Column:Drought in a Time of Floods

The Colorado River is shrinking, and Kentucky is drowning. Mother Nature is laughing. We expected her to shrug off our abuse and continue supplying water where we need it and a temperate climate where we want it. She is obviously fed up and has decided to teach us about the longterm consequences of binge consumption. We have taken a nation and a planet with seemingly inexhaustible resources and turned it into a garbage dump. The super-wealthy have insulated themselves in their multimillion dollar homes and yachts and other such enclaves while tossing the refuse generated by their rush to wealth into the backyards of locations managed by compliant dupes. 

We should be mad as hell and refusing to take it anymore, but instead we marvel over the latest app on our cell phones and debate whether Johnny Depp really suffered at the hands of Amber Heard. That crackling noise you hear outside is the centuries-old forest behind your overpriced and shabbily constructed apartment complex burning. With luck, a giant plane, powered by the fossil fuels that led to global warming, will drop a flame-retardant chemical made by an international conglomerate that has poisoned your ground water on the fire before the fire consumes you and all your precious stuff. Perhaps you live near a brook that has never misbehaved but is currently lifting your furniture off the floor. In that case you should clamber into the fossil-fuel powered motorboat or helicopter that has come to keep you from drowning. You can ponder why the land you lived on for decades was never considered a potential flood zone after you reach higher ground.

You may argue that this is no time for alarmists, and that is true.  That time passed long ago as we considered whether or not our local pizza parlors were meeting places for pedophiles, as we debated what part of American history should be barred from the classroom to avoid making some of the students uncomfortable, and as we struggled to build taller and more “beautiful” walls to keep out the throngs of desperate people fleeing the chaos and poverty to the south of us. We fret over the threat of terrorists harming us while we swell the profits of foreign oil and gas providers who actually finance the terrorists that attack us. We condemn the illicit drug trade that kills our children and destroys our cities while spending billions on cocaine, heroin, fentanyl and other addicting drugs for our personal amusement. But, I digress.

The drought in the western U.S. may end, but even if it does, its impact will continue for decades. Farms will fail, livestock will die, and power sources independent of fossil fuels will be discredited. There is little justification for building more Hoover dams if the rivers cannot be relied upon to flow at a similar pace every year. There is no logic in creating massive irrigation-dependent farms if the water to those farms may disappear as weather patterns continue to change. Wind turbines have proven costly to maintain, and their damaged parts are not cheaply recycled. They are also no match for tornadoes, which seem to be proliferating in our country more quickly than “Docs in a box,” our newest attempt at affordable healthcare. Solar panels are still inefficient, as are the batteries needed to hold the charges generated by solar panels. The vulnerability of nuclear power plants has been painfully demonstrated by the war in the Ukraine. There is no reason to believe that a massive nuclear disaster can be avoided in this all out assault on a vulnerable democracy. Adding to our dependence on fossil fuels is that oil, gas, and coal are the only options we have if any of our non-fossil fuel power sources fail.

We are locked in to greenhouse-gas-generating facilities to provide the power needed to sustain the 8 billion people already on our planet, even as our political leaders and those in other countries take steps that will predictably increase our numbers. In America, women’s healthcare, which already was poor in states that are driving out clinics that helped fill the care gap created by state governments, is in a free fall.  Our leaders decided that women do not need the birth control access, prenatal care, abortion access, and domestic abuse counseling that these facilities provided.  Consequently, we can expect unwanted pregnancies and maternal deaths to increase exponentially in the states most indifferent to women’s health. This is obviously not a strictly American trend. In Afghanistan, girls are barred from school when they reach 12 years of age: at that point they need to start producing children to join the starving  masses. In Russia, Vlad, the Conqueror, Putin re-instated a Stalin-era bonus for women who have ten or more children. They get a shiny “Mother Heroine” medal and a lump sum payment of over $16,000 when their tenth surviving child reaches one year of age. Our planet can reach nine billion residents in no time at all with these international incentives to multiply.

Meteorologists predict that our country will continue to face weather “extremes.” This simply means we cannot rely upon weather patterns to predict future weather disasters. Kentucky may flood every year, and Louisiana may become an inland sea. Underground sources of “fresh” water, called aquifers, are being depleted across our nation, and this depletion is being accompanied by a collapse of the ground above them. Little thought is being given to the drainage of oil and natural gas reservoirs offshore by thousands of oil and gas drilling platforms, more than 1,800 of which are in the Gulf of Mexico alone. The coastal U.S. should expect the same devastation from oil and gas reserve depletions as are being experienced as a consequence of subterranean water depletion. The sea floor will collapse, and dike construction will boom along the southern coast.

We need highly educated, nonsectarian, altruistic and innovative people in the seats of power to halt our absurd spiral into bickering, self-interested, self-promoting cliques. Unfortunately, America has numerous people seeking political power who are trying to capitalize on their name recognition or their appeal to extremist groups.  One candidate summarized her platform by three words: ”Jesus, guns, and babies.”  This somewhat opaque message apparently signals to those familiar with her political stance that she is seeking a Christian theocracy, unlimited access to firearms, and a complete ban on abortion under any circumstances. Hundreds of other candidates in the upcoming election have also emphasized their embrace of these three positions. This may be entertaining political theater, but it does nothing to address any of our evolving problems. Indeed, with a change in the religious figure cited, this three word mantra would describe the Taliban’s approach to governance in Afghanistan. It is not working for that country and would fare no better here.

Our country has a vast supply of brilliant and productive people. We must force them to take charge and push aside the crackpots peddling miracle cures and a vision of America that never was and never should be. If we do not harness the genius we possess, we shall have more problems that droughts and floods.  We shall have autocrats like Russia and a theocracy like Afghanistan: We shall have tyranny and terror.

Dr. Lechtenberg is an Easton resident who graduated from Tufts University and Tufts Medical School in Massachusetts and subsequently trained at The Mount Sinai Hospital and Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in Manhattan.  He worked as a neurologist at several New York Hospitals, including Kings County and The Long Island College Hospital, while maintaining a private practice, teaching at SUNY Downstate Medical School, and publishing 15 books on a variety of medical topics. He worked in drug development in the USA, as well as in England, Germany, and France.

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