Global Drying

Maybe It’s Not Warming that Should Most Alarm Us

Doesn’t Drying Mean Cooling?

Cold and dry are a set; think of the Poles: Antarctica, the coldest place on earth, is technically a desert, with barely six inches of annual rainfall. Contrapuntally, the world’s rain forests are near the Equator.

Water vapor acts as the most effective greenhouse gas, holding in heat. And it works both ways: “Raising temperature … enhances moisture content of the atmosphere” (“The Human Impact on Climate,” Scientific American, Dec. 1999, p. 103). By the same token, forestlands hold in both warmth and moisture. Just so is the desert night surprisingly cold.

With the astonishingly rapid disappearance of the Aral Sea (Central Asia)—the incredible shrinking lake!—lush vegetation on the banks has vanished; “groundwater levels dropped … winters are colder, humidity is lower … the growing season is shorter and drought is more common” (P. Micklin and N. V. Aladin, “Reclaiming the Aral Sea,” Scientific American, April 2008, p. 66).

Put it this way: Moisture and warmth are key ingredients of Earth’s field, its magnetic envelope. When that envelope is in its phase of enhanced power (compressed or rounded at maximum every eleven years), it charges the Earth abundantly with its products—rain, flood, cyclone, heat, electricity, (ESA uses this term, “compressed”). This alternation of rounding and flattening is better known as the sunspot cycle. Yet it is not really the “spots,” but the shape-changing envelope that, when compressed, triggers magnetic storms, greater warmth, and wetter weather. Records of the past, varve cycles (fossil mud) and tree rings go by this 11-year rhythm, showing more warmth and moisture at sunspot max. Sunspot minima, on the other hand, harbor cold and drought (The subject is discussed in greater detail in AR #66, Martinez, “Solar Cycles and Number 11”).

The Big Picture reveals planetary aging as a cooling and drying affair: “Not only has Mars been wet; it has also been warm in the past … The planet’s water supply diminished and the temperature dropped” (Robert Jastrow, Until The Sun Dies, 1977). Our planet is no exception to the rule: Baby Earth was a steambath. Some analysts think, “it is likely that the early Earth was entirely covered with water.” (Ward and Brownlee, The Life and Death of Planet Earth, 2002). After all, the first creatures dwelt in the sea (Paleozoic)—and they were “thermophiles” (heat-loving). Later, the Oligocene saw a colder and drier climate inhabited by new mammals adapted to the cooler, drier climate: cats, dogs, pigs, bears. In the words of geologist Doug Macdougall, “the past few million years have been a time of steadily decreasing ocean volume and temperatures.” (J. D. Macdougall, A Short History of Planet Earth, 1996, p. 216). Then at the end of the Pleistocene came the Younger Dryas: cold and drought. Finally, “ice cores show that between 6400 and 6000 BC there was a period of particularly low temperatures and unreliable rainfall, if not drought” (Steven Mithen, After the Ice, 2004). Fluctuations notwithstanding, planetary geohistory plays out from hot and wet to cold and parched.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – –

When you brush your teeth, do you leave the water running? If so, that’s about 2 gallons of water, while your shower uses up another 20 to 25 gallons. (Each toilet flush? Another 5 gallons.) I am talking about the water situation here in America—and everywhere.

Although the developing world (China, India, Africa, etc.) definitely has its share of water problems, it might come as a surprise that the country with “the highest proportion of drylands subject to desertification is North America with 74% affected” (UNESCO). What or whose “agenda” has downplayed this kind of vital information (while trumpeting supposed “global warming”)? The Soviet Union, I might mention, kept secret for decades the desiccation of the Aral Sea, the world’s fourth largest lake, which has shrunk to ten percent of its original size, turning the region into barren wasteland.

I’m a drought nerd, clipping every relevant news story, particularly those which point to “anthropogenic” causes, i.e., incurred by man. Back in 1980, for example, Project Stormfury (aimed at taming Caribbean hurricanes) had to be shelved when it resulted in severe drought in northern Mexico. More recently, some British ‘genius’ engineered a plan to send balloons aloft to spray sun-deflecting “particulates” in the air to reverse (so-called) global warming. Environmental groups said—Whoa, drought could result from such a release.

