Sunday, December 11, 2005

Global Waming & Water Shortage In the American Southwest

Sitting on the border between Arizona and Nevada is the largest man made reservoir in the United States – Lake Meade. It was constructed when the Hoover Dam was built in the 1930s. A majestic and awe inspiring site, Lake Meade is a tribute to American ingenuity. It represents a remarkable achievement of engineering and skilled labor. Yet in the November 28th edition of the Toronto based publication Maclean’s, Steven Maich wrote that,

“All around the 880 km of Mead's rocky shoreline, a bright white calcium deposit, known to locals as the bathtub ring, marks a high water level that is a quickly fading memory. Drought has dropped the surface of the lake 20 m below the bathtub ring over the past five years. Boulder Beach, once a popular day trip destination for nearby residents, is now about 300 m from the water's edge. The boat launch and fuel pumps of what used to be a marina are abandoned in the middle of what now looks like a parking lot. The marina and its luxury yachts chased the water to a new location a couple of miles down the road more than a year ago.”
This is a very disturbing development. Lake Meade is the primary source of drinking water for the Las Vegas Valley. The Las Vegas Valley also happens to be the fastest growing urban area in the United States. Over three trillion gallons of water have disappeared in five years. Consequently, population growth in the southwest may not be sustainable. Even more disturbing is the Colorado River that powers the turbines of the Hoover Dam and is a vital source of drinking water for much of southern California and Arizona. Between 2000 and 2005 the Colorado River’s flow fell by approximately half.

The emerging water shortage crisis in America’s southwest is directly linked to our excessive CO2 emissions in the atmosphere. Commonly referred to as “global warming” most Americans do not appreciate the full dimensions of our current crisis. Global warming is an abstract issue for most Americans. Even the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has not jolted us out of our complacency. We hear about climate change, watch politicians’ debate about drilling for oil in Alaska, and go about our business.

Global warming is an issue of national security that merits the complete mobilization of the scientific community, private industry, and citizen involvement. We’ve seen the consequences of having to rely on diabolical regimes for oil. Well just consider the consequences of depending on the mercy of other nations to supply water. Thankfully, the most water rich nation on the planet is Canada and they are hardly a despotic regime. Nonetheless, there will be tensions in relations with our northern neighbor. Indeed, as Maich reports in his article, the Centre for Research and Information on Canada found that 69 per cent of Canadians are opposed to water exports. The Ottawa province has responded to public pressure, and instituted a ban on exports from boundary waters in 2002.

In other parts of the world water shortage may result in hostilities, territorial encroachments, and perhaps civil wars. All of which complicates stability, free trade, and nurturing nascent democracies. Our leaders must be pro-active and address issues such as the pending water shortage crisis in the southwest with candor and urgency. To do so first requires that our national leadership confront the issue of global warming as a clear and present danger.

As we’ve seen recently in the international gathering at Toronto, much of the world gets it and is planning to adapt their behavior to new realities. Also, local governments within the United States are also filling the leadership vacuum left by the Bush Administration. New York, Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont – are developing a regional plan for capping power-plant emissions and allowing trading in "carbon credits." And at least nine states, including New York, have adopted or plan to adopt California's tough new standards on automobile emissions. The leadership of politicians from both parties on the local level is gratifying. The United States is the world’s leading culprit regarding CO2 emissions and global warming cannot be reversed without our cooperation.

However, it requires the bully pulpit of the Presidency and the power of the Federal government to fully mobilize all sectors of the economy and engage the citizenry. We all need to be inspired
and required to change our behavior beyond recycling plastic. Too my chagrin, conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote on December 8th that,

“Global warming is real (conservatives secretly know this).”
That’s incredible. The whole world is coming to grips with a global calamity but national conservatives don’t want to publicly acknowledge the problem. Indeed, we’ve seen this President and his deluded Vice President politicize the Environmental Protection Agency with public relations propagandist hacks to cast doubt that global warming even exists. That is not leadership. That is dishonorable and indecent. It demonstrates a perverse lack of global conscience and is simply immoral.

I realize the Kyoto Protocol contains flaws and the potential for economic turbulence is real. However, as the Los Angeles Times
reported on December 8th, 25 economists, including three Nobel laureates, released a statement

“calling on the U.S. to establish market-based approaches to reducing greenhouse gases to avoid what they predicted would be the far more costly consequences of a changing climate.”
This will require our finest minds grappling with the issue and formulating solutions. A genuine energy policy that isn’t written by corporate lobbyists would be nice beginning.

If President Bush really wants to change the dynamic of his failed Presidency and accomplish something I suggest he take a page out of Harry Truman’s playbook. After World War Two a fatigued and isolationist America wanted to retreat from the world. President Truman however delivered his famous “scared hell” speech in 1947 and the American public was engaged in the Cold War struggle for the next forty-four years. Mr. Bush is not running for re-election and he no longer requires the financial support of his energy supporters. Yes he lacks credibility but the bully pulpit remains a powerful device and he has three plus years to do some good with it.

Global warming also presents new opportunities for our economy to be on the cutting edge of developing alternative technologies. But if we don’t get involved the world will leave us behind and we’ll have to play catch up.

Memo to President Bush and the Republican Party: Earth is your planet too.


Anonymous said...

This is such a fantastic and thoughtful blog. I'm very glad you're doing this!

I think you're completely right to say that not only will our country's current path lead to devastating climatic and environmental changes, but to an escalation of territorial wars and violence over natural resources. Just look at the Middle East or South Asia as examples. Although the India-Pakistan and India-Bangladesh conflicts are typically painted in religious terms of Hindu-Muslim animosity, they have much to do with the fact that India is the up-stream state controlling the headwaters of the major rivers that eventually flow into Pakistan and Bangladesh. By building dams and barrages on these rivers within Indian territory, they divert water for their own agricultural and consumption and hydroelectric power production, while depriving their downstream (and significantly poorer) neighbors of a much needed essential resource. This, not religious violence since time immemorial, is what the battle for Jammu and Kashmir is all about.

Sorry for the rant. Great blog!

Rob said...

Thanks for your comments. Especially interesting to learn that India is upstream and controlling headwaters flowing into Pakistan. All we ever read or hear about is the sheer territorial dispute regarding Kashmir and the religious overtones behind it. It's easy for all of us to forget just how important geography is regarding politics.