News Release

California Drought: Sign of “New Geologic Age”

MARK HERTSGAARD, mark at markhertsgaard.com, @markhertsgaard
Available for a very limited number of interviews, Hertsgaard — author of the book Hot — stated on “Democracy Now!” today: “The new executive order by Gov. Brown issued yesterday really focused mainly on the urban sector. … What was striking about the order is that it did not require those same kind of cuts from the agriculture sector, which, in California, is the big player in water. Agriculture uses about 80 percent of all of the developed water here in the state. … The absolute historic low in the snowpack that we’re seeing here, quite frankly, it’s quite scary, but it’s quite directly related to climate change.

“There are communities out in Central Valley, the poor communities where a lot of farm workers live, that literally don’t have water coming out of their household taps anymore. That is not the case for Mr. Stewart Reznick and a lot of bigger farmers. In fact, my story in the Daily Beast [“How Growers Gamed California’s Drought“] started with a conference that Mr. Reznick and his pistachio company, Paramount Farms, held just last month, where they bragged, literally bragged and celebrated about the record profits that they are making on pistachios, on almonds, and not only the profits, but the record production levels, and the record acreage levels, which means that as the state has been going into drought, nevertheless agricultural interests are planting more and more acreage.”

MAUDE BARLOW, sdey at canadians.org, @councilofcdns
Barlow is author of Blue Future: Protecting Water for People and the Planet Forever and is a former UN adviser on water. She recently wrote: “Our collective abuse of water has caused the planet to enter ‘a new geologic age’ — a ‘planetary transformation’ akin to the retreat of the glaciers more than 11,000 years ago. This is according to 500 renowned scientists brought together in Bonn at the invitation of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on May 2013. A majority of the world’s population lives within 30 miles of water sources that are badly impaired or running out, the scientists said. …

“So how are world leaders and global institutions dealing with this threat? Very badly and with no plan. This is because the water crisis has been misdiagnosed.

“While recognized as real, the water crisis is usually seen as a symptom of climate change, itself caused by excessive greenhouse gas emissions. Droughts are almost always reported as the result of climate change. While no doubt greenhouse gas emission-driven climate change does have an important and negative impact on watersheds, warming temperatures and speeding up evaporation, there is another story that needs to be told.

“Massive water diversion for flood irrigation and the over-exploitation of groundwater has left large areas of the world without water. The destruction of the Aral Sea and Lake Chad — once the fourth and sixth largest lakes in the world respectively — was not caused by climate change. It was a result of relentless extraction for commodity exports.

“The drought crisis in California is not climate change per se, but the massive engineering of the state’s water supplies to provide for a handful of powerful farmers. A huge amount of the state’s water is exported as ‘virtual water’ embedded in export commodities. The Ogallala Aquifer is not being depleted by climate change, but from unremitting extraction, mostly for corn ethanol.

“Removing water from water-retentive landscapes leaves behind parched lands and desertification, another cause of the water crisis. Removing vegetation from water-retentive landscapes changes the water patterns forever. The current crisis in Brazil — once a water rich country — is largely due to the destruction of the rainforest. Take down the forests and the hydrologic cycle is negatively affected.”

Barlow is national chairperson of the Council of Canadians.