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Paul B. Farrell: America’s new $60 trillion deadliest enemy


By Paul B. Farrell, MarketWatch

By 2024, the end of the next president’s second term, water shortages and pollution problems will be America’s deadliest enemy, worse than Big Oil, killing economic growth, destroying America’s future.

The decline is already in progress, GDP is predicted to collapse below 1% in this century.

Can this disastrous trend be stopped? Maybe. Taxpayers cost? $60 trillion, estimates a Scientific American research study. Bad news for a planet where the total GDP of all nations is only $70 trillion.

Reuters reports the researchers calculated the impact of “releasing a 50-gigaton reservoir of methane thawing under the East Siberian Sea permafrost.” London’s Guardian newspaper called this an “economic time bomb” that could “undermine the global financial system.”

Global warming: ‘More religion than science?’ Or all Big Oil profits?

Political wars will accelerate: Big Oil climate deniers will double down. Ernst & Young researchers estimate “20% of the world’s undiscovered but recoverable oil and natural-gas resources” are also under that same methane-laden Arctic. So Big Oil must fight even harder to protect its $150 billion annual profits, making certain not one dime of America’s $17 trillion GDP is spent to stop the ticking time bomb.

It may already be too late, said Bill McKibben in Foreign Policy, too late to stop the global warming time bomb. Big Oil keeps electing climate deniers to Congress, like the GOP’s Dana Rohrabacher. The Daily Pilot of Orange County, Calif., reports: “He believes global warming is a total fraud.”

And a ThinkProgress headline read: “Steve King: Belief in Climate Change is a ‘Religion, Not Science’.” That “despite the fact that 97% of scientists agree that climate change is real.” King is an Iowa Republican, spoke at “an event sponsored by the climate-denying, Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity.” The “Koch Empire” is in a costly “mother of all wars” to protect their profits.

Americans in denial … won’t stop till after next global catastrophe

“Sometimes facing up to the truth is just too hard. When the facts are distressing it is easier to reframe or ignore them,” writes Australian Professor of Ethics Clive Hamilton in his behavioral-economics classic, “Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth about Climate Change”: “Around the world only a few have truly faced up to the facts about global warming … It’s the same with our own deaths; we all ‘accept’ that we will die, but it is only when our death is imminent that we confront the true meaning of our mortality.”

Yes, we’re in denial. But soon the impact of global warming will be too obvious, costly, disastrous to ignore, even for the Koch Brothers and other Big Oil capitalists.

When reality hits their bottom line, they will change. But by then, it will be too late for America, Miami and New York, Nantucket, Malibu, Silicon Valley and all across the world, in Africa, Australia, China, South America, Oceania. For water kills economies and civilizations:

America: Coastal beach towns can’t stop falling into the oceans

Last year after Superstorm Sandy, Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s cover was clear, “It’s Global Warming, Stupid.” But America quickly went back to sleep.

Recently, in Vanity Fair’s “From Coast to Toast,” we learned that “two of America’s most golden coastal enclaves are waging the same desperate battle against erosion. With beaches and bluffs in both Malibu and Nantucket disappearing into the ocean, wealthy homeowners are prepared to do almost anything — spend tens of millions on new sand, berms, retaining walls and other measures — to save their precious waterfront properties.”

This is a war between rich and rest, “deep-pocketed summer people and local working folks.”

In “Goodbye Miami” Rolling Stone covered more of our water problems: “By century’s end, rising sea levels will turn the nation’s urban fantasy land into an American Atlantis. But long before the city is completely underwater, chaos will begin.”

Other cities at risk: New York, San Francisco, New Orleans, Boston, Norfolk, Va., Galveston, Texas, Tampa, Fla., even California’s Silicon Valley, which sits “by the edge of the bay protected by old levees that could easily fail.”

Africa: Water shortages killing economic growth in emerging nations

BusinessWeek warns: “Water, or the lack of it — is one of the biggest issues facing urban Africa, which will see a 66% population increase to 1.2 billion people by 2050 … Although water shortages have long plagued parts of the continent, they’ve become the potential killer of Africa’s economic takeoff. Ghana’s $35 billion economy, whose estimated growth of 8% in 2013 would outpace the sub-Saharan African average for a sixth straight year, cannot continue at that rate without a modern water network.”

