Water Will Be The Next Oil

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A photo of a modern water meter dial When that happens, our water meters may cause us as much financial pain as the gas pumps do now. Indeed, water may soon be trading by the barrel just like crude oil if we do not carefully plan for the possibility right now. Recently I heard water referred as “Blue Gold”. That got me looking around for people or companies who might be already starting to speculate in this most precious and necessary of resources. We can drive less, we can turn our thermostats down even more, someday technology may even free us from any dependence on fossil fuels at all. But, we will always need water. We can conserve, and even better, industry and agriculture can be forced to conserve, but we humans will always need a certain amount beyond what we drink, just to survive in a modern world.

It is not really news that shortages are already evident on many parts of the globe, but this may be only a glimpse of what is to come in the near future. Parts of the western U.S. are a water catastrophe waiting to happen. Water shortages right now are increasing the price of some food crops. While we hope for solutions like desalinization plants, others are planning for a future world with water as a commodity. People like T Boone Pickens are buying up water rights wherever they can get them. A recent eye popping Business Week article on this is a great read. Hear is an excerpt, but be sure to check out the entire article.

He, (T. Boone Pickens) has spent $100 million and eight years on his project and still has not found any city in Texas willing to buy his water. But like many others, Pickens believes there’s a fortune to be made in slaking the thirst of a rapidly growing population. If he pumps as much as he can, he could sell about $165 million worth of water to Dallas each year. “The idea that water can be sold for private gain is still considered unconscionable by many,” says James M. Olson, one of America’s preeminent attorneys specializing in water- and land-use law. “But the scarcity of water and the extraordinary profits that can be made may overwhelm ordinary public sensibilities.”

It may be that water will come to be considered as natural and salable a resource as oil or natural gas, but something about the whole idea really bothers me. It is especially disturbing that certain wealthy individuals and companies are seeing this future of water shortages and buying up as much of the existing water resources as they can. In my perverse way of thinking about these sorts of issues, I can even envision a day when the financial interests of the huge water resource holders will buy influence to prevent the development of more cost effective desalinization facilities, or more efficient water delivery and storage technologies. Sound crazy? It has happened with energy technology, some say it is happening with agriculture, and at least one filmmaker made a good argument for it having happened with the electric car.

What do you all think? Should water be regulated and protected from speculation? Or should the free enterprise system and the forces of supply and demand be allowed to regulate availability and price of water much the same way it does now with oil, corn, soybeans, or pork futures? It is a tough question for me. I can easily see the problems that sometimes arise from to much government involvement and regulation. Sometimes it works however, and sometimes as unpleasant as it may be to some, it is necessary. A few argue that private water entrepreneurs are the future’s best hope of supplying much needed water to urban, industrialized areas of the world.

A future when T. Boone Pickens, or men like him own most of the water supply may seem like the stuff of fiction, but Pickens is know to spend his money wisely, and he is spending it big time right now, on water.

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Will Sig
1 Bob

Very insightful Will, I have always believed we were going to have a problem with water or the lack there of, thanks for the links, scary stuff, by 2025, hey that’s in my lifetime, regulation isn’t a bad idea but the government probably won’t do anything about it till it’s too late, were all living in la la land.

Bobs last blog post..Happy Anniversary to Me

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2 Steve

Hi Will, I live in Southern California and am familiar with the problems of a lack of (enough) water. The state is currently in a drought, and the state continues to grow, though the supply of water does not. The nice thing about water is that it is truely a RENEWABLE resource. We will never run out, we just have to deal with a limited supply. Someday oil will run out, but water never will. Desalination is very energy intensive, and generally uses electricity generated by oil. I don’t see it as a solution. I think we need to learn to live with the amount of water we have. BTW, in some coast areas the groundwater basins are being overpumped and emptied. This allows for saltwater intrusion. Once a groundwater basin is contaminated, I don’t know if it can be “fixed”. Just more food for thought… water is definately an important subject and is not to be taken for granted. ~ Steve

