Last month James Famiglietti published his latest research paper, “The global ground water crisis,” in the journal Nature Climate Change. The titular crisis, writes Famiglietti, will worsen if countries do not take decisive actions to manage it. Water scarcity is in fact already driving global conflicts. Famiglietti is a Professor of Earth System Science of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Irvine, as well as the Senior Water Scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The professor isn’t one to mince words about humanity’s prospects. In a 2013 TED Talk, Famiglietti gives his audience the bad news about global water scarcity: “We can’t end it. It’s too big, it’s too complex, we can’t beat it down and conquer it. We passed too many tipping points with respect to climate change, population growth, [and] human behavior to turn this very complicated situation around.”
However, he adds, “I truly believe that with a shared vision, with leadership and commitment from governments around the world, and with public and private partnerships, we can manage our way through to ensure a sustainable water future.”
In his Nature Climate Change paper, Famiglietti writes that, currently, groundwater resources are being drained faster than they can be replenished. Figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that farming uses 80 percent of the country’s water, and the percentage is similar around the world.
“It’s a major cause for concern because most of the places where it (ground water depletion) is happening are major food producing regions,” said Famiglietti in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“In 90 percent of the world where there are violent conflicts, there are water scarcity issues,” he said.
Unlike the American Congress, which remains divided on climate change and resource scarcity issues, the Pentagon has no doubt that scientists like Famiglietti are right. In 2006, eleven retired admirals and generals published a report on why climate change presents a major issue to American national security. The Department of Defense has released two Climate Change Adaptation Roadmaps, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has proven to be one of the Obama administration’s most outspoken proponents of climate action.