03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Copenhagen -- You Can't Talk Climate Without Talking Water

Delegates to the Copenhagen Climate Summit are leaving us high and dry. Or possibly low and wet. As part of their effort to achieve consensus, they have decided to delete water issues from their draft policy. This approach is, at best, misguided. By leaving out the most fundamental element of climate change, they are deciding to court failure. Got Drought?

The effects of climate change are all about water. When greenhouse gasses cause our atmosphere to heat up, it is water vapor that is being heated. When climate change alters the patterns of weather, it is the lack of water and the overabundance of water in various places that creates the damage from global warming. This is not a fact that is at all in scientific dispute. Indeed, it is among the most accessible elements of climate science.

Failing to address the water aspect of climate change ignores drought, flooding, heat waves, desertification, soil erosion, snowpacks, food shortages and a long list of impacts on humans, landscapes and ecosystems. Of course, in the metaview of the issue many of these impacts are being addressed. But by failing to tie these impacts together by the single, cogent thread of water, the delegates to Copenhagen are disregarding important and fundamental elements of analysis, planning and policy direction.

Water impacts of climate change make for a much less secure world. When the lack of available fresh water begins to impact soil and food production, we compound the seriousness of climate change outcomes significantly. Further, most of our major methods for energy generation involve some substantial use of water, for boiling to make steam, for moving turbines and for cooling equipment. The lack of availability of fresh water changes the game in ways that most of us have not even considered.

People care about the cleanliness and availability of their water far more than they care about or understand climate change. I don't argue here that this is right or wrong, just that it is true. People need to understand climate change in a way that connects to this primary environmental concern. We miss an important teaching moment for the world when we fail to use the global forum of Copenhagen to connect the dots between climate change and the serious, cascading impacts on water. We need to do our part to help people understand the role climate change plays on this most essential element of life. The importance of this link cannot be overstated.

If our leaders in Copenhagen will not focus clearly and cogently on this major element of the problem it makes our responsibility at the local, regional and nationwide levels all the more critical.