TCS Daily

"Water, Water Everywhere, But..."

By Roger Bate - August 3, 2006 12:00 AM

As Summer temperatures are set to be some of the hottest on record, and much hyperbole is written about whether this is influenced by man's activities, Skeptical Environmentalist, Bjorn Lomberg, is about to set off to Australia to promote his new book, How to Spend $50 billion - a book on how to get the best bang for the buck on interventions in the developing world. One of his simple conclusions is that trying to correct human-induced climate change is not a cost-effective intervention, whereas improving water supply is a far better initiative. And in the heat, ready access to water, whether in California or the Sahel, or the most arid continent on earth (Australasia), is vital.

Unfortunately Lomborg's analysis doesn't address the world's largest water problem -- gross misallocation of agricultural water. This is a pity because his destination, Australia, has a well-honed solution -- the market.

The Problem

Alarmists have been crying wolf about water wars for years, but like many green exaggerations they have a kernel of truth. Freshwater is being overused and polluted in many parts of the world. Aquifers from as far afield as Beijing and Dallas will last only another two or three decades; perennial rivers in many places are now often running dry at least during some parts of the year. In short, we have a problem: there is enough water but it is being used inefficiently almost everywhere and at current rates it will run out soon.

In India over one million children die due to diarrhea and other easily preventable water-borne diseases every year. Few Indians (perhaps 30 percent) have close access to decent sanitation and high quality drinking water. Not only does this expose the majority to dangerous dysenteries and other water-borne disease, but it provides requires back-breaking toil for those (usually women and children) who have to make long journeys to collect it every day. The indirect costs are even more staggering with salinity levels rising in so much irrigation water that crops fail, farmers commit suicide and thousands of the poorest starve.

The main water allocation problem is the result of Soviet-style management over agricultural water. In most places around the globe, governments decide who gets how much water, when they can use it and often what for, and if they don't use their allocation (regardless of how they use it) they will lose it. Once governmental allocations are made, officials rarely reallocate, even when massive changes in agriculture, industry, mining, domestic and rural demand occur. The result is politically favored allocation and grotesque situations where farmers often pay 100 times less than other types of users, and the poorest in slums often pay 10 times what rich domestic consumers pay, and for unsafe water.

While human access to drinking water and sanitation is obviously vital, far more water is used -- about 70 percent of globally withdrawn freshwater -- and vastly more water wasted in agriculture than in any other allocation. Improving agricultural water allocation use and assigning flexible rights to it can result in more efficient outcomes and ultimately fairer allocations to the world's poor in the aridest parts of the world.

Water reallocation is also becoming vital in the fastest growing areas of South East Asia. Due to burgeoning agriculture, China's surface water is rapidly depleting, and according to the respected think tank the Rand Corporation, water shortages could indefinitely lower annual growth by as much as 2 percent. India's quasi-illegal water rights trading system was valued at over US $1 billion a year in 1999 by the World Bank. While this questionable system is improving agricultural output, it is also leading to even faster aquifer depletion and pollution than in China. China needs to adopt individual and communal water rights, and India should legalize its own system, in order to prevent an ecological and health-related disaster in the coming decades; both nations can learn a lot from Australia's rights trading system as well as from successes elsewhere.

A partial solution

Countries and regions that have redefined and traded water rights have seen water access for the rural poor increase in volume and fall in price. All users -- agricultural, industrial and domestic -- have seen their supplies increase in reliability and quality with infrastructural improvements. Aside from making economic sense, there is a moral imperative for pushing for such a reform of water rights -- access to better quality water reduces disease and death.

Chile, South Africa and Australia provide the best examples of how trading can take place, improving farm output while benefiting the poor. Chile's trading has increased access to water for the vast majority of poor rural users. Meanwhile, the US has lost its way: Its western states initially led the pack with legal structures to encourage trade but overburdening federal environmental regulations and perverse litigation against market trades by environmental groups have limited flexible allocation.

Australia's trading system along the hundreds of miles of the Murray Darling Basin (MDB) is now the most sophisticated and effective in the world and should be analyzed closely by all countries where agriculture dominates water usage. Progress is perhaps best exemplified by the 'Watermove' website now operating in the MDB. This sophisticated system allows users to trade water on the internet. Moreover, it breaks down the right to water into its constituent parts, including access and distribution.

