Water, temperature and land use reconfirm the need for urgent action.

News of America's most recent mass shootings obscured this week's headlines on global climate change.

July was the hottest month ever recorded, European climate researchers said on Monday. This was especially true on their continent, which saw searing heat blanket France, Germany, the Netherlands and other countries.

But the extraordinary conditions didn't just scorch Europe: Portions of Africa, Australia and even Greenland, Siberia and Alaska saw record heat.

Meanwhile, a new study by the United Nations concluded that human-based climate change is degrading the Earth's land and worsening global warming. And another study released this week focused on water scarcity. "17 Countries, Home to One-Quarter of the World's Population, Face Extremely High Water Stress" read the headline on a World Resources Institute analysis.

"Once unthinkable water crises are becoming commonplace," read the report, which used Chennai, India and Cape Town, South Africa, as examples of what may be in store for more cities, in more countries, on more continents, as climate change and urbanization accelerate.

Overall, WRI reported, these 17 countries face "extremely high levels of baseline water stress, where irrigated agriculture, industries and municipalities withdraw more than 80% of their available supply on average every year." But the peril doesn't stop there: 44 countries, home to one-third of the world, face "high" water stress, in which an average of more than 40% of available supply is withdrawn annually.

This water stress "poses serious threats to human lives, livelihoods, and business stability," the report stated. It could have added geopolitical stress, since water crises, just like climate change, threaten to exacerbate the global migration crisis that's destabilized politics across continents, including here in the U.S., which makes it even harder for countries to coalesce around the necessary efforts to mitigate climate change. But rally they must.

Climate change can exacerbate the water crises "a lot," Kate Brauman, lead scientist for Global Water Initiative at the University of Minnesota's Institute for the Environment, told an editorial writer. But because water resources are managed within countries, the response, she said, would be different from transnational efforts on climate change.

The WRI study, she added, "is scary, and should be scary." But "it's not a death knell: We can respond to it." That's what the world must do — starting here at home, where we should steward our blessing of water abundance.

Minneapolis Star Tribune

Aug. 9

Jeffrey Jackson is the managing editor of the Owatonna People's Press. He can be reached at 507-444-2371 or via email at jjackson@owatonna.com

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