When It's Dry, You Can't Swim The River
At Midnight MDT on September 17 - 18, 2009, we honored the second anniversary of the Quantum Leap. With that and the equinox of September 22, 2009 now past, it is a good time to take stock, and write about our feelings.
Today, we wandered around our backyard, using a garden hose and nozzle to water the dry spots. If not everyone yet knows, the Western U.S. is experiencing a long-term drought, with no end in sight. How little water can one household use and still have green lawns? With a twenty-five percent price hike in local water prices here in 2010, we shall find out. Moreover, the drying of the Earth continues apace.
Do two giant dust storms hitting Sydney, Australia this week foretell of Mars-like, planet-wide dust storms here? Yes, but do not let that bother you. As you travel on your local freeway, go ahead and “floor” the gas pedal of your hybrid automobile. If you think you are getting a real bang for your hydrocarbon buck, remember that in the end, we can fool ourselves, but we cannot fool Mother Nature.
Just this week, scientists discovered that Mars has a large subterranean ice sheet, holding as much pure, crystallized water as our Greenland Ice Sheet. Whether ice or water is basking in the sun, as it does here on Earth or it is hiding cartoon-like, beneath the surface of Mars, by human standards that is a large amount of water.
Last night, as we drove our 400+ horsepower Nissan Titan truck several miles to pick up a pizza, we rolled down the windows and listened to the evening wind whip around the inside of the cab. Since squirrels and children often appear in our headlights at dusk, we allowed the heavy truck to roll slowly down the hill. There, on our left, was a man with his garden hose gushing water into the street. After hand watering our yard for several weeks, his artificial deluge seemed out of place.
“You can’t do that anymore”, we called as we rolled past his position. In our town, you can drive a gasoline-powered truck several miles to pick up pizza, but you cannot open a spigot and let water gush out the end of your garden hose.
Effects on the environment are cumulative, but not always obvious. The marshes in Iraq’s once Fertile Crescent region are dry now, blowing away as dust. As far from our home as that may be, is there cause for alarm? Historians and scientists believe that the Fertile Crescent was the original model for the biblical Garden of Eden. Some say that the area was the cradle of human civilization.
Our climatic conundrum reminds us of an old cartoon about two natives, shown running away from a ferocious lion. One turns to the other and says, “At least I only have to run faster than you.” Many on this Earth have yet to learn that we share this place with many life forms, including a newly discovered one, which is water, itself.
If you were to ask the average person which natural resource issue has the greatest potential impact on our economy and society, many would say, “Global Warming", followed closely by "Future shortages and the increasing price of oil”. How many of us would say, “Global drought and the end of surface water on Earth?” As valuable as liquefied fossil fuels have been to our recent economic and cultural past, we cannot drink any combustion fuel.
When Midwestern corn states had an opportunity to insinuate ethanol, distilled corn into our gasoline supply, they leapt at the chance. Few motorists today know how much corn-fuel they are burning in their hybrids. Fewer still have contemplated how much water, diesel fuel, coal and natural gas are used in concocting that fuel. Our political system allows corporate farming interests to sell us a stealth fuel at a subsidized and hidden cost. Ill-conceived plans such as that, which neglect the realities of life on Earth, cannot long stand.
Now, the West faces a fuel vs. water challenge far greater than the corn-to-fuel decisions made in the past thirty years. The economies of shale mining and fuel-conversion processing require both water and fuel on an unprecedentedly large scale. Individuals and corporations who promote such plans continue to avoid the issue of water usage. If the American public is not made aware of the oil-shale water use issue, we may all be in peril.
After blasting and crushing the oil-laden rock at their 15,000 acres of approved mining sites, old-energy giants such as Royal Dutch Shell plan to mix the crushed rock with water, and then transport the resulting toxic chemical slurry to their processing plants. Those plants will find it too expensive to detoxify the slurry, so the watery residue will meet its demise in vast settling ponds. During processing, more water will vanish from cooling towers, for dust suppression and for other industrial uses.
What water source in the West is large enough to allow such a withdrawal without any commensurate return? Since it will spoil their argument in favor of shale-fuel, “oil-shale conversionists” avoid answering that question. Neither above nor below ground in the Four Corners states does such a volume of water exist, other than in the Colorado River. With continued declining annual flows, both the Upper and the Lower Colorado Basin are already “over subscribed”. Regardless, oil-shale advocates continue to ignore the arguments against using Colorado River water, all the while pretending that there is some other untapped water source available to them. There is not.
Therefore, a great people will soon have a choice to make. The choice is – are we ready to give up the Colorado River and its living water in exchange for obsolete, yet somehow seductive liquid fuels? To do so, would be to accept a rape of the land not seen since strip mines overran and destroyed much of Appalachia.
Crossroads are interesting things. When we reach one, we can continue forward, or we can divert to another course. Often unrecognized, we can also make a conscious choice to turn around and go back the way we came. In our current case, "going back” implies that we might see water as a beautiful living thing. If we are able to do so, we might save its life on Earth and our own.
As we conclude this article, the LA Times has several new and interesting facts. Scientists confirm that where ocean water abuts either Greenland ice or Antarctic ice, the glaciers are thinning faster than previously expected. In another story, two large western power providers (Pacific Gas & Electric of California and Public Service Co. of New Mexico) are quitting the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The reason for their withdrawal is the Chamber’s hard line stance against any new climate legislation.
This proves that a change of consciousness can happen in America. As we watch the polar ice caps slip like water through our fingers, decision makers at some greenhouse gas-emitters realize that they and their children must live in the same world that they are helping to create.
Before all liquid water evaporates from the surface of the Earth, we might yet turn around and “go back”. If not, perhaps some future, far-flung culture will use Dr. Emoto’s DPE techniques to detect and document subterranean ice sheets on an otherwise desolate and empty Planet Earth. Will they conclude that Earth once supported life forms more diverse than water itself?
Together or divided, our collective consciousness will determine our future.
Email James McGillis