Cities Abandonded? Mass Migrations? The Questions No One is Asking About Drought

Atlanta and the southeast are running out of water. But they're not alone: this year has been the driest on record in many parts of the globe. It's time to consider some worst-case scenarios, writes Tom Engelhardt.

Atlanta is hardly the only city or town in the region with a dwindling water supply. According to David Bracken of Raleigh's News & Observer, "17 North Carolina water systems, including Raleigh and Durham, have 100 or fewer days of water supply remaining before they reach the dregs." Rock Spring, South Carolina, "has been without water for a month. Farmers are hauling water by pickup truck to keep their cattle alive." The same is true for the tiny town of Orme, Tennessee, where the mayor turns on the water for only three hours a day.

And then, there's Atlanta, its metropolitan area "watered" mainly by a 1950s man-made reservoir, Lake Lanier, which, in dramatic photos, is turning into baked mud. Already with a population of five million and known for its uncontrolled growth (as well as lack of water planning), the city is expected to house another two million inhabitants by 2030. And yet, depending on which article you read, Atlanta will essentially run out of water by New Year's eve, in 80 days, in 120 days, or, according to the Army Corps of Engineers -- which seems to find this reassuring -- in 375 days, if the drought continues (as it may well do).

And then, there's that question which has been nagging at me ever since this story first caught my attention in early October as it headed out of the regional press and slowly made its way toward the top of the nightly TV news and the front-pages of national newspapers; it's the question I've been waiting patiently for some environmental reporter(s) somewhere in the mainstream media to address; the question that seems to me so obvious I find it hard to believe everyone isn't thinking about it:

"What if Atlanta's faucets really do go dry?" -- seem to end just where my question begins. It's as if, in each piece, the reporter had reached the edge of some precipice down which no one cares to look, lest we all go over. Let's face it, with water, you're down to the basics. And if, as some say, we've passed the point not of "peak oil," but of "peak water" (and cheap water) on significant parts of the planet well, what then?

These are questions I can't answer; that the Bush administration is guaranteed to be desperately unwilling and unprepared to face; and that, as yet, the media has largely refused to consider in a serious way. And if the media can't face this and begin to connect some dots, why shouldn't Americans be in denial, too?

Full Story: How Dry We Are

Comments

Comments

Rain dance for Atlanta

There may not be a lot of rain around Atlanta but we're swimming in links on extreme weather, global warming, death, pestilence, war and famine. . .in other words business as usual.

The author cites drought in various places for a global "drying" effect, I guess. Unfortunately, he forgets the record rainfall this year in: Northeast U.S., Hawaii, and Mumbai, India. There are more but this just from one googled page. Pointing to weather extremes is like seeing the image of the Virgin Mary on a taco, they appear in different places so hyping them up to prove a point loses credibility when you know news coverage is more pervasive and when nothing happens it isn't news.

The weather may not be predictable but we had to know the swipe at Bush for the drought was in the making based on the website. The states and the Army Corps of Engineers are dealing with the drought and I doubt a change in the White House will change the weather. This goes back to blaming Chinese emperors for earthquakes, the pharoh for the annual flooding of Nile and human sacrifices for rain by Aztecs.

"Mass Migrations?"

I couldn't believe the author could have overlooked the Great Dustbowl of the 1930s which led to mass migrations from the Great Plains states to places like California. Oh yeah, that happened when FDR was president so it doesn't count.

Mass Migrations

Judging from your comment, you apparently don't know that all the models of world climate show that global warming will cause more extreme weather - both more droughts and worse storms and flooding.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, representing a consensus of the world's scientists, say that unless we act dramatically to slow global warming, 1 to 2 billion people will be displaced by climate change. Compare that with the 500,000 displaced in the Oklahoma dustbowl.

George Bush ignored the advice of scientists for many years and was one of the last world leaders to claim that there was no proof of global warming. His foot dragging delayed the entire world's response to global warming.

Do you seriously claim that blaming Bush for ignoring the world's scientists is similar to blaming the pharaoh for the flooding of the Nile?

Charles Siegel

Where's my Oscar?

Actually I've heard a lot about the models for global warming going back since least the last 15 years. Despite Al Gore's incorrect prediction for more powerful and more frequent hurricanes, the concensus about global warming is that it exists and always has. So has global cooling in other ages within historical memory. The real question is whether mankind can go greener with billions of people on the planet with the various "point-of-no-return" years bandied about as deadlines. It also assumes human generated pollution outweighs air and ocean currents effects; therefore, its in our hands to change the planet's thermostat to the "correct" setting.

