General Question

CupcakesandTea's avatar

How can the planet earth be suffering from water shortage?

Asked by CupcakesandTea (353points) March 25th, 2011
30 responses
“Great Question” (0points)

Maybe I just don’t understand the details but people complain a lot about water shortage. I don’t see how people have reached this conclusion since the planet is 75% water (give or take). And isn’t water constantly naturally being recycled by the planet? I don’t know just a thought.

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YoBob's avatar

The problem is not the existence of H20, but rather the availability of clean water that is fit for human consumption.

You can die of thirst while in the middle of the ocean because the salt water is not fit to drink and even if you live by a river you can die of any number of diseases from drinking the water if it is contaiminated.

sarahjane90's avatar

Isn’t it possible to turn sea water into useable water for human consumption?

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@sarahjane90 It works but it’s not cheap to do.

mowens's avatar

This is why I live next to the great lakes.

My water. Back the fuck up we are not shipping it to California.

YoBob's avatar

@sarahjane90 – Sure, but it takes a heck of a lot of energy to do so. Additionally, if you live inland, how do you get the fresh water to where it is needed? That requires infrastructure, which costs $$$. Something which most 3rd world countries are quite short of.

sarahjane90's avatar

Places like Las Vegas are going to be in a pickle if and when Lake Mead is too depleted!

Nullo's avatar

Water gets recycled, but it doesn’t necessarily return to the areas that it came from. The Upper Midwest gets most – if not all – of its water from what is essentially a subterranean lake capped with hydrologically-impermeable rock. There’s a heckuva lot of the stuff, but it’s not being replenished. Once it runs out, roughly ⅓ – ¼ of the U.S. and probably part of Canada will be in serious trouble.

@sarahjane90 I believe that’s how the UAE gets most of its water.

@mowens That is so selfish. :D

Judi's avatar

It’s a CLEAN potable water shortage.

incendiary_dan's avatar

90% of all water use in this country is from industry and industrial agriculture. Another 5% is from municipal golf courses. Only 5% is used by people in their homes. What do you think the problem is?

WasCy's avatar

It’s the adjectives that are important in this case:
– clean (potable)
– fresh

In some parts of the world, all of those adjectives are a problem. In most parts of the world (the oceans), “fresh” is the problem.

weeveeship's avatar

Didn’t read the other comments, but here’s my take:

Most of the water is salt water, which is not drinkable. Though I heard that there are ways to get rid of the salt in salt water, I do not know how effective or efficient that would be.

A lot of the fresh water has been polluted.

There is an increased consumption of water. In the past, people mostly used water for personal uses, such as cleaning or drinking. Now, water is also used a lot for industrial purposes. The fact that increased globalization is leading to a rise in factories around the world increases the need for water.

Tastentier's avatar

There’s a lot of water in the Ganges, just to name one well-known river, but I wouldn’t want to drink out of it ;) The main reason for the high life expectancy in the Western world is access to clean drinking water, either from wastewater treatment plants or out of deep mineral wells.

incendiary_dan's avatar

There’s also the issue of deforestation to consider. Forests keep soil in place, as do prairies and other intact ecosystems. Rampant monocropping has eroded a lot of land, so in addition to chemical fertilizer runoff there’s also a lot of dirt clouding up some rivers.

Plato even once complained that deforestation was ruining the water quality in ancient Greece.

2CDenzy's avatar

I believe the most common way of cleaning water is through distillation which is the separation of particles by boiling off the contaminant. Also a way of cleaning water I’ve seen in places that have very little clean water is through straws (here). I’m not sure how it works but it purifies the water as you drink it through the straw. A problem with this though is that the purifier in the straw is used up quickly. Also in places without good clean water you can drill down until you hit water, and when it’s deep enough it seems to be clean.

The problem with these things is money. We wouldn’t have a clean water shortage if we were willing to pay for it.

jballzz's avatar

You can’t drink salt water. The reason there’s a water shortage is because the world is using up its freshwater sources. All the freshwater we drink is groundwater, which comes from the water cycle. The thing about this is all the fossil fuels we burn aren’t helping. Carbon dioxide coming out of cars floats up towards the sky and pollutes the air, which also pollutes the clouds. So basically the water is being polluted before it even hits the ground. The clouds pretty much get “dirty”, and polluted rain falls to earth and gets soaked up by the ground. But now this water is toxic and we can’t drink it. Also, the gas coming out of the exhaust pipes on cars also goes into the ground, immediately polluting ground water. Now all the freshwater areas are being privatized and these companies (Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Nestle) are literally fighting for the rights to use freshwater just so they can make money. Water is now being referred to as blue gold, and the next war could possibly be over water.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Want your grandchildren to be filty rich? Invest in the location, preservation, and/or transportation of water.

toaster's avatar

Just install General Electric desalinization rigs off ship-scraping shores in India, duh! ..How many rigs to provide clean drinking water to ~750 million people in water starved areas? Doh!

incendiary_dan's avatar

…or we could just stop corporations from stealing and polluting all the clean water. Seriously, not a hard equation to figure out. We don’t need stupid techno-fixes, we need to stop these crimes.

toaster's avatar

The logical explanation, yes. but its these tribal factions of people and the overwhelming dynamic of the picture that fails to make sense… But then again the homogeneous japan had its period and left, or did it (not associated with earthquake btw) as expressed in statistical data, whatever, right?

