To me, loss of freshwater supplies is the scariest impact of climate change. After all, I can imagine adapting relatively successfully to a warmer world. I cannot imagine adapting to a world with less freshwater. That view was reinforced by a great article on water in The New York Times Magazine. Read it and then forward it to all of your friends.
Over on inkstain, John Fleck also has a bunch of terrific blog entries about the ongoing water crisis in the Southeast U.S. In his latest entry, John points out that the drought there, while bad, is not that bad from a historical perspective.
So why is Georgia suffering so much? The reason is that as the region’s population grew, they did not make appropriate investments in infrastructure, such as water supply. The result is that a drought of fixed size is a much bigger problem today than it was several decades ago.
New Orleans, of course, is the poster child for insufficient infrastructure. They knew a hurricane would swamp them, and that such a hurricane was just a matter of time, but they still didn’t spend the money to provide the necessary protection. They look pretty stupid now.
Because we are not making adequate investments, our society is becoming less resilient to climate variability. I probably don’t need to point out that this is the wrong direction. As climate changes, we need to become more resilient. That means that we need to spend money on infrastructure. Hat tip to John Fleck (and commenter Dano, who was channelling Roger Pielke, Sr.) for making this point in this blog entry.
So what investments do we need to make now to head off problems that we know are coming down the pike? Turns out that’s an easy question to answer. We need to make coastal developments resilient to sea-level rise (even if that means restricting coastal development) and we need to make just about every spot in the U.S. resilient to reductions in freshwater. There are other things too, including enhancements in public health infrastructure, energy infrastructure, food infrastructure, etc.
If we don’t do this now, people in the future will look back on us and conclude we were pretty stupid. They would be right.