Peter Gleick chose to write this as a description of himself in the introduction to his new weblog, Significant Figures: “Dr. Peter Gleick is a scientist, innovator, and communicator on global water, environment, and climate issues. He co-founded and leads the Pacific Institute in Oakland – an independent non-governmental organization addressing the connections between the environment and global sustainability. Dr. Gleick’s work has redefined water from the realm of engineers to the world of sustainability, human rights, and integrated thinking across the disciplines of the geosciences, economics, and policy. He produced some of the earliest assessments of the impacts of climate change on water resources, explored the links between water and conflict, and defined basic human needs for water and the human right to water – work that has been used by the UN and in human rights court cases. He pioneered the concepts of the “soft path for water” and “peak water.” Gleick received the prestigious MacArthur “genius” Fellowship in 2003 and was named “a visionary on the environment” by the BBC. He was elected in 2006 to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.”
Those who follow the climate frenzy know that there may be one or two details missing from this biography. But America loves a second act and we spent much of the past 40 years watching convicted felons from the Watergate scandal rehabilitate themselves, up to and including Richard Nixon. So more power to him.
My interest in this is from the perspective of what I’m tempted to call ‘sympathetic expertise’, by which I mean that Peter Gleick bills himself as an expert on water resources but is speaking out on climate change.
Water supplies, especially at a regional level, will be undoubtedly impacted by climate change, so I understand his interest. What I find a bit odd is that someone who has an interest in the impacts of climate change would be automatically accorded credibility regarding its causes and current progress.
I’m sure others will be happy to explain this to me. In the meantime, let’s look at what he writes about his subject of expertise–water.
In his first post, Gleick writes “few people know that the total amount of useable, renewable freshwater on the planet is a tiny fraction of all of the water on Earth.”
As a veteran observer of climate concealment (the art by which someone exaggerates a problem by not putting metrics in the proper perspective), his statement immediately puts me on the alert.
It is certainly true that a very small percentage of water is available for human use. Only 2.5% of all water is fresh. Worse, 70% of that 2.5% is locked up as ice in Greenland and Antarctic, or the 100,000 glaciers dotting the landscape. But what’s left over and available to us is a rather large amount–twice as much as we currently use and three times as much as we actually need.
There are about 9,000 cubic kilometers of fresh water available for human use with an additional 3,500 cubic kilometers stored behind dams or in reservoirs. That’s about 5,000 cubic meters per person, three times what the UN says is needed. We currently use about 50% of it. Most of what we use gets cycled back into the environment for reuse by the world’s most efficient recycler, nature’s eco-systems.
However, about 780 million people don’t have easy access to enough fresh water for their needs (down from about 1.2 billion in 2007–yay!). Obviously, given the actual surplus of fresh water, this turns into a logistical issue–transporting water is older than the Romans and a lot of big companies are engaged in it today. So this reverts to the simple issue of either bringing water to where the people are or people where the water are.
It’s developmental politics and Gleick is mistaken to cast the issue as a resource constraint. There have been localized water shortages due to drought or development for thousands of years. These problems have been solved by solutions ranging from canals to migration to better climes.
If Gleick intends to make water resources a locus of the climate conversation, one would think he would start off with the scientific consensus–which is that precipitation is expected to increase by 5% due to global warming.
Which leads the conversation back to where it started–solving the problem of getting it efficiently and economically from where it falls to where it is needed. But that’s not a climate conversation at all, is it?
Welcome to the blogosphere, Mr. Gleick.