Warmists got another black eye not long ago when scientists in Africa, Brunei, England, Austria and America ascertained that drying—not warming—is the primary cause of ice loss on Africa’s famed Mt. Kilimanjaro. No longer the poster child for doomster warmists, the fabled mountain has been stripped of the myth—but also of moisture. Deforestation at the base of the mountain—caused by extensive farming—is the culprit. Without those woodlands at the foothills, humidity evaporates into thin air.

The iconic snows of Kilimanjaro, other experts say, “have come and gone … the fluctuations are nothing new” (Fox News). While such hiccups certainly need to be factored in, I hasten to add that the long-term, steady drying out of Mother Earth is not to be despised. A few of Atlantis Rising’s distinguished writers, reporting on important archeological sites, have noted the trend: Robert Schoch (Forgotten Civilization, 2012, p. 47) describes Turkey’s Gobekli Tepe as “a bleak, barren desert landscape, [although] twelve thousand years ago it was an area of abundant plant and animal life, a hunter-gatherer’s paradise.” In Egypt, Frank Joseph (Before Atlantis, 2013, p. 137) paints the site of Nabta Playa as a hostile desert though once (7,000 years ago), a large water basin with 20 inches of rain a year supporting lush savannah teeming with wildlife, just like the erstwhile Sahara. Indeed, part of North Africa, theorists surmise, once lay under the Mediterranean Sea: Fossil marine shells in the Nile Valley indicate those lands were formerly underwater. “The total area covered by sandy deserts,” observed geologist John Imbrie (Ice Ages: Solving the Mystery, 1979, p. 179), “has significantly increased since the Climatic Optimum” some 7 or 8,000 years ago; the 8.2 Kiloyear Event of 8,200 years ago saw an abrupt decrease in temperature together with extreme drought.

In fact, much of the Near East over the past eight millennia has been slowly drying out, the collapse of the Akkadian Empire ca 2200 BC coinciding with a period of severe drought (Jared Diamond, Collapse, 2005, p. 174). Ditto Petra and Palmyra. The same can be said of the Gobi civilization as well as Peru’s Moche IV civilization and that of Tiahuanaco: killer drought; the height of nearby Lake Titicaca continues to go down. Likewise is the foundering of ancient societies in the American Southwest (Mimbres, Basketmakers, Anasazi) laid to significant “climatic changes in this thirsty land … [where] a great river once flowed and rainfall was plenty” (Richard Dewhurst, The Ancient Giants Who Ruled America, 2014, p. 104).

Evidence of ancient droughts, if you’re wondering, comes from tree ring analysis (narrow ring means a less rainy year), or, in the case of the rather sudden end (ca. AD 800) of the Old Mayan Empire, from a telltale ratio of oxygen isotopes in fossil shells recovered from lake sediments in the Yucatan. I guess that old Chac Mol, the Mayan rain god, for all his glory, couldn’t save his people from devastating drought, which reduced the inhabitants of Central Peten, for instance, from fourteen million to thirty thousand.

Neither is it possible to stay the hand of Nature herself to reverse the overall drying trend. In a word, an aging planet is a drying planet. Life, we know, once thrived on Old Man Mars (our elder brother) whose dry-as-dust (and controversial) “canals” tell that story. Well into dotage, the Red Planet is now a windblown desert, ever diminishing in the entire gestalt of life; warmth, tectonics, magnetism, atmosphere, gravity—and moisture—are all on the wane. Our own planet, as its speed of rotation very gradually decreases, is also declining in electromagnetism (as verified by space satellites), atmosphere, gravity, plasticity, radiance, heat—and water. On Greenland, which was once three islands, some beaches have been raised 1,700 feet! Consider also the high-water marks on plateaus and raised beaches such as at Valparaiso, Chile, and Paracas, Peru, where former shorelines have been elevated many hundreds of feet. Nazca on the Paracas Peninsula is now desertified, its dried up watercourses in parallel alignment with some of the mysterious Nazca Lines, whose monkey tail is positioned directly over an underground aquifer. Those people were “obsessed with diminishing fresh-water supply in an increasingly dry environment … a culture in crisis” (Joseph, The Lost Civilization of Lemuria, 2006, 203).

