Tuesday, February 17, 2009

More words on water and climate change

Following yesterday's CGS post on water scarcity and security, Green Leap Forward has produced an excellent report on the primary policy and ecological issues surrounding water scarcity in China. Green Leap Forward also highlights an important paper on the relationship between energy and water resources in sustaining China's economic development. CGS agrees with Green Leap Forward that the paper is worth reading in its entirety, but one conclusion seems particularly striking:

By two orders of magnitude, agriculture has the lowest output per unit of direct water use of any sector in the Chinese economy aside from water production and supply... Allowing water to migrate out of agriculture and into higher value added uses will be a necessary condition for sustaining growth in the Chinese economy. (p 11-12)

Diverting a greater share of China's water resources to non-agricultural uses would have enormous political and social implications. While it may be economically and ecologically sensible, such a move does not mesh well with the current leadership's emphasis on rural issues, nor its concern for rising social discontent. The first, necessary step would appear to be water price reform, but even this tentative step seems politically infeasible at present. Nonetheless, if the climate models referenced in yesterday's post are halfway correct, China will have to face these stark realities.

Speaking of stark realities, a recent post from Climate Progress provides another sobering reminder (if one were needed) of the consequences of continued growth in greenhouse gas emissions. Citing a recent study by Danish scientists, the post reports that

Under the worst scenario, warmer seas and a slowdown of ocean circulation would lower marine oxygen levels, creating “dead zones” that could not support fish, shellfish and other higher forms of marine life — and may not revive for 1,500 to 2,000 years.

Let's just stop to ponder that number for a moment: 2000 years. The scale of the climate change problem never ceases to boggle the mind. But these two posts also provide a sobering reminder of the necessity to get to work.

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