What issue is far more threatening than weapons of mass destruction or of all the terrorists on the planet combined?
That issue, says a leading British scientist, is public policy on climate control.
Sir David King, Tony Blairs chief scientist, is sharply critical of the Bush administrations laissez faire attitude toward the matter of climate change.
Writing in the journal Science, King said the United States, the worlds leading polluter, must take the issue of global warming far more seriously.
In my view, climate change is the most severe problem we are facing today, more serious even than the threat of terrorism, King said.
He asserts that the American government was wrong to pull out of the Kyoto protocol, an international bid to limit greenhouse gas emissions. King also thinks the Bush administration was in error to maintain the Kyoto agreement would have adverse effects on the U.S. economy.
The Independent, a British newspaper, quoted King as saying: As the worlds only remaining superpower, the United States is accustomed to leading internationally coordinated action, but the U.S. government is failing to take up the challenge of global warming.
King went on to say: The Bush administrations strategy relies largely on market-based incentives and voluntary action…but the market cannot decide that mitigation is necessary, nor can it establish the basic international framework in which all actors can take their place.
A recent major study showed that more than 1 million species will be extinct in the next 50 years as a result of global warming.
King said the idea of global warming being just a natural cycle, as Bushs advisers contend, is mistaken. He notes the 10 hottest years on record began in 1991 and, in the past century, global temperatures have gone up by .6 degrees centigrade.
As a result, sea levels are rising, ice caps are melting and flooding has become more frequent. If we could stabilize the atmospheres carbon dioxide concentration at some realistically achievable and relatively low level, he said, there is still a good chance of mitigating the effects of climate change.
If warming continues, he warned, millions more people around the world may become exposed to hunger, drought, flooding and debilitating diseases such as malaria.
Global warming has a direct effect on the availability of fresh water. In 1995, World Bank Vice President Ismail Serageldin forecast an acute water shortage in the new millennium. If the wars of this century were fought over oil, he said, the wars of the next century will be fought over water.
As the global population tripled, demand for water has increased six times. Both the UN and the U.S. government estimate that by the year 2015 at least 40 percent of the worlds population will not have adequate water supplies. Experts say by 2025, water shortages will affect the livelihood of one-third of the global family.
Pollution is the culprit. It has so reduced fresh water resources that less than 1 percent of available fresh water can be used for either drinking or agriculture.
At present, 65 percent of the worlds fresh water goes to industrialized agriculture, which requires vast irrigation projects. To solve the irrigation demand problem, government planners build big dams, which create more ecological damage.
The Global Water Policy Project, an advocacy group for water conservation, estimates two large dams of more than 15 meters height have been built every day for the past 50 years.
Dams keep rivers and streams from replenishing groundwater. The Ganges, Nile, Yellow, Indus and Colorado rivers are often dry before they reach the ocean. Aquifers are strained to the breaking point.
The Ogallala Aquifer, which stretches underground from Texas to South Dakota, is thought to have lost more than half its water. Some 200,000 wells pull 13 million gallons from the aquifer every minute. Nature cannot replace it that fast. Even so, corporate raider T. Boone Pickens pressured a Texas state water board to let him pump and sell up to 65 billion gallons of water a year from this aquifer.
Squabbling over water proceeds around the world. Syrians, Jordanians and Palestinians all rail against Israeli control of water resources. Syria and Iraq dont like Turkeys plans to dam up the Euphrates River.
Turkey, in turn, is against Kurdish independence because the Kurds control the mountains whose snows augment their water supply.
Egypt dislikes Ethiopias plans to draw more water from the Nile.
Bangladesh, downstream from India, is drying up because of Indias many dams, which have redirected much of its water.
Twenty-five percent of the worlds fresh water goes to non-farm industries and uses immense amounts of pure water. This usage has had unexpected results in some places.
Plachimada, in Kerala, India, is asking the largest Coca-Cola plant in the country to shut down. Since 1998, the Coke plant has sucked up 1 million liters of water daily from the underground aquifer that supplies village wells, cocoanut groves and crops.
Each morning, Coke sends tank trucks through the village with bare basic rations of water for the residents. Coke sells some of the manufacturing sludge as fertilizer and dumps other amounts of it in dry riverbeds. Analysis of the sludge showed high levels of lead and cadmium.
The World Trade Organization claims water is a commodity, rather than a resource and a human right and can be supplied by private business for a profit. In some countries, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have overseen the privatizing of national water supplies with resulting exorbitant charges to consumers.
A study at the University of Greenwich found that privatizing water in Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Nairobi and the Philippines led to enormous price increases that incited near riots.
The World Bank refused a $25 million loan guarantee to Cochabamba, Bolivia, unless the town sold its water system to the private sector. Two years before that, bank officials threatened to withhold $600 million in international debt relief if Bolivia did not privatize the towns public water system.
Bechtel bought the water system. Immediately afterward, Bechtel raised water rates 200 percent and cut off water access to the poor. When the company would not lower the rates, there was a general strike, mass arrests, hundreds of injuries and at least one death.
After four months, Bechtel scurried back to the States and filed a $25 million lawsuit against Bolivia. The case will be tried in closed session in a secret court at World Bank headquarters in Washington, D.C.
This kind of scenario could well be in Americas future unless we begin to seriously address the issues of climate control, resource management and developing energy shortages.