Filed under: International Institutions
'Whisky is for drinking, water is for fighting over." -- Mark Twain
The fury that has erupted over Al Gore winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his work lecturing the public about climate change shouldn't bewilder anyone. It is an honor that should be bestowed upon someone whose works and achievements for world peace have stood the test of certifiability -- years of time. Brokering peace between Russia and Japan (Teddy Roosevelt) is verifiable. Climate change is very much a current issue that is not only unsolved, but actually up in the air as to what extent it is actually the fault of humans and that anything can be done about it.
Whatever the reason, climates all over the world will continue to change. Some places have historically gotten warmer, others colder, but overall it has been a giant flux back and forth over the centuries. I can tell you for a fact that humans did not cause the Ice Age, for example. What is important, however, is to realize that while humans may not actually be able to control the climate itself -- talk about ego! -- we do have the ability to shape how these changes affect our lives. And not only our lives, but the lives of those who will be most effected by it: citizens of the impoverished developing world.
One of the greatest factors that the human race will have to deal with in regards to climate change is the availability of water.
Surely we in America use more than we should, whether it's leaving the faucet on while we brush our teeth or watering the lawn in the middle of a summer day. Then, one day, a drought hits and everyone gets pissy about municipal and state restrictions limiting consumption. It becomes a huge issue in the papers, everyone is talking about how unfair it is, and if the state handles the situation poorly then it won't bode well for election season.
Now imagine you're a cutthroat member of the northern Sudanese economic elite. All the forests have been decimated already, few more resources exist for expansion, and desertification has left the region arid and in some cases uninhabitable. You need resources and more than anything you need water, or everything you and your colleagues have built up through vast exploitation of all around you will be for "nothing".
Now imagine you're a refugee in southern Sudan. You're living in a UN camp because government-supported, renegade militias from the north have invaded and killed everyone you know. Life basically sucks and there is nothing you can do about it. What did you do wrong? Why are you being punished like this?
Well, you didn't do anything, but this is a story that has played out, is playing out right now, and will only continue to play out far into the future as long as the world's water supply continues to shrink. Wars are fought over this most precious of all resources that we tend to believe is free and ever-available. Much credible research has shown that the civil war in Sudan is even more about water and resources than it is an ethno-religious war. One of the reasons cited for the current condition is regional climate change (a continuous drought since the 1960s) as well as the total devastation of the environment.
In fact, the UN recently reported that water will be the main reason for conflict in Africa over the next 25 years. This will likely be true for the rest of the world as well. China is already making sure that it has access to Asia's water lifeline. Water-strapped Israel continues to hold the Golan Heights -- awash with it -- which is a major point of contention with Syria. One could very well say that water is the next oil!The Norwegian Nobel Committee obviously realizes this, because if you took the time to read the reasons why they award Al Gore the prize, it was expressly for that reason.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 is to be shared, in two equal parts, between the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Albert Arnold (Al) Gore Jr. for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change. Indications of changes in the earth's future climate must be treated with the utmost seriousness, and with the precautionary principle uppermost in our minds. Extensive climate changes may alter and threaten the living conditions of much of mankind. They may induce large-scale migration and lead to greater competition for the earth's resources. Such changes will place particularly heavy burdens on the world's most vulnerable countries. There may be increased danger of violent conflicts and wars, within and between states.The connection between climate change and the destruction of the environment with the world's contracting water supply is pretty clear, and I think the connections between those and the inevitability of wars over water are even clearer. The Nobel Committee obviously believes that Gore's work raising awareness over the issue in the developed world has mobilized action to find solutions for the developing world, thus helping to prevent major future conflicts.
Yet one cannot help but be unimpressed with this, when truly the door is still open on his major platform: global warming. I simply cannot fathom the idea of spending trillions of dollars in the hope that we humans can lower the temperature of the earth when those trillions of dollars can fuel research and technologies that, despite whatever happens outside our control, will improve the overall human condition regardless. I'm talking about technologies that can better conserve and distribute water and create more of it. It can also be invested in education. If we really have to water our lawns as often as we do (well, I live in Arizona now, where colored rock lawns have been popularized), could it hurt to let people know to do it at night? Can't we teach our children by example and just turn the faucet off?
So I must say that I must agree with Czech President Vaclav Klaus -- the reasons for giving Al Gore the peace prize for his work on global warming is unclear and indistinct. He has raised awareness of an issue that itself is rather unclear and indistinct when there are plenty of climate and environmental issues that can actually be solved without the need to put civilization on hold.
My suggestion is that the Nobel Committee, if it really wants to prevent future wars that occur because of climate change, the environment, water, or what have you, is to offer the peace prize up as much like the X Prize which has shot the space tourism industry into orbit. For example: the $1.5 million dollar prize will go to whoever can develop a new desalination process that is cheaper and more effective than those currently in existence. Trillions of dollars in economic losses due to Al Gore's prescription is ridiculous compared to the $1.5 million it would take to unleash human potential all over the world in developing new technologies to deal with these problems.
Offering up the honor of the Nobel Peace Prize and the $1.5 million dollars to the man who does that is a small price to pay for human advancement. Whoever can develop a way to make fresh, pottable water very cheaply and efficiently will do more to foster present and future peace than Al Gore's speeches and concerts ever can.