About a month ago, I wrote a post entitled â€˜Waterâ€™. In it I suggested that water would become an increasingly precious resource in the southwestern U.S. and that disputes would occur between states and other regulatory entities over rights to the water of the Colorado River. It was therefore no surprise to see a huge front page story a few days ago on the topic. The front page picture was of a fishing pier that was jutting out into the air since Lake Mead was 80 feet below â€˜normalâ€™. Welcome to the new normal.
The two driving forces that are making water so much more scarce are unchecked population growth in the southwestern U.S., and the fact that, according to scientific evidence, what had been thought of as prolonged droughts were, in fact becoming the new normal. This means that everything about water will need to be revisited and rethought. Usage, recycling, legal interpretations of water rights and ownership, escalating prices for water and a need for fundamental perceptual change on water and itâ€™s usage. Welcome to the twenty-first century when we have finally come to the crossing of inevitable trend lines. These are the ever upward trend line of population growth and uncoordinated real estate development and the trend lines of both limited resources and climate change.
Water is a life source. Water is a life source of all living things to varying degree. Food, water and oxygen are three things that are essential for human life and all other life on this planet. The first level of disputes will be between the governing bodies of humanity. Those are already occurring as western states are suing one another over water. Then there will be the level of new regulations of use, followed by attempts to both reuse water and finding new sources, such as desalination plants, to increase this reusable resource. Then there will be the more difficult issues of adjudicating human use. What is the hierarchy of usage: drinking, agriculture, cleaning, cooling, lawns, fountains, and who will have the authority to regulate and decide? Finally the morally difficult ground of deciding whether human need supersede those of other species, both plant and animal. In final form, this is called triage.
This is not a cataclysmic view of the situation. It is a description of the new normal. What â€˜used to beâ€™ normal, no longer is. What used to be acceptable, no longer is. What was taken for granted no longer can be. This is life in the twenty-first century. The primary issue is one of perception, or I should say a perception that is not really a perception of what is, but a past oriented filter through which we look at the world, and then quickly look away because it no longer is â€˜the way it wasâ€™. In other words, we really need to start to face forward, accept what is, and start to redefine a great number of things. I am convinced that humanity is up to the task to solve, or at least deal, with any of the developing changes in the world. Whether it is global warming, the desperate need to develop alternative and renewable sources of energy, or the reinterpretation of water use and reuse, we can find our way. What we cannot do is wait, which is what we have a great collective tendency to do.
As individuals we can act out of love. As members of large groups or of a species, we tend to act out of fear. It sometimes feels as though the only way we mobilize is to think about situations that create fear: not enough water, not enough food, not enough clean air to breathe. That may be the first step. The next step, and the one we need to take, is to accept what is and, in a positive and increasingly global way reorient our thinking, change our behavior, and focus on innovation and breakthrough technology. In other words, what we have always done throughout human history. The key difference, as evidenced by the increasing scarcity of water in the western US, is that we now live in an age where a fundamental truth is the finiteness of spaceship earth.