West faces water crisis by 2057

Posted August 3rd, 2009 in Blog, Featured 1 Comment »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

A new study indicates that the Colorado River will suffer such losses from climate change and human demand that by 2057 western states could lose their primary water source.

As the West warms, a drier Colorado River system could see as much as a one-in-two chance of fully depleting all of its reservoir storage by mid-century assuming current management practices continue on course, according to a new University of Colorado at Boulder study.

Once again, many have been predicting this crisis, but little has been done to address it.  Now we are running out of time.  How long does it take to alter agricultural practices, development schemes, population trends?  A few decades?  Doesn’t seem like a very long time to learn how to live differently — in our economic models, our dependence on growth to keep the economy going and to generate jobs and tax revenue, in western agricultural practices that depend on massive irrigation and transport of water from rivers and aquifers to semi-arid and arid zones, etc.  All of these things will require massive shifts, and even our laws will often work against us since they tend right now to protect the private sector that has made enormous profits on the wholly unsustainable way of life that is the lifestyle of the West.

Lake Powell 1999 - NASA Earth Observatory

Lake Powell 1999 - NASA Earth Observatory

Back in the 1950s, a huge part of my family joined the ‘California Dream.’  It was my Mother’s side of the family — first an aunt, then my grandparents, than another aunt, then another.  All my Mother’s immediate family went out there chasing the dream.  That was when you could still see the snow-capped Mt. Baldy from my grandparents’ house in Pomona, before the smog settled in over the California Dream.

Other huge migrations have followed — to Arizona, Reno and Las Vegas NV, the Bay Area of California, now the Sacramento Valley.  Then, when the California Dream became dirty, congested, and unpleasant, a lot of those dream-chasers started moving out, now crowding the roads, mountains and valleys of Oregon, Utah, Montana.

We believe this to be the American Way.

The American Way is a path towards disaster right now. Which is why what we ponder here is not so much the factual reality of the multiple ecological crises facing us, nor the practical ideas for how to live through it (a lot of great groups are working on that), but rather the need for a vast shift in cultural values, in how we define ourselves within this culture, how we articulate the meaning of our lives. A set of values has led us to this crisis.  If we cling to them, the reservoirs out west run dry mid-century, probably in the southeast too, where growth plus drought have led to water crises in Georgia and Florida (for more on this, click onto Southeast Climate Change “Seasonal precipitation is changing dramatically in this region…”).  If we cling to these values, we heat up to the worst-case scenarios of climate scientists and better sell your beachfront property soon.

What are those base values?  We hear them all the time now as our leaders try to get this economy growing again — consumers need to ‘spend more,’ they need to get ‘more confident,’ they are saving too much, if they continue to save at these rates, we won’t be able to replace the millions of lost jobs of people making and selling and servicing consumer goods —

the very path that has led us to this moment.

Lake Powell 2009 - NASA Earth Observatory

Lake Powell 2009 - NASA Earth Observatory

So, unless we can figure out a new set of values, and then make those the basis of a new economic model, based not on growth or rising standards of living for the already affluent and comfortable, but on steady-state economics, or ecological economics, and a revolution in what matters in our lives — simplicity, friendship, walks in the woods, art and poetry, nature, and meaningful work that enhances human dignity and self-worth (not measured by income, economic status, etc.) — unless we can figure all that out, the reservoirs will run dry and our experience of a deteriorating quality of life on this planet will be our future.

So, can we turn to the spiritual wisdom of the ages to help make this shift — the Gospel of Luke, Zen meditation, Isaiah’s ‘New Creation’ (ch. 65), Buddhist compassion, indigenous earth spiritualities, and on and on to help us articulate and make this shift?

We can.  Of course we can.  The will is lacking.  The will is challenged by fear, by anger that we can’t have everything we want, by clinging to a sense of entitlement that we should always have in this country a rising standard of living or we are failures, by selfishness, by a belief that we can control our destinies and therefore nature itself, by belief systems based on resignation or a belief that God will swoop down and save us, or some of us anyway — a very unChristian belief if one reads the gospels.

So we’d best get busy.  Time is running out.  The new way of life is upon us — one we create anew, or one that comes upon us by disaster. The choice is ours [Deuteronomy 30:15-20].


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One Response

  1. Pat Sullivan

    Profound yet simply stated. Thanks, Pat Sullivan, Spirit and Work Resource Center