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3 Steve

hi Will, it’s funny… I’d never heard of this “T. Boone Pickens” until I read your article this morning. If you’d asked me to guess who he was, I’d guess a country and western singer/comedian (wasn’t there someone with a similar name, or was that Slim Pickens?). Anyway, an hour or two later I came across an editorial on the Wall Street Journal written by him (the name stuck in my head). What are the odds of that??? You can read his editorial here:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121556087828237463.html
I’m not sure about his solution, but he points out that the US now imports 70% of its oil. Wow. Also, the US has 4% of the world’s population and uses 25% of the oil. Imagine if the rest of the world wanted to use as much oil per person as the US. Double WOW. Anyway, I thought it was a strange coincidence to see his name twice in one day. ~ Steve, purveyor of portable trade show booths

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4 Will

JD – When I worked as general contractor years ago, I saw the regulation problem first hand. Much of it at the county level in California was meant more to keep county employees fully employed that it was to safeguard the public good. Back them I would have spent all day crawling around in the dirty, wet, spider infested crawl space of a house, if it could save me 5 minutes in the local building dept office. It was so frustrating to deal with them on so may levels. Maybe things are better now, 20 years later.

To use the plumbing example, one thing that was regulated was the mandate of low flush toilets, before the technology was really that good. I saw all kinds of expensive problems resulting from toilets not using enough water to get the pipes and sometimes the toilet itself flowing freely. If you lived in a city, close to the street main, and especially above the ground floor, it worked fairly well. But if you lived away from the street and hence your sewer line was more gradual, problems occurred. It still happens today. Conserving water is great, but working indoor plumbing is necessary. Govt needs to spend more time regulating water use in industry and agriculture and less time in our bathrooms.

The question of using fresh water to flush is something else all together and has baffled me too. It would not be that expensive or complicated to devise a system of using gray water to flush. But people like to see the inside of their toilets sparkle.

Another regulatory agency that does both good and also very bad is the FDA. But that is a whole other topic. So often govt. authority ignores anything that does not fit the bureaucrat’s narrow definition of what is good for us subjects of the empire.

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5 JD

Will, I hear this a lot – “I can easily see the problems that sometimes arise from to much government involvement and regulation.” but I don’t see it. Can you point to any contemporary problems caused by too MUCH regulation in the United States? I see the lack of active regulatory involvement on the part of the government as a key factor in people staying ignorant about the food supply system and organic and sustainable agriculture in general.

I think that if humans ever disappear and alien archaeologists start digging into homes in the United States they will be very baffled when they get to our plumbing when they trace the pipes. They will look at the relatively advanced electrical grid and water system and wonder WHY THE HELL WERE PEOPLE FLUSHING THEIR TOILETS AND WASHING THEIR CARS WITH PURE, CLEAN, DRINKING WATER?.

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6 Jennifer Robin

As a long time (but no longer) resident of Southern California, I would say that’s one place where if they can’t get water usage under control, the whole country’s going to be in trouble. California takes water from surrounding states to satisfy their ever burgeoning population’s desire for green lawns and automatic sprinkler systems that run when they’re not needed. We lived in a community down their where they tried to tell everyone that city code required you have a lawn in your front yard, and I understand that is the case in many places there. Rules like that just make me wonder how many people can possibly be so selfish and ignorant.

Jennifer Robins last blog post..Wordless Wednesday

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7 Will

I have heard about those rules that require a green lawn. I would think these days, waterless or drought tolerant landscaping would be allowed as long as it looked good?

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8 rob

yeh, thing is;
oil takes millions of years to form and therefore runs out very easily, it is non-renewable to an extent. This is why oil is expensive, there’s not a lot of it left.
water, on the other hand, is everywhere (we call it ocean) and can be purified so it is ok to drink. Also unlike oil, when we use it it passes back into oceans in a cycle and is effectively recycled. therefore water will never be expensive like oil.

