The Biggest Peak of them All: Water

Posted: April 24th, 2008 by: h2

Everybody is talking about oil, the economy, all that, but the biggest problem is going to be water:

I’ve been around the world twice. I’ve seen many cities, societies, [and] nations that disappeared because the water disappeared. China has a huge water problem. In Northern China, they’re running out of water. They know this and they’re working on it, big time. But if they don’t solve it, or if they don’t solve it in time, then China – as you put it – has failed.

By the way, Northern India has the same problem, only worse. Many places have it now. Water is becoming a huge problem worldwide. The same is true in the Southwestern United States. You know, you may have Arizona going to war with California. Some sections of Nevada, Colorado …they’re desperate there.

So it’s not just China – but water’s the main thing that worries me about China.
Jim Rogers,

And that’s all over, this problem is the least talked about issue of all the big problems facing us. The longer we try to avoid the inevitable readjustments we will need to make as a global civilization, the worse the outcome is going to be.

The stories on this have been constant, but are almost always hidden behind the latest disasters in oil, commodities, etc. We can’t really make water, although some desalination methods can produce small amounts without using a lot of energy.

New sources of irrigation water are even more scarce than new land to plow. During the last half of the twentieth century, world irrigated area nearly tripled, expanding from 94 million hectares in 1950 to 276 million hectares in 2000. In the years since then there has been little, if any, growth. As a result, irrigated area per person is shrinking by 1 percent a year.
Beyond this, climate change presents new risks. Crop-withering heat waves, more-destructive storms, and the melting of the Asian mountain glaciers that sustain the dry-season flow of that region’s major rivers, are combining to make harvest expansion more difficult. In the past the negative effect of unusual weather events was always temporary; within a year or two things would return to normal. But with climate in flux, there is no norm to return to.

This just isn’t looking very good. By trying to separate climate change/global warming from the other issues facing us, we allow ourselves into getting lulled slightly.

But here is something nobody has yet mentioned. Water.

The great slow-burning, under-reported resource crisis of the 21st century is water.

Climate change, over-consumption and the criminally inefficient use of this most basic raw material are all to blame. I wrote a book three years ago called When The Rivers Run Dry – because many of the world’s biggest rivers are indeed running dry.

We are using them to death. And with two-thirds of the water abstracted from nature round the world going to irrigate crops, water shortages equal food shortages.

Consider. The two underlying causes of the world food crisis are falling supplies and rising demand on the international market. Add in speculation, panic and hoarding and you have a perfect food storm.

Why falling supplies? Because of major droughts in Australia, one of the world’s big three suppliers, and Ukraine, another major exporter. Those droughts bite hard because both countries are already using their water reserves to the limit. Australia’s wheat exports are 60 per cent down; rice exports are 90 per cent down.
Water – the under-reported resource crisis,

There’s almost nothing you can do about this situation, what we’re seeing is a double slam: too many people, and global warming.

Government scientists blamed an extended drought in southern and south-western China, which caused widespread water shortages last autumn.

But they also admitted that too much water had been held up by the giant Three Gorges Dam, which was built not only to generate electricity but also to control the Yangtze’s devastating summer floods.

The river authorities said that the dam was responsible for a drop of 50 per cent in the river’s flow downstream.

Global warming, population pressure, and inefficient use of resources have all contributed to a nationwide water shortage.

The Yellow River, which flows through central and northern China, regularly dries up along much of its course during the dry season, contributing to the growing desertification of the north.

The fate of the Yangtze is particularly disturbing as the authorities are relying on a massive water diversion scheme currently being built at a cost of £32bn to take water from the Yangtze to the Yellow River.
Yangtze River water level at 140-year low,

And last but not least in this Telegraph series, the much heralded corporate agribusiness play to keep profits rising just a bit longer, biofuels, prove to be essentially the nail in the coffin.

