Attached below this introduction is a very important report describing the problem of water depletion in Saudi Arabia and California. This report is interesting and important, both for what it says and for what it does not say. Note that there is no mention of global warming or climate change, although some of the papers hot linked in it do mention it. The problem of water depletion — over pumping of non-renewable deep aquifers to irrigate water-intensive crops in arid areas subject to periodic droughts is described in the report.
This kind of water depletion is clearly the result of human activity that degrades the environment in way that could lead to a dangerous crisis in the environment’s capacity to sustain human populations. The data supporting this conclusion is verifiable, and its signal to noise ratio appears to be very strong. This is a problem hydrologists have understood for a long time, yet very little action has been taken to mitigate this dangerous issue. More significantly, there is little political noise on the left or right on the need to do something now about the clear and present danger posed by water depletion. (Fair access to water, for example, has been long recognized but unaddressed causal factor in the Arab-Israeli conflict.) How often do you hear a major American politician try to scare you by noisily invoking the Precautionary Principle with regard to the ‘threat’ posed by global or national water depletion.
In contrast, Politicians love to argue about the dangers (or non dangers) posed by Anthropogenic (i.e. a pompous word for ‘manmade’) Global Warming. But these dangers are not nearly as clear as those posed by water depletion. Moreover, to the extent to which AGW poses a dangers to humanity, these dangers are more distant and more ambiguous than those posed by water depletion. While CO2 is definitely a greenhouse gas, it is a trace gas. The signal to noise ratio indicating how CO2 affects long term global warming is very weak, ambiguous, and therefore controversial.* Nevertheless, the Precautionary Principle is invoked repeatedly by politicians and climate scientists trying to scare the people into agreeing to high-cost action today to mitigate the less clear dangers of AGW in the distant future. And other politicians oppose the theory with equal fervor. Name calling is involved on both sides of the debate over global warming.
So, the issues of water depletion in deep aquifers and of global warming are similar in that both relate to mankind’s dangerous impact on the environment. Yet there is far more political noise calling for a “solution” to the longer-term, more controversial global warming “problem” than for the nearer and clearer danger posed by water depletion. So the obvious question is: Why the imbalance in political and academic passion? This question applies particularly to environmentalists on the left side of political spectrum.
The way to answer any kind of political question always boils down to “follow the money”: A first cut hypothesis in this regard might be derived from four related observations:
Global warming hysteria has been created by scientists who survive by raising grant money, primarily from government sponsored science agencies and is reinforced by a class of entrepreneurs who benefit from the government subsidized alternative energy industry. The AGW money flow, like that in Military – Industrial – Congressional – Complex, is made available by invoking the politics of fear — by hyping vaguely defined distant future threats to justify high expenditures today (known in the Pentagon as “threat inflation”) under the seductive guise of the Precautionary Principle.
Scientists studying the water crisis have a similar interest in raising grant money from government agencies. Yet the relative political silence over the water crisis reflects a downplaying of politics of fear, and that downplaying rewards those interest groups benefitting from the act of depleting water — e.g., big agriculture, land developers, etc. These beneficiaries also include those in government who distribute and receive government subsidies from building and maintaining the water supply infrastructure, etc.
At first glance, one would assume that the interest groups benefitting from continuing or increasing CO2 emissions — i.e., those in the far more powerful, heavily subsidized fossil fuels energy industry — would also have an interest in silencing what is a much weaker scientific case for AGW, but they have not silenced the hysteria surrounding the AGW issue, despite their greater political power.
There has been no real political movement to resolve the quieter but clearer short term problem of water depletion the far noisier but more ambiguous long term problem of global warming.
These observations seem to be inconsistent, but considered at a deeper level they might lead one to posit the following tentative hypothesis:
The AGW scare has evolved thru the interplay of chance of necessity into a tool to distract environmentalists, particularly those on the left, into dissipating their political energy tilting at glamorous windmills, while real looters rape the environment in less glamorous, but more direct and immediately destructive ways — water depletion being but one clear case in point.
One could argue, for example, that the politics implicit in this hypothesis enable President Obama to give lofty speeches about combating climate change, while opening up parts of Alaska to oil exploration, and doing nothing to upset the Democratic politics of California by reigning in the beneficiaries of ‘big water.’ These politics also reward demagogic politicians like Ted Cruz who get attention and support by enraging AGW advocates, loudly trumpeting the ambiguities of AGW, while loudly protecting big energy, and silently protecting those “big water” interest groups who benefit from raping the deep aquifers.
Remember, the preceding is just an hypothesis about the distorted politics of environmentalism created by AGW. Remember also that politics are conflict, some partisans would even say politics are war. Sun Tzu said, winning in conflict involves shaping your adversary’s mental outlook with Cheng-Ch’i operations. The Cheng is the direct or dazzle, sets him up for the Ch’i which is indirect (or surprise) decisive stroke. Each has meaning only in terms of the other. Given the environmental dangers implicit in the water crisis, the idea that AGW theory has degenerated into an all-purpose Cheng used to preserve the status quo of raping, pillaging, and looting of the environment is certainly one worth of careful dispassionate study.
* The temperature data itself is contradictory and suffers from limitations of time and coverage. Direct temperature measurements are of too short a duration and of varying reliability (only 150 years of thermometer records and poor resolution due to very limited global coverage) to distinguish natural variability from long term change. The historical temperature data has been “adjusted,” sometimes in arbitrary, unscientific ways; and predictions of future temperature are dependent on complex, high-cost computer models that embody myriad questionable and often tweaked assumptions, particularly those impacting the size of the sensitivity of the response of water vapor (clouds and humidity are by far the dominant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere) to increases in CO2, which is a trace gas.
Moreover, systematic and comprehensive global measurements are only available from highly sensitive thermometers in satellites first launched in 1979. Yet a long term temperature scale of 1000 years or more is necessary to isolate and filter out the effects of natural variability — for example the longer term systemic variations like the Medieval Warming Period and Little Ice Age as well as the important shorter term Atlantic and Pacific Oscillations, and possibly the effects of sunspot cycles on changes in the solar wind (galactic cosmic rays) which may affect stratospheric water vapor, and who knows what else. Therefore, for example, it is impossible to distinguish unambiguously whether or not the temperature increases since 1850 are primarily due to a natural recovery from the Little Ice Age which seems to have ended in the early 1800s or primarily caused by increasing CO2 (the effects of which are generally thought to have become significant sometime between 1850 and 1950). If the Medieval Warming Period or earlier Roman Warming period are any indicators, such a recovery might last well in excess of 300 years, or until well into the 22nd Century. So, given the time limitations of thermometer data, scientists must rely on proxy measurements derived from tree rings, ice cores, deep sea sediments, etc to infer temperature regimes over the long term. The signal to noise ratio in these proxy measurements is simply too weak and irregular to resolve the uncertainties surrounding the question of isolating natural variability from the CO2’s warming effect. (The most famous effort to filter out the effects of natural variability is the so-called Hockey Stick which was trumpeted by AGW enthusiasts and the IPCC early in the last decade before it was decisively exposed as a fatally flawed construction by statistician Steve MacIntyre, a retired mining expert living in Canada working on his own as a voluntary citizen scientist.)