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9 Uncle B

Americans must never consume water faster than the rain falls! We can bully our way through a lot of things, but rain only falls so fast! We can steal Canada’s water in huge pipelines if we can afford to pump it, but even Canada has limits – we’ve burned all their oil already, and now we are working on their tar sands, not really good cheap oil at all! We will come to a point of balance, then start eating each other alive to increase our individual share of food, oil, and water. Grim future for America, sounds more and more like a horror movie where ‘FatBastard’ wins in the end!

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10 JD

Rob: Desalination and other techniques are great but they are also very energy intensive. Like most things in this world, water is linked to energy in a very meaningful way from the pumping stage through purification and transport, through processing “used water”. Its bad enough working with ‘sweet’ water thats already naturally on the clean side.

Once you go in for exotic methods (in terms of large scale human water use) like desalination you are getting into the sorts of differences that exist between pumping light sweet crude from nice flat dry West Texas land as opposed to refining oil from the tar sands of Alberta in Canada.

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11 Curious Cat Economics Blog

Water is very regulated now and that makes perfect sense. Water shortages in some places are going to get worse and the cost of water will increase. This is an economic factor that needs to be considered. I am not worried about water speculators. The fights are largely going to be between well connected special interests fighting over how water should be used (farmers, cities, dams[power], fisheries…)…

But what I find funny is many people now choose to pay much more for water (in a bottle) than gas costs. The water from many of their taps is better than the bottled water and yet they complain about gas prices while paying more for water they could get for a few pennies from their tap.

Curious Cat Economics Blogs last blog post..Food and Energy Costs

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12 JD

Very true Curious Cat!

I wrote a post a back in January about a three way battle in a very dry state in India between local farmers, a bird preserve, and the Coca-Cola company at Coke – Profits Over People.

When we start seeing golf clubs being retro-landscaped to use local naturally occurring grass and plants I will be happy. The amount of water used to let wealthy folks golf in artificially green environments is truly astounding.

JDs last blog post..Republican National Committee Caught in a $3,000,000 Lie

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13 Andrew Flusche

Great post, Will. I’m very interested in water law issues, and I actually studied that a bit in law school.

Fortunately, US water law is a bit different than oil, gas, and mineral law. Generally speaking, you can extract anything out from under your property. You own the minerals, oil, dirt etc.

But the law recognizes that water is different. For example, if you start to pump too much water out of your well and dry up your neighbor’s well, you can be held liable in court. It all obviously depends on lots of factors.

Still, I think you’re right that water will become more of a commodity in the future. It’s a very scary thought.

Andrew Flusches last blog post..Debt Collection Made Easy

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14 Anna

Wow, not H2O. New information to me, kind of scary. Since water is the basic and essential ingredient of life it should never be treated as other resources….we as humans must be insane to even think about it….Anna 🙂

Annas last blog post..There are Always Bugs, Sunsets, and Flowers to Photograph

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15 Captain

All of these issues stem from a single problem. We have over populated our planet. Earth just cannot support us in the numbers we are in as we continue to grow. The only thing that helps us is technology, and one day nature will overcome. A mass kill off of humans will happen eventually, and while that may seem bad, it’s the best thing for our species.

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16 Will

Hey Captain – This gets a bit of publicity these days. Even if correct, how do we as the species that will be reduced come to terms with the possibility? It is almost too disturbing to think of. But I guess some organism from the deep rain forest that we have somehow disturbed, or transported out of its habitat could get us. Kind of a modern day version of the Europeans bringing smallpox to the Americas. I wonder how society would hold up if 2/4 of the human species disappeared from the planet?

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17 Andrew Flusche

@Captain – Or perhaps we aren’t being good stewards of our planet’s resources. There’s plenty to go around, and there is plenty of space for everyone. Our species doesn’t need a “mass kill off.” The real water problem comes down to distribution, not supply.

