Friday, 03 February 2012 00:00
The political clip of the week has been Mr. Gingrich’s promise to build an American colony and a 51st state on the moon. He said this days before the Florida primary in Brevard County, where Major Nelson and Jeannie lived. In a region with lots of unemployed aerospace engineers, there was a cynical aspect to the moonbase speech.
There is a bigger problem. The United States is a signatory to a 1967 treaty that prohibits any country from claiming the moon as its own territory. The moon is to be part of the “common heritage of mankind.” Ratified treaties have the power of law, according to the U.S. Constitution.
A few companies are already trying to have their moon mining rights officially recognized. Helium-3, which might play a role in the mass development of fusion energy, is more abundant on the moon than on Earth. This might explain the advancing moon programs of China, India, Japan, Russia and the European Space Agency.So instead of being inspiring or visionary, the moonbase speech mostly adds the threat of Moon Base Alpha to the growing list of potential flashpoints for World War III. I didn’t see that one coming.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, we still haven’t learned to manage what we have.
At this moment, the Southern Nevada Water Authority is spending $800 million to build tunnels and drains under Lake Mead. The water system that feeds Las Vegas is expected to be toast by 2026, and they’re planning on getting every last drop for as long as possible. California officials are planning for a 40 percent reduction in snow runoff from the Sierra Nevada Mountains, threatening the aqueduct systems that sustain much of Los Angeles, San Diego, and the Imperial and Coachella Valleys.
In Arizona, the 336-mile Central Arizona Project canals are now totally dependent on massive pumping stations to keep water flowing to millions. As the price of energy rises, so will the price of pumping water. Arizona has bet the farm on high tech, such as the new Intel chip manufacturing plant. Chip building is water intensive, and that tech campus already uses seven million gallons of water a day. No more chip factories for Arizona.
The Central Arizona Project was proposed by Goldwater, approved by Johnson, put underway by Nixon. Today, we don’t build this way, we don’t talk this way, we don’t pull together this way.
Even Americans can’t ignore what has happened in just the last eight weeks. Can they?
Following the driest weather since records began in 1775, seven dozen large cargo ships and hundreds of smaller boats were mired on the Danube River sandbanks. Hydroelectric paths along the river delta were putting out a fraction of their usual power. Sunken German ships and unexploded bombs from the Second World War stuck out of the water.
The record drought in Northern Mexico has killed 1.7 million cattle. The government began trucking in water to over 1,500 towns and villages.
Last summer, France sent soldiers into fields to distribute rations to starving cattle and farmers were granted tax amnesty. French officials are still wringing their hands over the 44 nuclear plants, which draw their cooling waters from rivers. Russia, hit by massive crop fires, severely restricted wheat exports.
The Chinese released massive amounts of water from the Three Gorges reservoir into the Yangtze river, sacrificing power generation to save the irrigation and drinking water that supports 400 million people and 40 percent of the country’s economy.
Hundreds of millions of people around the world want to move into the middle class, but there just doesn’t seem to be enough water, energy, phosphorus, grain, rare earth metals or cocoa (yes, cocoa) to go around.
If anyone at a televised debate even mentioned drought, climate, resources, any of it, they’d be booed. Congressman Paul was booed for suggesting that we treat other countries with respect. Many American political leaders don’t want most Americans in the lifeboat, so there isn’t much to say to 12 million people caught in the drought on the Horn of Africa. The market speaks.
And maybe soon we’ll start exporting it all to other worlds.
Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org