WW3 will involve water and/or Israel
I am grateful to Christine over at 350orbust.com for alerting me to the new feature-length film Last Call at the Oasis; and to the comments of film critic Christopher Campbell who suggests, amongst other things, that it is “necessary viewing for anyone on the planet who drinks water”.
The film includes contributions from the inspiring, real-life, eponymous environmental activist Erin Brockovitch; made famous by the 2000 film featuring the wonderful Julia Roberts in the title role.
Water – either too much or too little of it – has a tendency to make headlines; mainly because both problems have a tendency to be deadly. However, as a hydrogeologist, I would be inclined to add that groundwater is probably our most important resource but, because it is also the least obvious (i.e. “out of sight and out of mind”), it is also the resource we are most likely to take for granted, over-exploit, and/or corrupt (knowingly or otherwise).
With the exception of karst limestone terrains such as those found in China and Vietnam (i.e. home to the World’s largest cave), groundwater does not travel through underground river channels: It is much better to think of some types of rock (called aquifers) as being like enormous sponges; capable of holding vast quantities of water and helpfully transporting it from where the rain falls to
where we live the sea – and if we’re lucky we can make use of it in between. Sometimes, of course, people choose to live away from both the rainfall and the sea (e.g. Las Vegas), in which case artificial storage reservoirs like Lake Mead have to be constructed. Such structures also tend to act as early warning systems (i.e. record low water levels year-after-year should be taken as an indication that an area is over-populated and/or that the climate is changing).
These are the sort of issues the film explores:
As I have said on Christine’s blog, this film therefore tackles an issue to which attention is long overdue: It is the reason I first became a hydrogeologist – and yet it will undoubtedly be dismissed as yet more environmental “alarmism”; as has been every attempt over the last 40 years to assert that limits to growth exist.
However, I think it is the ultimate arrogance of The Enlightenment that humans believe they can master their environment – rather than accept that they are part of it – that may well be our downfall. As I said nearly six months ago:
“When you live in a wilderness, it is probably safe to treat a passing river as your source of drinking water, washing room, and toilet. However, if you are unfortunate enough to live in a Mumbai slum, this will almost certainly contribute to causing your premature death.”
We may not all live in a Mumbai slum but, as over-population is a function of the capacity of a population’s environment to support individuals, one person can constitute over-population in a desert and, as such, the Earth is clearly already over-populated.
Of course, cynics and/or sceptics will question what over-population means and/or ask for it to be numerically defined. However, as I said to someone called Klem on Christine’s blog who did just that (for the record Klem got banned from this blog months ago for being a troll):
Unlike you, Klem, I do not second-guess genuine experts; or claim to be one. However, I do consider myself very fortunate to have spent and entire year in full-time education studying the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems. Mmmm, that phrase sounds strangely familiar to me…
As I said, over-population is not a number; nor is a density: It is species-specific; and dependent upon the complexity and resilience of the ecosystem that supports it. Our problem as humans is that many of us don’t recognise the value of the global ecosystem that is currently failing to support us; and which we are therefore continuing to degrade… In nature, populations generally do not exceed the carrying capacity of their environment because food supply limitations or predation intervene to stop them. However, human interference (such as the sudden removal of a predator or prey species) – can suddenly have that effect – resulting in overshoot and collapse of a population. Have you noticed humans have no predator (apart from disease) to control their numbers?
Far more importantly, of course, humans have used technology to help support a global population that has already exceeded the Earth’s ecological carrying capacity and – in our hubris – some of us continue to believe that technology can solve all our problems.
In 1968, Garrett Hardin warned us [i.e. in 'The Tragedy of the Commons'] that the battle to feed all of humanity was over (i.e. we had lost). Malnutrition, starvation, and death are not a failure in food distribution; they are a consequence of regional over-population. Furthermore, charity is not the answer; nor is milk powder or disease resistant GMOs (from which only multi-national companies benefit). The solution is fewer people; and this will only be achieved through better education (so that people stop thinking of children as a permanent healthcare insurance); and the emancipation of women (so that they can control their own fertility).
I think it is Joyce Meyer who once said, “Your charisma can get you to places your character cannot keep you…”; and I think humanity is about to learn the lesson of this truth by a fall – not from grace but – from supremacy.
So… Next time you use drinkable water to flush the toilet, wash your dishes, or launder your clothes, consider this: 97% of the water on the surface of the Earth is seawater; and two-thirds of the remainder is frozen. Furthermore, ice is probably best considered to be a non-renewable resource (as most of it will disappear into the sea before we can make use of it).
And to the cynics and/or “sceptics” that dismiss talk of limits to growth as having been proven by history to be misguided “alarmism”, I will just borrow a phrase from the money-fetishized world of the financial services sector: “Past performance is not a guarantee of future success”. Furthermore, if there is a better definition of unsustainable development than that exemplified by groundwater mining (i.e. abstracting groundwater from any aquifer faster than it is being replenished by rainfall) I have yet to think of it.