Andrew Flusches last blog post..Fredericksburg General District Court Website Cannot Be Trusted

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18 YOR.com

I truly hope this article never becomes a reality. I have faith in technology to save us from every imaginable outcome (sans self annihilation)

I even once read about a device the U.S. Military has that can take water vapors out of the air in a desert to provide water for our troops. I did some searching but could not find an article on the subject to put in this comment.

Best Regards, Mike

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19 Matty

Didn’t I just hear on the radio this morning about a brand new desalinization plant being built near San Diego? Can’t remember the exact numbers, but something around 300million to build and maybe 10% of the city’s water supply?

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20 Osvaldo Gomez

Totally true. We have developed a comprehensive report on water in the world and the US in particular. Also you’ll find several articles on our news section http://news.nuprana.com talking about this issue. In particular I would recommend “Last century’s oil for this century’s water’.

Osvaldo Gomez
NUPRANA LLC

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21 rjleaman

The possibility of Canada allowing the commercial large-scale export of water is in the news here again. Somehow, it just doesn’t sit right. Not that I don’t want to share, but when you see pictures of outdoor fountains splashing away in desert cities… And inevitably, if water becomes a commodity for export, the cost of water will rise here at home. That’s good if it encourages conservation, I suppose, and if the exported water goes to potable use by people who really need it – but what are the odds?

rjleamans last blog post..Flying Art in a Trapeze Frame

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22 Will

I really don’t think that Canada exporting water to the U.S. would encourage conservation where we need it, in agriculture and industry. It would just increase the supply and delay conservation measures.

But you can be sure if there is much money to be made exporting water, it will be done!

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23 rjleaman

Sadly, I suspect you’re right. And it’s not going to encourage conservation on this end, either, as there’d be a dog-in-the-manger sort of thinking like, “why are we doing without, just so big business can ship our water down across the border?”

I’ll stop ranting now, Will, I promise — but you really should check out a recent item on CBC radio about Yemen’s water shortage (http://www.cbc.ca/radioshows/AS_IT_HAPPENS/20080904.shtml):

“The Middle Eastern nation is likely to become the first Arab country to use up all of its groundwater. To forestall that disastrous development, the national government has tried to educate the public about conserving water — without much success. So they’re trying something new: an adorable water mascot.”

Cheers!

rjleamans last blog post..Tasty Veg*n Seitan Gyros

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24 Erosion Control Services

The problems arise from over building without managing infrastructure and resources. There is enough water and it is renewable.

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25 John Bauer

Couldn’t agree more with your comments about the future of water. As proof, you should add what is happening in those states that touch the Great Lakes – the governors have established an alliance and are writing laws that will prevent other drier states from tapping into the world’s most abundant source of fresh water. Talk about wars in the future!

In the meantime, every community needs to be supporting – or requiring – efforts to reduce fresh water use. We invite you to learn more about commercial rainwater and greywater harvesting at Water Harvesting Solutions – http://www.wahaso.com

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26 Julius Kuhn-Regnier

I can only agree with the others. A person close to me always told me that the next war will be caused by the scarcity of water. I always agreed but people do not realize it at the moment, it will probably take some time.

anyway great article Will.

Julius Kuhn-Regniers last blog post..How to Speed Up Wordpress

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27 Will

Hi John and Julias! Thanks for the comments. If the Great Lakes states are doing that, then they are probably making the right choice even though it will cause at least political conflict with other, drier states. Did you know that the Colorado River really no longer reaches the ocean/gulf. All the water is removed before it gets that far.

We humans do have a short attention span for these things. Look at how the dropping price of gas has put that issue off the front pages.

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28 Staysure

This is just ridiculous. Water will never be like oil because of it’s abundance.

The planet’s surface is 3/4 water which makes the volume of water absolutely massive. Humans, take up very very little volume and there is enough water to go around many many many times.

The only water problem we have is poor infrastructure. The Romans built aqueducts 2000 years ago and they probably were not the first to channel water around.

If anyone doesn’t have water it’s because of bad distribution.

