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Some thoughts - mainly about water and population

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  • Some thoughts - mainly about water and population

    We all know the story of the ‘working man’ lottery winner who, unaccustomed to his new found wealth, lives the high-life for a while before his unsustainable life-style catches up with him. It may be more apocryphal than typical but despite our not winning it has the virtue of making us feel smug in the knowledge that we would not have been so stupid. The problem with this little morality play is we, collectively, have had such a win and are living that unsustainable high life right now – welcome to the Anthropocene.

    Our ‘small blue dot’ has provided us with an intermezzo and our species has taken full advantage of the lull to settle, have an agricultural revolution and then an industrial one. They both allowed for a major hike in the human population the only problem is the later is our lottery win and has allowed us to support a population level/standard of living based on blowing our inheritance rather than living on our earnings.

    It is hardly a great surprise that so few early human remains have been found as the global population was thought to have been stable at about one million hunter gatherers. Starting about 10,000 years ago we changed to a more sedentary life-style with domesticated animals, planted crops and larger, and more permanent, settlements. FluTrackers regulars will probably be aware that this new close proximity to domestic animals had the downside of allowing for the zoonotic emergence of all the major communicable diseases which have caused perturbations in the population growth as agricultural practices improved and new food crops were found and redistributed globally. This wobbly growth got the population up to one billion by about 1800 at which point the Industrial Revolution kicked in and man’s exploitation of the planets natural resources began in earnest. While it has taken a while for our technological abilities to reach a point where our rate of exploitation, of even common minerals, is such we can calculate extinction of easily extractable reserves in terms of a small numbers of human life times. Fossil fuels are the best know examples and Hubbert’s peak may already have been and gone. All fossil fuel reserves, even if you allow for the most optimistic estimates of ‘yet to be found fields’ and improvements in extraction techniques, should be gone in my great grandchildren’s lifetimes.

    We are currently using fresh water at a rate beyond that at which it is being produced. This is only possible as we are draining fossil water aquifers to make up the difference. The scale of this problem is being masked by a one-time increase in glacial flows into the rivers whose basins’ provide the food for a large chunk of the worlds populations. These include the Mekong, Ganges, Yellow, Yangtze and Brahmaputra all of which rely on the Himalaya/Tibetan Plateau for seasonal stabilisation. Current estimates put China’s 2030 water need at 25% above supply (and 20% is so polluted it not even suitable for agricultural use) and for India this becomes 50% and India is already very reliant on its non renewable aquifers.

    Returning to the problem of over population. I left us at the start of the industrial revolution with a population of 1 billion, 2 billion came in 1927. I come into this story in 1956 and my lifetime has seen billions 3,4,5 & 6 in 1960,’74, ’87 & ’99 respectively. Number 7 is due next year and I may well live to see 8, 9 and possibly 10. Of all the countless generations of human existence ours is the only one to have lived through more than one of these milestones and I may see 8. We are arrogant and often class ourselves as being different to the other animals, who have the misfortune of sharing their planet with us, but we are just as susceptible to the laws of population dynamics as the lemmings. Consider that 70% of global fresh water is used for agriculture and that current agricultural systems are dependant on vast fossil fuel inputs to sustain yield levels how then can we maintain anything like our peak population once the few generations since 1800 have blown the contents of the planets deposit account, which had taken hundreds of millions of years to accumulate.

    Depressing as it is we need to consider what we, our parents and grand parents have done and what it might mean for our children, grand children and great grand children for it is only these few generations that will have lived through the industrial age and the consequences of its first level mistakes. The second level mistakes are more serious and include the likelihood we have destabilised the precarious climate balance in which humans have had their ascendant moment. The processes we have set in motion may also lead to mass extinctions of species our descendants will sorely miss; it would be very untypical of us if, when the crunch comes, we do not sacrifice any other life forms rather than inconvenience ourselves.

    I do not think I have ever written anything as unremittingly bleak as this before, and it is not a comfortable read, it is however a reality that needs to be addressed and burying our heads in the sand only makes the eventual crash worse. Do we want to be know as the generation that could have done something to mitigate the worst effects of what is coming but didn’t.

    Y’'all have a nice day now.

    I hope this will spur some thought, further reading and, hopefully, discussion. To which end here are a few links.

    Charting our water future (A McKinsey Institute report on water to 2030 with some solutions)

    At some point within the last couple of years for the first time more than half of humanity became city dwellers this is UNFPA report on Urbanisation and population growth.
    State of world population 2007

    Global food projections to 2020: Implications for investment
    this second link is to
    International Model for Policy Analysis of Agricultural Commodities and Trade (IMPACT): Model Description
    which explains the maths in the IFPRI 2020 food report.

