Two Souths

Today’s story contains two lessons from two “Souths”: South Africa and South Carolina. The first will end up affecting you no matter where in the world you live. The second affects you if you live in America. Let’s explore.

My first story centers on Cape Town, South Africa. Cape Town is a metropolitan area of about 4 million people and the simple fact is that it is about to run out of potable water. Cape Town isn’t some obscure, remote hamlet; it is a major international city. This is both serious and an omen of things to come elsewhere in the world.

A combination of factors is principally responsible for the current crisis (and that is not too strong of a word). They are: drought, climate change, population growth and a lack of desalination plants. They need to be viewed without trying to make them mutually exclusive.

The Cape Town area is suffering from its third consecutive year of well below average rainfall. Some of that is weather (which is pretty much uncontrollable) and some of that is exacerbated by climate change (to which man’s activities have vastly contributed). We have messed with Mother Nature for about 150 years now. There is much we can do to modify that behavior; willingness is another thing. The first step in solving a problem is to recognize that it exists. You go on a diet when you feel you are too fat, not before. Just as you won’t lose all those extra pounds overnight; the effects of man’s pollution won’t be solved quickly. But if you don’t stop eating too much of the wrong foods you will only get fatter.

Population growth must be managed. City planning and reasonable water restrictions are necessary. While parts of metro Cape Town rival any community anywhere in the world; parts are little better than encampments where water is gathered from communal sites. Interestingly they are not the major culprits when it comes to excessive water usage; it is the affluent areas that are the much larger offenders.

Cape Town, like many large cities in the world, is basically a coastal community. Just look at America; most of the major population centers are on the Atlantic, Pacific or Gulf coasts. That means they have an abundance of water adjacent to them. The problem is that the water is salt water and unsuited for most of man’s needs. The solution is desalinization. The problems are that the technology borders on archaic, is expensive and most of all the facilities are largely non-existent.

Man has no control over the weather, no quick fix when it comes to climate change. Population/growth control can’t happen post facto however we could build desalination plants in a matter of a few years. I expect there will be much talk about infrastructure in the United States over the next few weeks and months. Desalination plants need to be part of that conversation.

Unfortunately too much of our government is like our big businesses and focused on the short not the long run. It’s too easy to ignore the water problems and simply pass them on to your successor. In both big business and government there is too little reward for preventing a problem from occurring in the first place. When debating policies like these I often challenge people by asking them, “How much is your house worth when you can’t drink the water or breathe the air?”

In recent days Republican Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina (or as Dana Milbank recently referred to him – Republican from Benghazi) has suddenly sounded sensible. This coincides (and I don’t think it is a coincidence) with Gowdy’s announcement that he will not run for reelection in his extremely safe Congressional district. The mystery of why Gowdy would retire from the House suddenly looked much clearer when it was pointed out that there is a vacancy on the federal bench in the Forth Judicial circuit which includes South Carolina. The position would require nomination by President Trump. I could certainly see that happening. It also requires Senate confirmation which under the current rules only calls for a majority. Gowdy is highly unlikely to attract any Democratic votes and the Republicans only hold the Senate 51-49 with John McCain’s health the margin is often 50-49. In the absence of McCain (who is not a certain yes vote) Gowdy can neither afford a GOP defection or be rescued by Mike Pence. He has to sound more reasonable if he wants to achieve his goal.

Currently Cape Town residents are restricted to 13.2 gallons of water per day. Until recently it has been 23 gallons. If you think that is bad (and it is) if things don’t improve (and they are showing no signs of doing so) Cape Town will face Day Zero in mid-April. On Day Zero the taps to residences and buildings are turned off and the public watering holes will be patrolled by the Army.

If the Trump-Gowdy plan is successful we will be faced with a 53 year-old radical on the federal bench for decades.

The world is a very scary place when you let it get out of control and both “Souths” have lessons for us.

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