Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Clean Technica’s Steve Hanley claims that looming water shortages in Phoenix, Arizona and large scale internal US migrations will lead to Middle East style resource conflicts. But we’ll all be OK if Phoenix embraces renewables, and if we all re-read the “3 little pigs”.
Climate Change May Make Phoenix Uninhabitable By 2050
September 29th, 2017 by Steve Hanley
Phoenix, Arizona, is America’s fifth largest city. As you fly in to Sky Harbor airport, the city stretches from horizon to horizon beneath you. It’s hot in Phoenix. Always has been. The people who live there laugh about it, calling it a “dry heat” because there is so little humidity in the air. Be that as it may, living in Phoenix without air conditioning is almost unthinkable.
Phoenix requires two things not found naturally in the area — electricity and water. Without both, the Phoenix of today would never have happened. Despite its abundant sunshine, Arizona has depended for decades on electricity generated by burning coal. Utilities companies in Arizona have been slow to transition to renewables, although lower prices are driving them to look in that direction.
Heat is not the only factor making the Phoenix area less hospitable to humans. Hondula says that lack of water could be more of a problem than rising temperatures. “As much as 20 percent of the river could dry up by 2050,” he says. The majority of the drinking water for the area comes from the Colorado River — the same source that much of southern California depends on.
It’s the long term water shortages that [Ray] Quay is concerned most about. In the 1960s when growth in the Phoenix area was exploding, the federal government had plenty of money to spend on infrastructure. “The issues that we’re going to be facing with climate change and drought, well, we’re in an era when we don’t have a lot of money anymore,” Quay says. In other words, Washington may not be there to help when the water crunch hits the Southwest.
Many experts think that most human conflict is attributable to competition for scarce natural resources — food and water. A drought in the Middle East is seen as one factor contributing to the intractable war in Syria. Hungry and thirsty people tend to go on the move in search of food and water. Climate change may be partially responsible for the refugee crisis overwhelming Europe and causing a spike in nationalism there.
Americans who might like to think such problems can’t happen in their country may be surprised when millions of their countrymen begin moving in large numbers away from low lying coastal areas subject to flooding and cities lacking an adequate supply of water. The disruption within American society could also lead to significant conflicts as the competition for scarce housing and jobs pits people against one another.
Phoenix is a cautionary tale for why rational people should begin planning now for the effects of climate change. But will they? If past history is any guide, the prospects for such appropriate decision making are dim and getting fainter by the day. The world could learn a lot from rereading The Three Little Pigs.
Even if Steve Hanley is right about the severity of the problems, which I doubt, renewables are not the solution.
Cheap energy is the safety margin which makes life in difficult environments possible. With cheap energy you can affordably purify and desalinate poor quality water, and properly air-condition homes and businesses. Cheap energy makes affordable manufacturing possible – fertiliser for farmers, inexpensive machines, enough leisure time to properly investigate solutions to problems.
Embracing useless renewables is about as far from cheap energy as you can get. Renewables are the surest path to creating energy poverty and economic hardship.
Having said that, I doubt renewable hardship would lead to actual resource conflicts, at least in countries like the USA. Republics and Democracies have other means to depose idiot politicians who mess up their lives.