A Philosopher's Blog

The Future of Water

Posted in Business, Environment, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 24, 2010
Clean drinking water...not self-evident for ev...
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Recently certain folks have expressed concern about water and have warned us of shortages and the commercialization of water resources. The idea of water being a scarce and precious resource seems like science fiction. In fact, this idea was the basis of Tank Girl and Ice Pirates. However, even a cursory glance at history and around the world will reveal that water has been and is just such a resource. Obvious examples include the Dust Bowl and the places on earth that are routinely hit with drought. Even now, parts of the United States face severe problems with having enough water. Of course, part of the problem in the United States is that we tend to use far more water than we actually need. We soak our lawns and literally flush away our waste with it.

Even in the face of such facts, it is still very tempting to dismiss any worries about water. After all, as we learned in school, the water is mostly covered in water. There are vast oceans, huge lakes, long rivers and rain falls regularly. While this is true, there are a few problems.

First, the distribution of water does not match the distribution of human populations. As such, some low population areas have vast reserves of water while high population areas sometimes have to engage in rationing. Also, people sometimes have the rather absurd tendency to want to build cities in deserts and this tends to create water problems. While the sensible solution would be to live near water, people pipe and even transport (via tankers) water fairly long distances. This uses resources and makes water more expensive. Also, of course, it moves water around from where it is naturally to other places and this can impact the ecosystem. As the human population grows and we continue to expand into low water areas, the transport of water will increase as will the cost and the environmental impact.

Second, while there is a great deal of water, most of it is in the oceans. While salt water creatures can drink the water just fine, humans cannot use it for irrigation or consumption without removing the salt. While this can be done, the current processes are relatively expensive. There is also the concern about the environmental impact of the process (including the production of the energy needed for the plants). However, the future should see improvements in desalinization as the need for water increases.

Third, the human population is growing and societies are changing. To be specific, as developing nations develop, they will tend to use more water per person as diets, hygiene practices, and consumer consumption changes. For example, if a person in China goes from living in a village to living in a city and starts eating more meat and buying more consumer goods, then that person’s water use (direct and indirect) will increase. After all, water consumption is not just about what we drink or flush. It also includes what is needed to grow our food, make our stuff, and so on.

While we will not see a Tank Girl style future, we can expect water to be increasingly more expensive. This will lead to the usual negative consequences: increased conflict, exploitation of the resources based on the profit model, and so on.

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2 Responses

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  1. kernunos said, on October 27, 2010 at 11:50 am

    Are we losing water to space? My water goes back through my septic system and back in the ground. I have a well aout 250 feet away. The ground is an amazing filter. Some leaves in evaporation but I’m sure it ends up somewhere else on and then in the ground.

  2. kernunos said, on November 4, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    The future looks bright or at least something else that will assault another one of the five senses.


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