Irish Times - Forget peak oil. Forget climate change. Peak water is where it’s at, according to Scottish journalist and broadcaster, Alexander Bell, who has just written a fascinating book, Peak Water (Luath Press, Scotland).
“It’s the coming issue of our age,” says Bell. “Civilisation is thirsty. It has never stopped to think about what would happen if the water ran out.”And while Bell acknowledges tackling climate change is important, he firmly states peak water would have happened with or without it ...
The idea of valuing water as a precious resource links right into the same issues raised by climate change.
In fact, the idea of an individual water footprint has already been raised. A water footprint encompasses the reality that we affect water beyond our borders when countries that have a short supply of water grow and make things that have a heavy demand on water.
Bell suggests that revaluing water across the globe would take a radical shift. He explains how, because water is growing scarce in traditional wheat-, rice- and maize-growing areas of the US, India and Pakistan, it should be possible that the wet north could replace production, in part.
He also suggests that the north European (and now North American) model of industrialised, liberal, capitalist society may be best suited to wet countries. Secondly, he suggests we are quite used to making naturally occurring materials such as coal or oil into assets, so why not water? There is already a price on water in some places but putting a price on water that changes people’s usage habits (both personal and agricultural) is a broader issue. Bell says:
“We should be the ones who build new houses with composting toilets and reed beds to clean the waste water. We should instigate rainwater collection on a large scale . . . We should ensure that more food is grown for local consumption. The wet world should grow vital food for the dry world.”Bell also brings up the widely held belief that the next wars to be fought in the world will be over water. In fact, he states that such wars have already occurred in some places – for example, between Pakistan and India. And the investment bank Goldman Sacks has dubbed water the petroleum for the next century.
“With the Cold War over and the threat from mass nuclear deployment apparently gone, we have switched our fears to a water war,” he writes.According to Bell, what both threats show is that we fear our capacity to self-destruct (many would argue that much of the rhetoric around climate change comes from the same place).
He adds: “the reality of changing our water use is colossal. It calls for a new kind of civilisation built on global co-operation. The penalty for not doing this will be widespread social chaos.”