Food & Water
It is not always about the economy.
As part of the aging population in the U.S., almost everyday I am mystified by the sheer proliferation of known products and the introduction of additional, unknown products. I mean mostly things. As a stock market investor, I also understand that these products are packaged. There are companies that provide unique boxes and inner stuffing so that these things can be labelled, sold, protected from shoplifters, or, as is more and more the case today, delivered. But no one can literally live off a thing. No matter how fancy a car, house, television, or wardrobe, one still lives on food and drink. The basics of life have not changed -- have never changed. Naturally, it takes more than the reading of a single book to master the subject of irrigation in the overall scheme of civilization, but such is the nature of journalism. Sometimes, it's like that. There is not enough time and wherewithal to travel the world with interpreters and visit farms. But a well-written, well-researched book, perhaps not entirely up to date, can provide enough information to give many of us much to think about. As we move forward by leaps and bolts into the vast, uncharted, hi-tech future, it pays to give some attention to matters literally down to earth. While there is no shortage of people involved in whatever processes there are that are making our grocery stores more interesting, if nothing else, water is still the main event, and its use, the real magic behind the long-term survival the world hopes to achieve despite repeated setbacks.
Pagan Farm Idol
In the Beginning, it was Different
Only very recently in the short history of homo sapiens has farming become detached from religious belief, whether true or false. Religious always get one thing right, every time, every day, in that they give thanks for food and drink. After that, their theological ramblings might tend to nearly negate this one habit above criticism. Today, water has been diverted toward industries that have actually acted in concert, perhaps unknowingly, against farming. Industries created a great deal of pollution so that the basics of farming, earth and water, also the air itself, has turned against this indispensable activity. Now, farming, in order to compete against the more successful non-farming industries, has relinquished its more angelic standing, contributing as much if not more to bringing about an unhealthy ecology. But to merely state the facts, try to go back to the fundamentals, and become more religious-minded, also misses the point. There is only so much water to spare, subject to the whims and whips of nature. Also, human nature itself has gone through manifold changes. Marx was right, even if Communism was wrong, insofar as he and his followers insisted that industries, together now with superfarming, subverted true and basically good human nature. People already worked, long before they docked in and out, or were knocked about by the winds of supposedly free market economies. It is in their nature to do so, though this very aspect of their nature has been exploited since the dawn of civilization -- at least according to Marx and his 19th century cohorts.
Today (again) there are those who can accurately point out that the system is not taking advantage of them, but rather, they have found more and more creative ways to take advantage of the system. During good times, it seems as if not only was capitalism created for man, but that man was created for capitalism. Arbitrage, derivatives, mergers and acquisitions, IPOs, debts that can be bundled up and sold off, and many other new, risky instruments of trade can give one a feeling of elation. The bulls will run forever! Well, it remains to be seen.
Experts in the field of irrigation do not speak of water in terms of gallons. Rather, they speak of hectares and cubic kilometers and other measurements that are impossible to grasp without further study. The chief point I get out of the discussion is that there have been successes and failures, and that there are no assurances that the successes are going to last forever. Thus there is mention of Saudi Arabia reclaiming its desert. Although within the realm of possibilities, the downside is that within fifty years the desert would reclaim the gardens. The Aswan High Dam is an ongoing success story enabling Egypt to capture the Nile and release some of it into the sea when water is less needed. The aquifer of the Great Plains is another success story. It sets underneath eight states with enough water, at least at the start, equal to the yields of two hundred years of the flow of the Colorado River -- itself another highly disputed issue. Yet one wonders about so many warnings and predictions of disasters. I am using a text from the 1990s, telling of water deficits and sinking water tables. Fifteen or twenty years later, no famine has broken the feast, except in regions where war or mismanagement has gained the upper hand. Then, in addition, there are substantial amounts of water that at present cannot be harvested. It is out of reach. Since the 1950s, countless dams, large and small, have changed and redirected water routes. On a personal level, I am amazed to find that the Sandia Laboratory in New Mexico is keeping tabs on the Yellow River in China. Before the Yangtze became the main river source of water, it was the Yellow River, which over the course of hundreds of years, became more unreliable.
