Lack of Environment

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

The future is already here

with 13 comments

I happened to turn on the BBC News TV channel over the weekend and caught the tail-end of the video below – entitled India’s Water Crisis.  However, upon investigation, I discovered this had been first broadcast over six months ago.  If you have not seen this, I really do think you should watch it.  It is only 22 minutes long but, if even that would be a challenge, you could watch and listen to this 3-minute audio slide show on the BBC website instead.

As part of my MA, I researched the water supply problems China faces in the Yellow River basin, which I summarised on my blog last year (starting here).  In this video, narrated and presented by Jill McGivering, we see a depressingly-familiar picture unfolded in graphic detail; regarding India’s most sacred river – the Ganges:  For example, at Varanasi, the River Ganges is now one of the most polluted rivers in the World – due to the amounts of untreated sewage, industrial effluent, and cremated bodies that are being continually put into it there.  The latter is an issue that I touched upon over a year ago (in ‘The pollution of death’ [14 December 2011]).

The problems the above practices cause are compounded by the fact that the flow in the Ganges is kept very low as a result of the amount of water abstracted from it in order to provide water for cities like India’s capital – New Delhi.

Meanwhile, the groundwater table in rural areas is falling faster than it has ever been known to in the past – not really that surprising given that it is being abstracted faster than ever – because there are more people living in India than ever before.

People who say population growth in the developing world is a non-problem need to watch this video; stop trying to pick a fight with history and science; and start dealing with the nature of reality:  All our environmental problems are limits to growth phenomena; and we will not begin to solve them until ideologically-prejudiced economists, politicians, religious leaders – and unduly optimistic people everywhere – stop denying the nature of reality.

If they do not embrace reality soon, I am seriously concerned about the potential for civil disorder and even war that would seem an almost inevitable consequence of water scarcity such as we now see in rural India; where people are already spending a fifth (20%) of their income on water.

Written by Martin Lack

14 January 2013 at 00:02

13 Responses

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  1. Thank heavens that you are speaking plain language. I was engaged in tropical agriculture for many years in Central Africa – where is irrelevant – and concluded that, if one has to irrigate then one is planting the wrong crop in the wrong place. I experienced fights and lethal disputes over water (shortages) due to water extraction from seasonal streams and rivers, which was implemented in order to bring the local people into contact with the much-vaunted global economy. Why do no politicians understand Maths? One cannot take a quart out of a pint jar; and all the rhetoric in the world will not alter this fact. I thank you, Mr.Lack.


    14 January 2013 at 09:43

    • Thanks Duncan (please do feel free to call me Martin).

      I am sorry to have to take issue with what you say but, if it were true that “if one has to irrigate then one is planting the wrong crop in the wrong place” modern civilisation would never have been possible. Irrigation was an essential technological innovation on the road to modernity. The problem is over-population, by which I mean more people per square kilometre than local enviro-climatic conditions can support in the long-term. Using this measure, India is now very clearly over-populated.

      Given that people in the UK throw 50% of their food away after buying it, global agricultural production will not be the most significant limiting factor. However, access to water most certainly is the limiting factor.

      Martin Lack

      14 January 2013 at 10:04

      • One of the more upbeat sections in the BBC video (from about 17 minutes in) points out that the water crisis in India may well have far more to do with resource mismanagement than overpopulation, and suggests that solutions may be sought by local action. That’s a message that scales up well.


        15 January 2013 at 15:30

        • Very true. However, given that it will soon overtake China as the World’s most populous country; I think current population growth is still India’s main problem.

          Martin Lack

          15 January 2013 at 15:38

        • I think current population growth is still India’s main problem.

          “India’s problem”? The Earth has more humans than any other planet we know. I seem to see parochial thinking everywhere lately; if we continue kicking SEPs into the long grass, we’ll run out of long grass.


          16 January 2013 at 10:36

        • I am not suggesting this is not our problem; nor am I trying to kick it into any long grass. However, as a first step to its resolution, the problem needs to be recognised and acknowledged by India’s own government. Sadly, they are too busy trying to out-perform China economically.

          Martin Lack

          16 January 2013 at 10:46

        • Indeed. If we don’t stop competing and start co-operating, we’ll get what we deserve.


          16 January 2013 at 11:18

        • What I find discouraging is that SEP’s are often not even seen as problems. Overpopulation is example. Climate change, the need for constant economic growth, the destruction of social safety nets. We will get what we deserve. Too bad that “our kids” will also get what we deserve.


          17 January 2013 at 00:21

  2. I am currently reading Jeremy Rifkin’s “Third Industrial Revolution”. The book (and the Third Industrial Revolution) is about energy and communication technology and how they can be used to create intelligent electricity grids powered by renewable energies. And although this is not what your post is about, there is a lesson I’ve taken from the book that I believe applies to India’s (and the World’s) water crisis: governmental departments and their policies cannot work independently of each other. Economic policy, energy policy, environmental policy, land use policy, they are all interconnected in real life. But when it comes to making policy, each is created in isolation of the others. And when one policy (say, economic growth) begins to have negative impacts on the others (access to water, management of human waste), we try to create band-aid solutions. That hasn’t worked well for us as a species (see climate change, radioactive waste, India’s water situation).
    Policies need to be integrated with each other.


    15 January 2013 at 09:46

    • Very true – I think it is called holistic (or de-compartmentalised) thinking (i.e. please insert your Einstein quote here).

      Martin Lack

      15 January 2013 at 10:20

  3. Reblogged this on The Green Word.


    15 January 2013 at 09:47

  4. […] 2013/01/14: LoE: The future is already here […]

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