In a Washington Post blog in an entry called Leaving No Tracks, it describes some of the friction that existed between former EPA head Christine Todd Whitman and Vice-President of the United States Dick Cheney.
In one episode, it describes farmers in Klamath basin Oregon who relied on a government-operated complex of dams and canals. There was a drought in 2001, and the government cut off the water.
The the reason give was that government scientists concluded that diverting the water would harm two federally protected species of fish. The Vice-President wanted to come to the aid of the farmers. So, he commissioned a study by the National Academy of Sciences that concluded in a preliminary report that “no substantial scientific foundation” that justified withholding the water from the farmers. On this advice, the government gave the farmers the water they wanted.
What ended up happening? Months later, 77,000 dead salmon began washing up on shore. Not only one of the endangered species but also the chinook salmon, a staple of commercial fishing in Oregon and Northern California. State and federal biologists concluded that the diversion of water was at least partially responsible for the deaths of the fish.
I personally can’t think about this without getting getting infuriated. I understand some of the motivations for the farmers in the Klamath basin, but a drought affects every living thing in the ecosystem. Stealing the water to protect their crops meant certain death for the fish. A mass death of fish causes further disruptions in the ecosystem that in turn have other ramifications, who knows if the damage can ever be undone. This isn’t about keeping some natural museum in the wild. This is about preserving existing ecosystems so that they are sustainable, in turn making sure humans remain a sustainable species on this planet.
The fact that battles like this are lost now, when effects from climate change are relatively mild (regardless of whether you happen to think that climate change is anthropomorphic in nature). I can’t imagine the chaos that will take place when the climate makes more significant shifts.