A major example of this depletion is the Ogallala aquifer (also called the High Plains aquifer), stretching from South Dakota into Texas. It stores a huge amount of water and is the main water source in the area. Its use began in the 1940s. Today water is removed up to 20 times faster than it is naturally replaced. In southwest Kansas and the panhandle in western Texas, it is said that supplies may last only another decade. Lower Cimarron Springs, famous in the nineteenth century as a watering hole along the Santa Fe Trail, dried up decades ago due to pumping groundwater. Millions of dollars will be needed to find alternative sources.
Achieving short-term stability at the cost of long-term fragility is a trade-off. It makes more sense, in retrospect, that the earliest civilizations, like Egypt and Persia, were established downstream on a river system whose flow varied year to year but was relatively constant compared to much of the rest of the surrounding lands.
When I give talks about the discordant harmonies of nature and my changing views of global warming, a common response is "Why bother to point this out? Everybody believes in global warming, and doing something about it doesn't hurt anything and can only benefit." But in our real world, the choice to take one action means that other actions are not taken. We are well aware these days of the worldwide limits of capital and cash to do things, and we must choose carefully. There's the rub.
One of the things missing from the global-warming debate is to put the issue of global warming within the set of major environmental problems and then establish priorities based on what can be done, what needs the most immediate action, and what is most important. In addition to possible effects on climate, major ways that human actions are decreasing overall biological diversity, include (not in an order of priority) habitat destruction; overharvesting of renewable living resources; chemical pollution; removal of groundwater; depletion of mineral resources necessary for life, especially sources of phosphate; and introduction of exotic species that harm other species and are undesirable from our point of view, and just plain inadvertently causing species to become threatened with extinction.
These are here-and-now problems. Moreover, sometimes actions that the public is told will help mitigate or reduce global warming create or worsen other environmental problems. For example, in Indonesia, 44 million acres (18 million hectares) of tropical rain forests may have been cut down to plant palm trees to produce palm oil to be used as a biofuel. This is justified as being good for the environment because it is supposed to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and therefore reduce the rate of global warming. But this habitat destruction further endangers orangutans and Sumatran tigers, already threatened with extinction. While few, if any, knowledgeable environmental organizations will be fooled by the claim that this is going to be environmentally beneficial, the European Union and the government of Malaysia have been considering what to do about the biofuels from these plantations, taking the possibility seriously that using these to fuel cars and trucks in Europe will offset some of the greenhouse gas production by these vehicles and is therefore justified and on the whole environmentally sound.
Singling out global warming from other environmental issues is a one-factor approach, which has been too common in environmental policy decisions. For example, as the Clean Water America Alliance points out, the use of water resources requires considerable energy, but water use and energy use are treated as separate issues most of the time in environmental policy analysis. Because global warming gets so much attention and so much funding, this single-factor approach is a particularly important aspect of this issue's policy analysis.