Water as flashpoint in a world of growing scarcities

Posted July 14th, 2009 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on Water as flashpoint in a world of growing scarcities

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

In my book, Living Beyond the ‘End of the World,’ a Spirituality of Hope, I focus a chapter on the growing links between our ecological crises and the threat of wars and other forms of social violence.  If we think oil has something to do with going to war in Iraq, if we think access to the world’s oil and gas fields has something to do with tensions among the U.S., Europe, Iran, and Russia, for example, what do we think will happen when water becomes the focus of these tensions?  I can imagine living through the wrenching upheavals of oil and gas shortages, but water?

Every now and then a story surfaces that sheds light on our concerns, announcing that these are no longer future worries, but today’s reality.  Today it was a front page article in the NY Times, Iraq Suffers as the Euphrates River Dwindles.

The Tigris and the Euphrates.  Just saying the words brings up so many memories of history lessons, the ‘cradle of civilization‘ – remember that?  Here’s a National Geographic video that describes what is happening in the rivers’ marshlands, first drained by Saddam Hussein, and now whose restoration is threatened by drought and over-demand.

Mesopotamia Marshes 2007 - NASA Earth Observatory

Mesopotamia Marshes 2007 - NASA Earth Observatory

Mesopotamia Marshes 2009 - NASA Earth Observatory

Mesopotamia Marshes 2009 - NASA Earth Observatory

What I find interesting in this NY  Times piece is that the two forces involved here, drought and excess demand, combined with a third — someone else controlling your access — are ‘drivers,’ or impulses, within our ecologically deteriorating world that will influence much of the immediate future of the human within the planet.  How we deal with them will determine how well, or how horribly, we get through this era of ecological overshoot — humans living beyond the means of the planet to support our consumption and waste — along with how much bloodshed will be part of this future.

What we have here is severe drought, predicted to be more common in our warming world, combined with upriver nations, Turkey and Syria, taking what they need first, while downriver in Iraq communities are parched and suffering is becoming acute.  For now, Turkey is releasing more water, but so far nothing on paper, no legal regimen to determine how the drought-diminished water of the Euphrates is to be shared.

For more on Iraq’s new and deepening suffering: Iraq lashed by sandstorms and battling drought, from AP.

Just imagine what negotiations will be like in places like the Middle East — between Israel and Palestine, for example — or among urban and agricultural communities in California or in China as that country builds enormous dams to bring water into the country’s burgeoning cities.  Think what it might mean for my part of the world — the Great Lakes Basin — as the U.S. Southwest begins to dry up and the Ogallala aquifer begins to go dry, as climate change models and overuse patterns indicate will occur, and emigration begins over the next two decades.  People will go to the water.  Get ready, Midwest.  And we’re already worried about lower lake levels…

How will we handle this?  What plans are being considered?  Even more — what ethical discussions will inform those plans?

And the thirsty human population will be rising from the current 6.8 billion to 9 billion or so over the next four decades.

If we wonder how humans will handle scarcity, consider this: arable land is also becoming a precious resource, and there are nations already vying for control of arable land in faraway nations to make sure they will have what they need to feed their own people.

This is not a good sign, folks, this business of grabbing what you can for yourself and the rest be damned.  But it is an indication of the heavy price we will pay, that billions of people will pay, if we don’t get these conversations to the surface, begin accepting the reality of these looming limits, and stop wishing them away.  Having our heads in the sand won’t save us, but it will allow those with power and money to take advantage of our ignorance to wrest control of  ‘resources,’ put an enormous price on them that we will have to pay to get what we need to live — at their profit, of course.

There are some things that should not be determined by corporate or nationalist bottom lines.  What we need to live belongs to all who need what they/we need to live.  Ensuring that peoples around the world have the means to grow their own food, have access to clean water, a healthy community, dignified life, and intact ecosystems must be bedrock principles as we move forward through the great transition.

I don’t like to think too much about what the world will be like if we do not adopt this new way of life — call it a ‘loaves and fishes’ spirituality — sharing from scarcity so that every one has what they need to live, and that in abundance (see the concluding chapter of my book, “What kind of human beings will we be as we go through the crisis,” where I begin to outline this spirituality).

As I shared there and in many of my talks, what are the elements of that story, the ones that made the miracle?  Worried about their own needs, Jesus and the disciples could have kept the food for themselves.  Of course that’s not what happened; instead, the food was blessed, it was broken into smaller pieces, and it was shared.  Baskets were filled with the leftovers.

That’s one possibility; the other possibility is a frantic struggle for survival, the hungry crowd fighting over what remains.  Which seems the better future?

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