Does Running Out Of Water Explain Why a Few Degrees Matter?

One of the frequent questions we get about the effects of global warming is “what does a few degrees matter?” If the heatwaves of this summer haven’t driven home the answer, maybe a look at the prospets of water shortages will.

Those of you who have followed my blog know that I first raised water-related climate issues more than a year ago in the context of the massive H2O demands created by new coal-fired and nuclear power plants.   That’s an issue that doesn’t get enough attention, but it’s also true that water issues in general (particularly when it comes to impact in the U.S.) tend to get glossed over.

Well, until yesterday. That’s when the NRDC and Tetra Tech released a major new report showing that more than 1,100 U.S. counties – over one out of three in the lower 48 states – will face water shortages by 2050. As we found, if warmer-temperatures due to climate change continue to rise, well, the effects are enough to make your mouth go dry:

There’s an excellent 4-page overview of the report available and those of you who like to “Google Earth” things will find this view of the problem to be very powerful. 

How bad is this situation? Dan Lashof, director of the Climate Center at NRDC, put it this way:

“This analysis shows climate change will take a serious toll on water supplies throughout the country in the coming decades, with over one out of three U.S. counties facing greater risks of water shortages. Water shortages can strangle economic development and agricultural production and affected communities.  As a result, cities and states will bear real and significant costs if Congress fails to take the steps necessary to slow down and reverse the warming trend. Water management and climate change adaptation plans will be essential to lessen the impacts, but they cannot be expected to counter the effects of a warming climate.  The only way to truly manage the risks exposed by this report is for Congress to pass meaningful legislation that cuts global warming pollution and allows the U.S. to exercise global leadership on the issue.”

You can see some great coverage of the report at USA Today Greenhouse, Science Magazine and the National Geographic (and a few hundred other outlets.)

So, the next time you hear someone say 'what does a few degrees matter?' send them the link to the new Tetra Tech/NRDC study

And ask them: “Does the risk of water shortages in over a thousand U.S. counties seem like something we'd rather not experience?”

About the Authors

Pete Altman

Director, Climate & Clean Air Campaign, Climate & Energy program

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