Year 2, Month 6, Day 25: Look! Bipartisanship!

The June 10 Seattle Times reports on yet another study confirming what we all know:

They looked at the rings of thousands of ancient trees in the mountains above the most important rivers in the West.

What they found may influence how water gets used from Arizona to Canada — and particularly in the Columbia River basin.

Despite odd years like this one, researchers have long reported declines in the mountain snows that power Western rivers. But on Thursday a group of scientists said they now also know this: Those declines are virtually unprecedented throughout most of the last millennium.

Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and University of Washington measured tree-ring growth from forests that included 800-year-old trees. They learned that snowpack reductions in the late 20th and early 21st centuries were unlike any other period dating to at least the year 1200, according to new research published in the journal Science.

It struck me that these results aren’t surprising to either side of the “debate” any more, and I thought I’d address that surprising unanimity of perception in this letter, sent June 10:

Of course the newest study from the U.S. Geological Survey confirms the existence of climate change, and reinforces the predictions of a complex and catastrophic future for our country and the world! Up to this point, both climate-change denialists and environmental realists are in agreement. But the realists expect to see these results because many decades worth of research on climate questions already supports the core hypothesis: climate change is human-caused, and it’s going to have severe impacts on all of our lives for generations to come. Denialists, by contrast, expect these results because they believe scientific research is part of a liberal campaign to take away their SUVs and force them to change their lightbulbs, a laughable conspiracy theory boosted by corporations afraid of lessening their quarterly returns. Sense and survival on the one hand — paranoia and profit on the other. The choice is clear.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 6, Day 21: I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles

The US Bureau of Reclamation has a report predicting…guess what? The Grand Junction Sentinel (CO) has more:

Climate change may result in about a 9 percent drop in average Colorado River flows over the next half-century, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation says in a new report.

Drought frequency and duration are expected to increase under a climate-change model, one of four different water supply scenarios used by the agency in an ongoing study of supply and demand in the Colorado River Basin.

The report says projected changes in the basin include continued warming in the basin, along with snowpack decreases as more precipitation falls as rain.

This let me find out about the nature of a “Class Six” rapid. Scary stuff:

Grade 6: Class 6 rapids are considered to be so dangerous as to be effectively unnavigable on a reliably safe basis. Rafters can expect to encounter substantial whitewater, huge waves, huge rocks and hazards, and/or substantial drops that will impart severe impacts beyond the structural capacities and impact ratings of almost all rafting equipment. Traversing a Class 6 rapid has a dramatically increased likelihood of ending in serious injury or death compared to lesser classes. (Skill level: successful completion of a Class 6 rapid without serious injury or death is widely considered to be a matter of great luck or extreme skill)WIKI

Sent June 7:

The history of the American West could be written from the perspective of rivers, aquifers and wells, for water shortages have triggered innumerable social upheavals and economic disruptions over the past few centuries. To willfully ignore scientific warnings of scientists about climate change’s impact on the Colorado River is to face grave dangers unprepared. And yet many members of our political and media systems are doing just that. By embracing spurious conspiracy theories (Light-Bulb Police! Compulsory Bike Paths!) while rejecting the carefully prepared evidence of experts, climate denialists set the stage for global disasters of terrifying proportions.

Climatologists’ predictions have been coming true with alarming regularity over the past several decades; their principal errors are invariably those of underestimating the magnitude of the problem. Climate denialists’ disregard of the overwhelming scientific consensus is as socially irresponsible as a drunk fratboy’s attempt to run Class Six rapids in an inner tube.

Warren Senders


Year 2, Month 5, Day 9: And Not A Drop To Drink

The Lompoc Record issues warnings about water shortages in the wake (pun intended) of the Interior Dept. report.

And here is what the experts say will happen:

There will be more rain and less snow, with snowpacks melting much earlier in the season. The result is that less water will be captured, rivers will flood briefly, then run nearly dry. Fish habitat will slowly disappear, as will reliable water supplies for most of Southern California.

It’s not just California in the center of this environmental bulls-eye. Eight western states will be affected, with the biggest impacts being on water supply and habitat maintenance.

The scientific community is not optimistic about water supply in California, which has the greatest range of climate conditions of all the western states.

