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Tuesday, March 3

The Well

Writing for The Atlantic Graeme Wood explained that the Islamic State is motivated by the desire to restore the Islamic caliphate but is guided by an old End Times prophecy -- their interpretation of the prophecy.  "There are but a few days left," according to the spokesman, as quoted by Wood.

Not that few days. The Islamic State counts their present leader as the eighth caliph and claim there will be 12 or maybe Wood wrote 14 caliphs before the world comes to an end.  But by an interesting irony the world actually is coming to an end -- their world, if one considers their world to be the Middle East.  It's coming to an end quite soon. 

And while the prophesied wars might be part of the end times in that region, the most prosaic of conditions, water shortages, will launch the apocalypse in the Middle East.

How soon is quite soon?  From readings about water issues I started last year, my guess would be that after two more years, shortages will be severe enough in parts of the Middle East and possibly North Africa to set in motion a chain reaction that is itself the result of many cumulative effects.

Is there any way to stave off this scenario or neutralize it?  Not that I can see. There are too many factors converging on the basic water stresses in the region to hope that prioritized responses will stop their escalation.  So while most of the factors have a solution(s) when looked at in problematical terms, the interactions of all these created a kind of microclimate or ecology of disaster, if you will.

In folk terms, it's a tangled ball of yarn.

You can pull parts of various skeins out of the ball to see the materials and colors in the tangle, but it wasn't a 'created' ball.  It just happened, through many events that mindlessly, blindly, tangled together into a ball.  There is no way to fix the tangle, not without taking the ball apart.

For this reason it's a waste of time to attempt to fix blame.  Sure, you can go down a list of contributing factors and find many that are blameworthy. But only in retrospect in many cases.  The people in the Middle East have been living on borrowed time always -- ever since the climate in the region changed to arid and semi-arid.  Now time's up.

If they'd had the GRACE satellite system a half century ago, to tell them exactly how much groundwater they had left and the exact rate it was being used up, would that have made it possible to stave off the end?  No. That's because a half century ago they couldn't imagine the present population explosion and many other factors that didn't exist back then, but which arose apart from each other then combined to put intolerable strains on the water systems in the region.

Realize they're not just running out of water in the Middle East; they're running out at an increasingly fast rate. 

Here's just one way among many that this plays out: They've had population explosions before in that region, but they didn't have large government sanitation and hygiene programs until fairly recently, and which use water and of course save many lives and extend life spans, which also uses up water.

In other words, successive generations keep finding more ways to use increasingly large amounts of the water at an increasingly fast rate and extend their life spans.  That last is great from the human viewpoint, but water isn't human. Neither is reality.

The people of those lands who put reality first managed to hack it out for a long time in an unforgiving climate. Remember the scene in "Lawrence of Arabia" where Sherif Ali shoots to death the Arab who drinks from a well that doesn't belong to the Arab's tribe? Lawrence was furious, telling Ali that the man was his friend.
Sherif Ali replied, "He was nothing. The well is everything."  
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