Water Security and Old World Ego

When entertaining the unjustified “scepticism” of climate science, it’s not uncommon to suddenly realise that the other party has led you far from the pool of reason, where it becomes easy to be disheartened. Luckily, this band of reason-deniers is only small and on returning to the realms of science, the wealth of evidence and understanding is recharging – even if the reality can be quite concerning.

A recent paper by Vörösmarty et al (2010) regarding water security, is a real eye opener on yet another issue on our doorstep that is not gaining enough attention. For the first  time at a global scale, the team analysed the various stressors on fresh water systems, considering the impact on both human populations and biodiversity.

The outlook isn’t a pretty one and if current attitudes prevail, it is a needlessly difficult future ahead.

Around 80% of the world’s population face high level treats to water security and as is usually the way, the situation is worse for biodiversity, which is too often overlooked.

On Monday, I explained why I believed the de-salination plant at the end of the Murray Darling System was a bad idea. However, this attitude of ignoring potential cures in favour of quick fixes seems to be all too common in developed nations. The authors comment on affluent nations tending to choose to treat water downstream than to protect water quality upstream.

Developing nations face greater hardship, being without comparative wealth available for water security investment. As many of the fresh water systems travel across country boarders, management is made more difficult – and again, ecological flows will remain the lowest priority.

“We remain off-pace for meeting the Millennium Development Goals for basic sanitation services, a testament to the lack of societal resolve, when one considers that a century of engineering know-how is available and returns on investment in facilities are high.” -Vörösmarty et al (2010)

As with various biodiversity targets, such as the No Species Loss for SA, and over a decade of discussions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we continue to fall well short of the necessary targets (see here for an article on unmet biodiversity targets).

We know it’s not a case of understanding, because the science has long built compelling arguments as to why we should protect ecosystems and natural resources.

We know it’s not really a case, as some try to scare us into believing, that it will hurt economies, for as Adelady recently put it in a comment to another post, “Any quality economist can show that any society that works productively to a specific purpose can make that process financially profitable for those who engage in it.”

What we have is a situation that I discussed in my previous post. It’s simply one of the bad habits from our past which we have brought with us into the modern world. Developed nations are either the old world colonisers or the new world colonial nations, based on western principles. There is a lingering naivety that our actions are just, masterful and without consequence.

As I’ve said before, I do not believe that denial of the scientific evidences to our various environmental impacts is one of the stages of grief. It is part of a persistent ego associated with outdated paradigms. We seem unwilling to collectively accept our past follies, clean up the mess we’ve made and ask how we could do things better.

Until this occurs, we will continue to ignore the warnings signs that modern science has discovered and in doing so, continue to watch increasing extinction rates, an amplifying greenhouse effect / climate change, land degradation, depleted oceans and ever increasing threats to food and water security. I only hope that we’re smacked out of this stupor long before the reality of these projections kick in.

*Update: Here’s a relevant quote from a post at ABC7.com;

“Pakistan’s two large reservoirs, Mangla and Tarbela, which store Indus River water for the country’s vast irrigation network, are losing roughly 1 percent of their storage capacity each year as they fill with silt from deforested watersheds.


2 thoughts on “Water Security and Old World Ego

    1. My boss is a prof. in agriculture science and we were talking about this yesterday on the way to the monitoring station. We actually had to stop in Renmark so ABC could interview him on the subject. Anyway, the point that he makes is that much of what is being suggested will change things, but long term is likely to strengthen communities and improve agriculture. No water is ever wasted, but used for something. By taking water out of the system, you’re effectively trading-off between irrigation and some other purpose. Sure, some agriculture processes and townships will suffer – but it’s very likely that they were never really viable under average SA conditions. We saw that farmers coped through the decade drought. What this plan does is provide a pathway to assist change and innovation that will lead to greater sustainability, plus the ecological benefits and compensation avenues.
      What we’re seeing in response at these meeting is a combination of fear (of the unknown/change) and anger (largely personal interests over the improvement of the region and local agricultural practices).


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