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Water Water Everywhere

The Artist and the Scientist

Art has the power to inspire and I have always believed that the artist and the scientist, while working on opposite sides of our brain, are more connected than we acknowledge in their ability to influence us.

The artist sees things often before the rest of us; the scientist delves into things deeper than we do.  To develop the political will to address our global freshwater challenge we need to use all the tools at our disposal to engage, inspire, and move to action people from all walks of life, perspectives, interests, and motivations.

That includes art in all of its senses and mediums, because art reaches parts of our brain that reason and logic don’t.  Which is why I think about art whenever I am discussing, thinking, or presenting on global freshwater issues.

Wars of the 21st Century

Global strategists believe the wars of the 21st century will be over water.  Conflicts have already emerged.  It’s an issue we need to address.

How do we share this most fundamental of resources? How will climate change affect the world water equation? How do we conserve more, increase supply, and meet the needs of agricultural and industrial production? This is an avoidable conflict if we get smart about it now.

Fresh water is a finite resource and controlled by the natural hydrological cycle.  It’s not evenly distributed around the world and not conveniently located based upon need.

For example, Greenland has the most freshwater available per capita but little population, whereas Asia’s huge population outstrips its available water resources quite easily.

You can demonstrate the global amount of freshwater with my favorite dinner party “trick” (yes, I am fun at parties).

1. Take a piece of paper and fold it into quarters…the whole paper is planet Earth.
2. Tear off one of the quarters (25%)–that’s all the land mass on our planet.
3. The remaining 75% is all of the water on earth–most everyone already knows that BUT…
4. Of the remaining paper tear off what looks to you like 3% of the remaining paper.  97% of the earth’s water is salt water, only 3% is freshwater.
5. Of the remaining 3% — the very small piece of paper you now hold –70% of that is tied up in Antarctica, glaciers, Greenland, high mountain snow packs, and the Arctic.
6. Tear off that 70% of the 3% and discard it…the remaining piece of paper is all of the global freshwater that supports all non-marine biota on the planet.  Try it now; just make sure you have a few drinks first.

[ ** 2003 United Nations World Water Development Report: Water for people, water for life”.]

Global Water Basics

It’s a finite resource. For the most part, the amount of water in the hydrological cycle is the same as it was thousands of years ago.  There are some who believe that environmental degradation issues such as rainforest deforestation have depleted some amount of water in the hydrological cycle.  What has definitely changed is human population.

• The global population is pushing past 6.2 billion people;

• Water demand does not grow linearly but exponentially.  In the last 100 years the world’s population has tripled but water usage has grown six fold;

• Water is needed for agricultural irrigation, energy generation, and industrial manufacturing.

• Water is not distributed evenly around the world and not necessarily where the people are:

• Canada has 10% of the world’s freshwater and 1% of the worlds population;

• Population centers are becoming more urbanized (high concentration of people in small geographic area).  The need for water grows.  Los Angeles has extended its straws for water hundreds of miles and through mountain ranges to get water (Colorado River for example).

Human and industrial waste will become more and more of an issue as our population grows. Treating waste is paramount and routine in developed countries, but, painfully, this is not the case in the developing world. In developing countries four-fifths of all the illnesses are caused by water-borne diseases, with diarrhea being the leading cause of childhood death.

The Paradox of Plenty Is Paucity of Attention

We can avoid these conflicts if we can be forward thinking and take action early.  If the issue of national security feels too esoteric for you, remember what happened at the New Orleans Superdome after Hurricane Katrina.  There was no potable water and the veneer of humanity that surrounds our souls was stripped off and civilized behavior crumbled.

Approaching the complex issue of global freshwater requires multiple angles of problem solving.  We need to use our whole brains on this, not just half. We need the artist and the scientist. We need a bit of Coleridge…


…water water every where And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink…

…And every tongue, through utter drought,
Was withered at the root;
We could not speak, no more than if
We had been choked with soot…

Mudflats contributor Ship Bright is a conservation entrepreneur whose experience in the private, public [both state and federal], and nonprofit/non-governmental organization [NGO] sectors gives him a unique multi-angled perspective on economic and environmental issues that we face today. Ship is a Fulbright Scholar who is presently teaching Social Entrepreneurism at Charles University and University of Economics, Prague in the Czech Republic. He is presently on staff with Audubon Alaska as their Development Director. He is also the Principal of BrightNGOsolutions offering consulting services to Philanthropists who desire to leverage their philanthropic dollars for the greater good as well as to nonprofit/NGO organizations on board development, mission focus, strategic planning, and fundraising.



