Article: Drying of the West

Drying of the WestTucked away towards the back of the February issue of National Geographic is a fantastic article that highlights one of the main areas of concern for the 21st century – the availability of a reliable, clean supply of water.

Many places are experiencing droughts or long periods without rain, with the last few years being the driest ever. The article concentrates on western America – over the last 50 years the population has almost doubled, and this has been possible because there was enough water to meet their needs.

What we have come to consider normal is profoundly wet… “

The trouble is that it has been revealed that the 2oth century was the wettest century for a millennium, and that as the world returns to its drier state and the rivers return to their normal levels they may not be able to support the number of people they do at the moment. This leads to water shortages for consumption and agriculture. Even if you can rely on more than one source of water, chances are they will all be affected in the same way. Reduced supply means that water prices will go way beyond what we are used to paying, and that’s before any costs involved in trying to improve the situation. It won’t be cheap – if it was, we’d be doing it already.

“Global warming will intensify the whole process…the dry regions will get drier and the wet regions will get wetter.”

The article does a good job of explaining how various States are discussing ways of dealing with the situation and how to share out the shortages so that there is the least immediate impact. There is the underlying prospect of the States becoming tougher with each other over time as the situation really starts to take hold. And these are just political battles in a stable modern country – it’s not too difficult to foresee disputes arising between countries as governments on different sides of a border try to safeguard supplies and protect / appease their populations.

Although not dealt with in the article, this ties in with one of the world’s other concerns for the next 50 years – reducing our reliance on oil as a fuel source. We are looking at growing crops to do this – what happens if the demand for water in urban areas means that there is less for irrigation? A global population increase already means that food prices are rising. Our approx 6 billion people today could reach over 9 billion by 2050. How will we balance our need for food with the need for fuel if there is less capacity overall?

It’s not a pretty picture, and it has already started.

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