Water: First Casualty of Climate Change?

05/25/2011 12:00 pm ET
  • Scott Thill Morphizm-based muckraker for Wired, AlterNet, more

Now I know GE and others have been taking out ads in style="font-style:italic;">Wired and elsewhere crowing about
their desalination plans, and why not? When global
warming hits us like a hammer, water will be the first thing we lose.
Just ask
about that one. The news gets worse. From CNET:

"The rising temperature of Earth is causing water
sources such as glaciers and lakes to rapidly retreat, according to,
among others, Steven Chu, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National
Laboratory and one of the leading scientific figures trying to get
more research funding for alternative energy....In the United States,
the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains in California and Nevada
is expected to decline by 30 percent to 70 percent by 2100, he said.
If it declines by 20 percent, people will be told to stop watering
their lawns or flushing toilets often. A decline of about 50 percent
or greater could rewrite the demographics of California. And a massive
decline in the snowpack could cause a collapse of the agriculture
industry, prompting a migration out of the state, Chu said."

First, what are the odds that another informed doomsayer happens to be
a fellow UC Berkeley nerd? Of course, I'm counting both myself and
Susan Solomon, senior scientist at the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration and the co-chair of the latest report from
the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who I talked about in
my article
on exponology
. The unfortunate result of this strange collusion is
that necks everywhere are going to think this hard science has a
well-known liberal agenda. Hopefully, they'll think that all the way
until the hour of their doom, at which point I will bid them a fond
farewell as they hang onto their ignorance like a flotation device
while the world goes to pieces around them.

Second, is this news to anyone? I hope not. When things heat up, water
dries up. That much should be apparent, and it's not a stretch from
that point of departure to realize that one of the first things
climate change will do is reorient the planet's population around
places that either get enough rainfall to sustain our civilization or
are near the ocean. Which is itself another enviro headache waiting to
happen: The seas will be much more acidic by then, and that's going to take
some technology.

But humans are up for it, as we always are. The problem comes from
unseen complications arising from excessive desalination, which you
just know is going to happen. This is survival we're talking about,
not some science project. Consider yourself thirsty.