    How Cuba survived peak oil.
    This video looks at the changes Cuba had to make when the collapse of the USSR ended its access to cheap oil. They are mainly to do with oil as an agricultural input.
    Meeting water requirements of an expanding world population

    FAO report
    World Agriculture toward 2015/2030

    2030: The “Perfect Storm” Scenario
    “It is predicted that by 2030 the world will need to produce around 50% more food and energy, together with 30 per cent more fresh water, whilst mitigating and adapting to climate change. This threatens to create a ‘perfect storm’ of global events…There's not going to be a complete collapse, but things will start getting really worrying if we don't tackle these problems.” John Beddington UK Chief Scientific Advisor Gwynne Dyer is a journalist and made 3 podcasts for CBC ‘Ideas’ on the implication of water and climate change mainly from a political/military perspective. Well worth a listen sound logic, if a little worrying.

    Gwynne Dyer looks at the potential problems between India/Pakistan over water treaties, and attempts to renegotiate them, in the light of the new realities. This link is to Guardian article looking at a similar attempt to renegotiate the CPA that governs who can take what from the Nile. Watch this space for the water wars are coming.

    Some interesting stats. and lots more links
    Last edited by JJackson; June 18, 2015, 04:02 PM.

  • #2
    Re: Some thoughts - mainly about water and population

    Signs of the future.....

    Where Ganga flows, water from Alaska

    Calcutta, Aug. 22: India, which celebrates rivers in its anthem, will get water shipped in tankers all the way from Alaska much like it gets oil from West Asia.

    S2C Global Systems, an American company, plans to start shipping to India within six to eight months in what is said to be the world?s first bulk export of water by tankers.

    Ships like Suezmax or food-grade tankers will ferry fresh water across the Pacific ? the shortest possible route ? to a port south of Mumbai to feed India?s bottling plants, industry and municipalities. The journey could take about 30 days.

    ?S2C Global has an exciting future in India and the region,? Rod Bartlett, president of S2C Global Systems, US, said.

    India Microscope, a Citigroup research report, has cited a study by the Water Resources Group that says India will be able to meet only half of its water requirement from indigenous sources by 2030. The report does not specify when the country, which is now water-surplus, will turn deficient.

    The Yamuna, one of the rivers mentioned in the anthem, was in spate today but many urban centres in India face water shortage ? a problem imports can help mitigate.

    ?After recently spending time in India meeting port authorities and potential distributors, our vision to distribute water globally became real. We fully expect the India hub to fulfil our minimum expectations of half a billion gallons sold annually,? Bartlett said.

    S2C is also planning to redistribute water from India to West Asia. Based in Texas, the company owns 50 per cent in Alaska Resource Management, which has the right to buy water for bulk export from Blue Lake under the administration of the city and borough of Sitka in Alaska.

    Another company, Aleut Corp, based at Anchorage in Alaska, is also eyeing export of water to India and China. It plans to source the water from Adak Island.

    Bartlett, also the managing partner of Alaska Resource Management, said the water would cost 7 to 10 cents a gallon (81 paise to Rs 1.16 a litre) when it lands in India, depending on fuel cost and government levy.

    The company will buy water at 0.01 cent a gallon or 11 paise a litre from Alaska, said Garry White, executive director of the Sitka Economic Development Association.

    While there has been quite a debate in Alaska and Canada whether water should be exported in bulk for commercial purposes, White supported the move.

    ?I support the exporting of water to anyone that needs it. We have an abundant source of water that is renewable,? he said, adding that Sitka would earn $29 million a year.

    But experts wonder if such long-distance bulk water export is possible, given the cost involved. J.D. McNiven, professor emeritus, Dalhousie University, at Halifax in Canada, told The Telegraph that after the long voyage, the water would have to be purified. The cost will be high.

    A bottle of packaged drinking water now retails around Rs 14 a litre in India. However, the economics will be completely different if India turns water-deficient.

    The Water Resources Group report estimates that demand will rise to 1,500 billion cubic metres ? 1 cubic metre equals 1,000 litres ? from 740 billion cubic metres now.

    S2C said it would protect the water using an ?Ozonating? system in the ships. White said the city of Sitka does not use the water straight from Blue Lake either. Water is distributed after purification.

