The Troubling Trifecta

Sep 09, 2013

An exploding population is consuming – and wasting – fresh water at an unsustainable rate:  Something has to give.

The troubling trifecta of 1) population growth, 2) unfavorable consumption practices and feedback loops and c) a finite – and depleting – supply of fresh water is a perfect storm in the making.  The calculus could apply to other finite resources such as top soil, oil, ores, clean air and so forth, but we’ll stick to fresh water for now. Consider this:

Population:  The global population explosion has been staggering. We reached the one billion mark in 1804; two billion in 1927, and three billion in 1960. By 1999 – in less than 40 years – it doubled to an astonishing six billion and now stands at about 7.3 billion and growing.  

Fresh water – a finite commodity: With less than one percent of the Earth’s water available as fresh water, every drop counts. But, we are guzzling down our water “savings” account, in the form of aquifer depletion, at an unsustainable rate. Further, climate change – and the inevitable droughts, floods and ice melt changes it produces – along with an uneven distribution of fresh water makes it, as our intelligence agencies would say, a “threat multiplier.” 

Consumption practices: Last, the wasteful use of water, pollution, wet land depletion, run-off problems, changing dietary habits, fracking, over-population of semi-arid lands and other activities are exacerbating the problem.  Fresh water supply is a global time bomb .

In many respects, fresh water has become a “have” and “have-not” issue. For some nations, water is plentiful; for others, it’s a life-threatening challenge. An estimated 1.2 billion people are without access to clean drinking water. It seems like those who have it, use it, as illustrated by the following chart:

       Per Capita Cubic Meters Consumed Annually for Domestic Use
                                Amount:                     Country:   
                                   215                         USA
                                   106                         France
                                     52                         India 
                                     32                         China
                                       4                         Mali              
It takes about one cubic meter of drinking water annually to survive and, as one can see, there is a disproportionate level of consumption by country.

Looking ahead, the trifecta metrics are not good. And, once our aquifer “water savings accounts” are drawn down to dangerous levels, the ball game really changes; the world could become a very dangerous place in which to live. 

The ripple effects will be enormous. For example, it takes about 3-5 million gallons of water to frack one shale oil well; 2500 gallons  to produce a pound of beef and 25 gallons for a pound of wheat. The cars we drive and food we eat will be increasingly influenced by our access to fresh water. The 5-10 gallons of water per minute used to keep our lawns green might be a luxury we can no longer afford in the future.

The News Flash Message: Every drop of water counts. Treat it – and other finite resources we consume – like gold; it might someday become a life-threatening situation for us as it is now for many in other parts of the world.

<< Back to Blog