We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Water shortages solved

Today’s quote of the day was from a longer conversation about water, starting with the conventional wisdom that climate change will inevitably lead to global water shortages. It is not immediately obvious why this should be so, given that melting ice, for example, presumably leads to there being more non-frozen water about.

The impression from the mainstream media is that any water-related problem can be caused by climate change. Floods? Climate change. Drought? Climate change. A summary from NASA suggests that some places, the places that get plenty of rain, will get more rain: so much that it floods. And other more typically dry places will see more droughts. So there is not necessarily a contradiction. On the other hand it is not clear how reliable such predictions are.

Different climate models provide different answers about what will happen to rainfall where. You can almost pick the result you want for a particular place by picking which climate model you want to listen to. You can take the mean of all the model outputs but that only seems useful if they all broadly agree, and even then they could all be wrong. The question of the usefulness of climate models is a big topic. The way they are tuned seems to allow for a lot opportunity for bias to creep in. Also the resolution of GCMs is not high, and the resolution affects the results, especially for precipitation.

In any case, there is a practically unlimited supply of water in the oceans, it is simply a matter of energy to turn it into drinking water and transportation to get it where we need it. With photo-voltaic panels becoming cheaper and more efficient as solar generation capacity has been growing exponentially for the last 25 years, energy is cheap. For desalination there is not even an energy storage problem, since we can make water during the day and water is easy to store. The technology is effective, simple and cheap.

As for transportation, I have heard there is some new technology called an aqueduct.

So there are no technical difficulties, it is not particularly expensive, and with poverty on its way out there seems little to stop any water supply problems from being solved.

As Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency, put it, we will reach the “jaws of death – the point at which, unless we take action to change things, we will not have enough water to supply our needs”. It was ever thus. Luckily the action is not difficult.

30 comments to Water shortages solved

  • ROBERT SYKES

    It might not be obvious in a small country like Britain with short rivers, but in the temperate zone rivers and ground waters are repeatedly recycled. You recycle every time you flush your toilet. Some rivers are recycled totally several times before they hit the sea. Like the Ohio.

    Western and Northwestern Europe exist because they are down wind of the Gulf Stream. Otherwise the region would be more or less uninhabitable. You might also have noticed that your climate is also wet, again an gift of the Gulf Stream.

    The Gulf Stream, all other ocean currents, and the main air flows like the Westerlies are a consequence of the differential heating of the Earth’s surface by the sun. Those currents are transporting heat from the Equator to the Poles. These flows are a necessary consequence of a rotating, spherical Earth and the Sun. They will exist, because thermodynamics requires it, in a much warmer world. London fog is not going away.

    Geologically, the only time the flows were seriously disrupted was during the glacial maxima of the Ice Ages. Freezing is the problem. Freezing leads to crop failures and famines.

    Actually, if we could raise the Earth’s mean temperature by a couple of degrees, we should. The rise will occur almost entirely in the high latitudes, above 50° N/S. The result would be that northern Russia, Siberia, and Canada would become arable. There would be a massive increase in farmland and habitable area. You could grow Pinot Noir in Scotland.

  • Surellin

    Global warming has become an unfalsifiable proposition. It causes everything! I was just trying to find that rather famous and enormous list of things that global warming was supposed to cause, but Google was not being helpful.

  • Stonyground

    Based on the established track record of the alarmists, whatever they predict either won’t happen, or the opposite will happen.

  • It is not immediately obvious why this should be so, given that melting ice, for example, presumably leads to there being more non-frozen water about.

    Melting ice will lead to more total water, but it will lead to less drinkable water, because who wants to drink hot water? And global warming isn’t going to make things hot enough for tea for, like, decades.

  • SB

    “…as solar generation capacity has been growing exponentially for the last 25 years, energy is cheap.”

    Solar generation has been growing because of an immense and uneconomic building program due to massive subsidies. Those subsidies are coming to an end. I’ve read that solar is approaching its theoretical limit for efficiency. I’ve also read that within the next decade more solar panels will be taken offline due to obsolescence than will be built. Net result, without a new, more massive sudsidy program, solar is going to start receding as a percentage of energy production.

    Except for a precious few, tiny areas of the globe, solar is uneconomic and that will not change. It’s also horrible for the environment.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    “Different climate models provide different answers about what will happen to rainfall where.”

    In the famous words of that great statistician George Box: All models are wrong. Some models are useful.

    If one’s GCM does not include known physical phenomenon, such as the variability of solar output or the influence of cosmic rays on cloud formation, then the model will be not only be wrong, it will be biased. Junk science.