    Read Latest News on Politics, Business, Sports, Bollywood, Technology, and Science on The Telegraph India. Stay with us!
    "The next major advancement in the health of American people will be determined by what the individual is willing to do for himself"-- John Knowles, Former President of the Rockefeller Foundation


    • #3
      Re: Some thoughts - mainly about water and population

      My initial take on AD?s article is lunacy, but interesting lunacy. It gets us into a very tricky and sensitive area to do with economic and political systems and their suitability to deal with the post industrial age, and the transition to this new state.

      Firstly if we have a look at what they are planning to do. Ship water to India from Alaska by conventional fossil fuel tanker. Following on from my initial post this is using a, for all practical purposes, non-renewable resource, which we know is running out, to redistribute a renewable that is already being over exploited globally. That this is possible, within the extant capitalist economic model, is due to what in the jargon are negative externalised marginal costs i.e. those costs borne by others than the buyer or seller. If a farmer uses fertiliser on his field and the increased yield pays for the input then it is worth doing. If he had to pay for the loss of productivity in the stream caused by the run off, the increased cost of water treatment to remove his excess inputs and the damage caused by marine algal blooms feeding on the pollutant then the cost benefit analysis might be very different. Here fuel is unrealistically cheap as it is being priced on the cost of extraction and refining but does not include the cost of replenishment of the raw material, coal or oil, and is therefore unsustainable. If the coal industry had to show they had planted an equivalent volume of trees and allowed them to fall into an anaerobic bog to begin the production of the next generation of coal then coal would cost thousands of times more than it does today and fossil fuels would be used, as they should be, for their complex long chain hydrocarbons rather than just oxidising them to create CO2, H2O and some energy, which is a criminal waste. It is also highly uneconomic if you use a more realistic accounting procedure.

      Going back to the article the Water Resources Group (WRG) study (referred to just before the bold section) is in fact the McKinsey (MGI) report ?Charting our water future? the first of my links. The WRG is an amalgam of multinationals (Nestle, Coca-Cola, Standard Chartered et al) who funded the MGI to produce an excellent report because there was so little reliable data on which they could make business decisions. The report is 178 pages and includes 4 case studies one each on areas in China, India, Brazil and South Africa which beautifully show the differences in the problem from area to area. As you begin to look into water related problems in a little more detail you first realise that water, as a resource, must be classified on its availability and purity. If you need drinking water for a city there must be supply all the year around and it must be economically viable to bring it up to potable standards. It also quickly becomes apparent that marginal costs to supply solutions vary enormously and any solution will need to be holistic, in the sense it needs to be a basket of options covering both the demand and supply side.

      If I can get my graphics to work I hope you can see 2 figures the first shows the countries with water surpluses and deficits. Even if you can not read the text a glance will show you the little pimple above the line (far left) are those countries with surpluses, this iceberg has nearly everything below the line.
      Click image for larger version

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      The second Graph (hopefully) should show the basket of available options to balance supply and demand from the Indian case study along with their associated marginal costs.
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      I had hoped to include a 3rd graph, but can not remember where I saw it. From memory it was showing about 70% of water usage was for agriculture and that the bulk of global food production (60%ish from memory) uses irrigation. So when we talk of water shortages we are really talking about food shortages/price hikes and the starvation of the poor.

      As a side note congratulations to the authors on the graphics in this report there are lots and they are used to very good effect.

      While the solutions to many of the problems are realistically achievable I am very pessimistic about their implementation, which brings us back to the politics. While disputes over oil have usually been amicably resolved the fields are static and if they extend across international boarders some kind of a solution based on how much resides in each territory can normally be reached. Water has historically been viewed as ?free?, it flows and many catchments cover several countries. It is also a non negotiable input for humans and no government can survive if its people do not have water so can not produce food. Down stream countries are at the mercy of upstream countries should they decide to draw excessively, control flow by damming, or worse still, diverting rivers. Some of the treaties governing usage date back to colonial times and so were not negotiated by the states that are now disputing them. They also reflect population, usage and flow patterns which have little to do with the current situation and there is always one party who stands to loose with change and will not renegotiate. While China & India may seem to have a similar problem in rapid industrialisation and population growth their ability to effect change is very different due to their political systems. China can command enormous planned public works in a way India can not. While China may not necessarily make the right choices they can at least implement them. Most democracies can not as powerful interest groups can often stymie or just delay things they don?t like which makes bold government impossible. If it is possible to push a problem onto some other country, or region, whose votes fall in someone else?s catchment area this is always going to be the most expedient option. If all else fails prevaricate until you are out of office before making any unpopular choices. Political timescales and the timescales for climate change, pollution, bio-diversity (or lack there of) and water problems do not mesh in our democratic system and we have not allowed enough power to devolve from the nation state level to regional and global institutions to allow them to impose needed solution.