The race to increase the percentage of bio-diesel used in cars around the world could create serious water shortages and pollution problems in the US, China and India, according to two independent studies released this week.

Plans to massively expand the amount of green ethanol manufactured from crops such as maize and sugar-cane will cut carbon emissions but also aggravate water shortages and drive up the prices of food for the world’s poor, researchers warn.

The first report, from the Colombo-based International Water Management Institute, (IWWI) singled out India and China, which already suffer from chronic water shortages in some areas, the two countries that could be worst affected.

“Domestic production of bio-fuels derived from crops will put greater stress on these countries’ water supplies, seriously undermining their ability to meet future food and feed demands,” said Charlotte de Fraiture, lead author of the IWMI study.

China has already announced plans to quadruple its bio-diesel production by 2020 to 15 billion litres, but would need to increase maize output by 26 per cent to meet that target. India has similarly ambitious plans based on sugarcane production.

However the IWMI, a group of 100 scientists from 16 countries, calculated that it required 2,400 litres of irrigation water to produce a single litre of ethanol from maize in China and 3,500 litres from irrigated Indian sugarcane.
Biofuels ‘could cause serious water shortages’,

And even the normally hopelessly technoutopian Wired Magagize has this recent in-depth article about water problems globally:

That the news is familiar makes it no less alarming: 1.1 billion people, about one-sixth of the world’s population, lack access to safe drinking water. Aquifers under Beijing, Delhi, Bangkok, and dozens of other rapidly growing urban areas are drying up. The rivers Ganges, Jordan, Nile, and Yangtze — all dwindle to a trickle for much of the year. In the former Soviet Union, the Aral Sea has shrunk to a quarter of its former size, leaving behind a salt-crusted waste.

Water has been a serious issue in the developing world for so long that dire reports of shortages in Cairo or Karachi barely register. But the scarcity of freshwater is no longer a problem restricted to poor countries. Shortages are reaching crisis proportions in even the most highly developed regions, and they’re quickly becoming commonplace in our own backyard, from the bleached-white bathtub ring around the Southwest’s half-empty Lake Mead to the parched state of Georgia, where the governor prays for rain. Crops are collapsing, groundwater is disappearing, rivers are failing to reach the sea. Call it peak water, the point at which the renewable supply is forever outstripped by unquenchable demand.
Peak Water: Aquifers and Rivers Are Running Dry.

When you start to consider the logical consequences of our current efforts to AVOID THE SOLUTION by continuing to engage in the same system that caused the problem in the first place, growth based industrial social systems, you can see that there is increasingly less room to move.

And the systems are in place now to make any real movement increasingly difficult.

“Far more worrisome is the possibility that neither Washington nor Wall Street is willing to confront the deeper problem — the ascendancy of finance in national policymaking (as well as in the gross domestic product), and the complicity of politicians who really don’t want to talk about it,” he says.

A bad financial gamble
In Phillips’ view, U.S. politicians have made the fatal error of betting the nation’s future on finance. In 1950, manufacturing represented 29.3 percent of U.S. GDP, while financial services accounted for 10.9 percent, he shows. By 2005, the roles had reversed, with financial services accounting for 20.4 percent and manufacturing for 12 percent.

Like the Spanish, Dutch and British hegemonies before it, the U.S. has let itself “luxuriate in finance at the expense of harvesting, manufacturing, or transporting things,” he writes. “Doing so has marked each nation’s global decline.”
Kevin Philips, Author of Bad Money,

You have to add this last piece into the puzzle to start to understand why any movement towards a genuine solution is going to be hampered at every step by this new conglomerate financial/governmental system.

It’s not of course this simple, since the problem is global, but there are areas where resistance to real sustainable solutions is going to happen at every step, because the real world sustainable solutions do not involve growth. And modern industrial/financial systems cannot function without growth. And they want things to grow, populations, economies, etc.

This is a contradiction of such a profoundly fundamental nature that it is very hard to visualize a way out of this dilemma.

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