Trading has promoted a reduction in low-value cropping activity like cereal production; it has encouraged non-farming enterprise owners (including municipalities for domestic water use) to buy traded water in the very arid state of South Australia. Trading has lowered water use and increased farmer productivity; as some farmers leave the business others flourish and choose crops more suitable to the climate (including grapes to make great Australian wines). But regardless of which specific sector buys the water, the clear pattern has been a shift to higher value production and more efficient water use.

Only time will tell whether China and India, and western US states, which within 20 years will also have chronic and acute water problems, will adopt the sophisticated trading techniques of Australia, but it will be a great deal better than decision by government fiat. Water trading allows time for individuals to adapt to changing conditions -- man-made or natural -- and the conditions are changing. Sticking one's head in Gobi or Mojave sand won't help future Chinese or Californians.

Roger Bate is a Resident Fellow of the American Enterprise Institute. His book, All the Water in the World is published by Australia's Center for Independent Studies on 14th August, where Dr Bate and Bjorn Lomborg will discuss development issues.



550ppm by 2100
"One of his simple conclusions is that trying to correct human-induced climate change is not a cost-effective intervention,"

The goal is to LIMIT the increase in global temperatures over the next century -- NOT TO CORRECT IT. The target is to achieve CO2 levels of 550ppm by 2100 (current CO2 levels are apx. 380ppm). Taking action now would restrain the increase in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit.

You want it even hotter? Then do nothing.

"A goal without a plan is just a wish.", Antoine de St. Exupery
"The target is to achieve CO2 levels of 550ppm by 2100 ()."

What is the plan for limiting CO2 concentrations to this level by 2100? It certainly is NOT the current Kyoto Accords. It must be a far more aggressive (Draconian?) program, which very few seem willing to discuss candidly. Wonder why?

Hard numbers from fictional models? Who'da thunk it!
So throw all that money at a theoretical situation that exists only in a computer model instead of going with the proven solution to many health-related issues by providing access to clean water to developing nations.

Your grasp on priorities seems somewhat weak.

>"You want it even hotter? Then do nothing."

Be patient. You don't have to run out and ruin economies, waste money, and ignore real problems. Lomborg is right, we have better uses for the money.

rhampton's off by an order of magnitude.
The models imply 1.5 to 2.7C.

Science is showing the actual increase will be less than a tenth that.

No **** Sherlock!!
I've been saying this for ears. Have you ever seen the way water is wasted in the Southwestern US? It's poured away trying to turn the desert into something it is not and then there a fights over remaining water supplies for agriculture and support of the coastal cities (which are also an exercise of "re-environing" semi-desert --- down to the swimming pools that they "need" just blocks from the beach). Palm Springs, California and other local communities are great examples --- Hollywood types again doing their mindless, self-centered thing. If they build another golf course in the desert I'm going to puke.

Bang on target
That's why Kyoto is a failure. It prescribes targets but not actions. Hence the international accord is divorced from and does not have to be responsible for the methods required by the individual countries to achieve their quotas.

Forgetting CO2 for the moment, any international treaty based on targets rather than specific actions has always failed.

Your point is entirely correct
but here's the key. There's a shortage of and wastage of potable fresh water through draining aquifers, the Colorado River, etc. But there's no shortage of water. The key is desalination, preferably using nuclear power, and you can have all the fresh water you want as long as you are prepared, in a desert, to pay for it. That way, you can have golf courses in the desert without pillaging the scarce, environmentally important fresh water supplies.

The last thing I want is ...
the UN prescribing actions to sovereign states.

My issue is that the Kyoto "targets" won't result in stabilization at 550 ppm; they are not even close. Kyoto is merely phase 1 of a "process" in which phase "X" is undefined. (The "contraction and convergence" folks think the US would need to reduce CO2 by about 95% to achieve stabilization at ~500 ppm.)

The GCC advocacy groups are very reluctant to speak publicly about the end point of the process, because the end point is not very attractive. However, by not doing so, they are encouraging the investment of billions of dollars in facilities and equipment which are not on the path to the levels of reduction required to achieve stabilization. For example, if a 95% reduction is required in the US, CCT natural gas power generation, IGCC coal generation, hybrid gasoline/electric vehicles (including plug hybrids) are not on the path. Nuclear, solar, wind and geothermal generation are on the path. Hybrid hydrogen/electric vehicles are on the path.

"If you don't know where you're going, you might end up someplace else.", Yogi Berra.

10% Reduction
If we were to act now, then a 10% reduction in CO2 levels is required -- but the longer we wait, the more we must reduce.