Since the article I was commenting on talked about the impact of mass migration and omitting the Dust Bowl I thought I should clear the air with more accurate numbers and scope of the disaster.
"The Dust Bowl exodus was the largest migration in American history. By 1940, 2.5 million people had moved out of the Plains states; of those, 200,000 moved to California."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dust_Bowl

As far as blaming Bush for not signing the Kyoto accord, it should be remembered many environmentalist said Kyoto was a joke because the targets were too small to have any real effect and many of the nations that signed it didn't meet their goals. By contrast, the U.S. has been reducing greenhouse gases faster than the Kyoto signatories of the EU. Then there are countries like China who could less about global warming thereby negating any reduction in emissions by more developed countries.

I apologize for the abridged speech below but the link is available. I doubt you've heard any of this before.

"According to data from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, from 2000-2004--the most recent period for which we have good, comparative data--U.S. greenhouse gas emissions increased by 1.3 percent. This is an increase, but a very modest increase. The EU-25, on the other hand, increased collective emissions by 2.1 percent.

And, no, this is not because the new EU members added since the 2004 expansion run dirtier economies than the previous 15 members, and this then bumps up the numbers. Actually, the new members have the opposite effect. Those nations--by moving away from some older energy technologies like brown coal--are part of the good news story. If the new EU members did not bring down the average, the old EU-15 would get a worse report card--having increased emissions by 2.4 percent during this same time period.

Now let's be honest--even a 2.4 percent increase for the EU-15 is a very modest increase. But given the way this issue gets talked about publicly in Europe, I would venture to say that few people in Europe know that from 2000 to 2004, EU-15 emissions grew at nearly double the U.S. rate, and that Europe, at least during this period, has been moving away from-not towards-its Kyoto target of an 8 percent cut.

Even so, the trend in both Europe and the United States is in the right direction-reducing the growth in emissions. The figure cited above--a 1.3 percent growth in U.S. emissions from 2000 to 2004--translates to 0.325 percent per year. Over the period 1990 to 2000, the United States experienced a 14.3 percent increase in its emissions, or 1.4 percent per year. So we have slowed considerably.

Now notice something else. This time period of 2000 to 2004 was a period of rapid economic growth in the United States. Between 2000 and 2004 we grew our economy by almost 1.9 trillion dollars (or nearly 1.46 trillion Euros). That's about the equivalent of adding Italy to the U.S. economy. And we increased our population by 11.3 million people--adding more than the population of Greece. And yet our emissions grew only 1.3 percent--that tells you a lot about how the U.S. economy is already changing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."
http://www.state.gov/p/eur/rls/rm/80465.htm

Lastly, I worded it wrong but the pharaoh's power was based on his ability to insure the Nile was flooded annually so it was good thing, not a disaster. No flood would have been the disaster.

Bush Administration Apologetics

Note that the speech quoted is by a Bush administration official in Europe defending the Bush administration record. Nevertheless, after many years of denial by the administration, this speech admits the following:

"We agree that human activity contributes to global warming.

"We support the recent IPCC report, in which U.S. scientists played a leading role.

"We are committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

So, the Bush administration has finally moved beyond nonsense like: "the concensus [sic] about global warming is that it exists and always has. So has global cooling in other ages within historical memory. ... It also assumes human generated pollution outweighs air and ocean currents effects;" If the Bush administration is finally supporting the IPCC, maybe it is time for you to do the same.

There is no doubt that the US would have made bigger reductions in emissions and world would be better off, if the Bush administration had been willing to admit these facts six years earlier. I am not going to bother searching for quotes from Bush to prove that he was one of the last world leaders to deny global warming, since everyone has heard them.

This speech describes slower growth of emissions from 2000 to 2004 as if the Bush administration could take credit for them, but those were years when Bush was denying the reality of global warming.

Charles Siegel

Partisanship over pollution

"This speech describes slower growth of emissions from 2000 to 2004 as if the Bush administration could take credit for them, but those were years when Bush was denying the reality of global warming."

I see. There's a correlation here. The more Bush denies global warming the lower the emissions? There's a stronger causal link between the actions taken by the administration and the lower emissions even if you don't want to give him any credit.

