Sunday, February 09, 2014

A World Standing on a Precipice

The global freshwater crisis has worsened markedly over the past decade and in the most hard-pressed areas the response has been to ramp up the depletion of dwindling groundwater reserves.  True to the theory of anthropogenic global warming, wet areas of the planet are getting wetter and dry areas are turning every more parched.

Ireland has been particularly savaged by flooding this year.  There, the government is looking at demolishing neighbourhoods and relocating residents to replacement housing on higher ground.  Another week of severe storms is expected to hit Ireland and Britain.

In England and Wales, residents have endured two months of heavy rains and record flooding and are now being warned of at least another week of heavy rain on its way.  Throughout the Cameron government, finger-pointing is the order of the day.  Tory prime minister David Cameron tried to lay the Somerset flooding at the feet of the former Labour government.  The chief scientist at  Britain's Met Office, Dame Julia Slingo, has singled out climate change as the culprit behind Britain's weather woes.

According to new analysis from the Met Office, persistent rainfall over Indonesia and the tropical West Pacific triggered a global weather system that included the severe storms that have flooded thousands of homes in Britain, as well as the exceptionally cold weather in North America.
“In a nutshell, while there is no definitive answer for the current weather patterns that we have seen, all the evidence suggests that climate change has a role to play in it,” Dame Julia said.
The “clustering and persistence” of storms that have hit the UK was extremely unusual, she added. “We have seen exceptional weather. It is consistent with what we might expect from climate change.”
Yet, for every part of the world suffering inundation, there are more regions plagued with drought.  It has the world poised on a precipice of conflict.
The Middle East, north Africa and south Asia are all projected to experience water shortages over the coming years because of decades of bad management and overuse.

Watering crops, slaking thirst in expanding cities, cooling power plants, fracking oil and gas wells – all take water from the same diminishing supply. Add to that climate change – which is projected to intensify dry spells in the coming years – and the world is going to be forced to think a lot more about water than it ever did before

The losses of water reserves are staggering. In seven years, beginning in 2003, parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers lost 144 cubic kilometres of stored freshwater – or about the same amount of water in the Dead Sea, according to data compiled by the Grace mission and released last year.

A small portion of the water loss was due to soil drying up because of a 2007 drought and to a poor snowpack. Another share was lost to evaporation from lakes and reservoirs. But the majority of the water lost, 90km3, or about 60%, was due to reductions in groundwater.

Farmers, facing drought, resorted to pumping out groundwater – at times on a massive scale. The Iraqi government drilled about 1,000 wells to weather the 2007 drought, all drawing from the same stressed supply.

In south Asia, the losses of groundwater over the last decade were even higher. About 600 million people live on the 2,000km swath that extends from eastern Pakistan, across the hot dry plains of northern India and into Bangladesh, and the land is the most intensely irrigated in the world. Up to 75% of farmers rely on pumped groundwater to water their crops, and water use is intensifying.
Over the last decade, groundwater was pumped out 70% faster than in the 1990s. Satellite measurements showed a staggering loss of 54km3 of groundwater a year. Indian farmers were pumping their way into a water crisis.

The US security establishment is already warning of potential conflicts – including terror attacks – over water. In a 2012 report, the US director of national intelligence warned that overuse of water – as in India and other countries – was a source of conflict that could potentially compromise US national security.

The report focused on water basins critical to the US security regime – the Nile, Tigris-Euphrates, Mekong, Jordan, Indus, Brahmaputra and Amu Darya. It concluded: "During the next 10 years, many countries important to the United States will experience water problems – shortages, poor water quality, or floods – that will risk instability and state failure, increase regional tensions, and distract them from working with the United States."

Fortunately for Canada this is all a distant distraction.  Not really our problem.  Go about your business.   What's that you say?  California?  Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada?  Florida and Georgia?

California is getting a bit of a respite at the moment with heavy rain falling in the northern part of the state.  State officials have concluded that the current rainstorm won't slake the state's drought.  It would take four or five of these storms in succession to ease the California drought.

Meanwhile, sometimes a picture is far better than words.  Here is a herd of beef cattle near Delano, in California's central valley.  The ground they're walking across should be lush with grass at this time of year.  There's nothing to be had and that has forced the rancher to buy bales of fodder to keep the herd alive.



Steve said...

If only there was some evidence, I am sure the fifth estate would be telling people this is the most serious crisis in recorded history, perhaps a extinction level crisis and its man made.

To bad the SWAT team can not locate Mother Earths house so they could arrest her. Where could that house be, I cant see it.

The Mound of Sound said...

Hey, Steve. I've got a couple of decades head start on you, enough that I thought, until just a few years ago, I'd be safely long gone before the major climate change impacts arrived.

What we've discovered in recent years was the degree to which we underestimated the rate of onset and severity of climate change. That was compounded by an equally serious misjudgment in our resilience and ability to adapt to these changes. We're a hell of a lot more vulnerable than we arrogantly assumed.

Over the past year I have reluctantly concluded that, as societies and nations as an international community we're simply not organized socially, politically or economically to deal with an amazingly complex challenge of this magnitude and breadth. If I had to bet the farm, I'd wager that we'll fiddle around for a while and then go for our guns.

Anonymous said...

"go for our guns". What a promising thought! When it comes to dying from thirst, the first remedy would be exactly that. Move north and be sure to take a gun. We haven't moved far from cave man thinking such as not taking up a cause. After all, God will provide. Living within the present minute making sure we are not missing out on life along the way and on our knees every evening will cure all ills . Anyong