By Samir Shukla
Climate change has almost won.
Those are fighting words. I don't mean them in a defeatist sense. I'm a logical realist. Human imprints are so pervasive on this planet, that making changes to our destructive natures is a bit like coming to the party as the empty bottles and cans are being cleaned up and most folks have left the building.
Yes, we must work to address the underlying issues, but at the same time adaptation on a global scale is also at hand. Both must be done together.
During a recent summer weekend trip to West Virginia mountains, the sheer beauty of our world was on full display. The lush green mountains and minimal development in a state park showcased the declining grandeur of the planet. A short half hour outside of the park and humanity's sprawl was on full display. Our ability to remake an area's natural balance to our needs becomes almost an afterthought in our daily lives.
Adaptation has been the key element for humans to gain dominance over this planet. It's about survival. Our ancestors adapted to new environments as they traveled and populated the globe. As a species we have evolved and thrived via adaptation. Of course, in the meantime we have also devastated ecosystems and irreversibly changed the planet in many ways. We have built great cities, but also wiped-out entire species and created environmental troubles for ourselves.
Contemporary threats require continuous fine-tuning of our innate ability to adapt. Cyber threats, terror threats, virus and disease threats, nature threats, these all require adaptation. They require planning and infrastructure for all contingencies.
Climate change is now a part of our lives. We can make changes on how we do things to help soften this changing climate's extremes. It is already wreaking havoc on the planet, but along with making changes to mitigate and temper climate change, we must also adapt to its threats. Adaptation is the key to rethinking our lifestyles and building infrastructure to minimize the effects of climate change on our species. Above all else, I believe, water is the prime stuff that will require new adaptations and infrastructure on a global scale.
We must create massive, innovative infrastructure to manage the world's water. This will be the defining act of our generation in the coming decades. Not only is the world's weather changing, but the influx of severe storms, increase in droughts and flooding, and rising sea levels beckon us to make changes.
It's good to see activists and politicians wanting to do something about carbon emissions. There are things we can do as a community to mitigate climate change to the best of our abilities, while creating new economic opportunities via evolving technologies and renewable energy.
We must also realize that the effects may already be irreversible and efforts to reduce carbon emissions and soften climate change may already be too late. But we must make efforts in this endeavor.
Increasing the capacities of renewables such as solar and wind will help. Massive conservation efforts to reduce use of fossil fuels will help, but we must also put into place new policies and thinking.
The key again is water. Massive water harvesting infrastructures must be built. Desalination plants, pipelines to transfer water from wet to dry areas, and recharging underground aquifer are essential to this effort.
Infrastructure needs to be planned and implemented now. Right now. There is no other choice.
This will be very expensive, of course, requiring investments of hundreds of billions of dollars, or more, around the globe. Water is, for the most part, not only an immediate concern for most countries, but a long-term peace and stability issue for humanity. If water is thought of as a national security issue, governments will respond in the manner it needs to.
Clearly weather patterns around the globe are becoming more extreme and unpredictable. Water will be the trigger for future confrontations between nations, even between internal regions of countries.
Thousands of desalination plants around coastal areas with pipelines taking that fresh water to dry and drought-affected farmlands and thirsty cities is one challenge. Diverting floodwaters, desalinated water and water from dams and swollen rivers to recharge and refill depleted underground aquifers is another challenge and inevitable necessity.
The water stored in natural underground aquifers has quenched humanity's thirst for centuries but we have also depleted vast amounts of that water. We can also use those emptied underground chambers and refill them with water harvested from above, for future use, working with nature's storage system.
There are expected to be more than 9 billion people on this planet by 2050.
Water resources are already strained in many places around the world. With exploding populations, all other dilemmas – terrorism, poverty, economic stagnation – will seem minor if there simply isn't enough water for all. The lack of access to clean water will only amplify all other ills, especially in countries like India. Water management is truly the global need of this young century.