Four Reasons to Worry About the Future of Water, One Hope
I’ve just read Charles Fishman’s well-reported and frightening new book The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water.
Fishman’s new book—he is the author of The Wal-Mart Effect and a three-time winner of the Gerald Loeb Award for business journalism—focuses on a clean water crisis that he says has already arrived. A primary factor impacting our one ocean is endangering drinking water as well: Too many people. The planet will reach a population of 7 billion this year; one out of six don’t have access to clean drinking water.
“In the next 15 years, by 2025, the world will add 1.2 billion people,” writes Fishman. “By 2050, we will add 2.4 billion people. So between now and 40 years from now, more new people will join the total population than were alive worldwide in 1900. They will be thirsty.”
Four reasons Fishman gives for worrying about the future of water, and one sip of consolation:
1. Water is in everything, thus in huge demand. “Water is the secret ingredient in the computer chips that make possible everything from MRI machines to Twitter accounts. Indeed, from blue jeans to iPhones, from Kleenex to basmati rice to the steel in your Toyota Prius, every product of modern life is awash in water.”
2. Even the essential ingredient in man is … water. “Everything human beings do is, quite literally, a function of water, because every cell in our bodies is plumped full of it, and every cell is bathed in watery fluid. Blood is 83 percent water. Every heartbeat is mediated by chemicals in water; when we gaze at a starry night sky, the cells in our eyes execute all their seeing functions in water; thinking about water requires neurons filled with water.”
3. Like many natural resources, humans take water for granted. “For Americans, flushing the toilet is the main way we use water … more water flushing toilets than bathing or cooking or washing our hands, our dishes, or our clothes.”
4. Given the abuse of the Colorado River system, rather than for casinos, Las Vegas may soon be known as the driest place on earth. “The Las Vegas area has 2 million residents and 36 million visitors a year, and its water source in January 2011 was lower than it had been in any January going back to 1965. At that time, Las Vegas had about 200,000 residents; today, on a typical day, there are twice that many tourists in town.”
5. Doing more with less water, in other words conserving, is possible. But keep an eye on India and China. As the two biggest populations on the planet grow, so will their water needs. “The United States uses less water today than it did in 1980. Not in per capita terms, in absolute terms. Water use in the United States peaked in 1980, at 440 billion gallons a day for all purposes. Today, the country is using about 410 billion gallons of water a day. That performance is amazing in many ways. Since 1980, the U.S. population has grown by 70 million people. And since 1980, the U.S. GDP in real terms has more than doubled. We use less water to create a $13 trillion economy today than we needed to create a $6 trillion economy then.”
(For the rest of my dispatch, go to takepart.com)