March 25, 2012

Water

The on-line New Yorker currently features an article called The Last Drop: Confronting the possibility of a global catastrophe, written appropriately enough by Michael Specter. I know what you are thinking. Here he goes again, off on one of his global-warming, the-world-is-going-to-end alarmist rants. Yeah, well, pretty much. If you don't believe anything else, believe that water—or more precisely, the lack thereof—is a growing threat to the well-being of millions of people.

Those of you who have read my collection of essays entitled Fifty Years of Global Warming will know that I talk about the modern Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Climate change, over-population, and peak oil. Well, the supply of water is directly tied to the number of people trying to access it. The more people there are, the less water there is to go around. And as Specter tell us, there ain't all that much to go around.

"Nearly all of the earth’s water is in the ocean. Only three per cent is even theoretically available for humans to drink. Most of that is locked in polar ice caps and glaciers, or deeply embedded in layers of rock. If a large bucket were to represent all the seawater on the planet, and a coffee cup the amount of freshwater frozen in glaciers, only a teaspoon would remain for us to drink.

The earth’s population has increased exponentially in the two hundred years since Thomas Malthus predicted that the demand for food would soon exceed the supply. In fact, the rate of growth has been far more punishing than Malthus could have imagined. The human population more than tripled in the twentieth century alone (and water use grew sixfold). Within the next fifty years, demographers expect the population to grow again by as much as fifty per cent."
The article focuses on India, but the same scenario is playing out in China, as well as in parts of just about every continent. Too many people are chasing after diminishing supplies of water. Solutions such as desalinization or recycling of rain water and industrial waste water all share something in common with solving the problems associated with global warming caused by decades of burning fossil fuels. They require a commitment of money and resources that most governments are unwilling to undertake. More importantly they require large amounts of collective political will power. This runs counter to the politician's instinctive desire to push problems off into the future, usually sometime after the next election.

 I urge anyone concerned with this issue to read the article. Maybe you don't believe the science behind global warming. Maybe you are confident that shale oil will save us from peak oil. But any fool can understand that more and more people mean less and less water to drink. And if you think this is a problem happening somewhere else with consequences that won't affect your or your kids or your grandchildren, then you need to think again.

March 24, 2012

In the Swing

Things are kind of crazy at the office right now. I work in elections, and we have a primary in a week, plus early voting starts tomorrow. The overtime is certainly good, but there is the down side that you have to work the hours to get it. At my age, putting in 50 or 60 hours a week, even if is for just a short stretch, is not as easy as it used to be. In Vietnam, I worked seven days a week, often 12 hours a day, for a year. I was a soldier once, and young ... but not any more.

So when the temperature hit 81 degrees, I figured it was perfect weather for a few holes of golf. I quick went home after work, let the dog out, and then put the clubs in the car and headed for the course. My swing showed the effects of several weeks without playing, but here and there I hit a few decent shots. After a couple of holes, I caught up with a guy named Rocky, who I have played with a few times before, and we finished out the nine together.

By the time we reached the last hole, the light was beginning to fade just a bit. The temperature had hit the sweet spot somewhere in the mid-70s. A gentle breeze played along with us, adding a bit more slice to my drives than I really needed if I was going to keep pretending it was a power fade. A woodpecker's bill echoed from somewhere in the trees that lined the fairway. Rocky and I played the ninth hole in good order--he made a par, I made a bogey--then we shook hands and went our separate ways after the usual "I'll see you around next time, maybe."

There was a time in my life wanted to be in the thick of things. I was the guy who was walking towards whatever ever was going on while most others were walking away. Now, not so much. Golf has been called a good walk spoiled. Maybe so. But I'll take my chances.

March 21, 2012

Santorum on Climate Change

I was flipping through CNN last night on my way to watch Justified, and there was Rick Santorum making a speech after the Illinois primary, which he lost to Mitt Romney. But the part I heard was Santorum declaiming on the evils of ... wait for it ... climate science.

Yes, in the midst of a heated campaign to capture the Republican presidential nomination, Santorum went back to the tried and true issue of climate change to fire up his followers. For those of you who may have missed it, climate science is a huge scam foisted upon us by socialists eager to expand world government. Santorum's motto appears to be, "Ask not what you can do the planet; ask what the planet can do for you."

