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Is there intelligent life on Planet Earth?

At the recent Libertarian Alliance conference in London, one of my favourite speakers, Leon Louw, mocked the idea that water on earth is scarce. Two-thirds of the Earth’s surface is covered with the wet stuff, in fact. What people mean when they say that water is scarce is not that there is a lack of H20, rather, there is a lack of drinkable, clean water. But the idea that water is scarce is, in and of itself, bonkers. As Leon said, if an alien from outer space talked to some ecological doomsters and heard their moans about water shortages, he would probably fly off in search of more intelligent life elsewhere.

Heaven knows what an intelligent alien would make of George Monbiot.

49 comments to Is there intelligent life on Planet Earth?

  • Tim Worstall’s post gave me a chuckle:

    Apparently George has read a novel and we’re all doomed, doomed I tell you.

    Naturally, I got curious and followed his link to George’s revelation in the Guardian:

    A few weeks ago I read what I believe is the most important environmental book ever written. It is not Silent Spring, Small Is Beautiful or even Walden. It contains no graphs, no tables, no facts, figures, warnings, predictions or even arguments.

    (Emphasis is mine, as they say). We are all doomed indeed.

  • Oh, and Jonathan, to answer your original question: yes, there is, but it seems to be headed towards extinction.

  • The idea that we risk running out of a substances that covers two thirds of the earth’s surface is allied to the very widely shared concept that things called, “natural resources” exist in some very definite and finite form. Most people think that water, iron, oil, agricultural land etc all exist prior to any human action and that humans must passively consume whatever is laying around until it is gone and we die.

    Its a weird idea whose currency exist only made possible by the extreme separation of the class of articulate intellectuals from the natural world. If the chattering classes actually ever got their hands dirty, they would understand that all “natural” resources are in fact the creations of human beings.

    We do not create or destroy water. We just add or remove things from it. The only question is the level of effort needed to add or remove other substances such that the water will fulfill the task we set for it. We’ve always had to work for our water. We’ve always had to purify it and channel it to where we needed it. When people say we are “running” out of water, they really mean we will have to devote more resources to modifying and moving water than in the past.

    That’s a much different problem than “running out.”

  • Nick M

    Water cycle?

    It goes around doesn’t it? At least that’s what I was taught in school geography.

    Of course we could always desalinate using nuclear power but that would make the likes of George Monbiot and Jonathan Porritt turn purple with angst.

    Brilliant, Alisa! Brilliant!

  • David

    Ironically just yesterday I asked my co-worker how petroleum could be drilled in the Middle East, move via ship to the U.S. Gulf coast where it is refined and sent via a massive pipeline to North Carolina. Yet North Carolina, bordering the Atlantic Ocean, is suffering from a drought? Perhaps it has to do with the state providing the water and a private concern providing the oil. Just saying, you know.

  • Ted Schuerzinger

    Jean Harlow: I was reading a book
    Marie Dressler [reacts with a stunned expression]

    link

  • Paul Marks

    I do not know much about the deselination business, but I suspect if someone did start taking the salt (and so on) out of seawater and selling the stuff – the “price control” people would come along complaining about “exploiting” people who were short of water (and not just Democrats – Mike Huckabee would be right up there “protecting” people).

    Of course, new technology might not be developed because of such things as Capital Gains Tax making such research unviable – and if a company was, against all the odds, a success the “anti trust” boys and girls would destroy it.

    So yes “we are all doomed”, but not for the reasons George Monbiot thinks we are.

    Although, of course, he is against “reasons” – indeed he is against reason.

    Claiming that “no arguments” is a good argument (indeed the best argument one has ever come upon) is not something that a nonsentiant bit of matter would claim.

    A brick or a cabbage would not make this claim – or any other claim.

    So George M. IS an example of intelligent life (he is neither not alive, like a brick, or nonsentient like a cabbage) – but he is an example of a reasoning thing (a being – a subject not just an object) who rejects reason.

    This is not an example of being “unintelligent” it is a example of being something else.

    Perhaps “insane” is the wrong word, but there is a rejection of reason going on.

  • Paul

    “- the “price control” people would come along complaining about “exploiting” people who were short of water ”

    Guess what, they’re doing precisely that.