      Before I close if I could draw your attention to one of the other links in my original post, this time to the ?How Cuba survived peak oil? video. Thinking again about the media item Denise posted the Cuban experience showed, on a small scale, that a hike in fuel costs caused an immediate change in agricultural practices, a lot more food was grown in towns/cities and by the consumer. Cuba had had a very intensive agribusiness model with higher inputs than the US. It was as fertiliser and pesticide precursors, rather than as a fuel, that the impact was most noticeable. As fuel prices rise the economics of producing trolley jacks in China having shipped coal from Chile, Iron ore from Australia and then shipped the jack back to the US or Europe will change. The world will become smaller again, more food will be local and manufacturing will return home ? at least in part. How long the Alaskan water shippers stay in business depends on which increases faster the cost of fuel or water. Both will go up but, as the MGI report shows, there are other demand and supply levers with lower marginal costs than bulk shipping.
      I have another post in this sub-forum which looks at shipping rates and the BDI is explained in there, it is currently about 2500.
      Last edited by JJackson; May 29, 2015, 12:57 PM.


      • #4
        Re: Some thoughts - mainly about water and population

        Not just Alaska


        Several New Zealand entrepreneurs also see potential in
        water exports. Okuru Enterprises Limited and Southland
        Water Company are two New Zealand companies that
        claim they are close to shipping water throughout
        Southeast Asia and other parts of the world
        . Okuru
        Enterprises has been working toward this goal for over
        nine years. The company spent the first four years
        obtaining the New Zealand government's approval to

        For Southland Water Company?s founder, John Fletcher,
        the idea of water exports goes back even further. In 1971,
        Fletcher?s first export company, Resources Development
        Ltd., had a twenty-year right to export New Zealand
        water. The company was nearly successful in completing
        the country?s first commercial water export, but as it was
        loading tankers with water for a customer in Bahrain,
        labor dispute broke out delaying the shipment. The
        customer cancelled the order, leaving the company with
        financial losses from which it never recovered.


        • #5
          Re: Some thoughts - mainly about water and population

          At least part of what I am trying to do with this thread is find a safe, and fairly permanent home, for the links to some of the better online source I have found in my readings. Last night I found an interesting short PowerPoint slide set in which the author had used this graphic
          [Click image for larger version

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          which is not the missing third slide I was looking for in the first post but has a little pie chart showing just how big a cut agriculture takes. The rest of the graph shows that of all the planet’s water only 0.03% is not either saline, ice or ground water and therefore effectively out-of-bounds for terrestrial life.
          (from which seems to have been a UK water industry leader talking to his peers about the type of problems I have been writing about. Check out the world maps with colour coded water-stress for the present, the future and the future with climate change – not very comforting.)

          The attributions on the graph lead me to a site I was not aware of . This is a Norwegian site linked to the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) and has lots of data – most of which I have not had time to look at yet. One new report did catch my eye as it seems I am not the only one concerned by the implications of glacial melt from the Himalaya region. The following graphics are taken from “Too much - Too little Water: Adaptation to Climate Change in the Hindu Kush Himalayas and Central Asia” and provide some numbers to back up my warnings on the coming changes to flow patterns in the critical rivers feeding China, India and many others beside – the situation is actual even worse than I had thought.
          Click image for larger version

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          The text with this graphic explains 1.3 billion people live in these river basins and they account for half of Asia's cereal production and a quater of the worlds.

          The report is so up-to-date that it included this on the current Pakistani flooding which I have included as it is topical
          Click image for larger version

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          much of this report deals with flooding and why this area eclipses all other areas in the world in terms of the misery and deaths caused by flooding. This of course has to be effected by changes in total and seasonal flows.