So You Say
Please provide a link for your claim. I'd like to see the source material.

why act at all?
The earth warming up by a few more tenths of a degree (at the absolute most) is going to do more good than harm, as it lengthens the growing season and reduces deaths from cold.

The added CO2 is already proven to be a huge boon in agriculture.

It's been provided, over and over again
Why should I believ you would read it this time, when haven't any of the other times?

Policy Decisions
Science can tell us where CO2 levels are headed, but it's up to the politicians and the business leaders to map out the strategy.

For example, suppose nations were to agree that they would set CO2 limits equivalent to 1991 emissions levels (apx. a 10% reduction). Each nation would then be free to implement a reduction strategy befitting its unique circumstances as long as the overal objective was met.

So the United States might try a voluntary approach at first, and then gradually shape policy as needed. Perhaps the next President would make nuclear power a major national objective, or perhaps lead an Kennedy-esqe mission to push nanotech towards highly efficient home & commerical power applications. The point being, it's up to us to decide how we get there.

Ignorance is Bliss
Where are you getting this figure of a "few more tenths of a degree"? It's no wonder you that you are happily complacent.

Bjorn Lomborg: 2 to 3 degrees C
The truth about the environment
by Bjorn Lomborg
The Economist, August 2, 2001

"The best estimates are that the temperature will rise by some 2° - 3°C in this century, causing considerable problems, almost exclusively in the developing world, at a total cost of $5,000 billion. Getting rid of global warming would thus seem to be a good idea. The question is whether the cure will actually be more costly than the ailment."

A ten percent reduction now...
doesn't get us even to "7% below 1990 levels", the requirement of the Kyoto Accords. I would be very interested to know the source for your "10% reduction" being all that is required.

It doesn't matter
what the subject is. International treaties based on targets rather than specific actions always fail.

I would agree with the principle of science stating the situation and politicians stating the appropriate response, but that's not what happened with Kyoto. All three of the IPCC assessment reports have been fundamentally written by policitians, not scientists (I'm referring to the summary for policymakers, not the main body of the reports). In no case do these summaries reflect accurately the body of information contained within the reports themselves.

Moreover, as has been illustrated with the Mann case, the IPCC failed to exercise a thorough review over its science, allowing outright fraud to become the propaganda poster child for climate change.

In conclusion, my observation remains: a gaggle of politicians wrote the supposed summary of the science in a climate divorced of accepting responsibility for the consequences. Their motives in doing so had relatively little to do with climate change, but that's a story for another day.

Dialing in your own climate
World Climate Report, April 10, 2006

...For example, let’s cut the world’s CO2 emissions by 10% in the next couple of years (actually this really isn’t reasonable at all -- as Figure 2a shows, the annual rate of CO2 emissions continues to grow -- so unless a cutback is achieved immediately, a 10% reduction quickly becomes 12%, which quickly becomes 15% in just a few years).

From Figure 2c we see that a 10% reduction gets us somewhere to around the emissions levels of 1991. And from Figure 2b, we see that 1991 levels of CO2 emissions resulted in an annual atmospheric CO2 concentration increase of about 1.6 ppm/yr. From Table 1, we see that by the year 2100 that this increase will result in CO2 levels of about 530ppm and an approximate temperature rise of about 1.47ºC by 2100. (for reference, a projection based upon the current rate of CO2 build-up is about 563 ppm by 2100 and a temperature rise of about 1.73ºC).


Beyond Kyoto
by John Browne, Group Chief Executive of BP
Foreign Affairs, July/August 2004

...A sober strategy would ensure that any increase in the world's temperature is limited to between 2 or 3 degrees Celsius above the current level in the long run. Focused on that goal, a growing number of governments and experts have concluded that policy should aim to stabilize concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in the range from 500 to 550 ppm over the next century, which is less than twice the pre-industrial level.

...Almost every sensible analysis of the effort needed to stabilize carbon dioxide concentration arrives at a hump-shaped trajectory like the path to future stability in Figure 2. In other words, the long-term target of 500-550 ppm is reachable even if levels of emissions continue to rise in the short term -- as long as emissions start declining thereafter. (Emissions must be progressively curtailed beyond a certain point because previously emitted carbon dioxide lingers in the atmosphere for hundreds of years.) The implication of Figure 2 is that we still have time to take measured steps. But if we are to avoid having to make dramatic and economically destructive decisions in the future, we must act soon.

