By Marvin Goldman
The headlines these days are all about our Western drought and what it means for our lifestyle and near-term future. This drought is not simply a local issue but it is a part of a global climate problem. I think our drought message is telling us to do a lot more, and do it now.
My proposed solution for the long-term drought threat is for us all to enact a global carbon tax with no exceptions, as well as some immediate useful water conservation policies.
Our immediate drought is an extreme facet of local climate; we will have more wet years soon. But the wet years won’t be as wet and as often as in the past. A study of global climate data leads me to this inevitable conclusion; even though there is debate about the exact numbers, there is no doubt about the direction of the trend. There is global scientific agreement that the root cause of these imbalances in climate are driven by the excess production of greenhouse gases, e.g., carbon dioxide and methane, created by our avid burning of fossil fuels.
Our lifestyle and agriculture are receiving a serious message about what “normal climate” may mean in the future. Our discussion of water conservation and use policies must go beyond whether we suck some more water out of the Sacramento River or drill more wells. The river is drying up and the wells are exhausting the aquifer supply faster than it can be replenished.
Although three-quarters of our planet is covered by water, 97 percent of all of our water is in the salty, non-potable oceans. Fresh water is only about 3 percent of our planet’s water, and all of that came from ocean evaporation. However, about 2.3 percent of Earth’s fresh water is frozen in the poles and Greenland and on mountaintops. All our rivers and lakes have less than 1 percent of the Earth’s fresh water, and 7 billion (going on 9 billion) people want it.
So will global warming melt some of that ice and get us more fresh water? Will global warming evaporate more of the oceans and get us more rainfall and refill our aquifers? There’s no shortage of water, but there certainly is a serious distribution and availability problem.
The sad story about fresh water distribution and availability is related to the fact that global warming is altering the main ocean currents, warming the ocean’s surface and changing the climate on every continent. Historically, our country just finished a century of rather “wet” weather related to our estimates of the climate over previous centuries. This apparent contradiction is related to comparing our continent to the rest of the planet.
The trend in our west is to likely return us to the primordial desert, while the jet streams and all the other climate-forcing factors slowly move the temperate zone northward.
We are capable of implementing more green technologies, “dry” agriculture, fewer golf courses and ski resorts, different landscaping and reduced domestic water uses. I know that we can do it without it being politically translated into confiscatory depredation and deprivation rhetoric.
The transition costs can be paid for with the gradual, graded implementation of a carbon tax. I see no alternative for us if we want to have a future. I sincerely hope that our ensuing discussion and actions can proceed without tearing up the country, (and the world). I worry more about what we will ultimately face if all we is just do some more talking and then fail to really start acting on this threat.
— Marvin Goldman is a longtime Davis resident and professor emeritus of radiation biology and biophysics at UC Davis.