Water – Essence of Life, Destroyer of Life

Nothing is So Pervasive, So Important to Life, and So Challenging as Water

A Change of Pace

We have focused on political issues for the last six months. As well we should have. We will continue that path often in the months ahead, for obvious reasons. But this blog was always meant to be about more. We have spent time together reflecting on science, the arts, comedy, and more. Time to do a bit of that now.

We have earned a bit of a break from politics, starting today. Let us reflect a bit on something all around us and in us. Something that gives life and sweeps it away. Something that nurtures us and inflicts us. Let’s talk about water.

Water, Water Everywhere

Water is the most distinguishing feature of our world. About 71% of the planet is covered in water, with about 97% of that in oceans. And that does not count all that is underground. Water in aquifers, in clouds, humidity, glaciers, and more. Fresh groundwater and lakes equal less than 2% of the total.

Think how much we depend on that fresh water. Heck, you and I are about 70% water, which led me to the following sign (its percentage is off, but the idea sounds right!):

And Not a Drink to Spare

There is a lot of water out there, although much of it is not drinkable. Think how that shapes human existence. A lot of the world does not have access to clean drinking water. Some estimates are that as much as 25% of human disease relates to the lack of clean water. The percentage is likely higher for small children and the elderly or infirm.

In some societies, countless hours and much labor are consumed carrying water. What is carried is often still not clean. This is not only a 3rd world phenomenon. It is shockingly true in pockets throughout America. Native American communities suffer from this in particular.

Think of what changing this would mean. Time and labor freed up for more productive purposes. Disease rates cut dramatically. All from the gift of clean water. The importance of all this is illustrated by the planning for extended space travel. Whether it’s the Moon or Mars, the key to success is finding water. Without it, no one lives.

Too Much Water Is the Other Problem

If you live in a coastal area, you likely know that global warming is not a future threat – it’s here. People in Florida and Virginia, for example, are having their lives changed right now. What was occasional flooding at high tides or during storms is now a regular occurrence. A couple of years ago, I experienced this first-hand. I helped a church move in Norfolk VA that was getting flooded regularly.

Think how much of the human race lives along a coastline. Millions are packed like sardines. Others live in unimaginably expensive dwellings. No matter – they both are now almost sure to be flooded out. Something like 20% of the world’s GDP could go with them.

A standard depiction of what we can expect without dramatic changes includes unimaginable flooding. Much of NY City, Baltimore, Washington DC, San Francisco, and so on, on all coasts and around the Great Lakes. Small island nations will disappear. Cities will become unsalvageable around the globe. Millions, perhaps billions, will be displaced.

And while we wait for this outcome, global warming is already giving us a preview. Increasingly violent hurricanes and storms that leave massive flooding, mudslides, and washouts. How many communities have experienced multiple“thousand-year floods” in a decade or two?

Can Science Help?

Good news. Yes, it can. There are a host of promising technologies coming out. Many of them are quite simple and adaptable to undeveloped areas, able to purify water or draw it from the air. I am actually surprised more have not been fielded in the last couple of years. One hopes that this will get the emphasis needed.

One great place to start would be with a push from the newly reinvigorated USAID under Biden. This is the kind of leadership and investment that pays big dividends. The same is true for desalinization. The technology is breaking through. Let’s get it deployed.

The issues around flooding and more violent storms is tougher. We have much of the technology needed, with more on the way. What we lack is political will and societal discipline. The new US administration gets it. They seem ready to lead. Fingers crossed it is not too late and we are all ready to support what is needed.

Water – The Quandary

The next time you turn on the tap for a sip of water, think about all this. What a fascinating element we have in water. It saves us, it kills us. We care for it, we waste it. Complicated, interconnected thing, this life.

          Bill Clontz

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4 replies to Water – Essence of Life, Destroyer of Life

  1. Gosh Bill, you should address bottled water…….why do we feel like we have to have our drinking water bottled? I alwys think of the conference room where bottled water is on the conference table….the conversation is 30 minutes in the conference room and forever in the land fill. We’re better than that.

    • Excellent point, Jim. I agree. I once worked with a European firm that had developed a water bottle for use in Third World areas without fresh water, a bottle that would break down and recycle in months. I have often wondered why we dont see such a thing here; probably costs a few pennies more to make. But I think your basic point is the key one: there likely are a few situations that require bottled water, but an awful lot of it is unnecessary. Thanks for flagging an important issue.

    • Very high speed. Some breakthroughs in desalination could make a HUGE difference.

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