Climate Change Denial Will Leave Us Thirsty

Today, we got some bad news from the International Energy Agency. The IEA reported that energy related CO2 emissions in 2010 were the highest in history.

After a dip in 2009 caused by the global financial crisis, emissions are estimated to have climbed to a record 30.6 Gigatonnes (Gt), a 5% jump from the previous record year in 2008, when levels reached 29.3 Gt.

This, of course, at a moment when leaders of the Republican party are in full climate-change denial mode (at the behest of their enlightened base.)

I’ll say it. I’m tired of climate change being denied and climate policy being ignored.

Look, I understand that environmental problems are hard to address politically for myriad reasons, not the least of which is that consequences will be felt far in the future and are thus easily ignored. I get that politicians want to deal with the short term (what will get them re-elected) rather than the long term (what will save their children’s children).

But guess what? Climate change isn’t all flooded coastal towns circa 2100. Climate change has near term consequences, too. To see climate change’s consequences unfold in real time, just look beyond our borders to Australia.

In Australia there is little doubt that climate change is real. For more than the past decade, Australia has experienced what locals call The Big Dry – rainfall well below the historical average, and well below what Australians require to survive. Over the next week, I’ll recount a few stories from Charles Fishman’s The Big Thirst about how a few Australian cities are dealing with their dwindling water levels. The stories are nothing short of fascinating. They show how water is a strikingly personal resource, how that makes the politics of water fierce and challenging and how we are, as a people, shockingly unprepared.

As you might imagine, after living in a world with access to a seemingly unlimited supply of water, water scarcity is not an easy problem to solve. Addressing it not only requires expensive desalination plants and water recycling systems. It requires fundamentally changing the way we think about water.

Let me be clear, the point here is not that the we should all be water scarcity alarmists now. We don’t need to be, yet. The point is that we should see Australia’s example as a cue to start the conversation. We can disagree about how to solve tough climate-related problems like water scarcity. That is a reasonable debate to have. But to deny climate change’s existence so as to preempt the possibility of such a debate? That is just irresponsible.

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