Last week I took a short trip with a friend to Mt. Hood, Oregon, which included a trip to Timberline Lodge on the summit. In the past, there would be snow there year-round. This was mid-September and there was none. The large volcano mountains of the Olympics and Cascades have always had snow year-round. The same is true for Mt. Shasta in Northern California. For the first time in recorded history, the snow is no more, and the reality hit me hard. The impact of global warming is accelerating faster than predicted, and without glaciers, streams and rivers have no water to feed them.
Existential Danger Hiding in Plain Sight
Glaciers are our water reserves. Without water, settled life will no longer be possible. There will be no water for fish, agriculture, and transportation. Rivers are the source of water for most cities. Unless there are water reserves, rivers will dry up and those cities will become much smaller or simply disappear altogether. This is likely to happen first in the southwest cities of Nevada, Arizona, and Texas.
We can’t wait until this happens and then race madly around trying to fix it. It has to be dealt with NOW. We take access to water for granted. Only air is more vital for our survival and that of most all of life. Yet most of us don’t give that access a second thought. But without water, we wouldn’t live more than a few days and would suffer from the effects of dehydration sooner than that.
The drought in the Western US has gone for nearly a decade with no end in sight. For the first time, the Colorado River has not been able to supply a full allotment of water resulting in California’s share of the water being reduced by 20%. California produces the biggest supply of fruit and vegetables in the country, so expect continued, if not significant, increases in food prices. The cascading effects of decreased water supply are so catastrophic that most of us, on the North American continent at least, would just as soon avoid thinking about them. Too big; too overwhelming and complicated.
The control of water is a major cause of dissension and immigration around the world already. Most global conflicts are located in areas with little available water, i.e., the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa are prime examples. These various conflicts are blamed on political causes, but if you do your research, you soon realize that underneath all the noise, the root cause is a lack of water. The unapparent mega-problem is in the surge of migration from these areas to more livable places, especially to Western Europe and North America. Whatever we are being sold as the reasons for increasing strife, they are secondary to the main issue: the survival threat of no access to water. As global warming continues expect these problems to magnify.
What to Do?
In the short run, we can individually end the unnecessary use of water for watering lawns, golf courses, car washes, and private swimming pools. We can employ the use of grey-water and drip watering for gardens and plants. At the larger level, we can immediately change how and where we raise agricultural products. We can transition from mega meat-producing farms to artificial meats. We can mandate the use of low-flow showerheads and two-flush water toilets. These and hundreds of other small changes can happen almost right away.
As a society, we can lobby for and promote the use of electric vehicles, vote to adequately fund public transportation, put pressure on the government to thin out dead trees and undergrowth in the national forests. We can convert to a work-from-home employment model when and wherever possible. We can support, promote and use alternatives to jet commercial travel (such as dirigibles). We can commit to phasing out carbon-based fuels (oil, gas, natural gas) in our transportation systems. There are unlimited possibilities of things you can think of and policies you can help envision, support, and commit to.
In the long run, all of this will require major infrastructure investments. All of this is expensive. But the extinction of life as we know has no price tag. We need to understand this plainly. It’s not a fantasy. This problem is real.