Tuesday, January 27

Reality vs Ideologies

I went to the Internet to find reports about Yemen's water crisis and came across Juan Cole's December 29 essay, Did Drought and Climate Change cause Middle Eastern States to Collapse in 2014?

A great many things led to the collapse but yes, as I learned to my surprise in 2014, a year I dubbed, "Oh by the Way," towering over everything is reality in the form of water scarcity that when broken down into categories works out to the cumulative effects from some or all of following conditions:

> Mismanagement of water resources
> Lack of water conservation
> Bad agricultural practices
> Wasteful or excessive industrial practices
> Inadequate water infrastructures
> Existing water infrastructures in disrepair
> Desertification
> Desiccation
> Deforestation
> Diversion of waterways
> Dam building
> Skyrocketed human and farm animal populations
> Unsustainable urban expansion

Note the term "climate change" is nowhere on the list. This doesn't mean the climate isn't changing for the worse in some regions; e.g., getting hotter and drier from climatic conditions.  But the observation doesn't produce the kind of strategies that could stave off the direst and most immediate water crises.

How dire?  Well, Sana'a, the capital city of Yemen, has less than two years before it runs out of "economically viable water supplies," as a 2010 Guardian article put it, which is also when the country runs out of oil reserves. By 2010, other parts of Yemen were draining Sana'a's water basin at the staggering rate of 4 times the amount of replacement water in the basin.
How did the country get into such a pickle?  Dope. Specifically the commercial cultivation of a narcotic plant called qat that produces a high when chewed and slurps up huge amounts of irrigation water. As the Guardian put it, Yemenis are literally chewing themselves to death.

That's just Yemen.  The majority of Middle Eastern - North African nation-states are on track for extinction, at least as they exist today. There's too many people and livestock and too little water. But Yemen is a good case study because it's an ancient agricultural region, like Egypt.  Yet when you pile industry on top of agriculture, and pile on top ever-larger cities for burgeoning populations, you're using huge amounts of virtual water in addition to water for agriculture. At some point, a point that is now being reached by several countries in MENA, the way of life is no longer sustainable.

That's the case right here in the USA as well, in certain regions.  And in many other places in the world. So now everyone's in a mad dash to recalculate taking virtual water into account.
Yet what do you do, when your way of life has come to depend on exporting your precious water in the form of industrial output?  And when your cities slurp up ever greater amounts of virtual and actual water just to sustain their infrastructures?  And when NASA's amazing GRACE satellite system beams back exactly how much groundwater is left -- the amount being far less than anyone had imagined before?

So I'd advise American wonks to worry less about radical Islam, China's Communist Party, and Russia's designs on Ukraine and worry more about America's water supplies a decade down the line.  I'd also worry less right now about manmade climate change and worry more about manmade water scarcity.  And I urge ideologues of all persuasions to confront the fact that reality doesn't give a damn what you think.


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