Some of the most significant impacts of climate change are likely to be felt in water resources management, but climate change is not the only uncertainty facing water managers and policymakers. The concept of water security has emerged to address social, economic, political, and environmental factors, as well as the physical determinants of water availability. There are significant challenges for communicating about water security under a changing climate. Water security shares many of the characteristics of climate change with regards to communication. It is a complex concept involving interactions between dynamic human and natural systems, requiring public deliberation and engagement to inform political debate and to facilitate behavioral and cultural change. Knowledge and values about water and climate change are communicated through material experiences as well as through language. Communication about water security and climate change takes many forms, which can be characterized as five key modes—policy, communication campaigns, media, cultures, and environments. More effective communication about climate change and water is needed across these different modes to support meaningful participation and deliberation in policy decisions by a wide range of stakeholders. Integrating climate change into communication campaigns about water security provides opportunities to challenge and reframe traditional formulations of the role of water in society and culture and how to manage water in human settlements, the economy, and the environment. The central challenge for communicating the impacts of climate change on water scarcity lies in the complex interactions between society, policy, technology, infrastructure, the economy, and the environment in modern water systems. Different modes of communication are useful to enable public and stakeholder engagement in understanding the issues and making decisions about how to ensure water security in a changing society and environment.
Anna Hurlimann and Sarah Bell
Kim Hang Pham Do
Water is essential to life and development in terms of both quantity and quality. Water resources continue to face various pressures brought about by climate change, growing population, and increased economic demand for water. Managing this unique and precious resource has become a global challenge. The conflicts over water issues often arise not only among stakeholders facing limited water resources but also from social and political aspects of the design, operation, and management of water supply projects. A fair and sustainable system of sharing water resources, therefore, is one of the greatest challenges we face in the 21st century. In the absence of negotiation and lack of clear property rights, water is a source for human conflicts. Game theory as strategic analysis has provided powerful tools and been applied to many fields, including water resources management. The basic assumptions of game theory emphasize that rational players who pursue well-defined objectives and assume knowledge of others would accordingly form expectations of other decision makers’ behavior. Hence, game theory is used to predict agents’ behaviors toward fulfilling their own interests during the interactive decision-making process with other agents. Since the 1950s, game theory has become an important tool for analyzing important aspects of water resource management. Yet despite the rapid increase in the application of game theoretical approaches to water resource management, many challenges remain. The challenges of the early 21st century, including resource constraints, financial instability, inequalities within and between countries, and environmental degradation, present opportunities to address and reach resolutions on how water is governed and managed to ensure that everyone has sufficient access to water.
From the founding of the American republic through the 19th century, the nation’s environmental policy mostly centered on promoting American settlers’ conquest of the frontier. Early federal interventions, whether railroad and canal subsidies or land grant acts, led to rapid transformations of the natural environment that inspired a conservation movement by the end of the 19th century. Led by activists and policymakers, this movement sought to protect America’s resources now jeopardized by expansive industrial infrastructure. During the Gilded Age, the federal government established the world’s first national parks, and in the Progressive Era, politicians such as President Theodore Roosevelt called for the federal government to play a central role in ensuring the efficient utilization of the nation’s ecological bounty. By the early 1900s, conservationists established new government agencies, such as the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Reclamation, to regulate the consumption of trees, water, and other valuable natural assets. Wise-use was the watchword of the day, with environmental managers in DC’s bureaucracy focused mainly on protecting the economic value latent in America’s ecosystems. However, other groups, such as the Wilderness Society, proved successful at redirecting policy prescriptions toward preserving beautiful and wild spaces, not just conserving resources central to capitalist enterprise. In the 1960s and 1970s, suburban and urban environmental activists attracted federal regulators’ attention to contaminated soil and water under their feet. The era of ecology had arrived, and the federal government now had broad powers through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to manage ecosystems that stretched across the continent. But from the 1980s to the 2010s, the federal government’s authority to regulate the environment waxed and waned as economic crises, often exacerbated by oil shortages, brought environmental agencies under fire. The Rooseveltian logic of the Progressive Era, which said that America’s economic growth depended on federal oversight of the environment, came under assault from neoliberal disciples of Ronald Reagan, who argued that environmental regulations were in fact the root cause of economic stagnation in America, not a powerful prescription against it. What the country needed, according to the reformers of the New Right, was unregulated expansion into new frontiers. By the 2010s, the contours of these new frontiers were clear: deep-water oil drilling, Bakken shale exploration, and tar-sand excavation in Alberta, Canada. In many ways, the frontier conquest doctrine of colonial Americans found new life in deregulatory U.S. environmental policy pitched by conservatives in the wake of the Reagan Revolution. Never wholly dominant, this ethos carried on into the era of Donald Trump’s presidency.