Published October 20. 2013 4:00AM
In the current political environment, it's good to remember people can agree about some things.
Fresh water is a vital resource that needs protection and preservation.
Lower energy prices are good.
It is not in the national interest to be overly dependent on foreign fuel sources or too dependent on any one source. In other words, avoid the eggs-in-one-basket situation.
According to two experts I recently listened to from two organizations with quite different missions, there is an obvious path to achieving these goals - protecting and preserving water, holding down energy prices, and assuring a domestic and diverse energy supply - that also addresses a more controversial topic - slowing climate change.
This means that even those who deny climate change, or refuse to accept that human behavior is contributing to it, might yet be persuaded to support policies that slow climate change. You don't have to believe in electricity to light a room, you just have to flip a switch.
Flip the right switch on water and energy policy and less carbon will enter the atmosphere. That will in turn reduce the greenhouse effect and slow global warming (even if you don't believe in it).
That was the message delivered by Angela Ledford Anderson, director of the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), and Paul Faeth, director of Energy, Water and Climate policy for The CNA Corporation. Both spoke at the annual convention of the Association of Opinion Journalists, which I attended in Newport, R.I on Oct. 13-15.
UCS is a nonprofit organization that provides independent scientific analysis to inform policy decisions in our increasingly complex world. CNA makes money providing objective scientific analysis to its clients, which include the U.S. Navy, Marines, and many federal, state and local government agencies. Its clients depend on the facts, not the spin.
The Earth is warming, sea levels are rising, and weather patterns are changing. That evidence is now incontrovertible. Climate scientists overwhelmingly agree that humans are significantly contributing to and speeding up this process. Over the next 30 to 40 years, a changing climate will disrupt food production, destabilizing entire nations and inviting conflict. Coastal communities will confront flooding. Major storms will become more frequent.
These are the findings I heard consistently from experts at the convention, which this year focused on the theme, "Water, a Precious Commodity."
But many states across the Southwest, where politics is adverse to policy addressing climate change, face another challenge - water shortages that over the past decade have been exacerbated by record droughts.
This situation provides an incentive to move away from traditional fossil fuel plants that use tremendous amounts of water. As the UCS notes, consider the amount of water that flows over Niagara Falls in a minute and triple it - that's about the amount of water power plants in the United States take in for cooling every minute.
This is one big reason greenhouse-disbelieving Texas takes advantage of windy conditions to get 15 percent of its electricity from wind fields, tops in the nation.
Yet, analyses done by both UCS and CNA came to the same conclusion - water-preserving motivation alone does not get the nation where it needs to go. Fossil fuel plants, particularly natural gas - cheaper due to discoveries tied to fracking technology - will expand. This will use more water and produce greenhouse gases (if you believe in that sort of thing).
And both organizations reach the same conclusion about what can change those dynamics; placing a cap on carbon emissions and auctioning and trading carbon allowances as a commodity - cap-and-trade. Provide that incentive and conservation increases, wind power and other renewable energy sources grow, and percent of electricity produced by fossil fuel shrinks. This approach cuts the annual household cost of energy and transportation by $900 in 2030, the UCS analysis found. It would also greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save water.
Science, math and logic say that is the best approach. Unfortunately, as witnessed in recent weeks, politicians often ignore all three.
Paul Choiniere is editorial page editor.