          All this research into water is accidental. What I started to look at was urbanisation and population growth as I have been trying to find good data to back up a different hunch I have relating to its effects on disease spread in the event of a severe pandemic. I wrote 'Some things to think about in the event of a pandemic' in 2005 and convinced myself at that time we are woefully unprepared for the basket of urbanisation effects. When H5N1 spurred national governments to start planning seriously I was dismayed to find they generally concentrated on direct first order effects and gave scant consideration to – what I view as - the fact that once severity reaches the point it engenders wide spread fear the supply chain effect will out-weigh the direct medical effects. Katrina was an interesting field test as it showed the problems of trying to supply even the relatively small number of people left in the city (after a mandatory evacuation) once the supply chain, utilities and governance had been disrupted. That it was water rather than illness that caused the problem is largely irrelevant the points to note is there is no mechanism to replace the water supply if mains is disrupted, people do not have alternative sources of food if the chain stops, they have no fuel source to make safe any water or food they do find. I seem to recall all this was after a million people had been evacuated which coincidently is the figure I gave for the planets stable hunter gatherer carrying capacity so there is little chance of all those city dwellers living for any length of time by catching rabbits and cooking on wood fires. The solution to the problem in urban New Orleans was help from the outside so most of those trapped in the city did not die of thirst and were rescued in days. This is of course because the problem was localised and short lived; two factors which would not be working for us in an epidemic.
          If you study non primates they generally do not seem to have much of a concept of time, other than the present. Although we as a species have learnt to keep and study recorded histories we still seem to have difficulty in thinking rationally about events outside our personal experience. We know intellectually that a comfortable middle class professional in England in 1900 would be almost impossible to convince of the events that would befall him and that his children would live through. He was a citizen of the worlds superpower, Britannia ruled the waves and cartographers bought pink ink by the barrel. A Czech citizen in 1990 would also be difficult to convince of the horrors about to befall him, and all those around him, in the middle of a newly unified and ‘civilized’. A look at human history or at the natural world and we see these great events and yet each generation seems convinced that they are in some way different and that they are, for some reason largely exempt, from the disasters that befall others. It makes it very difficult to effect the necessary changes without first re-educating the public about almost everything.

          If anyone knows of any good links relevant to the this general area - especially disease and urbanisation - please add the links so this becomes a useful library of reference material for anyone who finds this thread.

          Jonathan 'call me Cassandra' Jackson.
          Last edited by JJackson; June 18, 2015, 04:04 PM.


          • #6
            Musical chairs

            Once upon a time in a galaxy far away ?
            OK it was not in a galaxy, as there were none, and it was not far away it was here, and everywhere else, but it was a long time ago. It was 13.7 billion years ago and there was an awful lot of energy. Most of it, about 75%, stayed as dark energy most of the rest became dark matter and tiny bit, about 3%, did something very odd and turned into hydrogen (with a little helium and Lithium forming from them) as per Einstein?s instructions. This fairly smoothly distributed gas started to clump due to gravity and after a few hundred million years the lights began to turn on. These first stars ? due to a lack of heavier elements ? were probably very large and short lived (100 solar masses and 1 million year lifetimes?) but what they achieved was the creation of new elements which entered the gas cloud once they went super-nova. The next generation of stars were more metal rich and their progeny ? like our sun ? are richer again. When our solar system formed 4.5 billion years ago the gas cloud was relatively rich with elements other than the sun?s main sequence fuel, hydrogen. As it ignited it blew off much of the surrounding gas and the lighter elements moved further out. Gravity did its thing again and the planets formed with the outer ones rich in light elements and the inner ?rocky? ones have a higher proportion of the heavier elements. As the proto-earth?s mass increased it started vacuuming up the surrounding matter. All these impacts generated a lot of heat producing a molten planet in which the heavier elements tended to sink to the core. As the impacts slowed down, once there was nothing left to collect,
            the planet cooled, a crust formed and a whole host of inorganic process kicked in which were eventually complicated by life. So far so good 10 billion years have past and we have set the scene for life but how does this have any bearing on this threads sustainability theme?

            The molten earth would have distributed the different elements fairly evenly around the planet with a gradation, due to gravity, by density from the core out. Very light gases, like hydrogen, would be lost to space, heavier gases formed an atmosphere, iron formed the core, silicate minerals helped with the crust and water complicated the whole picture by dissolving all manner of things and redistributing them. We are now mining those things we find useful but how did they become concentrated to the point that one area has lots and other have none, and which of these processes took geological time to lay down but are being harvested on unsustainable timescales? We understand oil and coal as fossil fuels that need conservation but in an earlier post I said there were many other resources that we are using unsustainably and gave paleowater as an example but phosphorous is another looming problem.

