What ‘Peak Water’ Means for Mankind

Sara Peck

By Sara Peck The evidence that humanity is severely straining the planet’s natural resources has only increased, despite conservative squawks of “questionable” global warming science and liberal fear-mongering. But freshwater might be the next CO2, according to a study released this week by the Pacific Institute. “Real limits on water are far more worrisome, and far more difficult to evaluate, than limits on traditional nonrenewable resources such as petroleum,” the study says. The Pacific Institute is a research organization based in Oakland, Calif. that is often politically vocal. Human society is now hitting a “peak water” usage point at which the continued of extraction of water from Earth does more harm to the ecological systems it comes from than it benefits mankind. Once we run out of freshwater, which experts suggest is arriving more rapidly than we think, the only other alternative is desalinization, an expensive and time-consuming process. Unlike other resources such as petroleum, there is no backstop for water. If humankind exhausts petroleum deposits, there are real alternatives–wind, solar, nuclear. For water, there is none. Pacific's proposed cure is no more reassuring—a drastic re-evaluation of water usage, both personally and in large industrial systems. The authors’ advice: “The concepts around peak water are also important in driving some paradigm shifts in the use and management of water.” The full report is available here (PDF).

Sara Peck, a spring 2010 In These Times editorial intern, is a Northwestern University student studying journalism and political science.
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