“Just Add Water”

In this 30 November Los Angeles Times opinion piece, our guest this semester, James Workman, calls the international community to carpet for keeping water out of the equation in the run-up to the global climate talks in Copenhagen. Workman writes: “We know fossil fuel emissions matter immensely. But the most volatile chemical compound isn’t methane, nitrous oxide or even carbon dioxide. It’s water. Scientists stress water’s profound link with climate change, and how wise water management could bind global efforts to cool our warming planet with local efforts to absorb its unavoidable shocks. Even the public gets it. Yet our delegates wallow in denial. In a misguided effort to avoid dissent, they have erased water from their working draft, forgetting how water is the planet’s one common denominator.”

Check out Jamie’s essay here.

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9 Responses to ““Just Add Water””


  1. 1 Lily Yip 02/12/2009 at 1:07 am

    Workman points out that water management is the crucial link in the combating of global warming. While this insight is significant in connecting the problem we face, I have a few doubts in mind.

    First, global warming is a problem we need to produce a solution for. The normal course of thinking would be identify the issue, work a solution targeting at the issue, then perhaps on to preventive measures and sustainable methods. Water management is certain one of the issues or cause. It is unreasonable for it to be off the agenda, but perhaps management of it is outweighed by necessity of need to direct resources to more urgent matters?

    Secondly, Mr. Workman presents the global leaders considering water management as “lazy,” “skeptical” and “fatalistic” distraction. We are not given rationale of the leaders. Water may be the underlying agenda despite not being the focus of the policies being forged. For instance, doesn’t developing less energy consumption entail there is less need for water for cooling? Doesn’t improving dams to respond to extreme climates and flood include better design of reservoirs mean better management of fresh water resources? I would imagine water would be a effect alongside the policies in formulation rather than ignored and downplayed.

    In light of this article, we should recognize that there is no simple solution to the problem. While Mr. Workman’s work is undeniably important, we must bear in mind this adds understanding of the complexity of the problem because he is also inevitably biased from his background and field. Key to success of mitigating severity of climate volatility perhaps is to proceed with solutions for every recognizable aspect, if not, directing resources for short term goals with measurable changes while formulating sustainable modifications to present technology to comply with reduced carbon emission standards.

  2. 2 Julian Leung (Toshi) 02/12/2009 at 2:49 am

    Workman raises a good point, contrary to popular belief, the environmental movement isn’t solely constrained to combating Global Warming, the environmental movement is encompasses a whole host of other environmental endeavors. However, thanks to Al Gore, polar bears have become today’s poster child for the modern environmental movement. As distracting as it is from other equally relevant and pressing issues, global warming has been the call arms which draws in crowds, rakes in the campaign donations and dominated the political arena. Ten years ago, global warming was unheard of and the environmental issue that made headlines was the depleting ozone layer. Today, CFC’s, the demonized refrigerant responsible for ozone depletion, are almost entirely phased out, it also allowed the fledgling environmental movement to come into the global consciousness. The campaign against climate change has become an second renaissance for the environmental movement, by reinvigorating it and bringing together a loose and poorly coordinated coalition of environmental groups to campaign and lobby governments on their concerns. Environmentalists should not resent the campaign against climate change but embrace to further their green agenda.

  3. 3 Hannah, Smith 03/12/2009 at 11:33 am

    I have to agree with the above. Global warming has, of late, become sensationalized. By this I do not mean that it is overrated as an issue – far from it; I think we all agree it is certainly one of teh most pressing issues of our time. However, with ( as mentioned above) Al Gore and his Polar Bears, ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ and recent melodramatic blockbuster “2012” it seems that issues such as water shortages are overlooked.

    Workman I feel stresses that we need to move away from the fashionalbe consequences of climate change, and focus on what are perhaps less exciting, but equally life threatening issues.

  4. 4 Antonie 05/12/2009 at 3:20 pm

    First of all, I have to admit that I have as well overlooked the importance of water and relevance of it on the izzue of global warming. It may sound ignorant but it was new for me to know about the idea of water vapour as a greehousegas contributing to the volatile climate of today. According to Workman, the most potent greenhouse gas — more than double the impact of carbon dioxide — is water vapor. As CO2 begins to concentrate, global warming rapidly evaporates more surface moisture. Up there, rapidly accumulating water vapor magnifies the greenhouse effect.

    I would make a bold assumption that I am not the only person who is ignorant of this idea but many others professionals in the education systems ; at least the idea has not been introduced since the primary school and it may also be one of the reasons why people have underestimated the effect of water. The issue has not penetrated among the public while most of us have already established a firm belief that Co2 are the sole and main killer to our planet.

    While I have to agree that water is a fundamental element to today’s environmental policy, I don’t agree with Mr. Workman with his claim that countries have excluded water as one of the coverage in Copenhagen. Instead, water is already a matter attached underlying those proposed green policy such as renewable energy and sustainable irrigation. So in my opinion, water is not a missing ingredient, instead is an underlying ingredient which we have to pull it up to the surface.