PDF with included figures:

Your solution?
I think we all know that an international treaty that details how the U.S. must meet reductions simply will not fly.

So if an international treaty with targets and no penalties will not work either, what then do you prescribe?

The US "target"...
reduction under the Kyoto Protocols is "7% below 1990 levels by 2012". Since 1990, US emissions levels have increased by ~18%, driven almost entirely by population growth. (The Kyoto Accords "targets" are absolute emissions, not per capita.)

Your sources contain the 10% number, but are not relevent because they refer to a short term scenario. They also refer to world averages, not the US (or other developed country) reduction required to offset the impact of increases in the developing world.

An Ounce of Prevention
No, the 10% number refers to a century long output of CO2 emissions, but yes, they do refer to world averages.

In any event, we can act now or later -- the difference being cost.

Interesting Info

I find it difficult to believe that the intent is that everyone reduce emissions by 10%. I doubt China or India, or most other developing countries, would sign on to that program. So, if the world emissions are to be reduced by 10%, how much are US emissions to be reduced as our "share" of the total reduction? Significantly more than 10%, I expect.

If you want an international treaty
then it must be action-based rather than target-based. It would have been far more likely to succeed if it required production of energy from specific sources or required new equipment to adhere to certain efficiency standards. It's far less glamorous than prescribing absolute limits, and a lot more demanding technically, as Kyoto essentially becomes the responsibility of engineers.

What I'm suggesting is that the UN route was not necessarily the way to go about this if you believe climate change from human origin CO2 to be a problem. The ISO 14000 standards may have been a much more fruitful way to achieve it.

That said, while this might work, it leaves no room for ENGOs wanting to enhance their relevance in the international political arena and no room for European governments wanting to rein in the decline in their economies and their productivity relative to the United States, China and Japan.

Lomborg is a statistician, and he said that was taking the worst case estimates
Point 2: 2001 is further out of date than you are.

I disagree on more than one point, but I sincerely appreciate that you took the time to explain your ideas. We need more responses like yours to shape this debate.

Dawn's Early Light
...but here's the key -- technological transformation.

There will be life after coal and gas, and the holders of those patented technologies, the country which hosts those corporate leaders, is the one who "wins." Solar cells, batteries, optical circuits, nano-wires, etc. are the fertile ground from the world will change.

So what will start off as emission reductions to 20th Century combustion-based technology will increasingly shift towards replacement with 21st Centuty "green" energy systems -- including residential power generation.

Perhaps I'm just too much of an old-fashioned patriot, but I want the United States to be smart enough to 1) recognize the opportunity, 2) develop the lurative technologies, and 3) lead by example.

Best Estimates
"The best estimates [NOTE: not the worst estimates] are that the temperature will rise by some 2° - 3°C in this century"

-- Bjorn Lomborg

No argument
"I want the United States to be smart enough to 1) recognize the opportunity, 2) develop the lurative technologies, and 3) lead by example."

The US has taken the position of leader of a technology development and implementation approach to increasing energy efficiency and reducing emissions. The US has involved a number of large and developing economies in the program. The US left has been critical of this effort; and, of the fact that President Bush chose not to worship at the altar of Kyoto.

I am consistently critical of efforts to implement technology that is "not ready for prime time". California's EV mandate several years ago was an example. CA's new "wish" for an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 may be on the same path, since there is no implementation plan.

I have cautioned here before that we should not "begin vast programs with half-vast ideas". I am not convinced that CA's ideas for an 80% reduction by 2050 have reach "half-vast" yet. I am not convinced that the "Kyoto Process" is there yet either.

That's all we've warmed up so far
and thanks to the logarithmic nature of the CO2 increase, we have already seen more than half of the expected temperature rise for a doubling of CO2.

you assume that we need to act
not a good assumption

we are developing such technologies
there's just no need to destroy our economy by switching from cheap to expensive energy before we have to.

I love the rhampton likes to dig up quotes from years ago, and pretend they are still relevant.

Log Rolling
CO2 is part of a cycle which interacts and influences other things like ocean acidity, glacier melt, and wind patterns. That's why scientists develop climate models and why your "logarithm" argument falls flat.

After Oil
No one is suggesting that we "destroy our economy by switching from cheap to expensive energy before we have to"

What I, and many others, have pointed out is that we need to constrain the emissions from our current energy sources while the replacement sources come online, from companies like BP, and GE. That's why Wal-Mart is changing its practices and encouraging its suppliers and manufacturers to do the same.

