Another gem from Mark Cochrane….
It is simply human nature I guess to forever fight to maintain the status quo if we cannot improve upon it, in a shortsighted manner. It is reasonable to question whether any problematic situation is simply a momentary problem that can be ignored over the long run or is just a minor correction that can be compensated for with a tweak here and there, but there is rarely if ever a serious consideration of changing economic or social course voluntarily. Politicians cannot sell pain to the masses even if they can consider it themselves.
The latest example I saw today was from India.
Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti said transferring water, including from major rivers like the Brahmaputra and the Ganges, to drought-prone areas is now her government’s top priority.
At least 330 million people are affected by drought in India.
The drought is taking place as a heat wave extends across much of India, with temperatures in excess of 40C.
The Inter Linking of Rivers (ILR) has 30 links planned for water-transfer, 14 of them fed by Himalayan glaciers in the north of the country and 16 in peninsular India.
Environmentalists have opposed the project, arguing it will invite ecological disaster but the Supreme Court has ordered its implementation.
What could possibly go wrong with this? Since no studies have been done no one really knows but there are good reasons to suspect there will be many problems. Taking polluted or poisoned waters from diminished rivers such as the Ganges (link) and spreading them across the land or into other river courses is unlikely to greatly benefit the recipients or the dying rivers. However, given that India has had poor monsoon rains the last two years and is questionably facing its worst-ever water crisis (link), it is not surprising that there are efforts to appear to be doing great things to address the problems. Even if the rivers can be harnessed to support strained agricultural and power needs, despite the ecological costs, it does little to address the underlying problems of melting ice in the Himalayan headwaters or the rapidly draining aquifers. Those aquifers currently supply 85% of the nation’s drinking water but levels are dropping in 56% of the country (link).
India has a population of 1.3 billion and growing. Soon, years like 2016 will become the norm for water availability unless serious adaptations and mitigation efforts are made. However, instead of making serious efforts to improve efficiency of the woefully inadequate water systems, there will be a major effort to ‘fix’ everything with some massive crony-funding projects that will further impact the region’s ecosystems while doing little to manage the real problems of population and changing hydrology.
India is not unique in this though. You can look at China’s Three Gorges dam, Brazil’s massive efforts to install hundreds of dams across the Amazon, Ethiopia’s damming the Blue Nile above Egypt’s existing Aswan Dam or the United States dams and project including its (mis-) management of the Colorado river for examples of trying to engineer solutions to water/energy scarcity. Water is much more precious than oil when scarcity bites.
Whether we are talking about water, oil, fish or anything else the question is always how to get more instead of how to need less. Regardless of rules, treaties, or laws, expect the grab for resources to increase as true scarcity looms. This will likely hold true with climate change as well since ‘geoengineering’ is always in the wings as the proposed cure to our current ills. Why us less water when we can potentially make it rain more (here), or cut greenhouse gas emissions when we can make more clouds to keep it cooler (at what cost?).
I’ve got an engineering degree of my own and so I understand the Siren’s song of a technological ‘fix’. It is a strategy that has worked well for us for a long time now. It can still work well if we just set the parameters and incentives right. Challenge people to do more with less and they will. We need to get off of the uncontrolled ‘growth’ of consumption at all cost mantra and move to one more like continued growth in well-being of human populations and ecosystems. On a finite world there really isn’t another sustainable option.