  5. 5 Testa, Xiong Haotao 06/12/2009 at 10:05 am

    I’ve always thought that the no.1 greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide. But in this article, James Workman provides me a new thought that it should be water vapor. And he argues that water should be add to the climate change discussion agenda.

    Why is it so difficult for countries make a deal on coping with climate change and implement the related policies? One possible reason is that people cannot see how, and to what degree, the climate change will affect our daily life. One recent article from Economist(see at http://www.economist.com/opinion/displayStory.cfm?story_id=15017322&source=hptextfeature) points that uncertainty of climate change is the obstacle in solving the problem.

    Water, as one of the most important tangible resources in the earth, can make the “invisible” climate change theory more concrete and show its influence of our life. James puts forward that “By embracing water as the tangible link between global vapor up there and local river basins down here, delegates could forge a more integrated, meaningful treaty that endures.”

    Last but not least, this article shows again that how different problems and issues are closely related to each other. Water scarcity, carbon emission, climate change, we need to cope with all of them all together.

  6. 6 Marcus Ho Man KO 06/12/2009 at 4:20 pm

    I do not agree putting the issue of water into the agenda of the COP15. First, so far, water stress is not an issue of every country. Some countries experience more droughts recently while some have too much rain as a result of climate change and probably other factors. Second, the increase of water vapor aggravates global warming but the surge of carbon emission does cause its increase. There is no means, so far, to suppress the evaporation of water from the sea but there are means or proposals to reduce carbon emission even countries are not devoted to doing so.

    I agree that it is the developed countries’ responsibility to assist their developing counterparts to manage their water resources in a coordinated way, since people in developed countries consume the products produced in developing countries which may not be able to consume water in a sustainable way.

    There are different strategies to solve the problem but most of them can be categorized in those focused on the supply side and those on the demand side. However, no country should merely adopt only one kind of strategies but develop an integrated water management plan which helps address the national or even regional water stress. It is important that besides the increased supply of water, industries, households and farmers can reduce their water usage and use the water in a sustainable way.

  7. 7 Edward Andrew Ross 06/12/2009 at 5:09 pm

    Similarly to the poster above, there is no way to suppress the rapid evaporation of surface water to ameliorate the global warming situation. There is no way to stop the evaporation of sea water. The problem perhaps lies with the complete evaporation of our fresh water reservoirs.

    The cause of this problem, as the previous poster had mentioned, is still the emission of green house gases which has caused this chain-link event. Putting a stop to the rapid evaporation would ultimately have to start with putting a stop to the rapid emission of green house gases.

    Any water management plan would most probably focus on preserving the planet’s fresh water supplies as it is that which is our most precious natural resource. It is almost futile to attempt to stop the evaporation of surface water.

  8. 8 Johannes Feldhege 07/12/2009 at 11:47 pm

    When I think of the issue of water and climate change, I think of my semester project where I looked at small island states and effects climate change. Their biggest threat is not droughts but a too much of water, that is salt water. The warming of the planet also results in the warming of the oceans, which expand under heat.To a smaller factor, the melting of the ice caps also contribute to the sea level rise. Here we can see again how the public debate about climate change is contorted: Since Al Gore made his movie, polar bears are the poster child for climate change, as someone mentioned above, and melting ice caps are among the most discussed effects of climate change. Maybe, droughts and rising sea levels are not so much in the public debate and the news because they don’t make for good images. An iceberg that breaks apart definitely is a more terrific picture than a villager showing off the comparison of last year’s high tide with this year’s. A lonely polar bear floating on a sheet of ice definitely helps too. If the public knew more about this, maybe they would demand more from their governments taking into consideration the life of fellow human beings rather than cute polar bears. But do not get me wrong, I like polar bears, I just think that, as Workman highlighted, some of the more pressing issues get ignored.

  9. 9 Andrew David Shen 09/12/2009 at 6:04 pm

    It is quite ironic, in my opinion, that while there is already a global concern with the lack of drinkable water in the world, there is also an environmental issue looming over the global community stemming from too much water.

    A figure I found online states that around 70% of the world is covered with water. If the global concern lies in the fact that too much water is reaching the atmosphere as water vapor, facilitating the process of global warming, then isn’t the scale of the problem immensely large? Workman’s article presents a few very compelling arguments that should be looked at by global leaders and experts.

    Beyond evidence that water vapor is the most volatile of greenhouse gases, there is also worldwide shortage of usable drinking water. Fresh water comprises only 2.5% of all water on the Earth and in many areas of the world, access to this reserve is very difficult and costly. There is also a fear of running out of fresh water within the coming decades.

    I definitely agree with what the commenters above have been saying and with what Workman has stated in his article. While the world has clamored to the cause of reducing and curbing fossil fuel use in its ties to global warming, perhaps we have been overlooking one key factor, water. Water needs to be reintroduced into global talks and negotiations and should be given the attention it requires as the “magically cohesive element without which all life withers”.


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