    While so-called “renewable” energy like solar panels will eventually be seen to have been a gross misuse of scarce resources (as SB has noted), properly managed modern nuclear energy could safely supply all that it needed for water desalination and pumping long distances to where it is needed. If the US were not in thrall to willfully ignorant Lefties, we would already be recharging the Ogallala aquifer, which provides the water for a significant part of the world’s food supply. We have the technology; we do not have the will.

  • TomJ

    Solar is rubbish for grid supply, but there’s no particular reason that it shouldn’t power desalination plants that will tend to be needed in very sunny places and which, as Rob pointed out in the article, doesn’t need to run 24/7.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    “Solar is rubbish for grid supply, but there’s no particular reason that it shouldn’t power desalination plants …”

    Well, no particular reason except for economics and inefficient land use.

    There are some really neat ideas on low energy desalination relying on the density difference between salt water and fresh water to provide the pressure difference required for membrane separation. Main problem is the need for deep water (>400 ft) close to shore. Then there is the Middle East interest in towing icebergs to places that need fresh water — probably more sustainable than short-lived solar cells requiring exotic mined elements.

    Interestingly enough, one of the major (unsubsidized) users of solar panels is the oil industry — cheaper than running long-distance power lines to remote sites. If the technology fits the need and the economics are solid, no subsidy is required.

  • As Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency, put it, we will reach the “jaws of death – the point at which, unless we take action to change things, we will not have enough water to supply our needs”.

    I am hungry. Unless I take action to change things, I will die.

    This situation has occurred before.

    Repeatedly.

    For 50 years.

    Not quite dead yet.

  • Sigivald

    Nuclear desalination wastes less land and lets you generate power while you’re doing it?

  • neonsnake

    also horrible for the environment.

    It is? My neighbour reckons he generates enough to be self sustainable, I’ve been considering it myself.

    Is it not as good an idea as I thought?

  • Stonyground

    There were several desalination plants built in Australia after a dry spell that climate scientists said was now the new normal. As I mentioned earlier, the opposite happened, it started raining again and the desalination plants were never used.

  • bobby b

    “Is it not as good an idea as I thought?”

    Putting a fairly hefty PV grid-tied system on a friend’s house right now.

    Here where I live, we get all kinds of tax considerations – subsidies – to do this. Without these subsidies, it would be a loser’s proposition.

    With the subsidies – which end up covering almost 2/3 of the costs – we get a payback period of approximately seven years. That’s the point where the energy savings have paid for the installation. At that point onwards, all electricity is free (minus maintenance.) The equipment has an expected life of 30 years.

    Without the subsidies, the payback period extends past the predicted life of the equipment. Without the subsidies, the purpose of the installation is virtue-signaling.

    So, if you have subsidization comparable to the USA, and you don’t mind milking the public teat in that manner, grid-tied solar isn’t a bad idea. If you have to pay full price, run away.

  • Rob Fisher

    I have no interest in subsidy. Either it is economical or it is not. I think in many situations it is and is getting more so. If I’m wrong it will become clear. I’d also be happy to see nuclear power used more.

    What’s clear is the doom-mongers are wrong.

    SB if you are referring to the Shockley–Queisser limit I don’t think it has been reached yet and it is not really a limit.

  • SB

    Rob Fisher – I was indeed referring to the Shockley–Queisser limit. My point in that regard was that the easy gains from more efficient PV cells are largely over. The low-hanging fruit has been picked. Therefore, it is wrong to extrapolate future gains from past gains when the tangents have a decreasing slope.

  • neonsnake

    Without the subsidies, the purpose of the installation is virtue-signaling.

    Hm.

    I don’t want to be “that guy”.

    I’m genuinely “environmental”, but am also concerned about unintended consequences.

    Feels like a little more research might be wise on my part.

  • bobby b

    “Either it is economical or it is not.”

    How economical it is isn’t going to depend only on its own inherent costs. Fracking wasn’t economical – until the cost of its competition went up. Costs for fracking didn’t change, but it became economical.

    We can make solar “economical” by producing PV equipment cheaper, or by raising the price of grid-supplied electricity. (Thus, Obama promising to shut down coal.)

    ” . . . and it is not really a limit.”

    Exactly. I mean, it is technically a limit in the same way as extracting 100% of the energy from a square meter of sunlight is a limit – there’s no more energy to be had at that point – but gains will come from lower cost to produce the square meter of PV. And that’s only limited by human ingenuity.

  • Yawhook

    I was just trying to find that rather famous and enormous list of things that global warming was supposed to cause, but Google was not being helpful.

    That was the now retired Numberwatch website by John Brignell

  • Eric

    On the other hand it is not clear how reliable such predictions are.