Build desalination plants and water pipelines if you don’t have water, yes it really is that simple.

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29 Will

If water is the next oil, it will be for all the reasons you just cited:

The only water problem we have is poor infrastructure. The Romans built aqueducts 2000 years ago and they probably were not the first to channel water around.

If anyone doesn’t have water it’s because of bad distribution.

The abundance of water on the planet is irrelevant to this post..

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30 hilton head vacation

Hi will, You are right. Water is more vital for human life than oil – and environmentalists, corporations, communities and governments increasingly recognize its unequal distribution around the globe could lead to severe environmental degradation and intense conflicts in the years ahead. Anyone who cares about water should observe the management of oil during the past century and not repeat the mistakes, argues it’s very nice think.

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31 Design competition

hi,
Great post some what scary..but nice in future definitely we will remember your posts heading….
thanks for this nice and informative post…

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32 Sam Jones

I recently joined the pickens plan and I gotta say, I really like the way T Boone is trying to get us off of foreign oil.

Water itself though is another matter, and a scary one at that.

Sam Joness last blog post..Evernote – Great Tool for Getting Things Done (GTD)

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33 Joey Logano

This is a scary thought, but I guess we will have to wait and see I guess to see what happens, but I sure hope that water isn’t traded like oil is.

Joey Loganos last blog post..Atlanta Friday Results

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34 Sarah

It is hard to believe that water can be fuel but who knows what will happen with advance technology.

Sarahs last blog post..Writing – Just Like Heaven

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35 Alice Radio

there is ads said ” what you could do if there is just only one drip left? ” i was impressed by its meaning. it is really alert to us to cherish every drip of water from now on.

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36 JT

I live in southern California and water is a HUGE issue here. One humorous aspect of it occurred recently. Our water agency instituted mandatory water restrictions claiming low water supplies had resulted in emergency drought conditions. Well, many people did cut back their water usage. Some to the point of just letting their lawns and landscaping die. The poor economy also reduced water consumption.

The water agency then discovered that at that low rate of water usage they would not make a profit and may, in fact, lose money. Suddenly the drought was over and they were making statements to the effect that they didn’t think the public should “over-react” and reduce water usage too much and that lawns shouldn’t be allowed to die. Hilarious.

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37 MJ

Desalinization of sea water will be the next big thing.
.-= MJ´s last blog ..Majority Of Skin Care Products Purchased On The Net Harm! =-.

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38 Stormwater Design

This is why it is more important than ever to promote the recharge of stormwater when possible. There are so many simple steps that can be performed as part of a good site design that can assist with the long term health and well being of our aquifers.

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39 Will

Hi Paul – Your comment was in the spam bin, sorry it took a few days for me to find it. Your blog is quite interesting and provides a great example of how communication with potential and existing clients can be accomplished with a WordPress blog. And you are using the Thesis theme, a smart choice and the one I now use on all sites. And your company looks like it would be a great place to work. If I was in the job market and near New Milford, I’d be ringing you up!

If you are following this thread, I would be interested in your expertise on a couple of posts I did on harvesting rain runoff. Many believe that it is one part of a water supply solution, others feel strongly that anything that keeps runoff from returning naturally to the watershed is wrong.

http://willtaft.com/environment/rain-harvesting-followup/

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40 Robert Towsley

How come Sam Picken’s projects all seem ot increase the costs of the resources, he uses for profit. Natural gas for transprotation to replace oil! Water now! This man is a leach. He would steal the money from a homeless person. His schemes are all get rich quick at the expense of the population. Oil is more plentiful than natural gas. How long do you think it will last if we all used it in our cars? As for water, that is insanity. People had better start thinking, instead of looking for the easy buck.