  • Julian Taylor

    I would hazard that the moment someone started large-scale, seawater de-salination into a potable resource that your average environmental moonbat would declare that seawater was now a rare resource and we must stop desalination forthwith.

  • Following on from Paul Marks’ comment, my dictionary gives, as antonyms of ‘intelligent (and in addition to ‘unintelligent’ ), both ‘slow-witted’ and ‘dull’.

    Personally, I think ‘stupid’ should be in there too; this is especially as my (obviously imperfect) dictionary gives ‘intelligent’ as one of its antonyms.

    Best regards

  • J

    Alisa – I see no problem with something being important, and yet not containing facts figures and arguments. ‘Oliver Twist’ does not contain facts, figures, or arguments, but it was undoubtedly important in 19thC social reform. I hardly see how we can accuse the great Victorian philanthropists of irrational moonbatism just because they were inspired to do good by novels full of rather mawkish sentimentality.

    And I notice the book in question is by Cormack McCarthy, who is an excellent writer in any case.

    I agree that we have become used to water being easy to extract and process, and that in future it may be harder, and we may have to use a bit less water as a result. Big deal. More important is the unique way water is extracted. Iron ore rarely starts in one country and flows naturally into another. Water is unique in that one area’s increased rate of extraction reduces another area’s supply. Nations that may balk at the idea of invading their neighbour to increase their supply of raw materials, may well be happy to invade to prevent their supply of raw materials decreasing. It’s a big difference.

  • Brad

    If there is a shortage it is merely the result of the “tragedy of the commons” as individuals would not be able to exploit the salinated water without permits and licenses so the non-salinated supply is used up and dirtied. Poverty doesn’t just fall from the sky, it is perfected by Statists. Innovation not originating from the State or controlled by the State is forbidden and the result is less than maximal use of resources and less quality of life.

  • Millie Woods

    Here’s a little vignette from someone who lives in a country with an over abundant supply of fresh water.
    I was in a Second Cup bistro – Second Cup is Canada’s Starbucks – in Central Station in Montreal.
    The young woman serving at the coffee counter was running water to clean the various bits of apparatus and was being scolded by an American tourist for “wasting” so much water – in English naturally. Qu’est-ce qu’elle m’a dit? the badgered young woman said to me. Je n’ai rien compris. So I in turn said to the holier than thou chastiser – We don’t worry about water resources here. We have a huge percentage of the world’s fresh water resources. Water conservation isn’t a problem.
    Instead of some hoity toity comeback, the scolding tourist said she hadn’t known that and she hoped she hadn’t upset any of us by her ignorance.
    I wonder what George M. would have done.

  • Paul Marks

    Most likely had you all arrested Millie Woods – if he could have done so.

    Water and Americans reminds of one of the many silly interventions by Congress.

    The toilet “law”:

    “Experts” has “proved” that only a certain amount of water is needed in a flush (less than most people want to use) – so regulations were passed insisting that houses be built with the limite flush toilets.

    Well I hope you are not eating – but the “stuff” does not go down with the limited flush toilets.

    So people can either go to Canada and buy bigger flush toilets or……..

    Buy new toilets that have ELECTRIC MOTORS in them to make the limited water hit the pan harder.

    So in the name of the “environment” some Americans have electric toilets (with all the wast of power than means – and the maintainence costs and ……).

    As my fellow Englishman Richard Littlejohn would say “You could not make it up”.

  • For a lot of water shortages one should actually blame agricultural subsidies. (It is impressive how many of the ills of the world can be blamed on either planning laws or agricultural subsidies). These are either in the form of direct subsidies that pay farmers too much and lead to water intensive crops being grown in places where they could not be profitably be produced if farmers only received a fair market price, or farmers being given a subsidy in the form of preferential access to water over urban dwellers or given water at highly subsidised prices relative to urban dwellers. This leads to crops being grown in incredibly wasteful ways with respect to water use, or once again the wrong crops being grown for particular places. The truth is that modern agriculture is generally incredibly wasteful of water, to the extent that it would probably be possible for the world to have the same level of agricultural output on something like half the level of water use if that water use was more efficient. This would, amongst other things, make a great deal more water available to urban dwellers.

    None of this is directly related to the water problem that is faced by many people in the third world, which is a lack of access to clean water, rather than fresh water specifically. That is another problem entirely.

