Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Blue gold, Canada tea

I find it interesting that in this time of people warning of a global water shortage, there is also a fair amount of buzz about a not new idea, a car engine that runs on water.

Yes, cashing in on reports of imminent doom, money guys are advising people to invest in water, in reports akin to this one on MSN.com.

There is no more fresh water on Earth today than there was a million years ago, writes Jon Markman, publisher of StockTactics Advisor and senior strategist and portfolio manager at Pinnacle Investment Advisors. Yet today, 6 billion people share it. Since 1950, the world population has doubled, but water use has tripled, notes John Dickerson, an analyst and fund manager based in San Diego. Unlike petroleum, he adds, no technological innovation can ever replace water.

The benefits of water investing. I guess that's what it's all about.

Yesterday I was reading about water and war.

Nowhere is this issue more important than in the Middle East, where water is considered a ‘strategic’ resource and tensions between countries in the region over it are high. There it has become a major political issue, and the various peace agreements that have been proposed or signed in recent years all include water. This has led to claims from various sources – attributed (but unsubstantiated) to such individuals as Boutros Boutros Ghali and former King Hussein of Jordan – that ‘the next war in the Middle East will be over water’ ..., wrote Steve Lonergan in what looks like 2003.

India is facing a water shortage, as are China and the United States. Iraq's water supply is dwindling because of increased demand in countries upstream (and, you know, loss of infrastructure).

But again, is it a shortage real, or is it a myth? While reading, I kept thinking, "But it's still raining" ... in the global sense, not that it's still raining here in Newburyport, which it is. Again.

According to Skeptical Inquirer writer, Benjamin Radford, it's a myth. In a recent column for Live Science, he wrote:

No, there is plenty of water. The problem is that the vast majority of Earth's water is contained in the oceans as saltwater, and must be desalinated before it can be used for drinking or farming.

Desalination, as he notes, is expensive.

But nor is the world running out of freshwater, either. There's plenty of freshwater on our blue globe; it is not raining any less these days than it did millennia ago. As with any other resource, there are of course regional shortages, and they are getting worse. But the real problems are availability and transport; moving the freshwater from where it is plentiful (such as Canada, South America, and Russia) to where it is scarce (such as the Middle East, India, and Africa). Water is heavy and costly to transport, and those who can afford it will always have water.

Tussles over water already exist, and have done forever, but the issue is also getting some buzz in the presidential campaign. John McCain, in a statement last week he later "clarified" said he wanted to renegotiate the 1922 Colorado River Compact, an interstate compact setting allocation of water from the river between Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and California.

(People in Colorado interpreted it as a move to steal their water for Arizona, McCain's home state, at least according to the Denver Post.)

Water, not global warming, is likely to be the greatest environmental challenge facing the world in the coming decades and centuries, Radford concludes.

So what about this engine that supposedly runs on water? I wonder about the engine popping up again at a time when everyone is talking about global water shortage, investing in water companies, etc.

Hey, did you know that Canada (arguably) holds one-fifth of the world's water supply? Prepare for battle.

1 comment:

Dick Monahan said...

Assuming the "car that runs on water" is the one that splits the water into Hydrogen and Oxygen, that's been pretty well debunked. As usual with these things, it takes more energy to split the water than you get from the released Hydrogen.