Water You Thinkin’? Blog Action Day 2010

There’s a bit of irony about my post today. One of the main characters is blocking me from posting it. It’s not because I am so important or they fear my two dozen faithful followers, but it’s because they fear everything that my little ole blog, the internet, and the subject matter represent: a freedom of information and opinion. The subject today – as this is Blog Action Day 2010 – is water.

I’m traveling in China and have spent much of the last couple years in Southeast Asia. Water is a big, big issue. The topic of running out of it, the idea of it becoming as precious as crude oil, has been tossed around in sci-fi books and movies for a long time. Most recently it played a role in a Bond film. Watching a bit of the goings on in Asia, I see it becoming a reality in our lifetime. I’m no proper analyst with a PhD but I can see clearly what the degreed folks are talking about.

This year Thailand and Laos have been stressing over drought conditions. What will become of the rice crop and the politically simmering Thailand if a drought ever deals a death blow? The Mekong River runs along Thailand’s border and touches Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam as well on its way to the sea. Mekong means “mother of waters” in Khmer yet the mother isn’t feeling so well. Water levels are lower threatening transportation, irrigation, drinking water supply and even the salinity of the fertile Mekong Delta in Vietnam, supplier of more than 40% of that nation’s rice crop. And China currently has 4 hydroelectric dams on it with plans for 4 more. Some sources in the nations downstream are blaming these dams for the sudden drop in water levels. China says it is only due to a drought, but their lack of transparency leaves many doubtful.

The river’s source should surprise none: Tibet. The glaciers — the ones that are gradually disappearing due to the climate change that isn’t happening or in no way could be caused by nearly 7 billion people stuck in wild consumption mode and reluctant to make even minor changes in industry or lifestyle – those glaciers supply the water for that mother river. Those glaciers provide drinking and agricultural water for a hefty portion of China’s population and the flow is being blocked for internal needs. That same thirsty giant is blocking me from my blog while I am inside Chinese borders. They are also blocking searches for terms such as “Tibet.” I am emailing this out to be posted by someone else.

China is pretending. Pretending people don’t know things or don’t care. Pretending that its mission to create a greater society for its massive population requires suppressing information and opinion. It’s easier to herd a herd. But sooner or later the Great Oz has to come clean; the man behind the curtain can’t keep everyone snookered in la-la land. That’s a helluva dragon to have by the tail.

Thailand (and I feel pretty comfortable guessing the rest of Southeast Asia) is also pretending. Wasting water isn’t even considered wasting. From the little stuff of leaving taps running to larger industrial concerns and the practice of dumping so much pollution into the canals and the Chao Phraya River, everyone plays a part in what is going to be an eventual rude awakening.

And keep zooming out; it’s not just these “other” countries. They don’t deserve our finger wagging and criticism any more than Western nations do. The United States may not be blocking the internet but a stone wall of selfishness and greed on the corporate end is shored up by a confederacy of dunces that have self-censored. Mark Twain said that those who have the ability to read great works but do not, have no advantage over the people who cannot read at all. Functionally illiterate. But Twain hadn’t addressed the idea of people choosing to read only what they want to believe while a few other people sell them misinformation to support their own gains. In China, information is not free. In other places, the free information on the future of water isn’t exactly cheery, feel-good news, and the truth is people everywhere really need to confront these matters before they become unmanageable.

The dry Southwest of the US has tried to make deals for getting at some of the fresh water of the Great Lakes. Requests for access were denied. My state of Wisconsin borders two of those lakes and low lake levels have raised concern. Damming the Mekong might not be directly relevant to Phoenix or Milwaukee, but the future of water is a universal matter.

Commissions address the issues in the Great Lakes just as the Mekong River Commission is involving all of the river’s nations in seeking solutions to water control issues. Conservation and a plan for sharing water resources are critical for averting what will otherwise become not just an environmental disaster but a humanitarian one as well. Can you imagine war to control water? BP drilling for artesian wells? You may not have to.
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7 thoughts on “Water You Thinkin’? Blog Action Day 2010

  • October 15, 2010 at 5:17 pm
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    A fantastic, eye-opening post. It's true, I fear water will become something of a scarce commodity in my lifetime. Thanks for writing.

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  • October 18, 2010 at 12:26 am
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    Thanks Kevin. Well said – or rather, well written. This article should get better coverage than just your blog.

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  • October 18, 2010 at 1:17 am
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    Wow, very eye-opening and scary. Any advice on what we can do?

