makes up only a tiny portion of earth’s total water, and only a tiny subset of that total is available to us. Fresh water is a vital “Liebig limiter”, not only for plants and animals (and thus for human food), but also for human sanitation, industrial processes, and transport. We depend on it utterly.
Specifically, fresh water:
makes forests and land plants possible
makes crops possible
- is necessary for animals to eat, drink and thus live - is necessary for human civilization for food and drink - is required for a huge percentage of human industrial processes, including mining and energy extraction - when mismanaged, leads to significant human health issues like diarrhea, cholera and water borne disease.
And this may become a limiting condition, because:
- we are drawing down ancient aquifers, in effect using fossil water, which will not soon refill
- most freshwater is locked in ice caps, such as in Greenland and Antarctica, which will flow into the ocean when they melt
- many rivers are seasonally fed by glacial melt, yet we are altering the climate to one in which those glaciers may not continue to form in the winter
- many rivers feeding huge numbers of humans are based on monsoon rains, which are also dependent on the current climate and will become less dependable if we alter it
- desalination is done naturally by ocean evaporation and rain, but when done artificially on a large scale, requires a lot of energy
In the same way th at “energetic remoteness” makes copper, king -crab legs, and uranium harder to find, many water shortages we currently experience are really energy shortages in disguise. The same amount of water exists now on Earth as has always existed. Energy limits can thus easily become water limits. TaaL: There’s an old cowboy saying in the American west: “Whiskey’s for drinkin’, water’s for fightin’ over.” That old saying – which sprang from human competition in a relatively arid landscape – may be uncomfortably salient to the human future.
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