    I rather regret that I did not attend the LA conference. It sounds like there was an unusually good roster of speakers.

  • About greenies opposing water desalination: it already happened.
    In Israel they inaugurated a few weeks ago a second desalination plant. Another one is being built, to be completed in 2009, and two more are planned, for the year 2012.
    The Green Organizations issued a statement where they urge the government to cancel the construction of these plants.
    Their reasons: 1. It consumes much energy, pollution, global warming, yada… yada…
    2. It pollutes the sea ! (by adding salt to it ).

    (I could not find a link to an English version of this item).

    About the term you are looking for: maybe dementia ?

  • Paul Marks

    J.

    If anything “Oliver Twist” is attacking a 19th century Social Reform.

    The Poor Law Amendment (Workhouse) Act of 1834.

    Actually this Act had its good side (especially in rural areas where it put a stop to wages being subsidized a the expense of the local economy – i.e. at the expense of the longer term interests of the wage earners themselves).

    However, in urban areas (at least in northern cities) it led to both HIGHER poor rates and worse treatment for some of the poor – by pushing “in relief” (the Workhouse) rather than out relief (cash payments to tide people over to the next job) for the able bodied – although I have heard that case argued the other way (taking into account the longer term).

    Of course what Oliver Twist is really saying is “be nice to the poor, some poor people are not poor by any fault of their own – indeed they could be your own relatives who have hit hard times”.

    Actually that is an argument.

    Although it is an argument that goes back at least as far as the Book of Job.

    Misfortune can hit good people, and it is good to help these people get back on their feet again.

  • World rainfall amounts to approximately 78 thousand cubic metres per person, with over 16 thousand cubic metres per person falling on land (and the rest on sea/ocean). All this water is both salt-free and cost-free; that is, we do not have to distil it or otherwise process it to get rid of dissolved salts.

    My household consumption (and we do not stint ourselves, the 4 of us) averages at about 40 cubic metres per person per annum; this is 0.25% of those 16 thousand cubic litres each. Doubtless many times this is used to irrigate the fields that produce the food we eat, and to supply the factories and production plants that produce the products that we use. From somewhere, I recollect that the UK diverts 4% of its rainfall into the managed water supply (so that ‘many times’ is perhaps around 16).

    The trouble with Moonbat aversion to numbers (graphs and other ‘stuff’) is that, nowadays at least, they matter so much. We are not doomed to extinction, we are destined to calculate. And then to engineer.

    As Shannon Love comments above:

    When people say we are “running” out of water, they really mean we will have to devote more resources to modifying and moving water than in the past.

    So, it’s all a matter of money and effort. As the most intelligent and most flexible species on the planet, I’m sure we can manage.

    However, I hear that (for the UK) diverting more than 4% of the rainfall will do environmental damage. I’m not totally sure what this ‘damage’ is, compared to what was done moving from 2% to 4% (and so on). However, if we pay (say to pump the clean waste water back up-river to the point of its extraction), I’m sure we can mitigate that damage (to river flow) right down to sod-all. [More money: yours or mine? Come on: save the fishes, newts, otters; where’s your wallet, you ‘believer’?]

    We (the human race), now in the ‘civilised’ West, can do all the things if we choose to. But we have to do them in competition with other things that we might possibly view as more important. Those things might be selfish, they might be differently unselfish; it’s up to us.

    However, on available land (around 25,000 square meters each), fresh water (around 16,000 cubic metres each per annum falling on land), and energy (around 26MW each of continuous sunshine, after all the stored carbon runs out, unless we solve fusion or go big-time for nuclear power), it is just a bit closer than ever before to needing proper resource management and engineering.

    The optimist in me says we can do it. The pessimist says the politicians and the innumerate and illogical intelligentsia will screw it up. But I don’t care: my life expectancy is down to 40 years (at best) and that same optimist in me says it won’t really matter in that timescale.

    Best regards

  • Arghhhhhhhhhhh: hit by Smite Control at 20:38.

    Was it my comment on ‘the intelligensia’, or just all those numbers and brackets?