A Receding River
There are good reasons to enter such a field of study. Things really do not take care of themselves. It is good to pray -- for rain, crops, or market prices. I am not against it in the least. But there are also active and proactive actions that can be taken to bring about a desired result. Earth's population is quite numerous. Who is to live and who to die? This is not a choice. For us, outside of terrorists, who must be eliminated, everybody deserves to live. For so many to survive, water is essential. Still, the author is right in pointing out that societies dependent upon irrigation farming at some point experience detrimental challenges.
Simply reading up on the subject is mind-boggling. There is a need for experts in agriculture. Growing crops is not just a matter of planting and watering. Water evaporates, or goes down too far to be of use, or carries poisons along with it. One finds that farming has not changed dramatically over the centuries. It still makes use of canals, furrows, and gravity. But the author points out that the 21st century will be more devoted to a Blue Revolution rather than a Green, insofar as drop per crop becomes more important than the organic craze that preceded it.
According to the study I am using, Pillar of Sand, written at the end of the twentieth century, the biggest enemy of irrigation farming is not Round-Up but salt. The problem of salinity is by no means confined to a single region. It is literally all over. Throw a dart at a map. It might hit California. It might hit Turkmenistan. The power of salt to undermine agriculture is not new either. At least one book, from China, dealing with this menace, was written in the early 17th century. Apparently, salinity is a tricky problem. It is as if nature has her own agenda independent of national self-esteem. Salt brought down the Sumerians; it can bring down or damage any economy. But then, there are also salt-resistant crops, such as tomatoes and cotton, but not onions. Australians planted saltbushes that served for grazing. So the gig is not up, not entirely, despite incredible disasters, like the Salton Sea in Southern California, which kills birds, or a multi-million dollar plant in Yuma to de-salinize, that is either not in use or does not work.
According to the New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/29/science/q-a-salt-water-and-fresh.html the ratio of salt water to fresh water on earth is close to 97:3. The latter figure is even a bit optimistic since inland waters are also in part saline. The point is that it is not just plants and wildlife that are threatened by salinity, but human life as well.
The Fight to the Last Drop
Reallocation from agriculture to cities, blatant water grabs by billionaires, the proliferation of golf courses, and unending litigation -- this is the status or disposition of water in general in the present. The United States is actually not so much at risk, though it might be more mindful of the routine extinction of its various indigenous species. Elsewhere, such as in parts of Africa and Asia, the outlook is bleak. Last Call at the Oasis (2011) shines a spotlight on the real Erin Brockovich in her crusade to set improved standards that enable ordinary people to be obtain clean water. It seems on the surface completely ridiculous that just because people do not have the means to defend themselves nor the lives of their loved ones that they are totally expendable. Exposed to invisible toxins that find their way into both tap and bottled water, they sicken and die. The documentary also dwells on frustrations between farmers and professors, whose obsession with ecological balance ruins livelihoods and throws people out of work.
The fight for sanitation alone is only one source of bitterness over water. Other fights are international in scope and complicated by political and military affairs. Merely to acquaint oneself with some of the projects and disputes in the Sudan or Egypt, the Middle East, or in Pakistan, for example, is overwhelming. Matthew 5:6 reads: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. At first blush, this quote might seem only to mix things up beyond rationality. But the element of righteousness in bringing water, maybe not as a metaphor for truth, but as literally water, to people cannot be refuted. Not to care at all is basically only to willingly join the ranks of those victimized by both scarcity and pollution.
While Dying of Thirst
- Waterkeeper Alliance
Waterkeeper Alliance's vision is for swimmable, drinkable, fishable waterways worldwide achieved through grassroots advocacy.