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  • October 25, 2010 at 12:48 pm
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    Thanks for the comments! Tim, I really don't know what to say. Donate money. Spread the word. The usual, right? All that, however, may just be… ahem, a drop in the bucket. No amount of charitable donations is going to alter China's plans or Arizona's or even Joe Schmoe's. I'm a bit pessimistic on this one. Major crisis will force major changes. I envision a big disaster with heartbreaking consequences. Then whoever's still standing makes huge and clever adaptations. Years later people suddenly know about it in their history chip brain implants and say humans were absurdly stupid and backwards back in the day. Or they just think it as it will no longer be necessary to speak or even Tweet.

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  • December 13, 2010 at 5:57 pm
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    That’s a shame what’s happening with the Mekong. Just another example of China taking a dump on it’s neighbors. Not to say the US has been a shining example of ecology, but places like Beijing now are like how Pittsburgh was 80 years ago, only 10-15 times bigger. I’ve got a friend who lives there now that reports of gray snow and brown mucus similar to what you’d get if you sit around a campfire for too long. You’d think that China may have learned from terrible Soviet era water management that has all but completely dried up the Aral Sea, but they haven’t learned a damn thing. Even with China’s Great Firewall, people who have internet access can still get some outside info, but probably not enough. And their officials may acknowledge some problems, but will likely gloss over them, which reminds me of that Chinese representative that we had in Freeport back in 1999 or 2000 when I asked him about human rights and gave me some BS answer of the greater good and so on.

    On one hand, I’m awed at some of the things the Chinese have been able to do in a short amount of time, for instance, the Three Gorges Damn. At the same time, I’m frightened of their hubris and lack of concern for even their own people, for example, the Three Gorges Damn. Even if you forget the environmental repercussions, they’ve had to move countless people because of it. Places where families have lived for centuries.

    I’ve told my friends that either don’t believe in climate change or at least any effect man may have on it, but I think this is one issue that I’ve been able to push through as almost irrefutable. There’s no doubt that pollution damages the air and water and can harm animal, mineral and vegetable, so in places where there’s massive water pollution and or drought, not to mention massive populations, you know there will be trouble.

    I remember when there was a big drought in the SE USA a couple years back and states and counties were fighting over water access rights. Sure, this will be a problem that affects poorer countries first, but it’s only a matter of time till it happens here unless one of two things happen: 1. pollution control and water conservation becomes a serious priority around the world or 2. Somebody comes up with a cheap and efficient way of cleaning and desalinizing water. Currently, there’s some promising water sanitizing pumps that are being produced to bring a safe, continuous supply of water to poor communities with unsanitary water, but what about places with no water? Right now some of the only countries that are using desalinization to any great extent are rich Arab Oil States that can afford such a luxury as current technology is expensive and demands a lot of energy.

    I only hope that this becomes a bigger issue. I think this is an issue that will affect people more quickly than climate change and for those skeptics of climate change, you really can’t doubt that there’s less usable water on earth now as we dump a lot of pollutants into rivers and seas and use a lot of water to grow more and more crops to feed a geometrically growing population, which also need water to drink, bathe, etc.

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    • December 13, 2010 at 10:17 pm
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      Maybe you want a guest-post space here? 😉 I remember that guy in Freeport. He bugged me too, though I will confess he has a point that they are to some extent feeding a nation of 1.3 billion and that is no small accomplishment. That’s where his greater good crap comes in — he can overlook oppressing people, violent crackdowns, censorship, etc. if it means keeping the herd in line enough so that masses don’t end up wiped out by famine (as they did under “brilliant” strong-arm planning in the past!). But with the various ethnically “different” populations that fall under the broad sweep of China, I just don’t see it surviving without increasingly tough crackdowns which in turn create more revolutionary/reform thinkers. We’ve matured a bit as a nation, but how much? BP isn’t shooting straight and messed up the Gulf with a bit of cover-up aid from the government. Fracking near urban water sources is still being proposed. The US government would gladly censor WikiLeaks and is pursuing non-violent anti-war activists by claiming them terrorists. That should upset just about everyone, but unfortunately most people feel a gay man in camouflage and a flak jacket is our nation’s greatest threat. That and affordable/universal health care. Go figure. And then there’s GMOs… Highly recommended sci-fi read, set in Bangkok in the GMO/climate change/end-of-oil future: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi.

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  • December 13, 2010 at 10:42 pm
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    Yeah, comment there was a bit verbose. I think it’s mostly in a vain attempt to distract myself from studying for the remaining 6 finals I have this week. Right now diminishing water resources are more interesting than endo and gerontology.

    As far as feeding all their people, it is impressive and working better than under the Iron Ricebowl, so at least they’re capable of learning.

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