Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Will Water be More Valuable than Gold?

Have you ever wondered what substance on earth is the most valuable? Is it oil, is it uranium, is it gold or diamond? The things we value today will not be what we value in the future, because in the future there is one substance that will very likely be more valuable than oil, uranium, gold, or diamonds, and that substance is water!

Although we often think our planet will never fail to provide us with enough drinking water, this may not be true, at least not if we continue adding people and polluting our water. Even today some people pay more for bottled water than they do for gas for their car.

It's not just drinking water we need, we also use water in agriculture; to grow plants, and for our livestock animals. As we add more people to what many would say is an already overpopulated planet, we will continue to require more fresh water.

How Much Fresh Water is there?

About 98% of our water is in the oceans, leave 2 % as fresh water, of which 1.6% is frozen in icecaps and glaciers. 0.36% is ground water, leaving only 0.036% available to us in our rivers, lakes, and streams. Other water is in cloud form, or actually in the bodies of animals, and in plants.

Many people look naively at the oceans and think we have an unlimited amount of water. Even those that are smart enough to realize our fresh water resources are at risk sometimes are ignorant to the risks that our oceans face, and the problems of relying on ocean water to solve the impending crisis of not having enough fresh drinking water. In other words desalinization plants may not be the answer if we continue to add to the population at the rate we currently are.

The Water Crisis will be Fueled by Human Overpopulation

Today we live in a paradox, we are finding ways of bringing fresh, safe, drinking water to more people, but industrialization is resulting in more and more chemicals finding their way into streams, rivers, and eventually the ocean. More people means more demand for fresh water, and it means more people polluting the water we have.

People in some nations (such as El Salvador) are spending over 10% of their total income on safe drinking water. In a world with a growing population and increased pollution, water is becoming a premium resource. For now it might seem that we are improving the supply of fresh water to people who have not had it in the past, but at the same rate we keep adding people to the planet, and making demands of a valuable resource.

Terra Nova got it Wrong

If you have been watching FOX network (American TV) show Terra Nova, you will have seen an overpopulated, over polluted planet in the year 2149. The show is fun to watch but has some flaws, one flaw being that while the people in 2149 live in domed cities and require masks to breath the air they sent people back into the past (through a portal in time to the time of the dinosaurs) to rape the planet for minerals. It seems far more likely to me that the resources they would most want would be fresh drinking water and perhaps even a few dinosaurs to feed all the people.

A Wake Up Call

I just know somebody who is reading this is probably thinking: “What about desalinization?”, Sure we can remove salt from the sea, but desalinization plants cost money how far inland will we pump the water, how much will it cost the consumer, will coastal countries pump water inland to countries that do not have coastlines?

photo source - Whitechuck glacier, Washington - 1973

If you think we can rely on streams, and rivers to continue to supply us with our water, think again. Thanks to global warming glaciers are melting at alarming rates, this includes glaciers in mountain ranges. Snow fall is less and less, and drought is more and more common. Eventually the streams and rivers will run dry for most of the year. Some of our world's glaciers have already vanished, others have shown great rates of retreating since 1980.

The images shows an area of the Whitechuck Glacier, that has retreated more than 1.2 miles (1.9 kilometers) between the times these two photos were taken.
photo source - Whitechuck Glacier - 2006

Have you ever heard of the Aral Sea? If you haven't it is probably because the sea barely exists anymore compared it to what it was years ago. Although it is in a state of recovery now (due to pressure to save the Aral Sea) it was almost gone, due to water being diverted from it for agricultural purposes. It is still mostly too salty for life (having become salty due to the lack of fresh water reaching it for years). It is alarming that so few people have even heard of it since, at one time, the Aral Sea was one of the four largest lakes in the world.

As such I suggest that the most valuable substance on earth is not oil, uranium, gold, or silver, but is one thing we take for granted:  Fresh water.