6 Responses to “Water Water Everywhere”
  1. Krubozumo Nyankoye says:

    mike from Iowa is correct and the reason Pickens is buying water rights is so he can use that water for hydraulic fracturing in west Texas and Oklahoma. Nestle is buying water rights all over the world so they can sell it back to us in nifty little plastic bottles.

    Truly, water is an endangered resource. Our global supply of fresh water is derived from the oceans by solar power.

    But there is another and perhaps even more grave problem confronting us. Oxygen. Oxygen is of course one of the components of water. The primary source of free oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere is photosynthesis, and the primary source of photosynthesis is the oceans, phyto-planton mostly. These myriad organisms are adapted to oceans with stable chemistry. That chemistry is being changed on a massive scale by the overabundance of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The ocean absorbs CO2 by making carbonic acid in solution. The resulting acidity is pushing the chemistry of the ocean, particularly the near surface ocean #1 where the acid is formed at the air/water interface and #2 where all of the photosynthesis occurs, a thin layer of upper ocean no more that one or two hundred meters deep. It is my understanding (I could be wrong here I don’t have a direct citation) that the majority of phytoplankton have calcareous skeletons. If the carbonic acid accumulation in the photosynthetic zone of the oceans reaches some presently indeterminate point, the organisms that produce most of our available oxygen will fail to thrive and ultimately begin to die out.

    So it remains to be seen which trend towards mass extinction will express itself most strongly, but it is certain that both of them will eventually have effects. There is a precedent perhaps for this scenario though the evidence for it is rather weak and incomplete thus far. About 230 million years ago more than 90% of all living species went extinct over a period of a few million years. There is some indirect evidence that this extinction event the most dire in earth’s long history that we know of, was in part at least connected with very high concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere. The Permian followed the Carboniferous when immense amounts of carbon became sequestered in what are now known as coal and oil deposits.

    For some unknown reason this immense carbon sequestration slowed and eventually reached some king of equilibrium some time during the subsequent Permian, but during the 50 million years between the end of the Carboniferous to the Permian mass extinctions, it is certainly possible that the earth began a regimen of increasing atmospheric carbon.

    What might have occurred in the past over a period of tens of millions of years is probably now being repeated by our profligate burning of fossil fuels.

    Tragedy of the commons… mumble mumble, willful ignorance by some… mumble mumble, over population… mumble mumble, greed.

    Good night Alaska.

  2. ugavic says:


    The SARE, Sustainable Agriculture, meeting in Fairbanks last month had a speaker come in from TX to talk about water conservation.

    On first seeing the agenda I figure it might be interesting but not of a lot of use, even though we live in a low rainfall area of the state.

    Upon seeing the representation I remembered that much of our state is lacking in ‘good water’ for a variety of reasons. Also we talked about how many states have at least some regulation on where or if you can collect water for your own use…amazing where you are not allowed.

    There was some great parts that talked about how we each, no matter where we live, need to look at reducing runoff and instead keeping it on our property for the good of the area….replenishing the water table.

    By the time all was said and done ALL of us felt it was one of the best presentation of the conference and had much more relevance than we had any idea.

    IF the subject interests you check out websites talking about effort in TX. There are state, university and private entities there doing great work!!

  3. Jeanne Devon says:

    FYI, I pulled down a photo reported to be from the Arkansas oil spill that came from an otherwise reputable source. It may not be what it was purported to be. They’ve removed the content without explanation, so we will remove it also. Sorry, folks.

  4. fishingmamma says:

    I read somewhere that Warren Buffett is quietly buying up water rights. I do not know if that was correct, or if it was speculation. Has anyone else heard something similar?

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