Drought Can Spark a National Dialogue on Climate Change – Part II

Marketing_green_jpegOriginally posted Oct. 20th, 2007
by David Wigder on Marketing Green

“You can’t call it a drought anymore, because [the US Southwest is] going over to a drier climate. No one says the Sahara is in a drought.”   — Richard Seager, Scientist, Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory as quoted in “The Future is Drying Up”, New York Times Magazine, October 21, 2007.

As first published in its July 14, 2007 posting,
Marketing Green believes that persistent drought in the US can be an
effective catalyst that sparks a broader, national dialogue on climate
change. With drought conditions worsening in areas of the US, the time is now for such a conversation.
 

Drought
can be a catalyst for a broader dialogue for many reasons. First,
drought will directly impact the human condition, causing inconvenience
and suffering. 
Second,
drought will likely cause economic hardship by limiting growth,
reducing output, and significantly increasing costs (eg, building
infrastructure to move water long distances or desalinate water). Finally, droughts force political leaders to make unpopular trade-offs that require voter sacrifice.
 

Indeed, as tomorrow’s New York Times Magazine
reports, drought conditions are worsening in the historically dry
Southwest while expected population growth will put more demands on
limited resources in the years to come. Shortages are on
the horizon across the region, but are especially apparent in cities
like Las Vegas which is dependent on water from Lake Mead, the largest
man-made reservoir in the US, that is currently at less than half of
its capacity.   Moreover, continued
shortages will likely pit one entity against another in price wars and
legal battles as individuals, businesses and governments compete for
scarcer resources.
 

Drought conditions in the typically temperate US Southeast may demonstrate a more alarming trend because they are so unexpected. With
scorching heat this past summer and a hurricane season that failed to
materialize, the city of Atlanta confronts the drier winter season with
record low water levels in its reservoirs.   Most experts agree, it is
the driest period ever recorded in the Southeast; few signs are on the
horizon that suggest the situation is likely to improve any time soon.
 

Interestingly, extreme drought in the Southeast is fueling water disputes
between regional states over scheduled water releases from Lake Lanier,
the primary water source for three million Georgian residents, that are
mandated by the Endangered Species Act and enforced by the US Army
Corps of Engineers. 

Currently, as Georgia enters what is typically its driest month, Lake Lanier holds a mere 81 days of stored water left. Georgians
have responded by imposing severe restrictions on water use, but
unbridled growth over the past decade and limited water use planning up
until now have put a strain on existing resources. 
 

But, it is the actions by the Georgia legislature that, perhaps, are generating the most controversy. Pending
legislation would temporarily wave compliance with the federal
Endangered Species Act and allow Georgia (via the Corps) to suspend
water releases from the Lanier that currently protect endangered
mussels and sturgeon downstream. So far, the Corps refuses to budge which means that a legal showdown is likely ahead. 

The
state of Florida has leveled a complaint already, asking Georgia to
release more, not less, water to protect Floridian biodiversity. Moreover, Gov. Bob Riley of Alabama has asked the Corps to release additional water from other Georgian water sources in order to alleviate shortages in that state. 
  

It is likely that cross-border disputes will only intensify if sufficient rains do not come soon.  In
fact, facing severe water shortages, Atlanta may soon become the first
metropolitan region to reduce water available for commercial and
industrial activities, a threat to the local economy.  These
threats will only be compounded if reservoirs do not refill before next
summer when water use is traditionally the highest.
  

As water become more scarce
and entities compete for dwindling resources, marketers have an opening
to leverage drought a conversation starter for a national dialogue on
climate change. 
In
many ways, expanding drought conditions will force the conversation as
we will have to deal with consequences of a drier climate whether we
are prepared to do so or not. 

Because
the populous in the US is geographically dispersed, however, marketers
risk that such discussions will be isolated to those regions most
affected. As such, it is an imperative for marketers to
broaden the discussion regarding worsening drought conditions and their
causes to create a truly national debate.

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