South America: Economic growth and profits beat water for people

Bloomberg Markets magazine warns of “Deadly Water Wars” where “governments and big, often foreign-based companies across Latin America are battling over water with families, communities and farms.” Roots of their water wars: “Leaders across the region, elected on promises to fuel economic growth and lift populations out of poverty, are fast tracking water-use approvals for mining and other industrial uses. … Water isn’t always where the best mineral or agricultural riches are located so people are losing homes and farms as water is diverted to industrial uses.”

China: Cancer in ‘water you wouldn’t dare swim in, let alone drink’

Time magazine: “After more than three decades of economic prosperity, China faces serious environmental challenges, including its increasingly filthy waterways.” After his sister died of cancer, Jin Zengmin, a wealthy entrepreneur, offered “a $32,000 reward to the chief of the local environmental-protection department if he dared to swim in a nearby river for a mere 20 minutes.” He refused to swim in the garbage-infested water. “The river is poisonous,” said Jin. “If we Chinese die of cancer caused by pollution, what’s the meaning of economic growth for us?

Australia’s water crisis: ‘disaster of biblical proportions’

In another Rolling Stone feature, “The End of Australia,” Jeff Goodell asks: “Want to know what global warming has in store for us? Just go to Australia, where rivers are drying up, reefs are dying, and fires and floods are ravaging the continent.” University of Melbourne climate researcher David Karoly warns: “Australia is the canary in the coal mine … What is happening in Australia now is similar to what we can expect to see other places in the future.”

Indian Ocean: Villages flooding, islands sinking, politicians want power

The New York Times reviewed a documentary, “The Island President.” Mohamed Nasheed, leader of the Maldives, a nation of 1,200 islands in the Indian Ocean, warned “rising sea levels could wipe out his country.” Violence erupted: “Protesters burned police stations in the south, and Islamic radicals smashed nearly 30 Buddhist statues dating to the sixth century in the National Museum.”

Nasheed spoke at the 2009 UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. He was “forced out because he threatened the interests of the old order that ran the country for 30 years.”

South East Asia: Angkor, water slowly destroyed a great civilization

National Geographic featured the ancient empire: “Greater Angkor probably encompassed between 600,000 and 1 million inhabitants, at a time when London had perhaps 30,000 people.” Built on the edge of Southeast Asia’s “Great Lake” the people needed a vast irrigation system: “During the monsoon season, vast amounts of water poured through the watershed causing the Mekong River to actually back up behind its delta.”

For centuries the people relied on these vast waterworks for crops, fish, drinking. But “the very system that allowed the Khmer to support such a large population may have been their undoing.” Slowly: In the mid-1200s, a flood “destroyed part of the earthworks.” A century later “monsoons became very unpredictable. … An extreme drought crippled what remained of the once-glorious Khmer Empire, leaving it vulnerable to repeated attacks and sackings by the Thais. By 1431 … power shifted south” to coastal cities.

Central America: Mayan civilization, dark metaphor for America 2013

The World Wildlife Fund interviewed Jared Diamond, author of “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail of Succeed”: Diamond explained the lessons of climate change learned from the centuries of a Mayan civilization of two million people:

“There are so many societies in which the elite made decisions that were good for themselves in the short run and ruined themselves and societies in the long run … The Mayans collapsed “because of a combination of climate change, drought, water-management problems, soil erosion, deforestation … The kings had managed to insulate themselves from the consequences of their actions.”

Yes, they saw forests “being chopped down.” But “the kings didn’t recognize that they were making a mess until it was too late, when the commoners rose in revolt. … Similarly, in the United States at present, the policies being pursued by too many wealthy people and decision makers are ones that — as in the case of the Mayan kings — preserve their interests in the short run but are disastrous in the long run.”

One final observation on America’s obsession with economic growth at all costs: BusinessWeek quoted David Owen from his “The Conundrum”: “As long as the West places high and unquestioning value on economic growth and consumer gratification — with China and the rest of the developing world right behind — we will continue to burn the fossil fuels whose emissions trap heat in the atmosphere.”

But “fast trains, hybrid cars, compact fluorescent light bulbs, carbon offsets — they’re just not enough.” Our obsession with growth at all costs will self-destruct — history keeps repeating this cycle.

Paul B. Farrell is a MarketWatch columnist based in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Follow him on Twitter @MKTWFarrell.

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