World Water War I: Already Under Way

A common misconception: the wars of the future will be fought, not with water, but over it. There will be a lot of them. Soon. (Photo by Radio Free Asia)

A common misconception: the wars of the future will be fought, not with water, but over it. There will be a lot of them. Soon. (Photo by Radio Free Asia)

The stresses that are rearranging the world’s maps, uprooting populations, destroying nation-states and destabilizing the planet have less to do with extreme “-isms,” geopolitics, hegemony or nuclear armaments than they do with water. Overuse, misuse and pollution of water, combined with spreading drought, a consequence of climate change, are imposing on larger and larger regions of the world an inexorable sequence of deprivation leading to desperation, then disintegration. About halfway through the progression, as desperation begins to bring on disintegration, the violence begins, and from then on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse ride hard.

The increasing scarcity of water is the unacknowledged cause of the so-called Arab Spring collapses of the governments of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. It was the spark that lit the fuse of the rebellions in Syria (when protesters in Daraa protested corrupt allocations of scarce water) and Yemen (when citizens of Taiz, the thirstiest city in the country, erupted in 2011).

It is only when we recognize this causality (keeping in mind that high costs, and scarcity, of food are almost always a consequence of scarce water) that we can appreciate how much trouble we are in. What happened to these failed and failing states is under way in:

The list of countries approaching mortal crisis because of water scarcity goes on, and on. It has to include California, Arizona and Nevada, states whose mummification by dry desert air is proceeding apace.

In the shadow of this real and present danger to the world, politicians and talking heads continue to prattle about religion, ideology, ethnicity, world domination — indeed, any distraction imaginable — apparently to avoid having to confront reality. Despite their best efforts at obfuscation, however, it is clear that reality is about to confront us.   

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15 Responses to World Water War I: Already Under Way

  1. Tom says:

    Bravo Mr. Lewis. Insightful commentary on the dawning reality so few are willing to acknowledge and who’s natural “i told you so” moment is immanent.

    It’s going to be beyond any Hollywood movie in depravity, frightfulness, catastrophe, scope and scale, as it encompasses the entirety of the biosphere, every living thing. The ending will be our own as well as most, if not all, species of life by the time the nuclear radiation problem, catastrophic build-up of methane either by huge burp or just continuously more and more areas emitting it (along with deadly hydrogen sulfide) and sea level rise (and demise of marine life) begin in earnest (to mention a few of the multitude of dilemmas we face). The weather changes alone practically guarantee impossible conditions for growing enough (if any) food, not to mention the steady depletion of arable land and soil. Our own pollution is beyond anything humanity can cope with and now nature can’t take any more either.

    We’ve effectively unbalanced the chemistry that makes the web of life possible and now we’re unable or unwilling to stop – so the planet stops it for us. Permanently.

  2. Craig Moodie says:

    History, shows again and again how nature points out the folly of man.

  3. SomeoneInAsia says:

    Stupid Idiot: Ow, don’t worry! We’ll just build a few thousand desalination plants along the coasts, let them suck in all the water we need from the oceans and desalinate the water. Problem solved!

    Wise Person: Uhhhh… There’s just a problem: we haven’t that much cheap fossil fuel left to build and maintain all those plants…

    Stupid Idiot: Ow, don’t worry! We’ll just switch to some alternative energy sources! Surely the MARKET and HUMAN INNOVATION will bring us a new energy source that will replace fossil fuels!

    Wise Person: Uhhhh… The trouble is that we haven’t been able to find any energy sources so far which can seriously compare with fossil fuels, and there’s no prospect of any breakthroughs in the near future in this respect…

    Stupid Idiot: Ow, don’t worry! Then we’ll just use MAGIC! :D

  4. Denis Frith says:

    When we (Victoria, Australia) had our last drought, a desalination plant was constructed (using vast amounts of energy and material) to use electricity from a coal-fired power plant which uses water for cooling purposes so the plant could supply water. Only governments can come up with .with a means of going round in circles at a vast ecological cost.

