Arithmetic and the WSJ


Water is unlike any other commodity. Seen as a natural human right, it is available when we turn on the faucet or slurp from the water fountain at the park. Behind that veneer of plenty, though, companies are waking up to a new, water-constrained future—even in places like Lowville, usually blessed with plenty of it.

A potent mix of population growth, surging industrial demand, pollution and climate change is putting relentless stress on water resources all over the world. It is also pitting companies, used to near-limitless water, against other businesses and nearby residents, who need more of it, too.

During most of the 20th century, just 14% of the global population lived in conditions of scarce water supplies—broadly defined as insufficient water to provide for human needs—according to a 2016 study by a team of water scientists published in the research journal Scientific Reports. Today, that has leapt to nearly 60% of the world’s people, a result of surging population growth and dwindling supplies of freshwater.

The situation is especially dire in the developing world. In India, 600 million people face high to extreme water stress. Severe droughts have struck everywhere from East Africa to Central America in recent years, hobbling industry, farmers and forcing cutbacks in personal consumption.

More than half of the world’s cities regularly experience water shortages, according to U.S. environment nonprofit The Nature Conservancy. Last year, Cape Town, South Africa, implemented severe restrictions for months to keep from running completely dry.

Climate change, too, can heighten water scarcity as rising temperatures dry up available resources. Alternatively, it can increase rainfall and flooding, leading to other challenges corporations must face as weather becomes more unpredictable.

“With population growth, water scarcity will proliferate to new areas across the globe,” a 2017 World Bank report on the causes and effects of water scarcity said. “And with climate change, rainfall will become more fickle, with longer and deeper periods of droughts and deluges.”

So there might be too much rain plus not enough rain due to that horrible monster, climate change. Arghhh!! But there’s Water Water Everywhere:

The total volume of water on Earth is estimated at 1.386 billion km³ (333 million cubic miles or 84 trillion cubic feet), with 97.5% being salt water and 2.5% being fresh water.

That’s 10,862 cubic feet of water per person on the planet, and 272 cubic feet of fresh water, which is like 20,000 or 2,000,000 gallons per person – hmmm, that would make a lot of coffee and Coca Cola (and you can always convert salt water into fresh water if you like).

As for Cape Town, if the government is spectacularly stupid, trouble lies ahead. Even Time Magazine figured that out. Do better, WSJ!

One Response to “Arithmetic and the WSJ”

  1. Neil Says:

    Ummm, I got 1.19 million gallons of fresh water for each person on the planet. 2000 gallons goes by awfully quick.

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