    Patient regards

  • J, to add to what Paul said about Oliver Twist:

    Not only that it made arguments, it was also based on facts, as Dickens observed them in his contemporary England. This is the case with all fiction, even SciFi. Things we imagine are, at least initially, based on things we have observed in reality. This can also very like be said about the book Mr. Monbiot has read. My point was not the book itself, as I have not read it, but Mr. Monbiot’s understanding of it.

    Also, as influential as OT and other Dickens’ work has been, its influence had nothing to do with any specific scientific problem, such as the world water supply, AFAIKs

  • Counting Cats

    I am sorry, but I am having real difficulty with some of the logic shown here. George may be a nut case, but water is a real problem.

    There may be masses of the stuff, but its distribution isn’t even remotely even. The vast amount held in Lake Baikal is of no benefit to the inhabitants of the Saharan fringe, and the Turks damming the Euphrates is of real concern to the Iraqis.

    The blithe claim that we can pump it around makes me wonder if the writers live in the same universe I do. Pumping anything against an energy gradient is expensive, and unaffordable if you are living on a dollar a day. Cleaning up the water, including desalination, ditto.

    Just because it is Monbiot raising the issue doesn’t mean that there is not a real problem.

    This is not climate change folks, this is real.

  • Counting Cats

    For a lot of water shortages one should actually blame agricultural subsidies.

    Here, in Australia, the worlds driest continent, during a drought we grow rice and cotton using subsidised water.

    Insanity.

  • Michael Taylor

    I agree with Counting Cats – if you think water supply isn’t a real and present problem for the world, you’ve probably not seen very much of it. Just for one moment, think of the extraordinary water challenges facing China as it undergoes extraordinary industrialization and urbanisation at the same time. Clearly the only way this can be achieved is by massive massive investment in water-infrastructure, harnessed to a thoroughgoing change in the way power works in that society. Will they manage it? Yes, probably. But having to manage the problem will probably be the biggest single factor to shape China’s emerging political structure. The blithe dismissals of the reality or scale of the problem is simple blindness.

    Of forget China (and India, and Africa) for a moment, and concentrate on the Western World. The problem here is the colossal amount of wastage caused by the ramshackle concrete pipe installations put in during the 20 yrs after WW2 – it’s effectively useless, and needs replacing.

    Put all this stuff together, do the sums, and it turns out that the global infrastructure spend needed on water over the next 25 yrs or so is looking bigger than the rest of all expected infrastructure put together.

    Monbiot is undoubtedly an idiot, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day. . . .

  • Michael Taylor

    Forgot to add the good news: capitalism is doing its best to solve it, and if you look closely there’s a bit of a water-tech cluster emerging, with particular emphasis on membrane, sensor and flow technologies.

    If you’re lucky, you’ll find your pension is supporting it. . .

  • Johnathan Pearce

    The blithe dismissals of the reality or scale of the problem is simple blindness.

    I don’t “blithely” dismiss it; but to point out that two-thirds of the world is covered in water is hardly to dismiss it, merely to point out that the shortage applies to available drinking water, not water; hence, the need for Man to transform one into the other, as he has had to do with food.

  • Pumping anything against an energy gradient is expensive, and unaffordable if you are living on a dollar a day.

    That is not a water problem. That is a poverty problem. No one claimed there is no poverty on earth.

    Water is abundant, the water “problem” is solved easily by engineering means, and by rationalization and globalization (i.e. giving up attempts to grow rice or wheat in the desert).

  • Counting Cats

    That is not a water problem. That is a poverty problem. No one claimed there is no poverty on earth.

    Water is abundant, the water “problem” is solved easily by engineering means,

    Course it is – You want to pay?

    And the claim water is abundant is both true, and absurd. ‘Water’ is short for fresh water. The claim that fresh water is abundant and available is ridiculous.

    This is not a matter of moaning about how the rich economies of Western Europe, North America and Australia squander marginal resources. This about how the utterly poverty stricken stay alive.

    I as am happy to slag off Blair, Brown, Bush, Merkel and Chirac/Sarkozy as interfering statists as much as anyone, but in this case? Any real world solutions here?

  • The claim that fresh water is abundant and available is ridiculous.

    No, it’s true.

    Fresh water is abundant in absolute terms. It is not evenly distributed over the globe. There are deserts where fresh water is unavailable naturally. That’s why deserts are well, deserts, i.e. unpopulated.

