Posted by: shipbright | October 22, 2009

Climate Change and freshwater…prologue to a series

My previous posts have touched on “big picture” issues of freshwater on our planet and have laid a workable foundation to begin our discussion on the known and possible effects of climate change on freshwater here on earth.

But first we need to address whether there is an issue of climate change.  It is a controversial topic and there are strongly held beliefs by people on both sides of the debate.  The debate on climate change has become political and yet as you’ll see below it defies easy political labeling or dismissing as a liberal or conservative issue. 

Theodore RooseveltFor the record I grew up as a Republican and was actively involved in the party years ago.  My heroes are Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt and I have a bust of TR on my desk who I particularly admire.  I have always voted on an individual’s merits and never party line.  I have been registered Independent [unaffiliated] for about 20 years now, consider myself a moderate, and believe in civil discourse.  Like yourself I prefer to make up my own mind instead of having someone tell me how to think or what my values should be and that honest people can disagree without being disagreeable…so let me wade now into climate change and the political minefield that it has become and let you the reader decide for yourself. 

Intuitively I believe that the having 6.2 billion [and heading to 7 billion quickly] humans on our planet is upsetting any balance Mother Earth has in her natural systems.  The Earth’s natural systems evolved over geologic time based on a fairly stable human population.  But this has changed, “Until recently, the growth of our numbers was slow and variable. A pronounced expansion began with the advent of the Industrial Revolution, about two centuries ago. Whereas tens of thousands of years passed before our species reached the one billion mark, around 1800 C.E., it took only 130, 33, 15, 13 and 12 years to add each succeeding billion.”

population explosion

If there was a sudden, by geologic time, population explosion of any species there would be problems.  We humans are very clever and have discovered medical breakthroughs to prolong our lives and invented technology to leverage our activities beyond our natural abilities.  We are at the top of the food chain and its good to be a human!

We are using more of the earth’s resources and energy because there are more of us.  A growing body of us believes that the use of fossil fuels has increased certain natural gases into the atmosphere beyond what the earth would normally have.  These gases are collectively referred to as “greenhouse gases” because they reside in the atmosphere and allow the sun’s shortwave heat in but block the longer wave radiant heat from escaping, much like a greenhouse, thereby increasing the earth’s global temperature.

climate-change-2There are perfectly natural causes of “greenhouse gases” with volcanic activity being one of the main causes.  The argument that there is a human cause to climate change resides in the basic thought that our additional human generated gases put the earth’s atmospheric systems out of balance.  We tip the scale out of balance because of what billions of humans do collectively.

Some believe that this isn’t so and that we are experiencing another natural cycle of warming and cooling of the earth which has many natural variables such as solar, volcanic, and orbital variables.  Dr. John Everett is a global climate change skeptic and provides a compelling argument at his website:

I’ve been studying this issue since graduate school in the early 1990’s and have listened and watched the debate evolve over the last couple of decades.  Here’s where I come down…We humans are tipping the scales


While there are many other variables that are part of the natural balance and cycles we humans are overwhelming the natural systems.  We have a tendency to think about the world around us in terms of human time and not geologic time.  Our population has exploded in the last 300 years…that is less than a blink in geologic time—the time that the earth and her natural systems evolve and adapt to changes in the earth’s environment.  We’re moving too fast and earth can’t keep up.

These changes in the earth’s temperature have taken place before but over a much longer period of time, excepting spectacular events like an asteroid hit which some believe sent the earth into a cold period so quickly the dinosaurs died off en masse.  Fueling the ongoing controversy is the fact that the science is not 100% conclusive and there are many unanswered questions.

I was a United States Naval Officer.  As a military officer you don’t wait until you have 100% of the information before you engage or adapt your battle plan.  If you did you would be dead.  You keep your mind open to constantly changing and evolving information and then you use your judgment and make a decision and take action. 

