Sunday, March 22, 2020

TED-Ed and BBC News ask 'are we running out of clean water' and answer with solutions for World Water Day

Happy World Water Day!  For today's celebration, I'm looking at the global picture through two videos about the developing global water crisis and how to solve it.  The first comes from TED-ED, which asks Are we running out of clean water?

Despite water covering 71% of the planet’s surface, more than half the world’s population endures extreme water scarcity for at least one month a year. Current estimates predict that by 2040, up to 20 more countries could be experiencing water shortages. These statistics raise a startling question: is the Earth running out of clean water? Balsher Singh Sidhu takes a closer look at water consumption.
TED-Ed and Sidhu examine the solution through the lens of decreasing consumption, the same lens I examine environmental issues on Earth Overshoot Day.  It's also an important part of the message I try to impart to my students.  That written, another lesson I teach my students is that decreasing consumption is not the same as increasing supply.*  BBC News concentrated on that issue when it asked Are we heading towards a water crisis?

By 2025, nearly two billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity according to the United Nations.

Many countries now face decisions over how to provide water to their citizens.

Reality Check takes a look at five potential solutions.
Both of these are such good videos that I plan on showing them to my students, that is, when I get to meet future classes in person.  The college where I teach suspended face-to-face classes for all of last week and half of the week before; classes will resume online tomorrow for the rest of the semester.  I still plan on sharing the links in the online versions of my classes.  I hope that improves my students' learning.  Speaking of which, I hope my readers learned something, too.  I did, which makes today a good day.  As I last wrote on Friday the 13th, "It's a good day when I learn something new."

*One of the test questions I ask students is to list three ways to increase water supply and describe their advantages and disadvantages.  Every semester, at least one of them responds by describing water conservation measures.  That means they didn't learn that lesson.  Sigh.


  1. It's remarkable how many problems could be alleviated by giving up meat-eating.

    Israel has pioneered ways of growing corps with a minimum of water in very dry environments, and some Arab countries are following suit.

    As the first video points out, the distribution of water is not ideal from a human viewpoint -- most of the fresh water is in South America and most of the human population is in Eurasia. Neither redistribution of water nor of people seems like a feasible solution.:-)

    I hear desalinated seawater tastes terrible, but it could still be used for agriculture. Towing icebergs to water-short population centers also looks promising -- luckily many major cities are coastal.

    1. I agree. In addition to reducing water use, decreasing meat consumption will reduce carbon footprint. According to the USDA's guidelines, Americans should eat 80 pounds of meat a year; we eat more than 200, way too much for our health, let alone the planet's.

      Israel is a leader in desalinization technology as well as efficiency. They have to be.

      Worse than the impracticality — move people to the Amazon and it's ability to produce water will go down.

      Speaking of impractical, this is what I wrote about using icebergs as a freshwater supply a few years ago.

      I first encountered this idea back in the 1960s while I was reading the Time-Life book "Water." Fifty years ago, it struck me as a science fiction project, complete with nuclear powered tugboats, but for at least the past decade, I've been telling this story as a way of illustrating the impracticality of using polar ice as a source of water. After all, if the idea has been around for 50+ years, why hasn't anyone actually tried it? It isn't better than the alternatives, such as desalinization, that's why.