Tuesday, February 10, 2015

You Can't Feed Your Kids Oil, But Eating Is Overrated Anyway.

It's been here for a while.  It's what happens when you begin to run short on something everybody needs.

It's America's frackers versus America's farmers.  They both want water and there's not enough to go around.  Frackers want it to get oil and gas out of the ground.  Farmers need it to grow food.

This is only just getting started but, this year, an estimated 1.2-billion dollars of corn, soya and wheat crops are at risk to the industrial demand for scarce water.

...industrial water users typically have a higher capacity to absorb the increased costs associated with rising water prices in comparison to agricultural water users, threatening an impact on crop production and yield if farmers are priced out of the market.

The stress on water resources is already considerable. Within the US, 18% of harvested cropland is irrigated (pdf), most of which is attributed to corn, soy, wheat and hay, but also includes water-intensive crops such as sugar beets, sugar cane, rice and cotton. Some 412 irrigation-intensive US counties are currently facing moderate to high levels of water stress – around 23% of total US land area.

...approximately one-third of publicly traded US electric utilities derive more than 10% of their electric power generation from already water stressed regions. One in every four publicly traded US electric utilities operate in counties that are both water stressed and irrigation intensive.

In the US, if the situation remains as it is today, the competition for water resources may reach a tipping point that results in stranded assets, reduced productivity, and increased tensions between farmers and industry. In the medium term, policymakers may need to dictate water allocation priorities.

Of course 1.2-billion dollars worth of foodstuffs is really small potatoes but it's a problem that could grow massively as America's aquifers are being drained, wells running dry even as sustained drought continues in America's agricultural belt.

I know!  Why don't they just frack for water?  Oh, I get it, never mind. 


Hugh said...

We'll base our economy on using massive amounts of non-renewable, climate-altering fossil fuels.

We'll extract 80 million barrels of oil every day, and massive amounts of coal and natural gas, much of which ends up in the atmosphere.

What could possibly go wrong.

The Mound of Sound said...

An interesting way of looking at our fossil fuel addiction, Hugh, is to consider just what these fuels we extract really represent. They are literally hundreds of millions of years of solar energy-fueled organic life. We're dragging that to the surface and burning it in just a few centuries.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for such a harsh comment but if the world population where to be cut in half tomorrow, half our problems would be solved. I guess I ought to be careful less someone come after me for making sucha God awful comment. Anyong.

The Mound of Sound said...

It's a valid point, Anyong. We know that our biosphere, Earth, has a finite carrying capacity. It has a fixed amount of non-renewable resources, a limited replenishment rate for renewables, and only enough biomass to cleanse a limited amount of our waste and pollution.

The Global Footprint Network types estimated that mankind began exceeding our planet's carrying capacity when we reached the 3-billion mark. At that point we began 'eating our seed corn.'

To grow from 3-billion to 7+ billion en route to 9-billion or more, we've relied on a series of eventually lethal conjuring tricks. We beset our farmland with increasing quantities of chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers that are steadily exhausting the soil, the precursor of desertification. We have relentlessly tapped our groundwater (aquifer) reserves as though they were limitless, bringing us to the point where, today, many of the major aquifers are hovering just above "empty." We have depleted our global fish stocks and stripped our forests, the "lungs of the planet." We have taken so much out of the ecosystem that we have suffered the loss of half the planet's biomass since the 1970s. Extinction rates are insanely higher than normal triggering a grave loss of biodiversity, an existential threat that most of us ill understand. We have fouled the atmosphere, our lakes and oceans, and our farmland. Yet we continue to grow in numbers and obsessively pursue constant, exponential growth in GDP.

India grew by a billion people after WWII. The US grew by a hundred million in the same interval. However, when the numbers were run, it emerged that the footprint of those additional hundred million Americans well exceeded that of India's extra billion.

Here's the one fact that conclusively answers your point. We, mankind, are now consuming the Earth's renewables at 1.5 times their replenishment rate. Not only are we exhausting the planet's resources, we are utterly dependent on our ability to keep consuming ever more. What we're taking means that all other life forms have to do without which goes a long way to explaining our loss of biodiversity.

It's very much akin to spending $1,500 a month to feed a family with a take home of $1,000 and $3,000 in savings. In six months you'll be out of money and food. Then you either have to kill your neighbours to steal their food or simply perish.