Blog 75. Water, Water, Worries Everywhere

A week ago, the governor of California ordered a 25% reduction in water use.  Well, the 25% statewide reduction will turn the big lawns brown, as they should be in this climate, and maybe the freeways will be clogged twice daily with dirty cars instead of clean cars.  Folks noticed the gov’s order.  The campus where I live held a water meeting, discussing ideas like fewer showers and flushes.  But even postponing the laundry won’t solve the extinction problem.


As a result of the gov’s twenty-five percent order, the local district received a mandate for a 35% reduction.  Seems we’ve been water hogs here.  Active citizens organized a town meeting, inviting Dr. Terry Root, a biologist at Stanford University, to talk about the ongoing and future biological changes due to water shortage, and the general climate change.  Dr. Root has worked with the world-wide Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for many years.  Presenting data, she explained how species move, and are moving northward due to climate warming—that is, if they can move.  Turtles can’t move across freeways and a forest species can’t move across a desert to a more northerly mountain.  She explained that earth is already undergoing a massive extinction, the kind that happened several times during earth’s four billion years, leaving marks that distinguish geologic history.

The most recent mass extinction occurred about 65 million years ago, when the impact of a large meteor caused fires and climatic devastation that wiped out the dinosaurs and lots of other species—giving us mammals a chance to develop.  (Human history is only about one thousandth of that 65 million.)  There is a natural rate of continual extinction, Dr. Root explained.  If I understood her numbers, the current rate is about 1,000 times the natural rate.  The current extinction is one feature of the current geologic epoch, the anthropocene, in which geologic changes by human actions are greater than natural developments.  In other words, we’re moving the earth.  In ways we hadn’t intended.

So what do anthro- and warming and extinction have to do with water?

Well, water is life.  As a recent import to California after decades in New Mexico, I’ve noticed that urban Californians regard water as an entitlement.  Folks who live in arid lands habitually regard water as limited, although they, too, compete for water rather than exercising realistic rationing.  As we said in New Mexico, “Whiskey’s for drinking, water’s for fighting.”  California has had its water wars as the south channeled water from the north, and now the lack of water for every back yard will generate more fighting.  Unfortunately, the current water arguments and the future fighting are–and will be–misplaced,

Misplaced?  What can be more precious than water?

OK, water is precious.  But the source of the water problem—and one cause of today’s mass extinction—is in the air.  It’s the CO2.  Carbon dioxide, from burning fuels.  We talk about water, but we continue to add CO2 and methane to the atmosphere.  That retains heat, just like adding more and more blankets to the bed despite the fact that the innermost electric blanket physically can’t be turned off.  The temperature can only go up, and that causes water problems.  And extinctions.  It’s time to stop the cancer, not search for aspirin.  Excess CO2 causes warming and drought.  And other difficulties.

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