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Some thoughts on water, climate and our choices

If you aren’t giving serious attention to matters that affect the waters of our planet, perhaps you should. The water world is a constantly changing place. Those of us who sail on it should be intimately aware of that, and also of the critical importance of that resource for its quantity. distribution and quality.

Whatever you think about changing climate and its causes, the documented warming trend and rising sea level warrants your attention. Increasing ocean temperatures and receding polar ice cover are not trivial changes. The implications for the sailing community are substantial – not necessarily all bad. Frankly, I could use a bit more water depth at my slip. Costs that the Corps of Engineers bear to dredge and maintain navigable commercial channels might go down. But, fixed docks could be submerged and many marinas with them. As a cautious person, I think I’d be building floating docks right now – just in case.

More important are the predictions for increasing frequency of weather extremes. Consider that more named storms means more costs to BoatUS for the haul outs they subsidize, and the likely increase in insurance costs. The winter of 2012 brought exceptional warmth to much of North America, while Europe experienced among the coldest on record, with remarkable snow accumulations. Long-standing records fell at both ends of the spectrum. In the mid-Atlantic region, which harbors many thousands of boats, it was mostly a waste of effort to have winterized those boats. Sub-freezing temperatures occurred only briefly, and little if any ice resulted from the occasional dips south of 32F.

Governments at all levels have, or are beginning to develop, plans to accommodate these predicted changes. Changes may be especially troubling to communities like New Orleans that lay at or below the current high water mark, but also to all the coastal communities with many economic ties to their waterfronts.

That we have the ability to affect water quantity and quality on a very large scale should be clear. We’ve caused rivers to run dry, the Aral Sea in the USSR has gone from the second largest sea in the world to a desert – ironically for the sake of agricultural production.  Many lakes and rivers are simply not safe to swim in. Close to home, living resources in the Chesapeake Bay have been reduced substantially from historic times with the loss of associated economic benefits. On a positive note, we can and have stopped, and even reversed, some of these trends which demonstrates our ability to have large scale effects on natural systems.

It’s not a time to follow the motto for the intellectually uncurious – ‘What, me worry?’  But worry is only constructive if it leads to effective action.  Constructive response is what is called for if we’re to make sensible plans for a possible future. Let’s agree that changes are happening, that there are good reasons to believe that the trends are real and may well continue at least long enough to produce some unpleasant outcomes. If so, contingency planning for predicted outcomes is prudent.

Given the magnitude and complexity of the issues, what should/can we do about it personally? For most of us it means lending support to, or voting for those who will make the decisions. With that comes personal responsibility to be sufficiently educated about the issues such that we can lend informed support. While doing so, be aware that philosophical and political biases often lead to unwise solutions, and partisan stereotypes about solutions to and views about environmental challenges are often not good indicators of effective policy.

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