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Science Debate 2008

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Message Wes Rolley

The fact that the world is running out of fresh water should be a major political concern, but it is not. It should be a major media story, but sadly is only a sidebar comment if it is mentioned at all. With an economy that can not see beyond the quarterly report and a media convinced that lifestyle stores sells more air time than hard new, the chances that the public will find out about this while there is still time to do something are very slim.

Given a public that fails to understand science and media that mostly fails to cover science stories outside of medicine it is not surprising that we have politicians who formulate policy on the basis of opinion polls rather than scientific facts. We need to have some positive proof that the candidates for president of this country understand science and are willing to allow science to inform policy rather than ideology. We need a Science Debate in 2008.

It is raining today in California. In September, Governor Schwarzenegger called a special session of the state legislature to deal with the State's water problems and it ended with no action taken and none on the agenda for this year. My local newspaper publishes forward looking projections of growth and comfortable projections that we will have enough water for next year while I look out my window at a reservoir that is only two third full and I feel thankful for that. Science has warned us of the looming problem and the economists are telling us just how big it will be.

The World Economic Forum in Davos was opened the week with a recognition that humans need water to live and that our economies need water to grow. Forum Chairman Klaus Schwabb and Nestle Chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe published an OpEd at the opening of the Forum that highlighted the scope of the issue.

THE world is on the verge of a water crisis. As the global economy and the world's population continue to expand, we are becoming a much thirstier planet. It is important to realise just how much water we need to make the various aspects of our economy work.

In normal years, the World Economic Forum would have been major news. There would have been televised coverage of anarchist protests and motorcades of attendees arriving under heavy guard. These are not normal times and the forum is happening without notice, maybe without protest.

There are three converging factors in the development of this crisis: growth in both population and our economies; the industrial demand for water especially from the energy sector, and the effects of a warming climate on the world wide supply of fresh water. Taken separately they represent a serious concern, taken together they could be the most serious challenge to our existing economic wellbeing.

Population grow is real and is by itself an increasing demand on the global supply of fresh water However the growth is not uniform. It is happening more in urban areas than rural, in coastal areas rather than inland. Both of these means that the demand for water is concentrated, often in areas with the least fresh water available for use. The growing population requires an increase in the supply of food, itself a further demand for water as more non-arable land is brought under cultivation through irrigation.

The energy sector of the economy is itself a major user of water. The production of ethanol may require 5 gallons of fresh water for each gallon of ethanol produced and makes this energy source very questionable. Other sources of energy, such as oil shale, would require further massive uses of water as part of the extraction process and would leave that water polluted beyond the current capability to treat.


We are more likely to find media coverage of global warming. While these generally try to scare the public with images of rising sea levels and increasingly strong cyclones, it is very likely that the biggest concern will be the effect of a warming climate on the alpine glaciers the supply a major share of our world's cities with fresh water.

When I watched television coverage of last night's Democratic Debate from Myrtle Beach, SC all I got to see was Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama acting like children at recess, each putting the other down and ignoring what is really going on. In contrast, John Edwards finally looked presidential .

The national media seems to be fixated on covering the ebb and flow of the campaigns as if there were a sorting event. They even have divide the coverage into play-by-play announcers and color coverage. The biggest failing in all of these debates is the fact that the moderators have themselves allowed focus groups and polls to determine what questions they ask. This is not journalism. The public remains uninformed.

A Science Debate in 2008 has become an imperative. The effort underway now to bring this to fruition needs to have more attention, it needs all of us sign on until there can be no doubt that it will happen. The idea has gotten acclaim in the realm of scientific publication, it has the backing of many Nobel Laureates and an increasing number of University presidents. It has to happen if we are going to know how these candidates will handle the issues of water, energy, climate change, of improving our health and not just health care administration.

I only have confidence in one candidate being really able to handle such a debate, Green Party's Kent Mesplay. A PhD in BioMechanical Engineering is his credientials. The rest will have to make sure that they have a good staff, are well briefed and, if they are successful, that will in itself tell us something about their leadership.

If you made it this far, I urge you to go one step further. Join the Presidents of Stanford, Duke, Carnegie Mellon and Princeton Universities and endorse Science Debate 2008.

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Greens come from many backgrounds. There are more than a few who were, like myself, once Republicans and who left that party... or rather found that the party left them. Right now, having found a political home with the Greens, I want to make sure (more...)
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