Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Water Scientists say Brace for Impact

The burgeoning world population, already grown far beyond the numbers the planet can sustain, is increasing its consumption of water twice as fast as it is growing, according to the World Resources Institute. In a world already profoundly short of clean water, where the number of people is ratcheting upward past seven billion, in which global climate change is spreading drought across vast areas, this means, in the words of a WRI expert, that “we have a significant challenge on our hands.” To translate from the scientese: her hair’s on fire and she’s screaming “Brace for Impact!”

Water shares a number of attributes with oil. It is, in a way, a fossil — all of it was created millions of years ago, and no more of it is being made today. Unlike oil, however, consuming water does not destroy it; the sum total of the water on the planet never changes. That’s the good news. The bad news is that 97% of it is too salty for human consumption (and too corrosive for most industrial applications), and two-thirds of the remainder is frozen. Life depends on the remaining one per cent. And agriculture and industry gobble up 90 per cent of that.

Our attitude toward water shares a number of attributes with our attitude toward oil: chiefly, a feckless disregard for the fact that we are using it up, and for the consequences of having used it all up.

In one of those stupid numbers tricks that try to drape guesses with mathematical certainty, statisticians “project” that water use will increase by 50 per cent in the developing world and 18 per cent in the industrial world, by 2025. The people who make these statements, and report them, must know that they are on their face impossible. There is simply no way to effect such an increase in available fresh water. more