Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

This is what water scarcity will look like

with 24 comments

With my thanks to 350.org for alerting me to this piece of news:

As reported in the Washington Post newspaper recently, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is warning that by 2030 nearly half the world’s population could be facing a scarcity of water, with demand outstripping supply by 40 percent.

For those of us in the grip of unseasonally cold weather this may seem hard to grasp but, this is where we are heading. However, even without climate change, providing enough water for everybody would be difficult. Climate change will just make it near impossible.

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Written by Martin Lack

27 March 2013 at 00:02

24 Responses

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  1. Yes. What to do? Desalination. That is, energy. Hence a quandary.
    PA

    Patrice Ayme

    27 March 2013 at 01:52

    • Governmental expenditure on (or private investment in) the desalination of seawater is evidence that a country has exceeded the ecological carrying capacity of its local environment. It is – as E.F. Schumacher recognised 40 years ago (i.e. in Small is Beautiful) – a consequence of the human delusion that the Earth’s capacity to provide resources and assimilate wastes is infinite. A point well made on Learning from Dogs today.

      http://learningfromdogs.com/2013/03/27/really-very-simple-message/

      Martin Lack

      27 March 2013 at 10:28

      • …the desalination of seawater is evidence that a country has exceeded the ecological carrying capacity of its local environment.

        Dare to tell Israel that?

        Peter Gleick Interview: Climate and Water part 1.

        Lionel A

        27 March 2013 at 16:40

        • Or Saudi Arabia, or Western Australia, or… Thanks for the link to Gleick – very interesting. Am I wrong to be giving up on hydrogeology now? I don’t think so. I think my problem is that I did not pursue clean water stuff; I got involved with landfill and contaminated land instead…

          Martin Lack

          27 March 2013 at 17:53

      • Yeap, so let them die? Until the population goes down low enough to meet the aquifer? Just in Arabia, that’s a lot of people (40 million +) I doubt they will consent.

        Patrice Ayme

        27 March 2013 at 20:02

        • Nature will not ask for their consent; nor does she need it.
          In this respect, at least, Nature is a bit of a bar steward.*

          (*This is an English play on words)

          Martin Lack

          27 March 2013 at 21:03

  2. Too many people.

    Barbra & Jack Donachy

    27 March 2013 at 16:36

    • Too many people with high living.

      Lionel A

      27 March 2013 at 16:38

      • No, too many people. Period. Were there fewer people, all (or certainly most) could be living very comfortable lives.

        Barbra & Jack Donachy

        27 March 2013 at 16:40

        • I appreciated the validity of your comment and was adding another dimension.

          Lionel A

          28 March 2013 at 12:24

        • A ‘comfortable life’ is a matter of perception. The total mass of all the ants sharing the global biosphere with us outweighs ours (incredible but true); if we were to live more in harmony with nature, perhaps we might be able to avoid the imminent cull of our species.

          pendantry

          14 April 2013 at 04:24

  3. “I think my problem is that I did not pursue clean water stuff”

    Well, thankfully I did. Challenging, but very interesting times ahead. I’m just glad to be working in a sector where I can actually make a genuine contribution to a more sustainable world, led by good science rather than political correctness. On other hand, some of the statements regarding water scarcity are a bit too much “end of the world is nigh” scenario. Mankind has faced a ‘water crisis’ of some kind throughout history – but we have been pretty good at finding solutions. Its not much more than 100 years ago that the connection between water and water-borne disease was understood. Also, during the past century, we’ve developed the technology to use enormous fresh groundwater reservoirs that were otherwise inaccessible. We developed advanced water treatment technology, and the analytical expertise to make sure what we our drinking water is safe. And of course desal technology, which is becoming cheaper and more energy efficient all the time. Technology for water efficiency, wastewater treatment, re-use, etc is advancing all the time. The 70% of the worlds abstractions used for agriculture itself provides a big ‘reservoir’. Much of water for agriculture is used very inefficiently, so a relative small improvement will provide big wins. Of course, no room for complacency, but equally, no need for despair.

    In fact Martin, I recommend you adapt your blogging to talking more about water than climate. There’s more of a future in it. Water is a far more relevant and critical issue for the future. And if you believe in AGW, there’s a link anyway. If you don’t, water is still a critical and growing social and environmental issue.

