Green has been the “in” color for the last couple of years. It’s very popular to go green, or think green. In fact, the company I work for just finished its green campaign. Most notably, they added a “carbon calculator” and a “Green Tips” section to the intranet site. They also changed the motto to add the words “a greener world”. And they invested a bunch of money in “green energy”. Conveniently, that should do well later on and get them lots of green.
The whole green campaign is getting pretty annoying, I mean green isn’t a favorite color of mine. In fact, I hated that period in the mid 90′s where the most manufactured color for cars, trucks and vans was forest green.
Don’t get me wrong, the green campaign is accomplishing what it set out to. To raise awareness about our impact on the environment. It’s brought much needed worldwide attention to the climate change situation. If nothing, it’s made people more aware of the role we play as a society and as individuals in the shaping of our environment. It’s even brought us neat buzz words like “carbon footprint” and “carbon credits”. And yes, to some extent it’s just a simple political campaign. But I’ll let Penn & Teller tell you all about that in their next episode of Bullshit titled “Being Green” scheduled to air next week on Showtime.
But green is getting old, and must be replaced. So green, allow me to introduce you to your replacement. Green, meet Blue.
The cover story of the latest issue of Scientific American, written by Peter Rogers, is entitled “Running out of Water”. It details the impending freshwater crisis. It turns out that according an assessment made by the United Nations, by 2025 the freshwater resources of more than half the countries of the world will undergo either stress, or out-right shortages.
Currently there are about 1.1 billion people without adequate drinking water. And 2.6 billion people without adequate water for sanitation such as waste water disposal. Because of this, disease and death occur in people using contaminated water supplies.
So why is there a shortage of what, as estimates would put it, covers 70-71% of our planet? Well there are a few types of water on earth, determined by their salinity. The one we need is “fresh water”. Fresh water is defined as water with less than 0.5 parts per thousand dissolved salts. Of that 70-71%, only 3% of it is fresh water, and most of it is found in Lake Baikal in Russia and in our Great Lakes. The other types of water on earth are brackish water, saline water and brine. Saline (or salt) water making up about 98% of the water found on Earth.
There are many factors that contribute to this shortage. The most obvious is the increased need due to the increase in population. On average it is estimated (Falkenmark, 1989) that a person needs a minimum of 1000 cubic meters of water per year for drinking, hygiene and growing food for sustenance. The equivalent to approximately two fifths of the volume of an Olympic-size swimming pool. The ongoing trend in climate change is expected to contribute to droughts. And supplying certain areas with potable water is troublesome especially in dry climates where the demand is high and the supply is low.
But the solution seems simple enough at first glance, desalinate our abundant supply of saline water. However that comes at a cost. By helping the blue campaign, you can potentially hurt the green. Current desalination technology and processes cost money and a lot of energy, and of the countries that need it most, not many can even afford to desalinate water. Israel, China, India, Singapore, Australia and the US are among a small number of countries that currently desalinate water as part of their water supply.
There are potential technologies that would desalinate water at a reduced cost in resources. Among those are solar desalination. Solar desalination can be accomplished by humidification-dehumidification. The thermal solar energy is used to evaporate water which is later condensed in a separate chamber seperating it from other substances, such as salt. This technique is used in wilderness survival where one can make one’s own urine into drinkable water.
Desalination is just one possible solution, however I expect the unavoidable “Blue” campaign will focus on more localized and individual efforts. This problem isn’t a new blip on the radar either. Water shortages have been occurring for a long time. But I think this is the first time it could be looked at on a global scale. This is a case, like global climate change, where politics will rule the outcome, but where the politics must be well informed by the science.
Now I’m not being an alarmist, I’ll still give the curtosy flush in a public washroom, and I’ll continue to use too much water for my needs. After all, I live in a rich country where we can indulge. But I know that just around the corner all the green posters, bus ads, TV commercials, websites, company policies will turn blue. And that has me feeling…. well… blue.