transit that's also near a major highway.
But Amazon's main demands are money — and lots of it.
"A stable and business-friendly environment and tax structure will be high-priority considerations for the Project," read the RFP. "Incentives offered by the state/province and local communities to offset initial capital outlay and ongoing operational costs will be significant factors in the decision-making process."
- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie dangled $7 billion in potential tax credits if Amazon choose the Garden State (Newark made the shortlist).
- California introduced a bill offering a $1 billion tax reduction over the next decade (Los Angeles remains in the running).
- The Atlanta suburb of Stonecrest offered to donate part of its land to create a city called Amazon and declare CEO Jeff Bezos "mayor for life" (it remains in the hunt).
The Toronto bid, on the other hand, did not include tax breaks. The region has provided a choice of sites, including some harbour lands near the downtown and a plot adjacent to a Mississauga shopping mall.
Then there's this recent report by the non-profit Policy Matters Ohio, which found that 1,430 Amazon workers or their family members in the state were on food stamps last August. The company employs 6,000 people in Ohio at call centres, wind farms, supermarkets and two large warehouses near Columbus.
The company's final decision on its new HQ is expected later this year.
The war on plastic
Plastics are not the future.
China's decision to stop accepting plastic waste from abroad for recycling is having a knock-on effect all over the world, forcing governments to confront waste issues.
This week, the European Union "declared war" on plastics — albeit in a very quiet way, telling a few newspapers about a proposed plan that might tax "damaging behaviour" and saying it will invest 350 million euros in research.
The goal, however, is clear: Make sure that all packaging on the continent is reused or recycled by 2030, starting with coffee cups, lids and takeout boxes.
A new investigation by the Guardian newspaper found that the U.K.'s grocery chains account for 800,000 tonnes of plastic each year. That's more than half of the 1.5 million tonnes annually thrown away by households.
Supermarkets receive a lot of the heat about plastic use because so much of their packaging appears to be excessive.
It was the self-serve revolution that changed all that — spurred on by various self-interested parties like DuPont, the maker of cellophane. Plastics were easier to transport, shelve and display, and far less likely to shatter and require a clean-up in aisle 5.
And in some cases, there is a "green" argument to be made for their continued use. In their 2012 book Why Shrink-Wrap a Cucumber: A Complete Guide to Environmental Packaging, authors Stephen Aldridge and Laurel Miller laid out the reasons why it's better to wrap up their titular vegetable; the packaging slows evaporation and keeps the cuke fresher. Which means less food waste, and in turn reduces the demand for growing a replacement, a process that uses water, fertilizer, pesticides, and greenhouse-gas-producing trucks for transport.
And it all helps explain why so much of our recent focus has been plastic bags, a known environmental scourge:
On Jan. 1, Montreal became the first major Canadian city to institute a full ban on their use by retailers, including the supposedly biodegradable type.
Toronto city council voted for such a ban back in 2012, during the height of the Rob Ford era, but it was eventually overturned due to fears of a legal challenge.
Earlier this week, Halifax council rejected a proposal to outlaw single-use plastic bags, on the grounds that people use them to put out their recycling, or clean up after their dogs.
Halifax's decision was rendered all the more curious by the disclosure that the city had just sent 300 tonnes of plastic to an out-of-province dump. That move was made to get around the effects of the Chinese change in recycling policy, and a provincial law that makes it illegal to put recyclables in a landfill.
There's a reason why grocers are more willing to do away the plastic sacks at the checkout than the wrap in their aisles. The free-to-the-consumer bags cost good money.
This article on Australia's proposed national bag ban calculates that the net savings to the country's two biggest supermarket chains will be $1 million a year. A big windfall in a notoriously small-margin business.
Quote of the moment
"With the United States led by a president who displays a disturbing fondness for rights-trampling strongmen, and the United Kingdom preoccupied by Brexit, two traditional if flawed defenders of human rights globally are often missing in action."
- Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth on the group's annual world review. The surge in populism has made many Western powers more inward looking, he says, leaving an increasingly fragmented globe.
What The National is reading
- World confidence in U.S. leadership hits new low, poll finds (Guardian)
- Calls to move Australian Open after court temperature hits 69 C (Sydney Morning Herald)
- Bus inferno in Kazakhstan kills 52 (BBC)
- London, Ont., school boards pull funding for gay prom musical (CBC)
- Florida gold trader laundered $100 million for 'El Chapo' (Miami Herald)
- New snorting, barking train scares deer from tracks (The Times)
- Bitcoin meltdown costs Winklevoss Twins $1 billion (Fortune)
Today in history
Jan. 18, 1980: Canadian veterans of the Spanish Civil War seek recognition
More than 1,200 Canadians enlisted in the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion to fight Franco and his Nazi allies in Spain. The government of the day reacted by threatening them with fines and jail. Forty years later, two participants lay out the case that the first Canadians to fight the fascists should be treated the same way as all the other WWII veterans.
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