And it is a global fact of life that little by little the wetlands of our middle-aged planet are disappearing, along with a decline in levels of groundwater, wells, lakes, reservoirs, and freshwater outlets. Sand dunes are growing.

But this is nothing new. Even in the Cretaceous, the great herds of dinosaurs began to decline amidst a landscape that saw inland seas and swamps receding. Indeed, it is thought that “drought was the killer”; for the huge beasts, toward the end, were congregating “in parched riverbeds, where they perished as food and water disappeared” (R.R. Rogers, “Tracking an Ancient Killer,” Scientific American, Feb. 2007, p. 50). Climatologists in fact are entertaining a new approach to the Great Die-offs: the lowering of sea levels may have hastened species decline, acting as a chief factor in the Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic extinctions.

Year-by-year and drop-by-drop, the situation becomes more “explosive,” according to Al Jazeera, the Arab news service, which points out that the word “rival” comes from Latin rivalis,  “one who uses the same stream,” also the root of “river.” Take the Senegal River, for example, along which arguments over grazing rights escalated to outright war back in 1989. Africa, by the way, comes in second (behind the US) with 73% of its drylands affected by desertification.

But it’s back to the arid Mideast if we want to track down the first water war. That was 4,500 years ago when the armies of Lagash and Umma battled with spears and chariots, after Umma’s king had drained an irrigation canal that fed Lagash. History repeats itself. The same land, Iraq and Syria, have fought skirmishes over that “stream,” the Euphrates River. But local feuds, as research groups warn, particularly with drought conditions worsening, can quickly escalate into full-scale armed conflicts.

Drought has many faces: Syria’s devastating shortages (begun in 2006) forced a great number of farmers to abandon their fields and migrate to cities. And this is how a vicious cycle sets in: Those migrations, analysts say, fueled the civil war—which has taken 80,000 lives. “You had a lot of angry, unemployed men helping to trigger a revolution.” In Iraq, marshlands were drained in a politically motivated gambit; drought and shrinking aquifers have since led to a spate of assassinations of water department officials. Our own Defense Intelligence Agency predicted, based on classified national intelligence, that water would increasingly be used for political pressure. Not coincidentally, the Tigris-Euphrates basin is losing water faster than any other place in the world; the unstable Middle East leads the world in water-scarce nations. The formula is troubling: “The dryland countries are host to a disproportionate number of the world’s violent conflicts” (Jeffrey Sachs, “Crisis in the Drylands,” Scientific American, Feb. 2008, p. 34).

The United Nations projects for the next decade a 50% increase in water-scarce countries, most of them in the Middle East and North Africa: Egypt, Somalia, Libya, Yemen and Israel. The former Prime Minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, is on record as admitting that the primary reason his country went to war with the Arabs in ‘67 “was for water,” just as others have said Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria for the purpose of water control. Poor Syria, getting sucked dry from both ends: Turkey’s hydropower flow to their country has been cut 40%.

But the scene of the next water war, says Adel Darwish, author of Water Wars: Coming Conflicts in the Middle East, will be North and South Yemen, which, like Syria, spirals down in the vicious cycle of drought, joblessness, and despair. “Other countries in the region [will] follow suit.” Even the first Gulf War (after Iraq invaded Kuwait), was, according to Darwish, more about natural resources than so-called “tribal conflicts.” Bottom line: Water is power; and it is fast becoming the defining headache of the twenty-first century. Most worrisome, as far as US intelligence agencies are concerned, is the use of water as a “weapon.” Even scarier than the terrorism angle are water disputes between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan. Indeed, the State Department has upgraded water to a major foreign-policy issue. “These threats are real,” declared Hillary Clinton, “and they raise serious national security concerns.”

