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What Matters Most for America - Part 3 of 5: Energy, Water, and Climate Change

Tags: climate energy

We are complacent about our Energy supplies.  We rely on fossil fuels for much of our energy.  Every time there is a shortage of supply, we worry about energy.  As soon as that particular situation resolves, we become complacent again.  The advent of fracking to release natural gas, and the discovery of more oil beneath North Dakota, make it easy to feel comfortable today.  The inescapable truth is that hydrocarbons are ultimately finite.  Eventually they will be used up.   It may take 100 years, but the day will come when the last oil well runs dry and the last gas well sputters out.  The nation that prepares for that day will be the one that survives into the post hydrocarbon future.  Long-term energy sufficiency is a strategic national issue.  Only nuclear and renewable sources of energy will be available in the long run.  We must increase these sources of energy and develop more efficient ways of using energy to match both supply and demand.   It takes a national research and development effort to do so.

Just as energy is finite, so is water.  We get that water from three sources: rainfall, groundwater, desalinization.  Rainfall is irregular from year-to-year.  Droughts can appear and last a decade or longer.  The entire climate can swing through long cycles.  While we have studied nature to see how the climate has changed over thousands of years, we only have records for a few hundred years.  Climate and weather are complex systems that we are just beginning to understand.  We tend to think that climate is a fixed feature of life, like the shoreline of an ocean.  It is not.  In a country that has been “settled” for less than 200 years, we have only a limited exposure to the climate swings possible in North America.  How climate change will affect our rainfall and water supply is very much up in the air.  We need to prepare for adversity, not prosperity.  How climate is affecting Australia is worth noting because their present may be our future.

Lurking below the surface is a major water problem.  We have been pumping groundwater out of our Midwestern aquifers faster than it is being replenished.  We have been drawing down mother nature’s water savings account faster than she can make deposits.  One of these days, those water wells will run dry.  When that happens, a large section of America’s breadbasket will no longer be able to produce food as it does today.  Less food and a larger population are not a good combination.  A similar situation is occurring in California where winter snow accumulations are insufficient to supply water demands for agriculture and a growing population.  How much of this problem is random or cyclical versus permanent is hard to know, but that is no reason to delay action.  We need a long-term plan and investment in our infrastructure to ensure our water supplies and control their usage.

Climate change is an issue where opinions are divided, but not rationally so.  To borrow from a famous historical document, “We hold these truths to be self-evident...”  Hundreds of millions of years ago, nature sequestered carbon from the atmosphere into the bodies of plants and animals that were covered by sediments and compressed into coal or converted to oil and natural gas.  This process took tens of millions of years.  In a matter of a few hundred years, we will have released back into the atmosphere a significant portion of this stored carbon through the burning of fossil fuels.  We are messing with mother nature.  We have raised the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere to what is considered to be a tipping point.  That tipping point is where the earth enters a global warming cycle that will melt glaciers and the polar ice cap releasing more water into the oceans and exposing more ocean to the sun’s heat creating a self-sustaining rise in temperature.  Once the snowball starts melting, we can’t stop it. 

There is no debate that the greenhouse effect of CO2 gas is real.  While the earth has gone through numerous cycles of warming and cooling (e.g., the ice age about 15,000 years ago) without man being the cause, it is foolish to ignore the impact of man’s activity on the planet.  Regardless of what a person believes is the cause, the effect is the same - rising temperatures, rising ocean levels, agricultural disruption, and population migration.  We face a crisis in coastal communities where millions of people may be forced to relocate as water levels rise.  It will change housing, transportation, insurance costs, and personal fortunes as real estate literally goes underwater.  The time to plan and prepare is now.

This post first appeared on A Centered View Of Our Times, please read the originial post: here

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What Matters Most for America - Part 3 of 5: Energy, Water, and Climate Change


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