I’ve also been a small business owner and it’s the same in business.  If you wait for 100% of the information your competition will have beaten you to the market. One of the characteristics of top performing companies that the book “In Search of Excellence” uncovered was that action, any action, was better than no action at all. You can always correct course once you are underway.

Same for climate change.  There is enough information for us to take this issue seriously and for us to take action on.  If we do nothing with an earth that our current collective behavior is throwing out of balance then we expose ourselves to the risk that we may not be able to technologically fix, biologically evolve ourselves to or pray our way out of the consequences thereof.

I do not expect my house to burn down but I have fire insurance.  It’s just a smart financial decision to carry such insurance.  In many ways dealing with climate change is a business decision—too much risk not to do anything.  So let me approach climate change from a historically skeptical, if not hostile, political perspective.  That of the business community…and we have a global corporate leader who is doing just that:

az_logo_weissAllianz, SE is a multinational financial services corporation headquartered in Munich, Germany with 75 million customers in over 70 countries worldwide.  It is traded on the New York Stock Exchange and had a profit of over €7.4 billion [~$11 billion] last year—and that was a bad year for them.

allianz keyvisual_en

If you read their Annual Report and look at the pictures who’ll see a group of well-tailored custom suited, button down, tasselled shoe MBA looking men […all men…].  Are we conservative enough?  No dreadlocked Rasta’s here [wouldn’t that be a kick!].

allianz intl exec 

…and they are serious about climate change.  Check out their website and see what a world financial leader has to say and what they are doing about climate change and you’ll see that they are passionate about this issue.  This is not some shrill finger-pointing radical environmental group, this is a bastion of conservative capitalism.  Allianz wouldn’t be spending their shareholder money if they didn’t have a solid business motivation.  They see firsthand the effects of climate change and it is costing them money.

It makes perfect business sense. 

Here’s a quote from their recent Annual report:  “…Together with the WWF [World Wildlife Fund], we are investigating the effects of climate change, which represents a serious business risk and will have far-reaching consequences for people, nature and economic development. This is already clear from the fact that weather-related damage has increased by a factor of 15 in the last 30 years [my emphasis]. Among other things, we are working with the WWF to analyze the effects of global warming and climate policy on individual industries.  But we do not stop at studies. In 2007, we founded Allianz Climate Solutions, a subsidiary that invests in renewable energies for our units around the world and for external customers.  More than €400 million has been invested in 10 European wind farms for Allianz alone. The company is developing more product concepts that are, for example, expected to help moderate the effects of climate change through improved energy efficiency. We are also working on solutions to problems in the global trade in emissions rights.”

Other companies are also coming forward and making business decisions regarding climate change.  Exelon Corporation in the United States, for example, recently declined to renew their membership with the United States Chamber of Commerce because of the Chamber’s continued resistance to acknowledging that there is a climate change issue.  Exelon Chairman and CEO John Rowe said, “Inaction on climate is not an option…”

Bravo to Allianz and other companies like Exelon who are harnessing the initiative and creativity of the private sector to address a global social issue.  The climate of the world is our greatest “commons” and inaction, denial, deflection and/or diffusion of responsibility is a historical habit of our species when it comes to a “commons”.   We can no longer stick our collectives heads in the sand or anywhere else for that matter…


“Climate change poses clear, catastrophic threats. We may not agree on the extent, but we certainly can’t afford the risk of inaction.”   Rupert Murdoch

United States President Barak Obama, conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch, former Vice-President Al Gore, and conservative FOX News talk show host Bill O’Reilly all agree that climate change is real and we need to address it.  The rest of the world is already ahead of the US in terms of accepting this global environmental phenomenon and it’s time we in the US got serious, even if all the information isn’t in yet…

With this in mind we will begin a series on climate change and freshwater.  We’ll look at what we do know about climate change, what we don’t know, and what are the probable consequences to freshwater with the knowledge that we have at this time.  Some of the topics will be about hydrologic cycle changes, precipitation, melting ice packs, sea level changes and saltwater intrusion…



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