Climate change, responsible governance, and potable water

I think there’s a fair argument to be made that the only governments taking their responsibility to their citizens seriously right now are the island nations who are doing things like trying to find a place to relocate the entire country. This shows a disturbingly rare understanding that a nation is its people, and the first duty of any government is meeting the basic survival needs of those people.

One of the many ways in which the government has failed in that duty is in the protection of our water. We’ve known for a long time that many of our fresh water supplies are not sustainable at the current rate of use, but not only have we failed to make the many obvious changes that could address that problem, we haven’t even stopped people from poisoning the water we do have. When you add in the vital need to keep existing nuclear waste and nuclear power plants from irradiating large portions of the landscape, it’s clear that we’re going to need to have a much better grip on how our nation uses and distributes water.

The good news is that – as with so many other environmental challenges – this is a problem we could solve, if we wanted to.

See, we’re not going to be short on water, just on water that’s safe to drink, or to water crops with. As some of you may have heard, much of the world is actually going to have much, much easier access to water in the near future, so the only question is whether we can make use of that water.

In case there was any doubt, we can, if we have the infrastructure. Solar-powered desalination plants could be deployed all along the coast, maybe as part of preparations for the acceleration of sea level rise, and we would have a practically infinite source of water for indoor farms, to keep green areas green in droughts, and to build a society that has a shot at bringing greenhouse gas levels – and temperatures – down a bit.

With freshwater supplies at a premium already in many parts of the world as a result of climate change, there has never been a better time for solar desalination to come of age. Whether or not this emerging technology can go mainstream sooner than later may mean the difference between a peaceful future and one wracked by conflict over access to ever-dwindling supplies of freshwater.

In hopes I’ll be able to stop saying this some day, we could be doing this, but we’re not.

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  1. Dunc says

    While desalination is a potentially useful technology, it’s important to remember that it’s not entirely without its problems – the disposal of waste brine being an environmentally significant one.

  2. says

    There is nothing in technology without environmental problems. The question is what those problems are, and how we choose to address them.

    For example – one of the concerns for this century is what happens as meltwater from land ice changes the ocean’s salinity at the poles. That’s part of what drives the ocean’s currents, and changing it is likely to change the patterns of water flow. We’re part of what controls the whole climate system on this planet now, like it or not. I don’t think that’s going to change if humanity is going to survive and better itself. Responding to climate change is going to mean changing how we deal with ALL of our waste products. This is just a change in which ones we have to deal with, and it’s easier to manage than an absence of water.

  3. says

    @Dunc, the brine could be collected and used for manufacturing table salt – instead of mining it out of the earth. It also could be electrolysed to produce hydrogen gas (which can be stored as fuel to help with the intermittency of solar and wind) and lye. Lye has many uses in industry, but it could also be used to actually sequester CO2 from the atmoshpere and produce potash and soda. Those two too have many industry as well as domestic uses etc. etc.
    What I want to say is, that we need, as a species, stop thinking in terms of product versus waste and start to think the way things go in nature, where every waste is recycled. We need to close the loops in mine-produce-toss economy.

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