“We are running out of water on a the only water-wealthy planet in the known universe…” Why?




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As human beings we live within a planetary ecosystem that we did not create, cannot control and must not destroy. Moreover, it seems that Earth is the only life-supporting planet in the known universe. This is a sobering fact about the precariousness of our place in space.

Yet, even more disturbing is the fact that in spite of all we now know about our vulnerable circumstance and despite our very best intentions, the social, economic and political institutions of our contemporary world are committed to operate – in their ‘default mode’ – so as to destroy the prospects for our future survival within the constraints of Earth’s ecosystem.

The institutions of which we are so proud and like to think we can control have in reality taken control of our behavior as a species. This is particularly troubling because these institutions are founded in law and in practice upon the principle of promoting perpetual growth and continued human expansion.

The trouble is – as ecologists have pointed out long ago – that this growth will not persist for any species in a finite ecosystem. It is a basic law of biological systems that no organism within them can grow without limit without destroying the system itself.

Starkly put, then, the question is simply this: can humans survive the anthropocene? Can we repurpose with sufficient speed our institutions so as to assure human continuity, rather than accelerate our demise? If we fail to redirect them away from their default modes of perpetual growth no amount of technological wizardry will spare us from the system-wide collapse towards which our global agriculture is now headed.

We now face the the urgent need for our civilization to limit its growth and focus attention instead upon engineering a transition towards sustainability. The colonial legacy of ‘growth economics’ combined with a tragic and pervasive public misunderstanding of the petro-intensive ‘magic’ of the ‘green revolution’ has meant that modern cultures all over the world are on a collision course with Earth’s finite ecosystem. “Green Revolution” technologies do not solve — but only postpone — the problem of human limit in a finite ecosystem. (https://environmentaljusticetv.wordpress.com/the-green-revolution-essence-achievements-aftermath/)

The interconnected crises (involving food production collapse, water insufficiency or flooding, energy availability, topsoil erosion, plant genetic collapse) are all accelerating as the global human food system is becoming ever-more dependent upon fossil fuel combustion, while recurrent pandemics impact the world’s poorest agricultural populations with increasing severity, and extreme weather and changes in the climate stress food production and global supply chains beyond the breaking point.

The tools of “market economics” leave us helpless to address the problems of accelerated degradation in an ecosystem. While it may be possible to assign a fictional “price” to objects or processes in an ecosystem this “price” can only measure relative “supply” and “demand” in very limited transactions. Further, the gap between the “cost” of an object or service can be estimated, but it is in no meaningful way connected to its underlying value in a functioning ecosystem.

The value of fresh water in an ecosystem, for example, is beyond all calculation. It cannot be reduced to its price at any one point simply because its continuous supply needs to be assured for the entire system to function.  Prices fluctuate in reference to momentary supply and demand or in response to extraneous financial calculations and speculation.  If the enduring value of a continuous supply of water were to depend upon its fluctuating price the entire system would be driven toward repeated catastrophic collapse whether through uncontrollable extreme weather or simply through the mechanisms of casino capitalism that regularly drive “speculative bubble” behavior in capital markets.

Briefly put, market “price” does not, and, in principle, can never accurately reflect “value” in a complex and continuously functioning ecosystem.  Thus, tying water as a commodity to capital markets is a recipe for ecological catastrophe.

For case studies of the unfolding global water crisis see: “Local & ‘Transboundary’ Water Stress on the ‘Blue Planet,’

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