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When All Else Fails

April 22, 2013 – Climate change is forcing new international partnerships.  It’s funny, when we’ve run out of choices and find that the only option left is getting along, we not only do so - we find it works to everybody’s benefit.  While the first example might seem to be simply a business arrangement, I would argue there’s far more than money to be gained.

 Chances are you’ve heard at least mutterings about the possibility of solar arrays being established in North Africa so that the resulting electricity can be sold, in part, to Europe.  In fact, European investors have gotten well past the muttering stage.  So have the North African countries interested in bringing their populations into the 21st century.  Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia enjoy endless sunshine. It could ultimately reward them and their European backers with endless electricity.  Morocco and Tunisia are in the process of building plants, and Morocco operates an electrical connection to Spain.

 The technology needed in order to collect, and then transport the potential gigawatts of power now exists.  All of this is very good news, and sounds like a win-win.  As with so many things in life, there is, however, an interesting “catch.”  To wit: not all of these North African countries are the best of friends.  Enmity notwithstanding, they will need to be electrically connected to each in order to realize optimal gains from the newest technology.  Whether the various warring parties can set historical hurts aside in order to enjoy this hitherto unutilized benefaction will depend upon a great many things.  Our view?  They’d be stupid not to.  Their view?  That remains to be seen.

 Fifty years ago, the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River went into operation.  Seven hundred miles to the south, in Cucapa’ el Mayor, Mexico, the river began running dry.  Once a tropical paradise of estuaries, river channels, fish, birds and other wildlife, it has become capable of supporting only salt cedar, a weed tree.  Thanks, however, to an amendment to a seventy-year-old treaty between the United States and Mexico, called Minute 319, the riparian habitat once found in Cucapa’ could well be on its way to restoration.  That’s because Minute 319 will free up large one-time releases of water that will mimic the floods once a regular part of this riverine environment.  These powerful flows of water will scour away the sediment and salt that has accumulated over the decades, enabling native vegetation to once again gain a foothold.

 So where does this water come from?  The American and Mexican conservation groups that united to restore the former wetland will buy unused water rights back from Mexican farmers, for about 40% of the total.  Part of the balance will come from water districts in the United States, in return for some of Mexico’s water.  Conservation improvements, such as the lining of canals in order to prevent water seepage, will provide the rest.  All this will be administered by the International Boundary and Water Commission, operated jointly by the U.S. and Mexico.  Perhaps dolphins will one day swim again in the lower Colorado River!

 You may have heard that last week, China and the United States announced the formation of a “Climate Change Working Group.”  The announcement said, in part: “Both sides recognize that, given the latest scientific understanding of accelerating climate change and the urgent need to intensify global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, forceful, nationally appropriate action by the United States and China – including large-scale cooperative action – is more critical than ever.  Such action is crucial both to contain climate change and to set the kind of powerful example that can inspire the world.”  The fact that the rest of the world was long ago inspired enough to sign the Kyoto Protocol is overlooked.

Better late than never?  We can only hope so.

With thanks to Climateprogress,, Climate Central, and the New York Times.


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