            In fresh water ecosystems plant life is often limited by the availability of phosphorous in the form of phosphates. If you look at a bag of fertiliser it will have an N-P-K number on it denoting the relative balance of the three key plant foods. The Nitrogen content uses ammonia as an input and 5% of the world?s natural gas goes into making this. The P is the subject of this post, where does this come form and how long will it last? Around 1800 it was found that concentrated dried bird droppings (guano) were effective fertiliser but as the nutrients are soluble they needed to be from very arid regions, however these resource were quickly exploited. It is also naturally occurring in the crust but only at 0.2%. Today phosphates are mined in deposits with a concentration of 20%, what concentrated them? The answer seems to be bacteria initially and then diagenetic replacement in which the phosphate in solution ? from the long dead bacteria ? is concentrated in certain types of sedimentary formations. The problem is much like coal and oil in that these processes occurred over millions of years, hundreds of millions of years ago. Also like fossil fuels they are about to run out, that is to say reserve estimate vary from 30 to 300 years which means within a few generations at best.

            Peak Phosphorous [3]Click image for larger version

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            While we think of the oil being in a few oil rich countries phosphates are even less evenly distributed. ?Nearly 90 percent of the world's estimated phosphorus reserves are found in five countries: Morocco, China, South Africa, Jordan, and the United States. In comparison, the 12 countries that make up the OPEC cartel control only 75 percent of the world's oil reserves.? [1]

            This graph is from USGS data [2]Click image for larger version

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ID:	652598 and shows that, despite being one of the few countries to have major deposits the US is now a net importer (it is getting its supplies from Morocco).

            Once we have mined the guano and phosphates deposits and feed them to our food crops they will end up in the sea in a dilute form until re concentrated over the next few million years but they will not be readily available to foreseeable generations of humans.

            Our sudden jump from 2 to 10 billion is based on vastly increased food production, which has been made possible by better yields due to irrigation, fertilisers and improved strains. While there is scope for further strain improvement there are limits to how much water can be used for irrigation and fertiliser production is unsustainable. To add to these woes the tailing off of fossil fuels is putting pressure on their use as agricultural inputs which is in turn compounded by attempts to mitigate the problem by switching agricultural production from food to bio-fuel use. Fusion may solve the planets energy needs in the medium to long term but as thing stand we are likely to have a post fossil fuels pre fusion gap, quite possibly in tandem with a catastrophic food shortage and enforced population crash.

            As you have probably gathered by now our recently acquire engineering abilities have let us raid the planetary piggy bank, and temporarily sustain a vast population boom, but it is unclear that future technological advances are going to be able to allow us to sustain it. We have, to-date, managed to keep pulling techno-rabbits out of the hat but we are taking an enormous risk with our children?s futures in assuming that a system based on growth can continue indefinitely in a finite system. We are locked into a ponzi scheme and the only question is which generation of our descendants will be holding the bill when the music stops.

            Last edited by JJackson; June 22, 2015, 06:05 PM.


            • #7
              Re: Some thoughts - mainly about water and population

              Originally posted by JJackson View Post
              I do not think I have ever written anything as unremittingly bleak as this before, and it is not a comfortable read, it is however a reality that needs to be addressed and burying our heads in the sand only makes the eventual crash worse. Do we want to be know as the generation that could have done something to mitigate the worst effects of what is coming but didn’t.
              Thanks for this thoughtful summary of global water limitations and the implications to life on the planet. Life is change, and I agree that we have had quite a ride over the last 150 years or so.

              I don't see this as bleak, it is just a future event for which we all have to assess our positions, carefully consider our options and resources and try to prepare.

              I view it on the same psychological continuum as how the emergence of H5N1 motivated me to prepare. Maybe I am now more open to the concept of extreme change after working through the issues associated with a potentially high mortality pandemic event.

              I have found an outlet for my concern in participation in the Transition Town movement, a global movement to increase local and community resilience in the face of peak oil and climate change. As you suggest, water will prove to be a significant limiting resource. And as with pandemic flu, the organization, and the planning process is half the battle - getting people together and thinking creatively will go a long way in helping to prepare communities for extreme change in the future.

              Separate the wheat from the chaff


              • #8
                Re: Some thoughts - mainly about water and population

                The Future of Food and Farming: Challenges and choices for global sustainability.
                Project aim: to explore the pressures on the global food system between now and 2050 and
                identify the decisions that policy makers need to take today, and in the years ahead, to ensure that
                a global population rising to nine billion or more can be fed sustainably and equitably

                This a major new report commissioned by the UK government a couple of years ago and which has just been published. It is downloadable as a .pdf and runs to about 200 pages. It covers very much the same area as this thread and included in its 10 pages of references will be much of the same source material. I have not had time to read more than summaries and odd sections but it seems about right so far.

                If anyone has read the report and would like to post some highlights or thoughts please do so.