It’s a good piece and deserved a little backup. Sent April 30:

Our collective inability to think in the long term is not something of which our species should be proud. The recently issued report on water shortages in the Western U.S. is a case in point. Many climate-change deniers reject these warnings because their immediate experience contradicts them; “it rained today, therefore there will certainly be ample water in 2050.” Others, of course, are convinced that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by a global cabal of climatologists. Either way, the resulting political paralysis fosters inaction — at a time when action is urgently necessary. The potential for severe long-term droughts should not be fodder for political gamesmanship; this is a regional emergency that calls for new infrastructure, new technology, and rededication to the notion of the common good. The agricultural and societal consequences of failure make this a matter to be treated with seriousness and alacrity.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 5, Day 5: And Not A Drop To Think

The Colorado Independent also writes about the Interior Department report on water shortages:

The report, which responds to requirements under the SECURE Water Act of 2009, shows several increased risks to western United States water resources during the 21st century. Specific projections include:

· a temperature increase of 5-7 degrees Fahrenheit;

· a precipitation increase over the northwestern and north-central portions of the western United States and a decrease over the southwestern and south-central areas;

· a decrease for almost all of the April 1st snowpack, a standard benchmark measurement used to project river basin runoff; and

· an 8 to 20 percent decrease in average annual stream flow in several river basins, including the Colorado, the Rio Grande, and the San Joaquin.

Sent April 26:

The coming decades of intensifying climate change are going to wreak a singular sort of havoc on the American West. With a history of complex water disputes going back to the first settlers in the area, Colorado’s future shortages will make those of previous centuries pale in comparison. Climate scientists have sounded the alarm for years; Secretary Salazar’s report is only the latest in a long line of studies and investigations, all pointing to more or less the same conclusion: climate change is real, it’s caused by humans, it’s happening everywhere — and it’s going to cause us all a world of hurt. Meanwhile, the national discussion of this grave danger has been grossly distorted by professional denialists, whose paymasters in the fossil fuel industry are loath to relinquish even a tiny fraction of their immense profits. Sadly, “enlightened self-interest” is as rare today as water will be in 2040.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 5, Day 4: You Can Get It If You Dry

The Salt Lake Tribune notes a recently released report from the Department of the Interior, predicting that Utah is going to lose lots of its already meager water resources in the coming century, as climate change gets rolling in earnest:

The Colorado River Basin likely will lose about 9 percent of its annual runoff by mid-century because of a warming climate, further squeezing Utah and its neighbors in a region that already expects to struggle getting water to its growing population, according to a U.S. Interior Department report released Monday.

Bureau of Reclamation scientists calculated likely regional temperature and precipitation models based on a range of possible carbon dioxide emissions, then used the mean of the results to predict an 8.5 percent reduction in water supply. The report actually predicts a 2.1 percent increase in precipitation for the Upper Colorado Basin — of which Utah is a part — but temperatures 5 to 7 degrees warmer than today’s are expected bring more rain than snow, and enough more evaporation to sap the supply.

I used this as the hook for a pretty standard mocking-the-denialists letter. I’m tired and it’s late — and the dimbulbs commenting on this article provide an easy target. That’s my excuse. What’s yours? Sent April 25:

It’s easy to predict reactions to the Interior Department report showing Utah getting hit by water shortages from intensifying climate change. First, conspiracy theorists, who believe the world’s climatologists are part of a sinister cabal attempting to establish a Socialist New World Order featuring lightbulb police and compulsory re-education camps for SUV drivers. Next? The voices proclaiming anthropogenic global warming a fraud, promulgated by liberals and environmentalists in order to raise taxes, followed closely by those claiming “the science isn’t settled,” that “Earth’s climate has always been changing,” or that future water shortages are impossible — because it’s raining.

America’s true greatness once lay in our ability to confront difficulty head-on, turning it into opportunity. By shutting their eyes to the scary truth of climate change, the denialist voices are betraying our country’s heritage of innovation, resourcefulness and creativity — a heritage we’ll surely need in the thirsty decades ahead.

Warren Senders

Month 7, Day 15: Keep The Oil Out Of Our Water, Keep Our Water Out Of The Oil

The people at Corporate Accountability International have a great action: the Think Outside The Bottle campaign. CAI is asking people to write their governors, requesting them to institute a change in state policy regarding the purchase of bottled water. Good idea. I took their form letter and made it my own.

Dear Governor Patrick —

I write to urge you to change Massachusetts state policy on the purchase of bottled water.

Since Massachusetts has an excellent public water system, it would be no hardship to implement a policy whereby state government offices and events are required to use tap water. Not only will this save money (San Francisco alone spent about $500,000 a year on bottled water until Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered the shift to tap water), but it will help restore confidence in our water supply (especially important after the May 1st water-main break in Weston).

There are many reasons for this, but the most important is simply that the manufacture of millions and millions of water bottles (each of which is used only once before being recycled) requires millions of gallons of oil. If we as a nation are to wean ourselves from our addiction to oil, we have to do more than just cut down on unnecessary trips to the 7-11 — we have to eliminate products that consume oil.

The steady drumbeat of bad news about climate change lends grave urgency to this requirement. We must move away from any reliance on fossil fuels, and getting the Commonwealth of Massachusetts permanently off bottled water will be a significant contribution. Please make a public commitment to ending state contracts with bottled water suppliers, promoting public water systems across the state, and advocating for a renewed national commitment to water infrastructure funding.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders