Thursday, July 24, 2008

Post No. 28: After We Resolve the Oil Issue, Will Water Be the Next Crisis to “Affect” America?

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

Remember the year in which you read this article. One of the goals of this blog is to stimulate and provoke thought. However, another goal is to encourage our readers to view issues from different perspectives, particularly perspectives which take in consideration issues larger than our personal and local issues. In other words, we encourage “big picture” and long-term analysis. We believe that it is only through this type of analysis that we will be able to “dig deeper” and determine the underlying reasons for current societal problems, and avoid inefficiently employing our time addressing the superficial symptoms.

In the Monday, July 21, 2008 electronic edition of the New York Times, there appears an article written by Andrew Martin entitled “Mideast Facing Choice between Crops and Water.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/21/business/worldbusiness/21arabfood.html?th&emc=th.) The following excerpt is taken from that article:

“CAIRO – Global food shortages have placed the Middle East and North Africa in a quandary, as they are forced to choose between growing more crops to feed an expanding population or preserving their already scant supply of water. For decades nations in this region have drained aquifers, sucked the salt from seawater and diverted the mighty Nile to make deserts bloom. But those projects were so costly and used so much water that it remained far more practical to import food than to produce it. Today, some countries import 90 percent or more of their staples. Now, the worldwide food crisis is making many countries in this politically volatile region rethink that math.”

When one views history from a perspective of thousands of years, one recognizes the importance of agriculture (or food production) on the wealth and expansion of a society. If the efforts of everyone in a society are primarily involved in hunting and gathering for food purposes, the day is consumed with the pursuit of food, and very little else is accomplished. It is only when technological advances permit the generation, by a few, of food, for the many, that those not engaged in agriculture can devote their time and energy in the pursuit of other goals. It is a factor that we have witnessed repeatedly throughout history.

Another major factor is the availability of water, not only for drinking and irrigation purposes, but also for water transport and navigation purposes. One of the things that has plagued the development of Africa throughout history, with a few notable exceptions, has been the scarcity of water and the lack of navigable bodies of water. While most of us here in the United States are concerned about gasoline and heating fuel, we should also stop to consider the drinking and agricultural water problem, since we are now in a global economy.

This writer first became aware of this issue in 2003, when viewing an article in Smithsonian Magazine, which, by the way, is this writer’s favorite magazine “of all time.” (http://www.smithsonianmag.com/.) How many of you were aware of this developing water issue, prior to reading about it here? Is it more significant than the development of nuclear arms or terrorism? Is oil a more significant issue? Have you seen anything in the media in recent years alerting us to this issue? Is there a possibility that the media outlets in the United States have not focused much attention on this issue because of a perception that it is not particularly relevant to U. S. citizens? It is apparently enough of an issue that former U.S.S.R. President Mikhail Gorbachev has been devoting virtually all of his time in recent years to this issue.

Mr. Gorbachev is a member of the Board of Directors of Green Cross International (http://gci.ch/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=9&Itemid=9). In 2003, he was the President of the organization. In a March 20, 2003 article in BBC News, (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/2867583.stm), author Ben Sutherland wrote, in pertinent part, the following:

“Former USSR president Mikhail Gorbachev has told the Third World Water Forum in Kyoto that a failure to reverse the global water crisis could lead to “real conflicts” in the future. Mr. Gorbachev, who is now president of the International Green Cross, said that there were likely to be severe problems as the demands on water increased together with the planet’s population. It is estimated that by 2025, two thirds of the world’s people will be living in areas of acute water stress. ‘If current trends continue, we could be faced with a very grave situation,’ Mr. Gorbachev warned. It is feared conflicts could arise where rivers and river basins cross state borders. If a country near a river’s source begins using more water, this lowers the amount that reaches countries further downstream. For example, there is currently concern about what effect a proposed scheme in India to divert the Ganges to currently dry areas might have on the water supply downstream in Bangladesh.”


In Henry Hobhouse’s Forces of Change – An Unorthodox View of History (http://books.google.com/books?id=7Bd61vvaI7MC&printsec=frontcover&dq=%22forces+of+change%22&ei=ZZY9SPyPE6SMygTPiLXzAg&sig=CVGKHVm_gASmSdzXCT_N8csMPLE), he submits that modern history has been shaped, not so much by human conduct, but rather natural forces consisting of disease, population growth, and food supply. Hobhouse argues that they form a triangle which balances itself. As one changes or alters the dimension on one side of the triangle, there must be commensurate change in one or both of the other two sides. To address these natural forces also requires a different type of thinking, more collaborative in nature.

Once again, we ask you to remember the year in which you read this article. The food supply issue is big; this water issue is perhaps bigger. Let’s hope that we approach the impending water issue better than the manner in which we have dealt with the oil issue. Remember – we are now part of a global community, whether we consider it to be a good thing or a bad thing. Can you envision a scenario where water is more precious than oil?