                I have been working, very slowly, on a new post for this thread but keep giving up as it is trying to make some suggestion of what a solution might look like. In its current draft it seems to require the dissolution of the Nation States and the replacement of Capitalism with an, as yet undefined, new economic system. While Marx may yet be right that Capitalism is only a transitory state following Feudalism I am not sure his preferred replacement, Communism, will suffice.

                If I ever get it postable I shall be back.

                My tip for reading these kind of reports is read the Exec. summary and Table of Contents and then go straight for the Annexes, they often hold the best bits. I recommend Annex E 'Project Reports and Papers' where you can find a link to download location for dozens of additional reports and case studies. Including one each for the five 'Challenges' within the report
                Challenge A: Balancing future demand and supply sustainably
                Challenge B: Addressing the threat of future volatility in the food system
                Challenge C: Ending hunger
                Challenge D: Meeting the challenges of a low emissions world
                Challenge E: Maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services while feeding the world
                Last edited by JJackson; January 24, 2011, 09:20 PM. Reason: Added the text after Edit:


                • #9
                  Re: Some thoughts - mainly about water and population

                  This is quite interesting. As always with climate related issues nothing is simple or clear cut. The 'margin of error'/'degree of uncertainty' on all our estimates and models is often larger than the predicted change - which dose not make for easy communication with the public, or policy makers.

                  Charting unknown Himalayan waters
                  By Navin Singh Khadka
                  Environment reporter, BBC News

                  The Himalayas hold the largest volume of ice outside the polar regions
                  In the wake of a recent controversy over the retreat of Himalayan glaciers in which the UN's climate science body admitted that it was an error to assert that they would disappear by 2035, water availability has emerged as a key issue with even more uncertainty.

                  Full article
                  BBC, News, BBC News, news online, world, uk, international, foreign, british, online, service
                  Last edited by JJackson; May 29, 2015, 01:04 PM.


                  • #10
                    Re: Some thoughts - mainly about water and population

                    Africa sitting on sea of groundwater reserves

                    20 Apr 2012 13:53
                    Source: Reuters // Reuters

                    By Chris Wickham

                    LONDON, April 20 (Reuters) - Huge reserves of underground water in some of the driest parts of Africa could provide a buffer against the effects of climate change for years to come, scientists said on Friday.

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                    • #11
                      Re: Some thoughts - mainly about water and population

                      Sharon thanks for the link.
                      I had seen the BBC article on the paper this morning and downloaded the report ,pdf (Quantitative maps of groundwater resources in Africa) with a view to reading it, which I have now done.

                      Although it includes nothing new, in terms of fieldwork, it is still an important bit of research. They have not 'found' the water what they have done is collected all the available - extremely patchy - data on geology, local and regional aquifers, borehole yields etc. and try and make sense of it.
                      I would like to be able to tell you what they found but to understand it you really need to spend a fair bit of time staring at the various maps included in the report. There is an awful lot of water but there are a number of overlapping parameters which need to be understood to grasp what it means.
                      How deep do you have to drill to get to it and what is the sustainable flow from the borehole?
                      Is the source archaic or is it being refreshed?
                      How do the aquifers fit in with surface rainfall patterns?

                      If we look at the first of these questions. The depth is important because it limits the type, and cost, of extraction equipment. A hand pump will only operate up to 50m and over a 100m much more expensive drilling and pumping equipment is required. Low flow rates make sinking anything more than a shallow bore and hand pump uneconomical. A hand pump needs about 0.2 l/sec, any kind of commercial irrigation and you want 5 l/sec plus, which the reports says is uncommon outside of the archaic aquifer ? which I will come back to. As an example the report says a standard centre pivot irrigator of the type used in the central plains of the US will require a borehole that can supply approximately 50 l/sec.

                      The biggest reserves and those with the highest extraction rates are, broadly, under the Sahara and are typically 250m deep. This is the Archaic aquifer and dates back 5000 years to a time when the area was wet. Earlier posts in this thread have pointed out that it is selfish for current generations to use the planets reserves for their benefit alone. The reserve may be huge, and allow the greening of swaths of desert, but it is not inexhaustible and if used unsustainably it will result in an increased local population with no way to survive once the water runs out. This water is not being replenished so all use is basically unsustainable and needs to be carefully considered. The only really large project that I know of is Libya's Great Manmade River (Wikipedia link).

                      Much of the rest of the continent has a much smaller water reserve and low potential abstraction rates. The good news is that it is generally nearer the surface and is being replenished. It is also still significant in quantity and, if used wisely, enough to smooth the worst effects of cyclical droughts lasting several years. It has the added benefit that most of it is safe to drink without further treatment.

