In the Rime of the Ancyent Marinere, the longest major poem written by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, one famous stanza has always stood out to me.Day after day, day after day, We stuck, nor breath nor motion; As idle as a painted ship Upon a painted ocean. Water, water, everywhere, And all the boards did shrink; Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.
With California having approximately an 840 mile long coastline and the Pacific Ocean covering approximately one-third of the Earth’s surface, decisions, infrastructure improvements, and investment are immediately needed to maintain California as we know it.
Water, water everywhere…
In mid-March an op-ed published by Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, painted a dire picture of the state’s water crisis. Famiglietti wrote that every year since 2011, California has lost around 12 million acre-feet of stored water. In the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins, the combined water sources of snow, rivers, reservoirs, soil water and groundwater amounted to a volume that was 34 million acre-feet below normal levels in 2014. And there is no relief in sight. In a nutshell; California has approximately one year of stored water left.
The 25 percent cut in water consumption recently ordered by Gov. Jerry Brown raises critical, economical, and fundamental questions about what life in and the future of California will be like. It is no great surprise that California is suffering through an unprecedented drought with no end in sight. I say unprecedented because while we have a limited context of the region historically, geographically we have inhabited it for a short period of time. But let us be clear: California has been artificially hydrated. That artificiality changed the landscape and also appears to be unsustainable.
“Mother Nature didn’t intend for 40 million people to live here,” said Kevin Starr, a historian at the University of Southern California who has written extensively about this state. “This is literally a culture that since the 1880s has progressively invented, invented and reinvented itself. At what point does this invention begin to hit limits?” Has our innovation and creativity simply delayed Malthus’ postulation?
This artificial environment has yielded tremendous prosperity though. California has built a $2.2 trillion economy. It is the seventh largest economy in the world, more than four times what it was in 1963, when adjusted for inflation. California also feeds much of America. California agriculture is responsible for providing a third of the nation’s vegetables and nearly two-thirds of its fruits and nuts. The cattle industry has and continues to be impacted as well. Cattle, its economy, and productivity will continue to experience a significant geographic shift.
And in a just-in-time, tightly coupled, highly complex food system, micro or meta interruptions can have significant unintended and cascading consequences.
With all this agriculture, cattle, revenue, and international impact when does the emergent crisis in California become a homeland security issue?
This to me is more than a meta issue. If one were to remove themselves from the climate change/global warming diatribe we would see an emergent crisis with little means of self-correction. One school of thought says to let nature take its course, allowing the region’s homeostasis to seek its ecological/environmental equilibrium and return to the semi-arid geography it once was. Another school of thought wants to introduce more technology to maintain the artificial environment and to hydrate the region.
To allow the region to naturally return to its previous state on its face is folly. The geoengineering that California has exploited for decades cannot be easily or readily undone. Where do those industries go? How do we replace that agricultural and protein output? Where do we relocate tens of millions of people? All critical difficult leadership questions in my view.
All of these decision points are homeland security issues. Anthropocenic activities can no longer be ignored and must be recognized as homeland security issues.
The Anthropocene era is a chronological and geologic term used to describe the period when human activities determined active, furtive, and secondary consequences on Earth’s ecosystems. The combination of the Anthropocene era, the artificial hydration of and the earth’s cyclical climate issues have combined to create a situation that leaves California and that region in significantly dire straits.
So there are really only two courses of action.
The first option is to do what we are already doing: lots of talking, attempts to conserve, policy narratives, and legislation; pretty much everything that got us here. It is slow, bureaucratic, and highly politicized.
The other course of action it to embrace the fact that we must engineer, innovate, and refocus our homeland security dollars away from ineffective surveillance and overpriced drone programs, and towards radical infrastructure enhancement. Private/public partnerships, investments, and active engineering must be exercised to rehydrate the region with emerging technologies, desalinization, and a host of lesser improvements.
Resilience and mitigation may have an initial sticker shock. However, if we do not have the funding to do it right the first time, how much more will it cost to repair it?
We have exercised great fear manipulation and amplified the threat to justify programs and spending that does not diminish the threat to any great degree. Lots of drone strikes, 78 fusion centers, trillions spent, diminution of trust, and not a great deal to show for it. We need water, food, and economies that build resilience and capability.