Do you really believe the planet's climate never changed in the past? I didn't think I could find an educated individual like yourself who also dismisses the wind and ocean currents as major contributors to the current climate. I would also add the sun and supervolcanoes (add a killer asteroid, too)into the mix but you probably don't believe in them either. I believe humans have a hand in climate change but I doubt we can bio-engineer the planet to change from whatever the climate would have been naturally. The exception might be a "nuclear winter" scenario where we shoot enough nukes off to burn the cities to the ground and spew enough material in the atmosphere to block out the sunlight. That was another popular theory 25 years ago but I wouldn't recommend it as a counter to global warming.

The Kyoto agreement is a political document with no enforcement and the fact the U.S. has done a better job at reducing greenhouse gases than those countries who claim to follow the agreement's target emissions (many didn't) seems more convincing than political grandstanding. If Kyoto was based purely on science, China and India and the rest of the developing world would have been included but they weren't because enforcement is very lax and development rules. If you haven't been to China, I would encourage you to broaden your horizons. You could try convincing the Chinese while choking on coal dust. Kyoto will just speed up the process of shifting dirty heavy industries to the Third World and is a fine example of NIMBYism on a world scale.

There are economic and political ramifications that have to be weighed against the the amount of greenhouse gases emissions. A pollution free world isn't in the cards for the forseeable future so we debating a question of degree of tolerable pollution. Then again it is far easier to blame Bush for all the air pollution since the Industrial Revolution. Makes a great bumper sticker.

Science and pollution.

Do you really believe the planet's climate never changed in the past

That doesn't matter.

What matters is today and the effect of 34% more CO2 in the atmosphere - higher than in any time in the past 650 K yrs.

The latest SPM is clear that mankind is Largely to blame for recent climate change, yet they are also clear that mitigation is possible.

That is, the people that do this for a living disagree with the 5-8% of the folks/denialists/dead-enders who can't bring themselves to listen to people who do this for a living.

Best,

D

Horse Cart

What matters is today and the effect of 34% more CO2 in the atmosphere - higher than in any time in the past 650 K yrs.

What is really interesting is that for the last 650,000 years atmospheric CO2 was a lagging effect of climate temperature and now suddenly in the last 1/10,000th of that time it has somehow become a driving factor.

There's a word for that but planetizen is not the place for it. Don't misunderstand me. Mine will not be the last word here. Those who know better than absolutely everyone else on the subject could not possibly stay silent. It is in their nature to lash out with any number of red herrings or settled science ala the Church v Gallileo.

Examples of recent accurate recoreded datums:
measurements, accurate to within 3%, of
375.00 ppm in 1885 (Hempel in Dresden),
390.0 in 1866 (Gorup, Erlangen), and
416.0 in 1857 and 1858 (von Gilm, Innsbruck).

The reason some people are trying so hard to convince the rest is precisely because they do this for a living. Yet another example of putting the cart before the horse.

Ship has sailed.

Examples of recent accurate recoreded datums:
measurements, accurate to within 3%, of
375.00 ppm in 1885 (Hempel in Dresden),
390.0 in 1866 (Gorup, Erlangen), and
416.0 in 1857 and 1858 (von Gilm, Innsbruck).

No.

That paper never saw the light of peer review due to the fact it was weak. The rest of the planet uses the Keeling curve and ice cores. Anyway,

It's over. The denialists are a shrinking voice and society is no longer listening to this FUD. It's been debunked long ago, despite its constant recycling (it's all the denialists have, after all - FUD).

Instead, society is discussing what to do about man-made global warming.

The societal ship has sailed. Denialists are left behind on the dock, their voices fading into silence.

There's still time for you few to grab a small boat and try to catch up if you wish. If not, ah well.

Best,

D

Nothing is settled

Repeating what amounts to wishful thinking won't make it a reality. Over 19,000 scientists have signed a petition stating that science cannot confirm anthropogenic climate change. Attempting to marginalize those with opposing viewopints is the tactic of tyrants and those who cannot otherwise prove their point. You would do well to back off.

OISM petition - snork.

Over 19,000 scientists have signed a petition stating that science cannot confirm anthropogenic climate change

You know when they trot out the OISM petition they don't know what they're talking about. Thanx for the chuckle. I guess you'll be staying on the dock, then. Buh-bye! Buh-bye denialists! Good luck!

