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NASA, Water and Global Warming

Show Summary - July 27, 2009

Guest: L. DeWayne Cecil

NASA, Water and Global Warming L. DeWayne Cecil (Washington, DC and Boise, Idaho), USGS. "Water and Climate Change"

Dr. Cecil is a "Paleoclimatologist" formerly with NASA and now with the U.S. Geological Survey. He studies past climate changes to help draw conclusions about present trends. He studies tree rings, lake sediments and other indicators of climate. With NASA, he was involved with satellite imaging to view climatic trends, especially water availability.

According to Dr. Cecil, population growth, land development and pollution are very complex issues. He believes the Earth is capable of supporting and sustaining only one-half to one billion of the Earth's 6.7 billion people in an affluent, Western, technological lifestyle. Unfortunately, we will have nine billion by 2035. This will require some serious rethinking, especially with respect to water, a finite commodity that will become increasingly scarce.

Regarding global warming, he says that there is no debate on the fact of global warming, merely on the cause (rainfall is less than 50 years ago, desert is expanding, plant ranges are changing and many plants are blooming earlier). To solve the problem, we need to keep polarizing political agendas out of it. The good news is that Dr. Cecil believes there is much we can do about this impending disaster. Even on a personal level, we can learn to adapt and change our lifestyle. However, we cannot live as we did 20 years ago and we cannot continue to take water for granted.

Dr. Cecil advocates a National Climate Service much like the National Weather Service. Except that it needs to be global because climate does not respect national boundaries. It is critical that we learn to predict the climatic future.

Predicting human reaction to climate change can be difficult. With Hurricane Katrina, no disaster planners predicted that 30% of the people evacuated from New Orleans would not return. The question becomes, where will the millions of people in Phoenix or Los Angeles go when water suddenly becomes unavailable?

Dr. Cecil was asked about aquifers and he said that water stored underground is very important. The problem is that "mined" water is unseen and people tend to take it for granted. Forty-percent of municipal water in the U.S. comes from the ground (it is cleaner and requires less treatment). In the U.S., 40 million people obtain water from individual private wells. The biggest aquifer in the U.S., by far, is the "Ogallala" or "High Plains" Aquifer, which stretches from Texas to South Dakota and Iowa to Wyoming. It supplies about 25 percent of all water used for agriculture in the U.S. and is being depleted at an alarming rate.

We need to develop alternatives for agriculture, and we especially need to look at failed civilizations, of which there are many. We need to recycle water, practice drip irrigation and teach our children the importance of improving, not degrading the environment.

Categories: Ecology and the environment; global warming and clime change; water and sanitation