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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Prof guests on ‘Daily Show’

    UA Law Professor Robert Glennon’s recently published “”Unquenchable””, a book that examines the water crisis in America. According to Glennon, the country’s current level of water consumption is jeopardizing its economic and environmental well-being.

    This week, Glennon was interviewed by Jon Stewart on “”The Daily Show.”” The Summer Wildcat’s Ben Korta caught up with Glennon to talk about his book and his experience on the show.

    Wildcat: Were you nervous before going on “”The Daily Show?””

    Glennon: I was very apprehensive. I have enormous regard for Stewart. I think he’s the smartest and wittiest person on TV. He doesn’t use the press bullet points for the book, but gets into it and reads it.

    This made me read my entire book again before the show, since I didn’t want to be caught with a question I didn’t know the response to. He’s such a wacky guy that in his sessions with guests, you never know where his questions are going to come from.

    Did you prepare for the interview?

    I had a pre-interview briefing with his producer earlier in the day. But I still couldn’t know if anything I said to her would be what he speaks about. He certainly does not go off bullet points – and his producer said she is often surprised by how he chooses to begin his interviews.

    What is the current water crisis?

    The basic problem is that we’re spoiled. We Americans turn on the tap and imagine that water is limitless. We think of water as we do air – as something that is limitless and inexhaustible – when it is finite.

    People are moving from where the water is to where it isn’t. The city of Atlanta came within 90 days of having no water. Scores of lakes have dried up as a result of pumping.

    But the issue of water is not just an environmental one. It is an economic one. Commercial fishing has been canceled, while a factory in South Carolina has closed. Four different states have refused permits for power plants – and this at a time when our nation is in dire need of energy.

    Every one of these occurred because of a lack of water.

    What are some of the driving factors behind the crisis?

    The elephant in the room here is population growth. According to scientists, the drought currently going on in California … is to be expected as a pattern that follows a similar drought several years ago.

    The difference here, then, is not the drought, but the 9 million-person population growth over the course of these years. Population growth is a major driver behind increased water demand. By 2050, the census bureau projects a population of 420 million people in the United States. How will we find the water supply to account for this growth?

    Do you think that people have a sense of the scope and urgency of the problem?

    For the most part, most Americans have no sense of the problem. But for some, yes – there are people that have a sense that something is wrong. But most people have only a sense of local issues.

    A community in South Carolina, for instance, might suffer from a water shortage for similar reasons that one in Florida has, but without knowing that this is the case. One thing I try to do in ‘Unquenchable’ is show that is it a national problem.

    Have people already done anything to counter this crisis?

    We have gone through great lengths to avoid reality. In Georgia, in response to a serious drought, the mayor convened the public in a ceremony to pray for rain. That is a city in denial.

    The mayor of San Diego claimed that his city had ushered in a new era of water history when he imposed restrictions that would prohibit water use for lawns for more than three times a week. But San Diego gets about as much rain as Tucson. This is just a trivial step, like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic – when what he needs to do is redirect the ship.

    So are there solutions to this problem?

    The usual approach to water problems is an attempt to engineer our way out. But this is no longer an option. Part of the book takes a look at commonly proposed solutions, such as the mass construction of dams, cloud seeding, and bringing over glaciers from the arctic.

    But the real solution is not to disguise the folly of our water use. No solution is magical. I am not a doomsday scenario kind of guy, but we are in a crisis. But we can do something about it.

    We have two options. We can use price signals to encourage conservation, and we can employ market forces for the reallocation of water.

    We can think of our water supply as a giant milkshake glass, and the demand for it as a straw. The point I am making is that we can no longer put in new straws in the glass. The idea is that if you need more water, you need to convince somebody else to provide it to you.

    New development needs to pay its own way as far as water use goes. What most states permit is a limitless number of straws in glass. We need to stop putting the straws in there.

    What motivated you to write this book? How did you arrive at this problem?

    I’ve been working in the field of water law and policy for a while. Several years ago, I published another book called “”Water Follies,”” and it was on the environmental consequences of pumping.

    After this, I teamed up with two economists from the U of A to study water transfers in the American Southwest. I interviewed farmers and began to develop thoughts about this crisis.

    First I wanted to show that there was a crisis, and then that business as usual is not an option. I’ve learned a great deal from people I’ve met from around the country.

    Do you think that this crisis can be worked out?

    I am very optimistic. If we can get this message out, I have deep confidence in my fellow citizens, and I know we have the tools to do this. But I hope we can do this before it becomes a catastrophe.

    Right now we are more worried about oil, but water is just as crucial to our economy – often in ways we do not expect. Google, for example, uses a lot of water. We don’t think that, as a company on the Internet, it would need water. But every time you click to search there is a connection to a server farm. This is a giant concrete warehouse with 5,000 computers, which generates an ungodly amount of heat. This is a major problem for Google, so they use lots of water to deal with the heat.

    So by saying it is an economic problem, I’m not just talking about beverage companies, I’m talking about perhaps less obvious but no less significant ones such as Intel and Google.

    How did you manage to get on the show?

    My publisher worked hard to get this book on the show. The producer has hundreds of books stacked in her office with titles that people want to get on the show. The producer gives Stewart some books she thinks he might like, and ultimately, he makes the call as to what book he chooses to present.

    The fact that he made the decision and was interested in my book was really great to hear.

    What’s it like on set? Did you get to talk to Jon Stewart outside of your interview?

    He came in before the show to meet us. He took pictures with me and my family. He was very funny, and had one one-liner after another. When we all took a photo together, Stewart quipped, “”Best prom ever.””

    He told me not to be anxious, that you know what you are talking about, and let’s have some fun. Once I was on the set, I knew that I was not in the comedian role. I just answered the questions. I could not be more pleased with how it went.

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