                      At the turn of the Millennium the worlds governments committed themselves to a set of development goals (MDG) to be achieved by 2015. Sadly we are unlikely to meet many of them but one we have already met is the improvement in clean water target, regretfully, the other half of the equation the improvement in waste water treatment which is one of the goals showing the least progress and no chance of being met. The fact that a lot of the water outside the archaic reservoir is most amenable to small scale hand pump extraction is probably a blessing in disguise as it renders it less likely to be squandered.


                      • #12
                        Re: Some thoughts - mainly about water and population

                        Another on topic report.
                        This link is to the Royal Societies "People and the planet" Report download page which also has two interesting interviews with working group members. As a completely irrelevant side note I was delighted to see an old friend I had lost contact with on the Review panel. As the report is 134 pages I have not got much past the TOC but it is going to be controversial as it deals with family planning to curb population growth in the developing world, reduction in gross overconsumption in the developed world and global redistribution of wealth. AKA seriously messing with the status quo which never goes down well.
                        If any one has read the report and feels like commenting please jump in. In the mean time this link is to the BBC's environment correspondent's take.


                        • #13
                          Re: Some thoughts - mainly about water and population

                          Originally posted by sharon sanders View Post
                          Africa sitting on sea of groundwater reserves

                          20 Apr 2012 13:53
                          Source: Reuters // Reuters

                          By Chris Wickham

                          LONDON, April 20 (Reuters) - Huge reserves of underground water in some of the driest parts of Africa could provide a buffer against the effects of climate change for years to come, scientists said on Friday.

                          The lead paragraph of this media report borders on sensationalism. There is no such thing as "free" water. All of the earth's water resources are tied into the water or hydrologic cycle. The article (link) touts all of the water locked up in an aquifer under the Sahara implying it should be made available for pumping. In any aquifer, as long as water is extracted at the same or lesser rate than recharge, the pumping will be sustainable.

                          But as JJackson notes the water under the Sahara is old or "fossil" water. The aquifer is probably not being recharged or only minimally so. And there is ample evidence that recent climate change is disturbing worldwide precipitation patterns associated with the water cycle so future recharging of this aquifer is uncertain as well. Any short term indiscriminate pumping of aquifer water in the Sahara will only exacerbate social problems in the region when the aquifer runs dry.


                          • #14
                            Re: Some thoughts - mainly about water and population

                            Al, the Libyan project (see link in earlier post) is drawing over 2 billion tonnes of water annually from the Nubian Aquifer. It is estimated to be about 150,000 billion tonnes in total but total volumes are misleading as they do not equate to extractable totals and the law of diminishing returns definitely applies to wells.
                            The whole project is quite a technological achievement as the water is often over 500m down and costs to date are thought to be about $25Bn. The water is used for cities and general irrigation. Although Libya have put in the investment to tap the aquifer it extends into Egypt, Sudan and Chad so, as with surface water and oil wells, it has great potential for conflict unless agreements on drawing rights can be agreed.

                            This really ought to be with the first post in this thread but I only found it recently. It is a 3 minute animation covering the last 250 years called Welcome to the Anthropocene. It looks at population rise and resource consumption.


                            • #15
                              Re: Some thoughts - mainly about water and population

                              Towards the end of the post on African ground water (No.11 in this thread) I mentioned that much of the water that could be hand pumped from the shallower southern aquifer would be reasonably safe to drink. I also pointed out that the WHO had achieved its MDG improved water target.
                              The linked BBC article gives more details but it seems the WHO announcement has caused some concern.

                              The aim was to provide clean - as in safe to drink - water but this tricky to quantify without testing for heavy metals and pathogens, and no one seems to have agreed what clean means. What can be counted is who gets water from a tap rather than a river or pond even if it is the same water: this is 'improved' water.

                              Now for the numbers. Lets start with the MDG (link to the MDG web site)
                              • Target 7c: Reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation

                              7.8 Proportion of population using an improved drinking water source
                              7.9 Proportion of population using an improved sanitation facility
                              There are about 7 Billion of us and the celebrations were because between 1990 and 2010 two billion more of them joined the 'improved' drinking water elite, leaving 800 million 'unimproved'. The problem is if you redo the estimate for 'clean' rather than 'improved' water only about half of us are in that club.
                              A rather damning indictment of the 'haves' compassion for the 'have nots', what it means is each person in the club needs to sponsor one other person's membership application.