Best,

D

The World Thinks It Is Settled

"Attempting to marginalize those with opposing viewopints [sic] is the tactic of tyrants"

No, it is the normal result of open discussion. As evidence accumulates, the discussion eventually reaches the point where only a few cranks deny the facts; those cranks have marginalized themselves.

Thomas Kuhn points out that, even after Copernican astronomers showed that the earth revolves around the sun, most Ptolomeic astronomers refused to accept their evidence. Until the generation of Ptolomeic astronomers died out, many "scientists" continued to believe that the sun revolved around the earth.

This Times story about the latest IPCC report shows that the world has reached a general consensus about global warming. Dano is right that I should not waste my time arguing against the lunatic fringe.

Repeating what amounts to wishful thinking won't make it a reality.

Very true, but who is engaged in wishful thinking? Those who say we have a serious problem to deal with? Or those who say we have no problem and can go on driving our six cars and recreational vehicles as if there were no tomorrow?

Charles Siegel

Once again

I haven't seen any evidence that there IS a problem. Anyone who trusts anything that comes from the U.N. is a fool. According to the Independent (U.K.), the report was designed to essentially scare people. Algore has refused to debate his assertions (and that's all they are). I suspect it's because there is no consensus behind it. Furthermore, dano's "comments," among others here, don't add up to a "discussion." Discussion implies looking at facts that support one side or the other. To arrogantly claim that "that ship has already sailed," without providing any substantial evidence that what you are claiming is fact, is not discussion. It is dismissal, and those of you who engage in it don't do yourselves any favors.

Plate tectonics was not thought to even be possible. Yet the science was allowed to proceed, and the evidence mounted. It's now widely, if not universally, accepted. Yet the AGW camp insists that we virtually destroy our economy in order to combat a phenomenon that has not been proven. And what the world "thinks" or "believes" is irrelevant. Anyone who feels the need to reduce their carbon footprint, or reduce their consumption, fine. Go ahead. But demanding that the rest of us follow suit baseed on flimsy data is the height of chutzpah. I recently read that the fuel consumed by those attending the conference in Bali will produce 40,000 metric tons of carbon. When the people who claim there's a crisis, start living like there's a crisis, I'll start to take them a little more seriously.

Join in or not.

dano's "comments," among others here, don't add up to a "discussion." Discussion implies looking at facts that support one side or the other. To arrogantly claim that "that ship has already sailed," without providing any substantial evidence that what you are claiming is fact, is not discussion. It is dismissal, and those of you who engage in it don't do yourselves any favors.

Please. I've seen this rhetorical tactic a thousand times.

The scientific journals contain the substantial evidence, too copious to reproduce in a blog comment; stating . The journal evidence has been discussed among scientists and policy-makers for years. Where were you during all this?

Anyway, denialists only wish that their rhetoric works, so they can continue the already-ended scientific discussion, in order for needed action to be further delayed and their beliefs aren't seen as silly or outdated.

There's nothing to discuss about your interpretation of the science.

The planet is discussing what to do about the reality of man-made climate change. The world has moved on.

Join in on the discussion about adaptation and mitigation. Or not and get left behind.

Best,

D

None So Blind

"I haven't seen any evidence that there IS a problem."

There is none so blind as one who will not see.

Keep telling Dano that "Discussion implies looking at facts that support one side or the other." And keep making constructive, fact-based comments yourself, such as:

"Anyone who trusts anything that comes from the U.N. is a fool."

"When the people who claim there's a crisis, start living like there's a crisis, I'll start to take them a little more seriously."

Those comments show that you are dedicated to a discussion that weighs the evidence on both sides and comes to conclusion based on the facts. You're not just dismissing the opinions of those you disagree with.

Charles Siegel

Prepare for the AICP Exam

Join the thousands of students who have utilized the Planetizen AICP* Exam Preparation Class to prepare for the American Planning Association's AICP* exam.
Starting at $199
Planetizen Courses image ad

Planetizen Courses

Advance your career with subscription-based online courses tailored to the urban planning professional.
Starting at $14.95 a month
Book cover of Contemporary Debates in Urban Planning

Contemporary Debates in Urban Planning

Featuring thought-provoking commentary and insights from some of the leading thinkers and practitioners in the field.
$18.95
Book cover of Unsprawl

Unsprawl: Remixing Spaces as Places

Explore visionary, controversial and ultimately successful strategies for building people-centered places.
Starting at $12.95