Senate Doom N Gloom Report: - "On the verge of a global food crisis"

Discussion in 'Archive: The Senate Floor' started by Jabbadabbado, Mar 18, 2010.

  1. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    Global freshwater scarcity is really in the news lately:

    As economy booms, China faces major water shortage


    Global poll reveals clean water shortage as most urgent issue

    Experts meet over looming water crisis in Africa
    Fourteen countries in Africa are already experiencing water stress, another 11 are expected to join them by 2025 at which time nearly 50 per cent of the continent?s projected population of 1.45 billion will face water scarcity, according to the UN.


    The epicenter of the world's freshwater shortage is the Middle East.

    [image=http://whyfiles.org/131fresh_water/images/world_water.gif]

    Unfortunately, the parts of the world in the map's red band are naturally arid while also experiencing some of the highest population growth rates. By 2020, these countries will be facing a horrific water crisis. Many of these countries are energy exporters and will have to divert much of their energy toward water desalination.

    The Middle East is home to the world's most irresponsible population policies or lack thereof. If you think it is a hotbed of discontent now, you haven't really seen anything yet. Open war between neighboring countries over water rights is just around the corner.
  2. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    Well I see the greatest risk of a water crisis to be more around the US and India. India may have a huge population, but they are also a big food exporter. They get most of their fresh water from glacier melt, so once all the glaciers are gone... they'll just be left with the runoff that comes naturally. What they're working with is total runoff + meltwater, which is not sustainable for very long. Once the meltwater is lost, they'll be depending more on agriculture with much less water to work with.

    In the US, the same thing goes for water pumped out of the ground. There will be a point when all the aquifers will run dry and we'll suffer a significant economic setback. That's not to say that we shouldn't be using ground water, but we certainly shouldn't be cultivating arid land which otherwise would never be suited for crops. Wells don't gradually run dry, so it comes as a shock to farmers. Like they couldn't have foreseen that all the water they used to irrigate their fields took thousands of years to infiltrate below the water table. Like they couldn't have understood why that piece of land was arid in the first place.
  3. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    India and China are draining their underground aquifers as well. To me that's the most obvious case for human population overshoot: we're no longer able to access enough water from lakes and rivers/snow and glacier melting to support the human population. We're now in the middle of a one time drawdown of nonrenewable fossil aquifers, with perhaps less than 20 years until this source has run dry in the U.S., India and China.

    Even regions that are blessed with water riches like the Great Lakes, have been literally poisoning these particular wells since the dawn of the industrial age. Luckily for us it will never be cost-effective to ship lake Michigan's water to Los Angeles.

    California cannot support one single extra person without becoming a much more efficient water consumer. And of course that's possible with a permanent future of sensible water rationing.
  4. Quixotic-Sith Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jun 22, 2001
    star 6
    Arid environments + water shortages? So any interest in stillsuit technology? ;)

    In all seriousness, this is going to be a huge concern. More and more water is trapped in organisms - overpopulation isn't limited to human beings, but also to the species we cultivate for food.
  5. shanerjedi Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 17, 2010
    star 4
    Water shortages bring back images of Waterworld [face_sick]
  6. Lowbacca_1977 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 28, 2006
    star 6
    I think a combo of nuclear + desalination is a real key that needs to get going.
  7. shanerjedi Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 17, 2010
    star 4
  8. Lowbacca_1977 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 28, 2006
    star 6
    Energy source to go with desalination.
  9. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    What I would really like to is for the same steam which is used to drive turbines to be collected and used for drinking water. Unfortunately the process to generate electricity must keep the water in a closed circuit, or else it doesn't work. Most may think it's a very simple process, but the steam which drives turbines is pressurized to like ~1000 PSI.
  10. shanerjedi Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 17, 2010
    star 4
    That would be a fun sauna
  11. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    Well there still is waste which could be exploited during the condensation process in a power plant. If you have to cool the steam after going through the turbines, you can at least take that cooling water from the ocean and then desalinate it with ~20% less energy.
  12. shanerjedi Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 17, 2010
    star 4
    I remember water desalinization being discussed for California back in the '80's. Are there any large scale plants in the U.S. at all?
  13. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    I don't know specific details, but I am aware that Florida has started using desalinization as wells have begun to withdraw salt water from aquifers. As freshwater gets withdrawn, it draws in ocean water to fill in the underground cavities.
  14. shanerjedi Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 17, 2010
    star 4
    Oh yeah, that would make sense.
  15. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    Saudi Arabia alone produces a quarter of the world's desalinated water. They need it for a population that grew from 6 million to nearly 30 million in only four decades. During that same period, the population of the middle east as a whole grew from 134 million to 360 million. A sustainable population for this region is probably 50 million. Israel is the only country in the region that has been anything close to responsible about population growth, and their population has more than doubled since 1970. Lebanon's population hasn't quite doubled since 1970, but we all know the reason for that.
  16. shanerjedi Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 17, 2010
    star 4
    I remember those stories about the Saudis desalinisation programme.
  17. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    The problems with desalinization is that it's quite energy-intensive. I don't know exactly how much energy you need to essentially boil away water from salt, but I do know it's far more demanding than with a water pump. I'm not talking about joules to raise the temperature of water by x degrees celsius, but simply about how much natural gas you have to burn to yield a gallon of fresh water. Can anyone enlighten me on this? I've seen estimates of 3 cents for a gallon and ~$.53 per cubic meter of desalinized water, but I don't know how much of that is for the overhead costs.

