• Otter Views: Current Event Clip-Outs

    Scissors near at hand, magnifying glass held to squinty eye, I page through The New York Times most weekdays looking for items of interest to clip out.

    As with other print media, the “good gray lady” isn’t what she once was. But The Times still covers news and newsmakers worldwide with accuracy, thoroughness and objectivity. When errors are made, they are swiftly corrected, an increasingly quaint practice elsewhere (see Williams, Brian).

    As the digital paradigm supplants print media, thousands of periodicals have folded already. A handful of once-prominent big city papers hang on, but they have shed staff, news pages and overseas bureaus. The survivors have also jettisoned most beat coverage in favor of style sections that can be readied in advance.

    The Times is no exception to any of that. But to their credit, the paper’s far-flung freelancers still provide exemplary reportage and photo coverage of topics bypassed in other U.S. media.

    One example from my recent pile of cuttings is head-lined: “Taps Run Dry in Brazil’s Largest City.” Beneath a photo of a man walking across the rock-strewn concrete

    floor of an empty dam, the story reports that the water system serving Sao Paulo’s 20 million residents will likely fail in 2015.

    To those born in the mid-20th century, 2015 looks and sounds like some futuristic science fiction date. But when I last checked, we’re in year 2015 now, so Sao Paulo’s example may prove instructive.

    According to The Times, several factors contributed to the current plight: the region’s worst drought in a century, rampant deforestation and river pollution, booming population growth, and decades of willful infrastructure neglect.

    “We’re witnessing an unprecedented water crisis in one of the world’s great industrial cities,” said Marussia Whately, a water specialist for the Brazilian environmental group Instituto Socioambiental. “Because of environmental degradation and political cowardice, millions of people in Sao Paulo are now wondering when the water will run out.”

    So far, the populace reportedly has responded in predictable ways. Residents have begun digging their own wells and hoarding water in buckets to wash clothes and flush toilets. Cafeterias and restaurants have adjusted their menus to limit plate and utensil washing. Public schools have outlawed tooth brushing with water. Taps work two days a week in most areas. Water trucks service the others.

    No one in Sao Paulo is reportedly dying of thirst, but it is striking to see a modern major metropolis run short of water. This is especially so in Brazil, whose stewardship of one-eighth of the world’s fresh water once earned it the soubriquet: “The Saudi Arabia of Water.”

    So how can a city of 20 million go dry? One factor is massive commercial deforestation that has stripped the Amazon Basin of water-storing foliage and soils. This ruinous policy has long fattened Brazil’s treasury, but few profits went into water infrastructure. Sao Paulo’s delivery system is reportedly so degraded that 30 percent of its potential drinking water is now lost to theft and leakage every year.

    At first glance, Sao Paulo’s situation would seem to have little bearing on “the giant to the north.” Yet there are cautionary parallels. Like Brazil’s, the U.S. economy also profits from deforestation and water source pollution. The nation’s western half is drought-stricken, regularly breaking historic heat and aridity records. At the same time, debt-conscious governments have slashed infrastructure spending.

    In consequence just in this state, century-old water mains have started bursting in L.A., and the Central Valley is seeing water trucks, toxic dust storms and dry wells. Recent photos of major California reservoirs are virtually interchangeable with The Times’ photos of Sao Paulo’s depleted reservoirs: threads of blue water amid acres of cracked mud.

    Lest this drought talk prove dispiriting, another Times clipping highlights a region with the opposite problem. While arid California basks in a mild Mediterranean springtime and looks plaintively skyward for rain, New England has been absorbing record-setting tonnages of snow in sub-freezing weather.

    A dispatch headlined “Boston’s Winter From Hell” describes how snowstorms paralyzed that city this winter. “We are being devastated by a slow-motion natural disaster of historic proportions,” reports Cambridge resident Eric Graff. “In just three weeks, we have had four epic blizzards . . . which crushed roofs, burst gutters, destroyed roads and sidewalks, closed schools and businesses, shut down highways, crippled public transit and trapped people in their homes.”

    Because record cold weather has accompanied Boston’s estimated 12 feet of snow, little of it has melted, creating a major removal headache. Once its streets and parks filled up, the city reportedly had to truck snow to the beach and bulldoze it into the Atlantic.

    A proposed cross-continental oil pipeline has featured in other recent Times coverage. How about a snow pipeline from Boston to us?

    posted to Cedar Street Times on February 27, 2015

    Topics: Otter Views


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