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41 Ruth

This is all going to take care of itself, sooner than we know it. Peak Oil is a big problem, if I’m understanding what I’ve been reading the last few days oil production hit its peak sometime between 1977 and 1984; estimates of when we’ll run out vary anywhere from 2 to 20 years from now. Once the oil goes the electricity goes, and once the electricity goes the water goes for most people (most water delivery systems are run on electricity if I remember right). I’ve seen it referred to as a “post industrial stone age”. We’d all better practice emergency preparedness plans and 19th century life skills. We’re going to need them all too soon.

http://www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net
.-= Ruth´s last blog ..Ted Kennedy’s Legacy Down the Toilet? =-.

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42 Will

That is a very interesting link Ruth. Most electricity in the world is actually generated from coal fired plants so I don’t know that oil shortages will directly affect that. Peak Oil is a very controversial topic. But even if it is completely wrong, it does not matter to me. There are 10 million other reasons we need to get off of fossil fuels is we are to prosper or even survive long term.

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43 lifes uncertainties

Anything earth-friendly which eventually clear-up all toxic is a big Yes for me. Water as oil is great but conversion should be done sparingly. We need water too for our daily sustenance.
.-= lifes uncertainties´s last blog ..The Hazards of Modern Living =-.

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44 Will

Whoops – Somebody better read the post again… or just read the post. 😉

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45 Kristi {at} Live and Love...Out Loud

Wow. This is a great post Will. I’ve never really given much thought to the possibility of water increasing in price as oil and gas have. Thanks for the eye-opening post and thanks for stopping by. Have a great week.

Kristi, Live and Love…Out Loud
@TweetingMama
.-= Kristi {at} Live and Love…Out Loud ´s last blog ..Not Me! Monday – I’m Organized Like That =-.

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46 Trisha Carter

I’m not sure if the world is ready for that. Millions of people continue to waste safe drinking water everyday as if it’s unlimited. 🙁
Trisha Carter recently posted..Insuladd® insulating paint additiveMy Profile

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47 Pacquiao vs Margarito

This is a sad fact but this is usually cost by the negligence of mankind. When that happens, it will be the end of the world that we know. 🙁

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48 sakura

I even once read about an instrument the U.S. Military has that can get water vopour to produce water for the tropps. in traditional way it’s also possible as leaf can catch vapour in the morning
sakura recently posted..Diet Golongan DarahMy Profile

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49 Jody

Water will never be a commodity like oil. It is too important to fight over also. Nations will be reluctant to fight a war over water since losing is too big a risk. I think cooperation will rule the day as population grows.

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50 Karen

Hi Will,

Years ago, Enron had an entire division dedicated to selling water. Is there really any difference between privitizinselling water and selling oil or natural gas? And don’t we really already sell bottled water from natural resources?

Love your website, Karen

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51 Roger rog

Watch out for this Pickens guy. He is draining the Great Lakes. He is selling bottled water to China in massive quantities. The water is being towed to China in gigantic “bladders” to fill the depleted aquifers. Pickens is pulling the wool over the eyes of North Americans and is selling us out.
And if you don’t think there will be wars fought over water then you are pretty naive. Water will be the ultimate power.

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52 Will

Hi Rodger – When I read that I thought something along the lines of “oh great, another urban myth”. But nooo, there it is; barges and bladders being towed to China. Of course I found it on the internet so it must be true, right?

All kidding aside, if it is true, it is scary.

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53 Simon

Right on the money Will – I think water, and by proxy food, will be huge issues in the coming years. Everything we’ve taken for granted may rapidly become scarce.
Simon recently posted..Living Sustainably – What It Really MeansMy Profile

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54 Hillary

I don’t think there will be another oil, but whatever comes next I doubt people will really be able to grasp it.

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55 Adam Kielich

The big difference is that the oceans are full of water and we can figure out ways to adjust that water for freshwater needs but it’s not like we can take dead organic matter and easily adjust them into oil.
Adam Kielich recently posted..Huffington Post blog on divorce almost gets it rightMy Profile

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56 Zana

I agree Will, there’s something unnerving about thinking about water in the same economical context as oil or natural gas. I think it’d be incredibly difficult to regulate a common pool resource like water.
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