  5. Been banging on about this for years.
    Take the continental USA as a prime example, (China or India would serve just as well) Plenty of water in some areas, scarcity and desertification in others. But the nation as a whole is in denial. Politicians, economists and godbotherers say there’s nothing to worry about, that climate change is a hoax.
    But look at the USA more closely, in terms of geography, ethnicity, language and religion. It is a nation clearly divided into regions, held together by input of energy, with Roads, Planes, trains forming a web of connectivity across 3000 miles of territory (to say nothing of Alaska—they will cut themselves off entirely anyway).
    A point of collapse is approaching fast, triggered by shortages of everything necessary to sustain life. When energy goes into severe decline, as it must over the next 10-20 years (at most), the industrialised water delivery system (and sewage removal system) which has allowed population explosion, will cease. Water means life, and people will fight to live.
    But there are too many people there already
    Already armed to the teeth, the USA will devolve into four or five distinct regions each with a need of water and energy supplies. Without energy input, the USA will be ungovernable in its present form. Without oil, the police and military will cease to function, certainly not under Washington’s orders, more as local militias. An armed citizenry will form itself into warring factions to protect what they have in terms of resources, and they will fight over water, particularly in those areas (the South West,) where the gun is most often used to settle arguments and water is scarcest in cities which should never have been built there.
    As is pointed out, desperation bring disintegration.
    Glaciers are fading away, when pumps can no longer haul water to the surface from aquifers, it’s game over for the farmers of Southern California, (or China, or Egypt, or India.) I’ve tried to put it into a book, to waken awareness about what’s going on. The End of More.
    readers here might find it interesting. I only say how we got into this fine mess, no suggestions for getting out of it, because I honestly don’t think there is one.

  6. Robert Callaghan says:
  7. John Cook says:

    It’s a pity the author is ignorant of the true situation in Libya. They had solved their water problem by tapping the aquifers under the Sahara dessert. Gadaffi had spent 25 years building the biggest irrigation scheme ever attempted. 24 ft diameter underground pipes. They called it the underground river. But then they killed him and we hear nothing about his plans to be the grain bowl of Africa. Sad (and evil)

    • Tom Lewis says:

      It’s a pity that people who wish to display their knowledge believe they must begin by calling others ignorant. Yes, Gadaffi built a big pipe to suck water — unsustainably — from the Sahara aquifers. The pumping not only depleted the aquifers but caused incursion by salt water. “They had solved their water problem”??? Water demand has exceeded supply in Libya since at least 1995. Gadaffi’s bombast about turning the desert into a grain bowl was just that — bombast. Casting him as a benefactor of his people and martyr? Man, that is sad.

    • SomeoneInAsia says:

      It’s not that I’m against people trying to feed themselves, but assuming Gadaffi really did all that, will this solution to their water problem will be a PERMANENT one? For all we know, if he lived on to carry out his plans, Africa would enjoy only a few decades of prosperity at best — other things being equal. Those aquifers would be sucked dry after that, like the ones beneath the US now. That’s the curse of the industrial way of life.

  8. Mike Kay says:

    Decades ago, there were a few visionaries who saw the fresh water situation for what it was-a true crisis. These same visionaries were derided, scorned and laughed at by those who found it easy to think that no crisis was forthcoming.
    Unfortunately, humanity is dominated by the no crisis types, who block every attempt to design a meaningful response to coming conditions. Now that the crisis is upon us, its too late for an intelligent effort to steer humanity toward sensible goals. Ditto the energy situation, where the mind numbing squandering of fossil fuels is simply speeding their exhaustion, and the only response from the no crisis types is, well, that there is no crisis. I sometimes wonder exactly how a species that managed to adapt and survive over myriad conditions in myriad environments has managed to trap itself in this cul-de-sac.

    • charlie says:

      “I sometimes wonder exactly how a species that managed to adapt and survive over myriad conditions in myriad environments has managed to trap itself in this cul-de-sac.”

      Look no further than the hierarchical structure and it’s basis.

  9. John Davidson says:

    The essay and the commentary which follows is insightful. At base, however, there is a Population Bomb ticking. There is water, just not enough to meet the needs of an unsustainable population.