    The price of water is going to eventually skyrocket everywhere that humans withdraw more than be replenished. That much is certain. What I'm not so certain about is how much the desalinization process can be improved. Even if energy should skyrocket, the process might still be improved to balance the rising cost of energy. I just wonder how much more efficient we can get.
  18. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    There are some relatively new methods coming online. I think Florida uses the reverse osmosis approach which is I think a little bit less energy intensive than the standard distillation process. But yes, it still requires a significant energy input.

    Clean water in general requires access to modern energy. Chicago sucks water in directly from lake Michigan, but it isn't energy free. The water intake, purification, distribution process is energy intensive. Wastewater treatment is energy intensive.

    One of the biggest potential sources of energy available to industrialized civilization is co-generation and waste heat. Harnessing energy through co-generation is among the lowest hanging fruit available to us as energy supplies gets tight, and according to wikipedia, which knows everything, there are already a number of desalination plants around the world that take advantage of co-generation opportuities.
  19. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    Still it's a lot better than desalinization, otherwise you would simply put all that sewage or contaminated water into a chamber in which to boil it away and discard the byproducts afterward.

    I've actually though of an interesting concept for using solar energy to treat waste water by erecting a large canopy over a piece of land (preferably desert), and using it like a still. If you were to cover ~ a kilometer of area with this canopy and simply dump waste water directly onto the ground, the sun's energy would cause the water to evaporate and the canopy above would collect the condensation. Then you can collect that condensation and you can use it again. This would be quite ideal for providing water in arid climates.
  20. Rogue_Follower Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Nov 12, 2003
    star 6
    Not much story content, but today's Big Picture has lots of amazing images that are pertinent to this topic...
  21. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    These are the kind of images that should be shown more often. We in the US take water for granted, yet it's only a matter of time before we find ourselves as desperate as some of the people in this photo stream.

    I remember reading Parable of the Sower and thinking that such a future was unrealistic and ridiculous to consider. Then when I started in my field of physical geography, I soon realized that the situation really can be that desperate.
  22. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    Beautiful pictures for World Water Day!
  23. darthdrago Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Dec 31, 2003
    star 4
    Nobody's yet mentioned recycled water as one of the solutions that's slowly becoming more of a reality.

    My own local water utility is pushing for more recycled/reclaimed water usage in things like landscape irrigation (golf courses & playing fields, farm land) and wastewater plumbing (urinals & toilet fixtures). My own building has recycled water being used in urinals & toilets. The downside is that the recycled water stinks, and that's even before you begin your, uh, "engagement" in the restroom. [face_sick]

    In addition to that, we need to see more private companies like this one flourish, so that we can stretch not only fresh (drinking) water supplies but even recycled water supplies as well.
  24. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    I've seen those. The concept is to use a non water-soluble liquid that seals the urinal after it's used so that only the human byproducts are disposed of and only a minimal quantity of water is used now and again to clean the urinal.

    It seems to me that the problem is with the cleanliness of the roof or water collector system and not the rain water itself.
  25. darthdrago Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Dec 31, 2003
    star 4
    Actually, I've wondered about that too. Most of the pipes in the building are 19 to 20 years old, and I'm not aware of any wider pipe replacement that's taken place. The piping was to have been replaced specifically for the recycle water system, and that was only about two years ago.

    Or it could be the brand of urinal disinfectant cakes that the janitorial staff puts at the bottom of the urinal's basin. But then, the toilet bowls' water tends to be a little stinky when they've been stagnant for a while, and there aren't any disinfectant cakes in the bowls... so it might go back to the pipes.

    I'd imagine that the costs of replacing/upgrading existing piping for this purpose would be ammunition to the naysayers against using reclaimed water. [face_plain]