Last October saw the convening of the World Water Summit (in Budapest) to search for solutions. But water infrastructure, particularly in tribal regions and failing states, is vulnerable—and a tempting target. When it comes to building dams on international rivers, it is always the Little Guy who takes a beating. Big Guy: Egypt. Little Guy: Ethiopia. The Nile is a flashpoint. Since 1929, Cairo has held rights to the lion’s share of the Nile’s water, as well as veto power over upstream projects—even though Ethiopia is the source of most of the Nile’s flow. Yet Ethiopia gets to use only one percent of it! Why? Because Egypt says no to any large-scale irrigation projects outside of their domain. In 1989 president Mubarak threatened to send demolition squads to a dam project in Ethiopia. More than twenty years later, Ethiopia’s drought has left 14 million people on relief, while Egyptian officials continue to block upstream projects (according to former US ambassador to Ethiopia, David Shinn).

When Egypt and famine-stricken, parched Sudan signed The Four Freedoms Agreement, it allowed Egyptian Arabs to move into Darfur, with its huge reserves of fresh underground water. With the indigenous Darfuris “removed,” those Arab farmers are brought in to pump the reserves, while the African tribesman, the Little Guy, is not allowed to pump the water under his own land. In the south, the little Bushmen of the Kalahari were also “removed,” in this case by the Botswana government, which ruthlessly destroyed their aquifer-tapping boreholes.

Violence, say scholars like Thomas Homer-Dixon, does not arise from scarcity per se, but from inequities and social exclusion. And that’s why journalists around the world are closing in on “coercive diplomacy,” “opportunistic politicians,” and “powerful corporations” as the key players (villains, really) in the battle for Blue Gold. In India—already suffering from dry monsoons, parched wheat fields, and water shortages at hydroelectric power plants—Coca Cola is moving in and building fortresses around the water sources, much to the chagrin of the local people who well remember their “Skull Famine,” so named after severe drought led to widespread cannibalism.

Water privatization is another nasty business, over which Bolivia’s Cochobamba region has recently fought “a bit of a water war”—the army had to be called in. (The ancient Egyptians, we might suppose, were more progressive than their modern counterparts, disallowing any private ownership of streams and timberlands.) Mexico, taxed by stubborn drought, is another hotspot: Mexico City, reports a senior UN advisor, “has been forcibly taking water from the countryside, confiscating water sources… and building fortresses around it like it’s a gold mine.”

Closer to home, we in the US are becoming painfully aware that the food industry and power industry—not to mention mining—are utterly dependent on huge amounts of water, those industries today drawing three times more water than in the 1970s (UN figures). A typical nuclear reactor sucks up 33 million gallons a day. Meat production is notoriously water-intensive (ten times more so than grains). Yet agriculture alone accounts for 70% of global freshwater use.

Drought is only one of several issues that are bringing us, as a planet, closer together in our shared midlife crisis. We are no longer talking about individual countries, but the whole world—the global food market. Whether we are in China, Central Asia, India, Africa, the Mideast, Australia, Spain, Hungary, the UK, Central America, LA or Texas, it is our drying breadbaskets and shrinking arable lands we are nervous about. It is food prices we are all nervous about. It is food riots (predicted over US crop failures) we squirm at the thought of.

“A problem more pressing than peak oil,” as Al Jazeera put it, the politics of thirst reaches us all and will indeed bring us together. Bottled water at the grocery store costs more than crude oil on the spot market. Yes, the era of bountiful water is over. Talk of global warming will fade, as it must. No false alarms will interest the public amidst the escalating cost of food (and energy), which, as researchers and reporters will inform us, devolves on (natural) drought exacerbated by pro-growth policies, greed, and corrupt water management.

The turning point of our civilization, it seems likely, will revolve around water—with two forces at play: the old paradigm versus the new, the latter triumphing by working together on: dam- and dike-building, river engineering, improving irrigation projects, recycling waste water, channeling-in waters from distant rivers, harvesting rainwater, switching to less water-intensive crops (like winter wheat), rainmaking, and most of all international cooperation. By the way, the world’s first international water treaty (recorded on a cuneiform tablet that hangs in the Louvre) ended that war between Lagash and Umma.

By Susan B. Martinez, Ph.D.