Monday, November 26, 2007

Forget Global Warming, Global Drying Will Get Here First



The thing about global warming is that we're told the real consequences won't arrive for several decades at least, possibly even centuries. Whew! I'll be long gone by then. Don't worry, be happy - unless you live in one of the many spots around the world that have fallen strangely dry, and arid.
You see, long before the polar ice caps melt into the seas, maybe even before you get you start decorating next year's Easter Eggs, you'll be hearing a lot about what I like to call Global Drying. It's a craze that's positively sweeping the American south and it's the hottest thing in the eastern Mediterranean, southern Europe, Australia, big hunks of Africa, parts of Mexico and all sorts of other places.
Drought is here, and it's there, and over there too. But, until this year, it was often out of sight/out of mind. That, friends, is coming to an end.
Atlanta, Georgia is a booming metropolis of more than four million people and it's currently beset by drought. Take a look at the map above. See if you can locate Atlanta. What colour is that anyway?
Now that map shows you how the droughts affecting the US are expected to develop into February of next year. February is going to be a key month for the good folks of Atlanta - it's the month in which that city is expected to run out of water.
Interesting question - what do you do with more than four million people who find themselves without water? If you're Governor Sonny Perdue, the answer is obvious - you get down on bended knee and pray to Jesus for help. And that, sad as it may be, is about the best idea Sonny has come up with.
Now I'm sure there are answers to Atlanta's problems but, like most of these things, implementing them takes time and Atlanta appears to be as short on time as it is on water. For FEMA, Atlanta may make Katrina look like child's play. Atlanta isn't an isolated case. The drought spreads (as the map shows) across an entire, densely populated region and there's another one much like it now besetting the southwest and a developing drought along the states in between.
Scientists are now beginning to whisper the word "megadrought." Until very recently, most drought studies barely went back more than a century or two. However that's changing and we're now looking back, 1200-years and more. Can you say "oopsie"?

We've all heard of the Dirty Thirties and the seven-year drought that afflicted the prairie grasslands. What you probably haven't heard about are the 60-year droughts or the one that ran in North America from AD 900-1300, a full 400-years.

It's been less than 200-years since we really began filling up the US and Canada and less than a century since we created the "hydraulic society" that allowed the southwest to be populated thanks to massive government water projects. What we didn't understand at the time was that those regions, the Great Plains included, were enjoying an unusually wet period. We assumed there would be a reliable source of adequate amounts of precipitation that we could harness to let people live in deserts, complete with manicured lawns, artificial lakes and golf courses.

Even at our most optimistic moment, the illusion was never sustainable. We managed to empty the High Plains aquifer by more than a hundred feet. The once mighty Colorado River no longer flows into Mexico. We've sucked these things almost dry - just in time for the arrival of what might be a severe, multi-year drought.

So, keep an eye on the ice packs and the polar bears and the vanishing glaciers. These things are important. But, if your relatives from Atlanta call to tell you they're coming for a visit, they might just be staying for a while.

8 comments:

JimBobby said...

Whooee! Scary stuff, MoS. I seen on teh TV where some rich Atlantans won't quit waterin' their massive lawns. We waste a lotta water. Old toilets alone waste millions of gallons and there's probbly as many old 3.5 gallon per flush toilets in Atlanta as anywhere.

They ain't gonna get enough rain no matter how much prayin' or rain-dancin' they do. They ain't gonna abandon Atlanta. So what else can they do but figger out how to get by on less water.

Atlanta's about 140 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. Maybe the time's ripe fer desalinization.

JB

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi JB. It's going to be fascinating to see how the city, state and federal governments respond to Atlanta's water crisis. Desalination is an obvious option but it will take many years to bring that source of water online. What are Atlantans to do until then? From what I've read, they've already been draining available fresh water supplies from the whole region.

Throughout the southeast the drought appears to be a problem no one foresaw even a few years ago. What's even harder to understand is why the southwest seemed to be oblivious for even longer.

There's said to be a silver lining in every storm cloud. If this one plays out as expected, maybe there'll be a payoff in generating real public awareness. We can hope.

annie said...

As well, our Great Lakes are shrinking. What ever happened to that idea by Americans, who were going to take the salt out of sea water, to prevent this ?

manuel said...

extreme drought is nothing new....It can come and stay for decades from what we have seen in history, or it can come and go in two days. Heck look at the middle east, once upon a time it was a lush greenery of goodness. of course that was all the way back in the samarian(sp?? days. and Keep in mind that places like Alberta were once tropical.

The Mound of Sound said...

You're absolutely right, Manuel, extreme drought is nothing new. It's just too bad we didn't keep that in mind when we decided to settle and populate these severe drought prone areas. Yet we did and now we're learning the conseuences that can befall those who forget the past.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to add the term "Global Dimming". BBC did a program about it just a year ago....that is part of the problem as well and is separate from the Green House Effect. This is a no brainer...cutting down trees as they did in the Middle East caused the conditions they live with now. The earth cannot sustain continued population growth....it ought to have been cut in half yesterday.

The Mound of Sound said...

Overpopulation is an enormous problem. The father of the global warming theory, James Lovelock, had a model of earth as Gaia, the Greek goddess. While earth is largely inanimate, it nevertheless functions very much like a living organism - or so the theory goes. When it gets diseased it develops a fever. It then goes through a period of nastiness before it comes back into balance. Mankind is the disease, global warming is the fever, the earth once purged will be restored to normalcy.

Anonymous said...

The earth is a living organism...it provides food.