I find this interesting on two levels. First, politicians who go on and on about limiting the role of government inevitably change their tune once they get their hands on the reins. Let's face it, government didn't get this big all by itself. Each step was approved by Congress and the President, during both Democratic and Republican administrations, left and right, liberal and conservative.

Second, Santorum has often made a virtue of his Catholic beliefs, but his position on climate change is clearly at odds with positions taken by the Pope and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Does this mean the Pope and the rest of the Catholic Church are in on the global climate scam or are they dupes or dopes or what? Well, Santorum is quick to point out that he isn't talking about Il Papa, just those crazy extreme environmentalists. Oh, well, that's clearer now.

Santorum is just like every other politician. He will say and do whatever it takes to win, and then he will do whatever he wants once he gets into office. And you wonder why people are so disaffected.

March 11, 2012

Dr. James Hansen: Speaking Out on Climate Change

The two predictions about climate change that you read about over and over are that it will get hotter and that extreme weather events will increase. Rising average global temperatures are a matter of historical and contemporary measurements, and the facts bear out a warming trend of ... well, global proportions. As for extreme weather events, just pick up the newspaper. Seems like there is something going on somewhere just about every day now. Not all of it is directly attributable to global warming—and for some that is enough to deny it is happening—but global warming is a multiplier that takes the routine vagaries of weather and climate to a different level.

As always, my advice is to take some time to do your own research and make your own conclusions. There is no better place to begin than by watching this overview of climate change presented by one of the grand masters of climate change, Dr. James Hansen.

March 8, 2012

What If?

I've been reading Stephen King's latest novel, 11/22/1963. The story is about a guy named Jake Epping who travels back in time to prevent the Kennedy assassination. No doubt, one of the great what if scenarios of all time, and at least for the first half of the book he has come up with an engrossing story within a story, as Jake falls in love with a girl, a town, and a time in history that I remember oh so well.

This story has particular resonance for me. I was 18 years old and a freshman at Georgetown University in 1963. I was attending the School of Foreign Service, enthused by the dreams of the New Frontier. On November 22, those dreams came crashing down. Instead of Camelot, we got Vietnam. And I did indeed get my foreign service, only instead of the diplomat's striped pants and red tape, I got jungle fatigues and an M-16.

What if? What if Kennedy hadn't died? What if he had backed away from a full blown war with Vietnam? What if I had never been drafted and sent to Vietnam? What if? These are, of course, questions with no answer, at least none that is emotionally satisfying.

I am what I am, and a big part of what I am is the war. That experience burned inside me like a ball of molten blown glass, reshaping my soul into something that only the passage of time would allow me to see, as the glow faded and the final shape emerged from the fire. It may not be pretty, and it could certainly have used a little more work, but on the whole, I can live with it.

King talks a lot about the butterfly effect in the book. Small events like the flapping of a butterfly's wings can lead to huge changes. Well, the Kennedy assassination and all the changes it wrought were no butterfly wings. Maybe there was a better future out there, but this is the one I got. I'm not so sure I'd be in a hurry to go back in time and change it, as bad as parts of it were.

March 4, 2012

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

The following is an essay from A Misunderstood God. It seemed appropriate in the wake of yet another series of devastating late-winter, early-spring tornadoes that periodically afflict portions of the midwest and south.
Some questions can’t be answered. Like the time I was home on leave after my tour in Vietnam and I went to the funeral of a local boy who had been killed in action and his mother asked me why I was alive and her boy was dead.
Or maybe you have just watched your house and your neighbor’s house and your whole damn town get wiped out by a tornado, and you are sitting there amidst the debris field of your life wondering why of all the places in the world that tornado had to touch down right on top of you.
This gets to the larger question of why bad things happen to good people, what Lewis Mumford called "the accidental malice of the universe." Another question without an answer, at least none that satisfies.
I could have told that young man’s mother that there really was no reason at all why I lived and her boy died. I was just a little lucky; he was a little unlucky. Just like the guy across the street whose house was spared while his neighbor’s house was reduced to a splintered rubble pile.
They will sit there, looking at each other across the street and wonder what the difference was. But on that one, God seems to have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, so we are left to fill in our own blanks. Maybe that is the answer.