    If you insist in settling arid areas (like Las Vegas) or in growing rice and wheat in the desert with subsidized water you have a “water” problem. Otherwise there is no water problem. And the problem isn’t the absolute lack of water, but the price of water, in those marginal regions.

  • Counting Cats

    Make that “The claim that fresh water is globally abundant and available is ridiculous.

    Sorry for not being so nit pickingly specific.

  • Michael Taylor

    You can put me down as a global-warming sceptic, but it seems only common sense to me that access to fresh water will shape the political systems of the 21st century (particularly in Asia) in much the same way as guaranteeing the access to oil shaped the political systems of the West during the 20th century.

  • I am not a GW skeptic, either (I am a AGW skeptic, though). Access to fresh water is a real problem in many places, including in Israel where I live. So is the climate change. All of this does not mean that these problems cannot be solved, or at least alleviated through technology, preferably via free market means. It also does not mean that Monbiot is not an idiot, his article is not idiotic, the conclusions he draws from the referenced book are not idiotic, and that I don’t have a God given right to make fun of him and the likes of him whenever they give me the opportunity.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    And the claim water is abundant is both true, and absurd. ‘Water’ is short for fresh water. The claim that fresh water is abundant and available is ridiculous.

    No-one on this thread is saying that fresh water is abundant, only that to get to that position, one needs to transform the enomous amount of water in the sea into the drinkable variety.

  • Paul Marks

    Quite so Johnathan.

    And it would be done by voluntary effort (i.e. non profit and for profit enterprise) if it were not for various taxes and regulations – and the threats to property rights that such power presents.

  • manuel II paleologos

    You could say the same about energy. The same alien might well look at our planet, bursting at the seams with vast internal geothermal energy and bathed in sunlight, and be puzzled at the notion of any scarcity.

    But a lot of Greenery makes a basic assumption that energy is scarce. Not that it’s hard to harness in a cheap, safe and transportable way, but that power itself is something we should use sparingly, regardless of where it comes from.

    Best example I saw was the advisory committee to the government on nuclear power. One of the anti-nuclear arguments it posed was that readily-available energy was bad because it discourages us from saving energy. Saving energy, in other words, is a virtue in its own right, even in a potential future world of limiltless clean power. I found this a fascinating insight into the minds of such folk.

  • Access to fresh water is a real problem in many places, including in Israel where I live.

    False.
    Access to natural, free fresh water is limited.
    Access to any quantity of fresh water can be had, for a price, a manageable price.

    No-one on this thread is saying that fresh water is abundant

    Well:

    World rainfall amounts to approximately 78 thousand cubic metres per person, with over 16 thousand cubic metres per person falling on land (and the rest on sea/ocean). All this water is both salt-free and cost-free; that is, we do not have to distil it or otherwise process it to get rid of dissolved salts.

    This appeared in a comment above, and is perfectly true.

  • Jacob, have you missed this part of my comment:

    this does not mean that these problems cannot be solved, or at least alleviated through technology

    ?

  • Paul Marks

    Alisa makes a good point about “Oliver Twist” and other books – there is an argument there (it is very silly indeed to claim, as George M. does, that “no arguments” is a strong argument – indeed there is a contradiction).

    However, I should point out that 1834 Act was meant to DETER.

    Even under the 1834 Act twice as many people were always on “out relief” as “in relief”.

    But the danger of being told (by the Poor Law Guardians elected by the local taxpayers) “well if you, an able bodied young person, can not look after yourself we will look after you – in the Workhouse” convinced a lot of people to look for work (really hard) – it prevented the growth of a “welfare class”.

    Indeed the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act could be ARGUED to have had more good effects than bad ones – the last welfare change in England to do so.

  • Robert the Biker

    I believe the only hope for humanity is the coming of the Space Bunnies from the Planet Zog.
    Get those tribute carrots ready.

  • Michael Taylor

    Nigel Sedgewick, I’m not sure how you get to 78,000 cubic metres per person from source you cite – but that’s probably me being stupid. But whatever the number, the gross amount of precipitation is probably remaining stable, whilst the world’s population is growing quickly. Holding annual rainfall steady, if the world’s population has grown from approx 3.9 billion in 1970 to 6.7 billion now the amount of precipitation per person has just about halved.