But it's the Exxon-Mobil supporters who want to continue with the oil status-quo, and who use the "skeptic" smoke-screen to halt any attempts to start acting now. If Exxon-Mobil really wants to help its shareholders, its employees, and the rest of the world, then they had better develop a post-20th Century business model that relies on something other than more and more petroleum.

As an Aussie I live in the driest state in the driest continent the water market works.
Live on the end of a long pipeline from the Murray. Water trading works well true there are still some government subs in there but they are reducing. Water trading also works for the environmentalist as well with governments and private orgs buying water for environmental flows and marsh areas.

Speaking of digging up the past...
this is an interesting view of global warming dug up from 1948:

If only they would have done something back then we would not be living in a hellish oven today!

and more digging...
Here is some more stuff for AGW alarmists to ponder:

in other words, rhampton doesn't know what logarithmic responses are, so he declares them meaningles
None of the "cycles" you mention are well understood. So trying to model them is an excercise in lying.

two points
constraining emissions is the means by which the economy will be destroyed.

Nobody has demonstrated the slightist bit of evidence regarding the need to constrain emissions in the first place.

Typical liberal response, everyone who disagrees with me is either stupid, or bought off.

This Comment is NOT Sponsored by DCI
"Typical liberal response, everyone who disagrees with me is either stupid, or bought off."

Not at all -- some people really believe there is no man-made global warming. Then again, some people are bought off...

Al Gore YouTube Spoof Not So Amateurish
ABC News, August 4, 2006

A tiny little movie making fun of Al Gore, supposedly made by an amateur filmmaker, recently appeared on the popular Web site At first blush, "An Inconvenient Spoof" seemed like a scrappy little homemade film poking fun at Gore and his anti-global warming crusade.

...The film actually came from a slick Republican public relations firm called DCI, which just happens to have oil giant Exxon as a client. Exxon denies knowing anything about the film, and DCI says, "We do not disclose the names of our clients, nor do we discuss the work we do on behalf of our clients."

Public relations firms have long used computer technology to create BOGUS GRASSROOTS CAMPAIGNS, which are called "ASTROTURF." Now these firms are being hired to push illusions on the Internet to create the false impression of real people blogging, e-mailing and making films...

typical liberal
If a connection, regardless of how far fetched, weak, or nebulous can be found between someone and an oil company, that constitutes proof positive that the person in question is nothing but a mouthpiece of the oil companies, and their statements must be ignored.

DCI Postively IDed
What explanation do propose for DCI creating an anti-Global Warming video, and then passing it off as created by some anonymous amateur?

DCI Group

DCI Group is a full-service public and government affairs firm comprised of more than 150 veterans of federal and state politics and public policy. We offer a full suite of public affairs services, including:

* Corporate Grassroots Campaigns
* Federal and State Lobbying
* Corporate Outsourcing
* Political Campaign Management
* Public Relations
* Internet Communications and Mobilization
* Issue Management
* Public Policy Events
* Targeted Research & Planning

Wall Street Journal
Gore's U.S. popularity not as hot as warning to globe
The Washington Times, August 4, 2006

...Indeed, Mr. Gore has endlessly promoted his environmental documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" since its release in May. But a spoof of the film -- titled "Al Gore's Penguin Army" -- is now featured on, a popular Internet video site. THE WALL STREET JOURNAL REPORTED yesterday that the video was produced by the DCI Group, a District-based ad agency that works for Mobil Exxon Corp...

Yes, CO2 levels have been rising for the past 150 years.

Pat Michaels agrees
A Bit of History for Global Warmers: Look at 1930 Staff, August 4, 2006

Michaels acknowledged that "global temperatures have been warming slightly for several decades" and noted that the surface of the world "is a little bit warmer than it was in the 1930s" even though "temperatures dropped between 1940 and 1975." ...Although the recent heat wave have not convinced Michaels that "global warming" is a severe problem.

Then how come...
it was hotter before? Could it all be natural?

Just 35 years of cooler temperatures but the CO2 was rising... and... now it's hot again... Boy, it's almost like a cycle or something that doesn't seem to coincide with CO2 levels at all.

If the 30's were cooler, how come the current heat wave isn't breaking the records set in the 30's?

DCI receives some of it's funds from an oil company, therefore everything they say is a lie.
you are so predictable

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