Nullo's avatar

@incendiary_dan Keep in mind that more than just industry can pollute water. Classics include dead animals upstream, human and animal waste, and local mineral deposits. And then there’s access – the water might be as clean and healthy as can be, but if it’s 75 miles away (or more likely, right next door and being squabbled over by more people that it could realistically provide for).
Captain Planet notwithstanding, there aren’t any corporations out there whose goal is to steal and pollute water.

incendiary_dan's avatar

Goals are irrelevant to real world effects.

And I bet if I tried hard enough I could find one.

Nullo's avatar

@incendiary_dan I disagree; so long as your company’s goal isn’t “to mess things up for teh evulz” you’re open to new ideas and technologies; at the end of the day, you just want to make a buck, and it would be nice if there were someplace to spend it.

Consider this not-quite-the-same-case:
As you might expect, the Meat Dept. at Sam’s produces a lot that doesn’t sell. I am including in this the fat and gristle that gets trimmed from the meat, the sausages that didn’t sell by the ‘sell by’ date, and the rotisserie foodstuffs. For the longest time, all of that was thrown away.
Then someone got the idea to sell the scraps to a company that boils such things down into grease for their own uses – resale, probably. Someone else worked out a way to donate the packaged food to a foodbank without risking frivolous lawsuits. The leftover rotisserie chicken was addressed in part by carefully tracking demand, and part by having the deli make the inevitable remainder into chicken salad.
Wal-Mart, whose goal is “zomg $$$ plzkthxsbai” and not “let’s laugh at the starving children from our Bentonville fortress,” listened to complaints and ideas, tested solutions, and made changes to their model, to take better advantage of their resources, to further their goal. They benefited, as did others.
That chicken salad? So popular that they have us make rotisserie chicken just so that Deli can make rotisserie chicken salad. Two birds, one stone.

incendiary_dan's avatar

Wow, a corporation did something to increase profits. Shocker.

Corporations as legal entities have a responsibility to make profit. If they don’t do so, officers are removed and replaced with ones that do. Your example is fallacious, as it involves loss prevention through waste, not externalized costs.

And none of it is relevant to the fact that real world corporations are destroying real world ecosystems to make fictional profits. Alternatives and ideas of how not to are frequently given and often commonly known. They are rejected in order to maximize profits. Nigeria is the perfect example. Shell repeatedly and willfully disregards safety measures to maximize profits. You know what has been the only truly successful thing that has slowed pollution (and cut into Shell’s profits)? MEND.

mattbrowne's avatar

Farming. And the situation gets worse because of the demand for first generation biofuels.

Nullo's avatar

@incendiary_dan That is precisely my point. Once presented with a way to increase profits and reduce waste (yes, I know that it’s a different case, I said as much in my last post – nevertheless, it illustrates how goals are tied to real-world effects, which was what we were talking about), they ran with it.
I don’t see why we can’t innovate the other corporations into friendlier positions in similar fashions.

toaster's avatar

What a day when there are freshwater pipelines traversing whole continents, but as commodities develop so does supply. Maybe thats why current predictions (yeah right) show world population capping and actually, profoundly, decreasing around the beginning of the next century. Seems a major restructuring is somewhat imminent. Wouldn’t we all be biotic hybrids at that point anyways? ..of course barring nuclear or biological holocaust, interstellar cataclysm, etc.

incendiary_dan's avatar

Thinking that any company within this system would willingly sacrifice profits for the environment and withhold from externalizing costs is ignorant of both history and physical reality.

Nullo's avatar

@incendiary_dan I know. That’s why you set it up so that they profit for their troubles.
It doesn’t even need to be financial gain. Sometimes a company will modify behaviors and policies in order to improve its image, typically in response to the concerns of the day.

mowens's avatar

@Nullo You cant have your cake and eat it too. You want nice weather? You get a water shortage. No sympathy.

incendiary_dan's avatar

Sorry for taking a while to respond, my computer done broke for a week and I was out in the woods most of the time anyway.

@Nullo The problem is that it’s not physically possible to have industrial production on a sustainable scale. All of industrialism, and even really many other predecessors involving mass organized production, is based on the concept of externalizing costs. Slavery is the original version of that, and not surprisingly slavery and evironmental degredation are historically linked. Trade based economies have always been right at the center of those relationships (as opposed to gift-based economies with supplementary trade).

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