    Add in the water-use impact of urbanisation and industrialization, both of which are water intensive, not least because steel-making is extremely water-intensive, and you have a problem. The problem (fixed supply, exponentially rising demand) usually expresses itself in abominable pollution, water-mining and the lowering & pollution of the water-table. Pollution is, in effect, the expression of the necessary re-use of a commodity which effectively has fixed supply. Clearly, if you get this wrong, it’s terminal, both medically and politically.

    And, as someone pointed out, water-rights are political dynamite because, if you live upstream, the pollution problem (re-use problem) literally goes away if you do nothing about it.

    Hint for the future: even during this cycle, you’re better off watching the water supply than the money supply if you want to track China’s “overheating.”

  • nick g.

    Of course there’s intelligent life on Earth! Well, there will be, when the aliens land…..
    We here at Alsblog were roundly criticised by an American, who informed us that clean drinking water is a right, guaranteed by the United Nations itself!!! So there is no problem, just ask the UN to live up to its’ Charter. (For a while there, I’d been worried!!! But if you can’t rely on the UN, who can you rely on?)

  • Johnathan Pearce

    nt for the future: even during this cycle, you’re better off watching the water supply than the money supply if you want to track China’s “overheating.”

    Nope, it will be the monetary issue that goes wrong first.

  • Nope, it will be the monetary issue that goes wrong first.

    Of course.
    It would have been the other way round if gold was flowing in the Yangtze instead of water….

  • Midwesterner

    Johnathan,

    I suspect that China may be able to solve their bubble and bad debt of the old commie companies with cashed in (non-renewed) T-bills, to the detriment of us and at not too much harm to them. But it is an ongoing and developing situation and we’ll probably all be adjusting our expectations as things progress. I know I will.

    If you hear any theories or news in the general area of the soundness of China’s economy, I for one am always interested.

  • nick g.

    Have you heard about SKYWATER?
    It’s a capitalist idea to use a new invention (it looks a bit like a fridge and an air-conditioning unit in one) to condense and store moisture from the air. It’s going to be released next year. Whilst it uses a lot of electricity, it also gathers a lot of water! I wonder how much moisture there is that can be used, and will we be upsetting weather patterns by using it? I don’t know the link, but you might try googling the word for more info.

  • nick g.

    Earth has Dolphins, Whales, Octopi, elephants, foxes, and some very smart parrots. Of course an alien would find intelligent life! Let’s hope they don’t blab about how lousy we are at housekeeping!

  • Michael Taylor wrote:

    I’m not sure how you get to 78,000 cubic metres per person from source you cite

    This is per annum; apologies for missing that out in the quoted bit, though it was (I hope) fairly obvious from my whole comment and the comparisons with other rates of water usage/flow.

    I took the 505,000 cubic kilometres, converted it to cubic metres by multiplying by 10^9, and divide by a world population of 6.5 billion, and then rounded it to the nearest thousand cubic metres. I do agree that it is incredibly easy to get these things wrong; however, I’ve checked my arithmetic several times (before my earlier posting and again now), and Jacob concurs too. If you disagree, please post why in a comment, as it’s certainly not helpful to leave uncorrected, mistakes in such things.

    Holding annual rainfall steady, if the world’s population has grown from approx 3.9 billion in 1970 to 6.7 billion now the amount of precipitation per person has just about halved.

    Fully agreed, and the sort of figures I gave (for land and power as well as water) should help us think in the right sorts of terms. This is of what proportion of the “natural resource” is currently used, and in absolute terms of how much resource we (each) currently use, the latter being useful for understanding our impact and, perhaps, in considering reductions or alternatives.

    Add in the water-use impact of urbanisation and industrialisation, both of which are water intensive, not least because steel-making is extremely water-intensive, and you have a problem.

    My view on this is that there are many aspects that contribute to our standard of living, especially through increased urbanisation and industrialisation; this includes much infrastructure, and is not limited to water supply. Many of those aspects do have an environmental impact; we can chose to lessen that impact by further expenditure (as we have done in the West, very successfully, for example on oxides of nitrogen and sulphur), thus replacing other potential improvements in our standard of living with those arising from reduced acidic pollution from power stations and motor vehicles. However, such mitigation of environmental damage does cost; we can decide the extent to which we do this according to our priorities on expenditure. We can also chose not to do something, because the environmental damage to to great, given too little human benefit and/or no cost-effective mitigation measures.

