How regions deal with water will define their success in managing climate change. As the residents of Jackson, Mississippi are now tragically experiencing, water management is a critical component of modern life and one we can ill-afford to neglect, particularly as our world warms. The Jackson water crisis, spurred by torrential rains and unpardonable neglect of vital infrastructure, is the type of quandary into which more cities will slip if a pragmatic approach to climate change is rejected in favor of either quixotic emissions-cutting plans or willful ignorance of new challenges.
While rain is foundational for flourishing life on earth, global warming’s changing of rainfall patterns presents problems to human beings who have built water management systems on certain expectations. The IPCC's technical summary for its Sixth Assessment Report warns that warmer temperatures will generally correspond with more rain falling on the year's wettest day in a given region. In a scenario in which the global mean temperature rises to 4 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial baseline, some of world's most populous areas, like South and Southeast Asia, will see one-third more rain on their rainiest days. The summary expresses with high confidence that "compound flooding" (whereby heavy rains, storm surge, and/or river flow combine) has increased and will continue to increase due to both sea level rise and increases in heavy precipitation. This is the very phenomenon that overwhelmed Jackson’s water treatment facilities in August.
Jordan McGillis is a Paulson Policy Analyst at the Manhattan Institute.
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