Yesterday I mentioned Peak Oil (read this Big Picture post for a good primer about Peak Oil) so today I suppose it makes sense to start into Peak Water (again, check out this Big Picture post for a good primer).
While there are plenty of economic tangents to take about either issue (or indeed, from most any Peak “X,” where “X” is an oft-used commodity), I want to prompt the mental fermentation process on the following two issues:
1) Life Necessity v. Non-Life Necessity
I have some serious issues with a handful of executives and shareholders raking in the dough as a result of oil supply/demand factors (plus a few other less obvious factors), while the vast majority of the world struggles to deal with resulting price hikes as they consume the end product. That said, and I do not put this out there lightly, if I had to choose between profiting off of oil and profiting off of water, I would 100% support the oil industry.
Water is a basic and critical human necessity (i.e. you will eventually stop functioning — you’ll die, that is — if you lack access to *potable* water for long enough [say a week or two, depending on a large number of factors]). Let me say it again — mankind would cease to exist without sufficient access to potable water (at least until oil can be turned into a “water pill” by Monsanto for $100,000/20 pills — I’m being cheeky, and extremist, but hey…)
Oil is NOT a human necessity (it is, however, arguably a current societal necessity — i.e. required to maintain current standards of living and production). Humans existed for many, many, many centuries without automobiles, petroleum-based pesticides, fleece jackets, and all of the other petroleum offshoots. Oil, once sucked out of the earth, transported, refined/processed/etc., and transported again, produces or feeds and/or becomes things that are not necessities.
So, I hate to say it, but I do think that if forced to choose between making money off oil or water, hand over fist I would push oil. By extension, I think the very few things that are essential for humans to stay alive (water, food, shelter — assumes clean oxygen and a few other things such as sufficient nutritional balance of the food, but this could go on for 200 pages if I don’t focus more high-level) should be available to as many people as possible for the most accessible price possible (completely free would be fantastic, but show me an economic system that can make that happen in reality, long-term, and not just on paper…).
2) Limited Resources, Increasing Consumption
If the above didn’t ruffle your feathers too much and you are still reading, check out the graphic to the right that Barry includes in his Big Picture post (click on the graphic for a larger version — credit: WIRED SCIENCE, Peak Water, PBS, The Big Picture).
Study the, “How much water does it take to make a…” side of the graphic and then tell me honestly if you do not see some startling issues. First and foremost, take the energy available in one orange (62 calories) and plot it against the energy available in one hamburger patty (279 calories) and you get an approximate 1:5 relationship. Now plot the water requirements to produce each item to find that ratio and you get a 1:50 relationship. (Note that this is before you factor in all of the other resources required to produce the orange and burger respectively, from the grass to feed the cows [or the land used to produce the orange tree] all the way down to the processing and packaging of each food item.)
If you are not following me, let me be blunt: As water becomes more precious, diets and consumption habits will most likely need to shift out of pure necessity (note that if water becomes more expensive, so should that patty of hamburger meat, or those designer blue jeans).
And if you are still with me, what are the various ethical implications that are floating out in the ether related to these two issues?
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A conundrum indeed…