    These should be a careful choices; not those subject to excessive emoting. This is because, in my view at least, we should be able to judge the relative merits of different expenditures against something close to their actual benefits and disbenefits, not against some doom-laden, over-the-top prediction.

    The problem (fixed supply, exponentially rising demand) usually expresses itself in abominable pollution, water-mining and the lowering & pollution of the water-table.

    Two things here. First of all the ever-dreadful “exponentially rising”.

    Well, people often assume that applies to population. According to Wikipedia, world population has been rising substantially linearly since around 1950, with continual falls in births per head of population mitigating the effects of total larger population, which would otherwise lead to that exponential growth. This might be down to the fact that a large proportion of more recent population growth is through increased life expectancy, which (except for improved infant mortality rates and that associated with younger people) does not increase fertility. Also, the geographical split of population change in the Wikipedia article at least indicates that consideration should be given to hypotheses that birth rates are dependent on both regional standard of living and regional life expectancy; with increases in these, people may well look to have less children, thus potentially providing some natural limit on human population, before ‘doom’ cuts in.

    Secondly, the “abominable pollution”.

    Pollution, and other sorts of environmental damage, comes in degrees; it is not just “abominable” or “non-existent”. I cannot believe that Michael thinks it is, but he nevertheless writes in such simple terms. It worries me that this is sailing too close to the Moonbat view linked to in the main posting: that man wants everything to be simple enough that he can understand it; well, it’s not (or so I deduce from what he writes in the linked article), so he should either improve his understanding and write more rationally, or shut up on this topic and write about things other (and less important).

    With population growth (even linear now and eventually saturating), greater economic activity and improved standards of living, there are risks relating to scarcity, particularly of water, land and energy. However, I see no absolute scarcity (at least for a considerable time), just increased costs and need for significantly better global and regional management. If there is a risk, it is that of conflict and war over land and resources, in those places where they have insufficient foresight, insufficient technological knowhow or insufficient financial resources.

    Best regards

  • Bother and apologies; here is link missing from the above post for world population according to Wikipedia.

    Best regards

  • Michael Taylor

    Nigel Sedgwick,
    Despite your invitation to shut up, I want to answer a couple of your points.
    First, the “exponentially rising” demand on fixed water supplies that I was talking about comes not from population growth, but from the impact of industrialisation and urbanisation – as I thought was clear from teh context. I’m sorry if it wasn’t clear enough for you. And if you do the sums on these, you’ll find that exponentially rising demand is precisely what you do get from these trends (as long as they last). I wrote it not as a careless meme, but as a statement of demonstrable fact. Now, there will be a time, perhaps, when places like China have a) completed their urbanisation and b) go from industrialising to post-industrialising economies, and at that point, demand on water resources may well no longer rise exponentially, but rise linearly, or, who knows, may even stabilise. But for the forseeable future, demand on China’s water supply is rising exponentially, and will rise exponentially, for the reasons I identified.

    Second, I stick by the “abominable” tag for the state of China’s water pollution, and I think no reasonable, or even unreasonable (for example, the Chinese Communist Party), person or body with knowledge of the facts would quarrel with it. I take it from your dismissal of the adjective that you simply haven’t looked into the now considerable body of literature which now exists about the state of China’s water supply.

    Third, you mistake me very profoundly if you think I would make the segue from an informed alarm about China’s water problems to a Monbiotesque complacency about the benefits of economic growth. No-one who’s seen what’s happened in China over the last 20 years can be in any doubt at all about the moral and humanitarian gains that are consequent upon sustained economic growth. Indeed, I think it is the single biggest philosophical and ethical lesson demonstrated in that period (sorry if this is too simplistic for you).

    But that doesn’t do anything to persuade me from my two main points: i) that China’s water problems are extraordinarily serious already and ii) that solving them is likely to have a major impact on the shape, form and powers of Chinese government in the next 20 years.

    PS. Thanks for your explanation of how you worked out your numbers – I wasn’t trying to cast doubt on them, merely admitting my ignorance of how you got from one measure to the next.

  • @Michael: I did not invite you to shut up; I recommended someone else to, unless they improved their understanding..

    Now I’ll read further.

    Best regards