Apocalyptic Warnings About 'Water Wars' Too Pessimistic, Too Premature

Freshwater reserves are falling but access to drinking water is up.


The shenanigans in Flint, Michigan, made me think about people and water. Today, more people than ever have access to drinking water (see chart 1). Yet, freshwater reserves are falling throughout the world (see chart 2). What are we to make of these global trends? 

As ever, the alarmists were well ahead of the curve. Back in college, I remember reading about the likelihood of a military conflict between Israel, Jordan and Syria over the water from the Jordan River. Turns out, water scarcity is much less of an issue in a region torn apart by sectarian strife, but a deluge of apocalyptic warnings continues unabated: "Water Wars," "Water Wars: Privatization, Pollution And Profit," "The Great Lakes Water Wars," "Blue Gold: World Water Wars," etc.

On the upside, it is useful to remember that 71 percent of the world's surface is covered by water. The trick, therefore, is not to have access to "water" per se, but to have access to "drinkable water" (and agriculture-friendly water).

In the short run, there is space for more efficiency. Precision agriculture, such as that practiced in Israel, is a good start. But, in the long run, plentiful water is likely to depend on plentiful energy.

In some places, like the desert kingdoms of the Middle East, people get water by burning oil in desalination plants. Ideally, however, countries with plenty of sunshine will be able to switch to a more environmentally-friendly solar power in the future. The price of solar energy has dropped by 99.5 percent between 1977 and 2014. And while I am aware that solar is not yet price-competitive with fossil fuels, and suffers from well-known problems (cloudy days, space and storage), I am hopeful that in the not-too distant future humanity's concern over freshwater resources will disappear thanks to solar power and desalination. 

NEXT: Folk Artists vs. the State

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  1. Or you could, I dunno, build a dependable nuke plant instead of waiting for the unicorns to bring you your magic solar panels.

    1. Oh sure,you want to kill the children with radioactive water and stuff. Shame on you.All the power needed is just 90 million miles away,enough for,well,forever!!

      1. BTY,with the huge gas reserves Israel has now they could run plants on that,and nukes.I’m willing to bet the Israelis will use technology to solve their water problems.

        1. Those clever, clever Jews. Using technology to solve their problems.

        2. Given their gas reserves and relative size/population, I’ve wondered if they couldn’t move towards LNG/CNG vehicles, rather than buying oil from countries that want to kill them. Any thoughts?

    2. Exactly. Environmentalists who believe we need to take drastic action to fight global warming and don’t support nuclear energy are by far my least favorite people in the world.

  2. Just make water from freely available oxygen and hydrogen.

    *** bites lip ***

    1. This process you propose for making water?

      It could blow up on you! You and your water could be strewn about, in tiny pieces!

      So, then, you will needs tons and tons of ENERGY (power) to contain and restrain this dangerous process that you propose.

      To obtain that energy, just get yourself some matter, and some anti-matter, and combine the two!

  3. Im hopeful that instead of, or in addition to, finding more plentiful energy, we can make the water purification process more energy efficient.


  4. “But what if some KKKonservative Rethuglican governor comes along and literally pours a bunch of lead in that water just so he can poison children living in poverty and save like $5 total for himself and a few of his buddies?!?!?!”

    – typical derp comment seen on FB

  5. Desalinization

    Output: potable water, salt

    Inputs: salt water, cheap energy

    That second input is the real issue.

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