    Quercetum

    28 March 2013 at 08:33

    • I think you did indeed choose wisely; I am only sorry that you appear to be blind to the fact that climate change denial is a industry-led campaign to prevent effective regulation of their business for as long as possible (cf. tobacco). If needing help to perceive this, it doesn’t come much better than the movie, Greedy Lying Bastards. Here is the trailer for it:

      I hope you will also look at yesterday’s post on Climate Denial Crock of the Week, in which Peter Gleick talks on camera about water scarcity in general (and industrial use of water in particular): http://climatecrocks.com/2013/03/27/you-can-have-more-fossil-fuel-or-you-can-have-water-your-choice-part-1/

      Martin Lack

      28 March 2013 at 10:27

  4. Peter Gleick has a lot of good things to say on water (funny how both you [now correct - Ed] and the video producers spell his name differently, both incorrect). Yes, the water-energy nexus is important, as is the food-energy-water nexus. And the story about the Colarado is a clear example of what we should not be doing. And yes, how we use water can affect the climate, at least locally. Where I – and many others disagree – is in the significance of the role of CO2 emissions. Even if global warming will have a negative impact on water resources, far greater influences are such things as population, over-abstraction and pollution. These are priorities, for which a focus on CO2 emissions will distract us from.

    The other film you link to is just a parody of environmentalist propaganda. Regardless of how much you agree with the core message, can you not see that this film – as pure propaganda – completely devalues the pro-AGW case? Monkton is a caricature who, for me has no relevance to the AGW-sceptic case. Portraying him as the AGW-sceptic figure head is good for pro-AGW propaganda, but ultimately pointless and irrelevant.

    Quercetum

    28 March 2013 at 12:10

    • In what way does pointing out to people that they are being lied to by the fossil fuel industry – in exactly the same way that they were lied to by the tobacco industry – devalue the “pro-AGW case” as you call it?

      If this film is propaganda, who is behind it, what is their motivation? Surely you are not going to dismiss all such concern as misanthropic or misguided? What about the possibility that it is actually true – that humanity is in the process of trashing the planet by failing to acknowledge that pumping CO2 into the atmosphere twice as fast as Nature can remove it is not a good idea?

      I really do think you need to stop being selective about what science you accept and what you reject. Climate science is not a hoax, scam, or a cover for worldwide authoritarian government. However, if you agree that Monckton is not a reliable witness, exactly who do you rely upon to maintain your optimistic belief that we are not already in serious trouble?

      Before you answer that question, I would humbly suggest that you need to read the latest piece from Dave Roberts on the Grist website, which concludes thus:

      All of those problems are serious; they all have an impact on public health. But they can all be measurably affected by public policy within our lifetimes. They are bad but they are not cumulative. They are not becoming less solvable over time.
      http://grist.org/climate-energy/two-reasons-climate-change-is-not-like-other-environmental-problems/ (emphasis mine)

      Martin Lack

      28 March 2013 at 12:30

      • With regard to Grist, I agree with the first and last statements:

        “Most people don’t understand climate change very well. This includes a large proportion of the nation’s politicians, journalists, and pundits — even the pundits who write about it.”

        “Climate change is forever.”

        But nothing much in between.

        If you believe the ‘Lying Bastards” trailer is representative of sensible argument, we have little hope of agreeing on what is good or bad science. One good source for climate science I think we can probably agree on is the IPCC. But even there, we won’t agree on everything. Whereas you probably accept the ‘Lying Bastards’ strong linking of extreme weather to global warming, the IPCC struggles to find any (SREX report 2012). I strongly recommend you very carefully read the section on ‘Observations’ (rather than predictions).

        Anyway, we will never agree on climate change, so little point in discussing. On the other hand we can agree that ‘water’ is a big concern which needs addressing.

        Quercetum

        28 March 2013 at 16:25

        • “With regard to Grist, I agree with the first and last statements… But nothing much in between.”

          The Earth’s essential ecosystem services are not influenced by whether or not you agree with anything.

          Sadly for you, despite your content-free assertions that you know best, even the IMF now agrees that fossil fuel use needs to be phased-out ASAP; and that the best way to do this is to make its cost reflect the environmental damage using it is doing. Since the IMF is supposed to be seeking to encourage economic growth, this is an astonishing admission for them to make given all the collateral economic damage this will do; and one they would not make unless they were convinced that the alternative (i.e. doing nothing) would be worse.

          Martin Lack

          28 March 2013 at 17:23

        • @ Martin
          “The Earth’s essential ecosystem services are not influenced by whether or not you agree with anything.”

          I agree with you 100% on that. And neither are they influenced by what you agree on, or Michael Mann’s, or anyone else’s hockey stick.

