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California’s drought wouldn’t be so bad if the rest of you would share some water

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- Commentary

So, California is in a drought. That’s what everybody says. The media says it. The scientists say it. The firefighters working overtime to put out the hundreds of wildfires say it, as do the farmers trying to explain that if something doesn’t happen soon salad will just be something in an exhibit at a natural history museum.

I’ve even gotten used to restaurants in California — no matter how simple or fancy — having signs that remind me to ask for water with my meal. I’m forced to ask for water like a sucker, instead of the water just being on my table when I sit down the way the framers of the Constitution intended.

Related: Climate change is a global problem. Climate action is a local solution | Bhavya Reddy

But the thing I don’t understand is: why is California in a drought? I mean, I understand why, literally: we haven’t had enough rain. But what about all the water in the rest of the country? Isn’t it supposed to be the United States of America? If California is in a drought, shouldn’t we have each others’ backs? Admittedly getting each others’ backs is not our strong suit in the states. But this isn’t something complicated like wanting fewer people murdered by guns. This is water.

As a comedian, I travel these so-called United States a lot. Two weeks ago in the span of six days, I was in Austin, Houston, Washington DC, Baltimore and New York City. I ate in a lot of restaurants. In none of these cities did I see signs telling me that I had to ask for water. I was just brought water as soon as I sat down.

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In these other cities, they made it rain with water. In DC, it actually did rain, I think just to mock me and my fellow Californians. At the same time, it was flooding in South Carolina. Yes, at the same time California was experiencing one of the worst droughts in, some experts say , over a thousand years, South Carolina was being hit by a one-thousand-year flood.

How do we get these two together? It’s like the ecosystem’s version of a romantic comedy. I can hear the trailer now: “Drought and Flood – if only we could get these two together, they’d be perfect for each other. See what happens this fall, in When Arid Met Hurricane Sally”.

Global warming is really “ global weirding according to Hunter Lovins, president of Natural Capitalism Solutions. The dry parts of the Earth are getting drier and the wet parts are getting wetter. Yet, at the same time some scientists believe that the Earth has like 26% less water than it did 3.8bn years ago. So even though it may seem like there is plenty of water on the planet, it’s basically like when you realize you don’t need to go shopping for toilet paper this weekend, but if you don’t go next weekend then your world is doomed. Even if, for the time being, there is plenty of water to go around the United States, it’s not going to help much, because it’s in the wrong places.

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And if you have any doubt about this, don’t worry – you can trust me. I Googled respected climate change experts and water scientists, so I know the facts are good. I wasn’t Googling paranoid, born-again Republican Christians with persecution complexes. In other words, I didn’t ask any of the candidates running for the GOP nomination for president.

Because when you are talking about climate change, historical droughts and hurricanes, there is a list of words that you should generally avoid so that your audience will take you seriously: Jesus, The Bible, Revelation, God said, Noah, Moses, Pharaoh, Satan (also Beelzebub), Sodom and finally Gomorrah. Steer clear of those unless you are saying, “Holy Jesus we screwed up the Earth in biblical proportions!”

Since the lack of water in California and the surplus (putting it mildly) of water in South Carolina are both significant problems, why don’t we just figure it out? Why didn’t we just drive a bunch of tanker trucks out to South Carolina and fill them up with that sweet, sweet (other) liquid gold? Sound crazy? Why? We do it that with real liquid gold, oil, all the time. We’ve got pipelines and tanker trucks and oil barges crossing (and ruining) the Earth everyday. Is it a dumb idea? Or did I just win a Nobel Prize?

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The current California governor’s dad basically did a version of this when he was governor during another California drought in the 1960’s. He spent $1.8bn of the state’s money to bring water from — at that time — water-rich Northern California to then — and still — water-poor Southern California. And apparently his plan worked too well. Southern California’s population boomed, meaning they needed even more water. And now Northern California kinda needs to keep all its water. The lettuce, avocados and weed won’t grow themselves.

But I’m not advocating taking water from a place that needs the water, like William Shatner suggested when he pitched a Kickstarter campaign to bring water from Seattle to California. I’m suggesting we harvest all that water other places don’t need. Maybe that’s just a drop in the bucket, but hey, sometimes that’s better than a dry bucket.

Because like it or not, you need California to keep being California. Without us you have no movies anybody wants to see. Without us you’re still showing off your cool new Nokia flip phone that you are excited about because it has the snake game on it. Without us you have no way to know how bad your weed is where you come from. You need us.

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And yes, I am currently doing my part for the drought. I’m not showering everyday. (Although mostly that’s because I have two young children and I can’t find the time.) I’m trying to eat less meat because people say that livestock is mostly responsible for the drought … OK, I’m thinking about eating less meat. (Tofu is how we know there’s a God, because the devil must have created it.) I’m drinking less water overall. (Again probably because I’m a dad of two young kids. Mostly I drink coffee and sugar-free Red Bull.) And when I ask for water at a restaurant, I make sure I drink it … unless I forget. But we all know that’s not enough.

W Kamau Bell

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2015


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