By the way, the last time that we checked, those countries with the most cutting edge desalinization technology were in the Middle East.

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

5 comments:

  1. Now I've heard it all! I just can't stop laughing long enough to post this comment.

    Regarding food shortage:
    When congress mandated that all gasoline contain a set percentage of ethanol (or biofuel) by X date. I remarked that our ethanol is principally made from corn - corn is part of animal and man's food chain (a real staple) so watch what happens to food price and availability. (The us is a significant exporter of food especially to developing nations).

    So the food problem is related to fuel problem.

    Now for the really funny part - are you ready... Global Warming!
    Ha Ha Ha - All the global warming alarmists out there tell us the ice caps are melting - yes water. Is this to mean we are going to have water water everywhere and not a drop to drink!!!

    Or does this mean we are going to have a water problem and global warming is a hoax. You can't have it both ways!

    I'm dying here.
    Think I'll go get a drink.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ice caps melt into the ocean with is not drinkable because of the salt. Coop, you drink and water your crops with ocean water and see how well that works. Please try think through your posts. A little.

    California has had real issues with drought on and off for decades. The north west is having to decide between saving the salmon (both an ecnomic and ecological important issue) and providing water for crops and hydroelectric.

    Georgia had a huge water shortage this year. Pheonix has literally dropped inches. The entire city, because they have sucked up so much water from underground.

    The underwater lakes that supply a huge percentage of our water our half plus empty. The great lakes are dropping quickly.

    Water will be an issue. Will it be the issue in the U.S.? I tend to think is won't be directly unless there is a drought year or two in a row. Then we could have another dust bowl. There are a lot of countries where water has the potential of starting wars. For example the dead sea. Some countries are draining so much water from the sea's incoming streams the dead sea could actually die.

    ReplyDelete
  3. When you are on a cruise where do you think the water you drink comes from? I'll tell ya - the ocean. Cruise ships (as well as most ocean going vessels) have desalination equipment. Let's see if the ice caps melt into the ocean and the salination levels drop (as Mr. Gore predicts), then the cost of desalination on a large scale will probably be a solution. So global warming is a potential solution to the water problem. Was my point that you missed.

    On the other hand, if the ice caps and glaciers don't melt, then investing in overpopulated areas where water has historically always been short - LIKE THE DESERT - might not be a good idea. (Unless you have a nearby ocean and desalination equipment.) There is the real water problem issue - how to get water from where it is to where it isn't. Ala Phoenix and Southern California. Maybe like oil pipelines we pump water from desalination locations via piplines, like we do natural gas (Texas to New York) and Oil (Alaska Pipeline).

    This brings up too many other complicated problems - what to do with all that salt? I know build salt mountains and store nuclear waste there? We will need the electricity to run the desalination plants.

    Bartender - I'll have another.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I think this is great post and a great point you’re making to look at the big picture. Yes, it’s indisputable the water shortage is a real and major crisis throughout the world.

    Living in Southern California for the past 30+ years, water shortage has always been relevant to my environment. We’re put on ‘restricted water use’ notice annually by our state and local governments. In turn we also have energy problems with frequent mass city blackouts.

    As a ‘state’ we found by educating people through mass media, direct mail and publication --- it works! There have been many years where you drive down the residential streets of L.A. and find everyone has dead lawns. No one complains. It’s what we have to do during draught years. In fact the only one who looks ‘really bad’ is the jerk that defies the city and still has green grass and sprinkler running. You can be assured he’s penalized accordingly for the overage in his water bill.

    We’re also requested to not use major appliances (washer & driers, vacuum cleaners, dishwashers etc.) during business hours when the demand on our power system is at it’s highest. People are willing to make these changes if they understand ‘the big picture.” We understand in California and we’re getting better at it as we go.

    Unfortunately it is something that people don’t understand …until they have to deal with it in their lives. (They just aren't capable of looking beyond the small box they live in)
    Vikki

    ReplyDelete
  5. Ice caps melt into the ocean with is not drinkable because of the salt. Coop, you drink and water your crops with ocean water and see how well that works. Please try think through your posts. A little.

    California has had real issues with drought on and off for decades. The north west is having to decide between saving the salmon (both an ecnomic and ecological important issue) and providing water for crops and hydroelectric.

    Georgia had a huge water shortage this year. Pheonix has literally dropped inches. The entire city, because they have sucked up so much water from underground.

    The underwater lakes that supply a huge percentage of our water our half plus empty. The great lakes are dropping quickly.

    Water will be an issue. Will it be the issue in the U.S.? I tend to think is won't be directly unless there is a drought year or two in a row. Then we could have another dust bowl. There are a lot of countries where water has the potential of starting wars. For example the dead sea. Some countries are draining so much water from the sea's incoming streams the dead sea could actually die.

    ReplyDelete

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