Wednesday, July 13, 2011

I'll Take "Hydrology" for a Gazillion, Alex

How much time do you spend thinking about hydrology?   What does it mean to you?   Does it come up much in conversation?  Probably not.

Maybe we would think about it and talk about it more if we realized that the hydrologic cycle is, hands down, the single most valuable asset mankind has ever had.   Forget fossil fuels, forget uranium, forget diamonds and gold.   Those would all be irrelevant, utterly worthless, if we didn't have the hydrologic cycle.

Hydrology is the science or study of the occurrence, distribution, movement and properties of water on our planet.   They're all wrapped up in the solar powered hydrologic cycle.   The sun warms the surface, water evaporates to become naturally-cleaned water vapour,  water vapour rises on heat-powered wind currents (hot air rises, right?) until it condenses as it cools, much of it becoming clouds (aerial bags of vapourized water) which are then moved around the world by solar powered winds until that water vapour condenses enough that it turns into precipitation and returns to earth to start the cycle all over again.

It's a super neat trick and it's all free.   For thousands of years it has delivered to mankind just the right amounts of precipitation at just the right times to allow us to grow and expand and create our modern civilization.   Perhaps because it's been free and it's worked automatically for all those thousands of years we took it for granted.   Perhaps because we took it for granted we broke it.  We've broken the single most valuable asset mankind ever had.

The hydrologic cycle is living proof of global warming.  It's visible, tangible and increasingly, unsurvivable.  We have already warmed the atmosphere too much, enough in fact to break the hydrologic cycle that sustained mankind for thousands of years.   And, even if we stopped emitting carbon dioxide entirely, today that atmosphere is going to keep warming for the rest of this century.

The protracted droughts that are hitting all but a few truly lucky places in the world are the result of our broken hydrologic cycle.   The "once in a century" floods that are now appearing once in a decade or once every few years are the result of our broken hydrologic cycle.   The already overheated atmosphere is now holding 4% more water vapour.   Now that doesn't sound like much, just a piddly 4%, but that 4% is biting our collective ass.   That 4% fuels severe storms of ever greater intensity and frequency.   That 4% is already sharply altering the movement and distribution of precipitation.  Some places get deluged, some places turn to dust.   Other places, the really worst off, get drought and floods alternately.

You would think the hydrologic cycle would be kid's stuff for a guy as worldly and educated as our Furious Ruler, Stephen Harper.  The guy's got a Master's degree and everything.  And very recently Steve went out to see the hydrologic cycle at work firsthand when he figured it'd look very presidential to go out and tour the Souris River flooding in Manitoba.

Yet Steve seemed to treat this natural disaster as an Act of Dog (pardon my dyslexia) or Loki or some other divinity, not the act of man.  Steve didn't look out over all that floodwater and say "global warming is here."   Steve stuffed his mouth with Athabasca bitumen and stayed mute.  That's because Steve is a Ruler, not a Leader.   Here's the distinction.   A Leader plays the cards he or she is dealt.
That's what's called governance.   A guy like Steve deals from the bottom of the deck and always keeps a couple of aces stuffed up his sleeve just in case.  That's ruling.   A lot of Canadians still haven't figured it out but Steve has been ruling this place of ours ever since he greased his way into office.

So what's a girl to do?  I don't know the exact details but my guess is we should stop doing whatever might make this get even worse than it has to be and start doing everything we can to find ways to adapt to what's here and what is coming.

We have to see that this isn't just a Manitoba problem but a truly global predicament.   We have to see that our broken hydrologic cycle is an immediate and growing threat to our very civilization.  We've got to figure out that we can't escape the repercussions that spread when another part of the world can no longer feed its people.   But first - we have to start talking about this and we have to find political leadership, unlike the current bunch, with the integrity and vision and courage to engage and mobilize the public to meet the challenges of this century that we simply cannot avoid.

Never before have we had to live with a broken hydrologic cycle.  That's changed.


LMA said...

We are going to get a 24 hour look at the global effects of a broken hydrologic system when Al Gore livestreams "24 Hours of Reality" on the 14th and 15th of September. This will be a real eye opener for a lot of people, I hope, covering extreme weather events and the climate crisis, starting in Mexico City, panning around the globe and ending up back in New York City. A terrific idea, if only people will watch. My only question is how will I stay awake for 24 hours?

The Mound of Sound said...

I too will attempt to catch as much of it as I can. Presumably the segments or episodes will make their way onto YouTube before long.

I still wonder just how long Canadians will have to wait for the type of leadership we so badly need. Harper is burning up time that's not ours to waste.

I ran across an interesting item today. Allstate insurance posted a hefty loss in the last quarter, almost as big as their loss for the entire year in which Katrina happened. It may be when insurers can no longer underwrite environment catastrophe policies at affordable premium rates that government's hands may finally be forced. In some US states already debt burdened governments are trying to offer flood insurance that the industry no longer makes available but that's a conjuring act that can't last very long.

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