    On the contrary, the reliability of such predictions is pretty clear.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    We will know that so-called “renewable” energy is economically viable when the Usual Suspects start banging the drum to tax Big Sun and Big Wind. But we may have to wait until after “Climate Change” has destroyed the world before that happens.

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    Here is another solution! For years, water has hidden itself away in the upper atmosphere, unreachable. Now I read that some clever people have found ways to bring it down to the ground! Early stages yet, but a smart man here in Australia is working on small desalinators that you could carry in your car. Seaside houses, and yachts, could make their own fresh water and leave the rest for us. So don’t kill yourselves just yet!

  • James D. Huggins

    Engineer much?
    For most geographical locations with significant power needs, PV is simply not reliable enough (Oh they tell me of an uncloudy day, says the old hymn), nor is battery technology cost effective to bridge the gap on a cloudy day or overnight. Add the cost of step up and distribution to get it where you need it, and you are out of money before you can compete with natural gas or most other technologies. For yachts (cost is not an object) and remote seaside locations, where nothing else can reach, maybe if you can afford the PV and batteries, but it’s not cheap. Thorium small-scale nuclear might be better solution.

  • Bruce

    All these “possible” results of “climate Change” have a distinct Lewis Carroll air about them.

    From The Hunting of the Snark”, Fit the Fifth. THE BEAVER’S LESSON:

    “”‘Tis the voice of the Jubjub!” he suddenly cried.
    (This man, that they used to call “Dunce.”)
    “As the Bellman would tell you,” he added with pride,
    “I have uttered that sentiment once.
    “‘Tis the note of the Jubjub! Keep count, I entreat;
    You will find I have told it you twice.
    Tis the song of the Jubjub! The proof is complete,
    If only I’ve stated it thrice.”

    Put less stylishly: If THEY tell you something three times it is an unassailable TRUTH…..or something.

  • Mr Ed

    The main issue with water is not its availability (except in really dry places) but ‘entropy’ in that it takes a lot of energy (and therefore cost) to get water into forms that are usable or to recover it. Shorty of hydrolysis or chucking lumps of metallic sodium into it, water isn’t destroyed when used, but it either flows downhill or is contaminated and it takes a lot of energy to undo that, and keep water potable. Helpfully, it stores its potential energy most obligingly if stored uphill.

    So the best thing to do when water is short is to have lots of cheap energy. After all, people do live in Arizona, don’t they? It’s capitalism (attenuated, but operating, i.e. freedom) that makes that possible, and using that freedom to trade and apply technical knowledge through capital.

  • Andrew Carey

    I want to know if the main predictions of the AGW community indicate the world will become windier. Just thinking of buying shares in a wind company, that’s all.
    At one level, wind is driven by the temperature difference between the poles and the equator and this is supposed to reduce as the poles warm faster than the tropics, right?
    So there should be data from wind farms to back up the prediction that are based on hard economics.
    Perhaps world windiness will stay the same or get more so. Buy your shares in GreenCoat or similar.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Ah! Bruce, are you channelling Richard Lindzen? :>))

  • Ben Gardiner

    Surelin

    I was just trying to find that rather famous and enormous list of things that global warming was supposed to cause, but Google was not being helpful.

    Were you trying to find this:

    http://www.numberwatch.co.uk/warmlist.htm

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Andrew Carey: “Just thinking of buying shares in a wind company, that’s all.”

    Some years ago, a young US academic tried to address the issue of what would be the impact on climate if most of the world’s energy was derived from wind power. Bird-whackers slow down the wind (naturally, since they are converting the kinetic energy of wind to mechanical then electrical energy). On a large enough scale, this effect on wind would interfere with the global circulation of air. The mathematics were horribly complex, but the conclusion was that the impact on global climate of getting most of humanity’s energy from wind would be similar to the climate impacts of alleged Anthropogenic Global Warming.

    The scientist had great difficulty getting his research published. Once it was published, he was denied tenure at his US university and had to flee to Canada — not that that must have done him much good. 🙂

  • ns

    Neonsnake – I am against the subsidies for solar panels, but I also think that if they are there, you may as well make use of them. I would, though, point out that the costs of installation are not the only costs. Almost no one talks about the cost of disposing of old solar panels, which are classified as hazardous waste due to the high levels of cadmium and lead in them.
    From Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelshellenberger/2018/05/23/if-solar-panels-are-so-clean-why-do-they-produce-so-much-toxic-waste/#1a87f93b121c
    I have my doubts about the warranties as well, if the panels do not perform as expected that can change the cost\benefit calculation substantially.

  • neonsnake

    ns – very much obliged. That’s very helpful.

    I suspect that I probably would take the subsidy – I pay my taxes, after all – but my greater concern was creating problems further down the road for other people. Doesn’t really fit with the “leave no trace” ethic, y’know?

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>