Land Matters Podcast: Bruce Babbitt on the Climate Crisis
As world leaders and some 20,000 delegates gather in Glasgow, Scotland, for the COP26 climate summit, they’ll be working toward the goal of keeping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius, through a variety of methods aimed at reducing greenhouse gases. Much of the focus is on renewable energy and decarbonizing the power grid, transportation, and buildings. But Bruce Babbitt, former governor of Arizona and former Interior secretary, says there are two other big sectors that should not be overlooked: land and water.
“It just isn’t really getting the attention it deserves,” says Babbitt in the most recent episode of the Land Matters podcast, noting that land-clearing and the destruction of forests takes away vast carbon sinks and accounts for 20 percent of emissions worldwide, on a par with what transportation produces globally.
Global warming is also having such a big impact on water supplies all around the world, he said, more focus needs to be on near-term solutions to avert a catastrophic crisis in both urban development and agriculture. The Colorado River Basin, where the Lake Mead and Lake Powell reservoirs have dropped to historic lows, is a vivid illustration of that challenge.
“The Colorado River becomes sort of the poster child of this, because the river flow is diminishing as a result of the drought and the decrease in runoff efficiency,” he said. “What rain there is doesn’t reach the reservoirs because it evaporates from the soil [because of] the temperature constantly heating up the landscape.”
Holders of water rights established long ago are now facing drastic reductions, both in urban areas and in the agricultural sector, the biggest user of Colorado River water. They must now make due with less water—right now and in the future. The current method of irrigating crops simply cannot go on as usual, Babbitt said. “We haven't really stared that straight in the eye, and begun to plan and to join a big region-wide discussion,” he said.
Babbitt, for whom the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy is named, served for many years on the board of the Lincoln Institute. The Phoenix-based center is promoting the better coordination of land use planning and the management of water resources. The Lincoln Institute’s work in land, water, and climate is getting special recognition in this 75th anniversary year; the organization started as the Lincoln Foundation in 1946, in Phoenix.
You can listen to the show and subscribe to Land Matters on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts.
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In Search of Solutions: Water & Tribes Initiative Encourages Collaborative Approach to Colorado River Management
Lessons from the Colorado River: Climate, Land, and Drought: A 75th Anniversary Lincoln Institute Dialogue
Anthony Flint is a senior fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, host of the Land Matters podcast, and a contributing editor of Land Lines.
Image: Bruce Babbitt Credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0