          What I DO know (with 100% certainty) is that improving water efficiency in agriculture, industry and general water supply, plus improved water treatment and infrastructure WILL help people, the environment and save lives (and ‘unfortunately’ contribute to population growth). I also know (with 100% certainty) that severe reduction in CO2 emissions today will harm livelihoods by reducing the availability of affordable energy, and hinder development in developing countries. What I don’t know is whether reduction of CO2 emissions will have any positive impact whatsoever. Maybe yes, maybe no. In IPCC parlance that’s “medium confidence”.

          In line with my earlier recommendation, if you want to do good for the world, better to focus on certainties than maybes. In line with the subject of this particular article, water is a big environmental and social issue. In fact, my impression is that it is overtaking ‘climate change’ in the public and political consciences as ‘THE’ big issue.

          Quercetum

          28 March 2013 at 19:35

        • Please read this: http://climatecrocks.com/2013/03/28/no-more-minnesota-nice-john-abraham-tears-into-anthony-watts/

          Your notion that the vast majority of climate scientists are either stupid, mistaken, or willfully deceiving politicians for selfish reasons is simply not credible. In complete contrast, the message of Greedy Lying Bastards is extremely well documented. So, with regret, since in science – truth is not relative – it would appear that you are wrong.

          Martin Lack

          28 March 2013 at 19:41

        • Putting words into someone else’s mouth doesn’t win an argument. Nor does preaching to the converted as in GLB.

          Quercetum

          28 March 2013 at 20:26

        • I apologise if you feel I have put words in your mouth. I am just struggling to understand what possible justification you can now have for remaining “sceptical”. You say you think climate change is forever but you do not appear to believe it is a problem we can (or should try to) minimise. Unfortunately for you, almost all the World’s professional scientific bodies have endorsed the opposite view; as have the IPPC, the International Energy Agency, the Pentagon, and now the IMF.

          Despite all this, however, you appear to want to (a) insist that the well-documented evidence for an industry-led campaign to discredit climate science and climate scientists is merely propaganda; and (b) invoke conspiracy theory (and/or or the marketplace of ideas fallacy) in order to remain ambivalent about whether or not CO2 emissions are a problem. At what point do you think dismissing the concern of everyone and anyone who disagrees with you will become untenable?

          Martin Lack

          29 March 2013 at 08:46

        • “Whereas you probably accept the ‘Lying Bastards’ strong linking of extreme weather to global warming, the IPCC struggles to find any (SREX report 2012).”

          The intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC)’s “Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX)” doesn’t ‘struggle to find’ anything of the sort.

          “It is very likely that there has been an overall decrease in the number of cold days and nights, and an overall increase in the number of warm days and nights, at the global scale”

          “Very likely” == 90-100% confidence.

          And though it’s well-hidden, it also admits that

          “Low-probability, high-impact changes associated with the crossing of poorly understood climate thresholds cannot be excluded…”

          We wear seatbelts and have insurance to drive our cars around, yet not only do we have no belt-and-braces approach to climate change, it seems we’re intent on turning off the headlights too, as we accelerate towards the cliff edge through dense fog….

          pendantry

          14 April 2013 at 04:56

  5. I only just spotted pedantry’s reply regarding SREX.

    Funnily enough, he/she just confirms what I said. The only things the report observes certainty in is as quoted:
    “It is very likely that there has been an overall decrease in the number of cold days and nights, and an overall increase in the number of warm days and nights, at the global scale”

    Given that the mean global temperature rose by around 0.8degC during the 20th Century, a little less cold and a little more warmth is inevitable. But, these are not “extreme weather”.

    If you can find confidence in an increased in observed extreme weather in SREX, I’d be happy to hear.

    Oakwood

    16 June 2013 at 15:42

    • Hansen et al (2012) have already demonstrated that extreme weather conditions are becoming more frequent and the range of extremes is widening (i.e. the bell curve [i.e. the probability density function] is shifting towards warmer and getting broader and flatter. These multi-decadal changes cannot be explained by reference to natural climate forcings alone.

      You also appear to be re-asserting that 0.8C temperature rise in 100 years (most of that within the last 60 years) is not significant. Unfortunately, in reality, this is very rapid compared to glacial/interglacial changes and, once again, cannot be explained by natural climate forcings alone.

      As I said to you previously, “At what point do you think dismissing the concern of everyone and anyone who disagrees with you will become untenable?”

      Martin Lack

      17 June 2013 at 14:58


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