The Schwartzreport tracks emerging trends that will affect the world, particularly the United States. For EXPLORE it focuses on matters of health in the broadest sense of that term, including medical issues, changes in the biosphere, technology, and policy considerations, all of which will shape our culture and our lives.
If you follow the news closely, as I do, beneath the criminality and corruption of the present administration, another trend flows like a subterranean river which will render all of the Sturm und Drang of the headlines an epiphenomenon, of little consequence when compared to this submerged trend. Water. Whether it is too much, too little, or the wrong kind, water is defining the destiny of humanity.
Let’s start with this: You could probably go about three weeks without food, but you wouldn’t last more than three or four days without water. At a personal level water is a 96-hour destiny. By the same token humans don’t have gills, and floating cities are mostly in the world of fantasy. The costs would be fantastic, and the disposal of waste at that scale, would be an overwhelming problem. So let us be like the tide on an ocean beach, looking at the low and the high.
Lack of water
The World Resources Institute (WRI), studied what is happening with water scarcity and concluded, “A quarter of the world’s population one out of four humans across 17 countries are living in regions of extremely high water stress,” which, they foresaw, presaged intense and violent “… competition over water resources.”1
“Water matters,” Betsy Otto, the Director of WRI stated emphatically. “We’re currently facing a global water crisis. Our populations and economies are growing and demanding more water. But our supply is threatened by climate change, water waste and pollution.”2
What few people seem to realize, perhaps because they have never faced the experience, water defines not only whether you live, but how you live. According to the WRI twelve of those high stress nations are in the most volatile areas of the world: the Middle East, generally understood to be Western Asia, Turkey (both Asian and European); Egypt, although it is really mostly Northern Africa; and Northern Africa, which includes Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Sudan. As the already difficult becomes impossible, do you think the transformation forced upon those societies by water will happen without violence? Do you think all will go pleasantly between Israel and its neighbors? No. Neither do I. Lack of water will create war and mass migrations.
This not the first time drought has transformed the region, and that earlier epoch provides an illustration of what I mean when I say water determines how you live.
It is hard to imagine today, as one looks out over sand dunes of Libya, that in the time of the Roman Empire and for hundreds of years, Libya was the ancient equivalent of the U.S. Midwest grain belt, managed by the Third Augusta Legion.3 Cities like Laptis Magna, with a theater capable of seating 40,000, once stood as Chicago does today. There were fields and forts spread out for miles. The manors and plantations they guarded were largely owned by former legionnaires. It was a desirable place to retire…