18 Jan 2009

Water and Lifestyle

I've had several emails from people describing how important water is to their community's culture and lifestyle.

Water has defined us for eons. Water determined where we lived (London, San Francisco, Mumbai, etc.); what we ate (fish or camel? cactus or watermelon?); the location of our borders; and so on...

It is thus terribly upsetting to consider a world in which water patterns change. We have tried to control those flows for many years, through dams, canals, etc., but now our voluntary changes are being reversed by involuntary changes.

Global warming is disrupting precipitation patterns and changing the spacial and temporal patterns of demand from Nature as well as from us. It is now common to find that the demands for water resulting from our lifestyles exceeds available supplies.

After centuries of us forcing water to do what we want, water is now forcing us to do what it wants, and nobody is happy about it.

Consider similar instances of change coming from outside: invasion, job losses, political policy shifts. Nobody is happy when an occupying force arrives, when they must move or retrain for anther job or when some activity changes from legal to illegal. But they often are forced to "deal with it" and move on, using different methods (drugs, counseling, crying, violence) to minimize the pain.

People need to adjust to changes in their "water lifestyle" in the same way that they need to adjust to other changes. They don't want to, and it's not easy, but they must.

One of the big reasons I write this blog is to offer help in making those adjustments. There are easy and hard ways to adjust: Prices are better than rationing; markets are better than zero-sum political reallocations.

Of course, people may not like my advice, but they will have to deal with change in some way. Pretending that it's not happening or that no action is needed is not an option.

Bottom Line: People don't like change, but sometimes they must change, and the cost of that change can be much higher than necessary.


  1. "Pretending that it's [climate change] not happening or that no action is needed is not an option."

    I'll admit that I don't have the desire to conduct an independent evaluation of the climate change issue, but I've see enough information so that I am not convinced that we face man-made catastrophic global warming. Consequently, I worry more about the potential unintended consequences of action taken too hastily than I do about any additional harm that might accrue from a more measured approach. From what I've read, Bjorn Lomborg's point of view makes a lot of sense.

  2. David, a nitpick for your information. In Portugal, fathers have divided up their land among their sons in more of less equal portions. This has gone on so long that most farms in Portugal are too small to farm. But it makes the country side charming because each little parcel has a low stone wall around it.

  3. I'm happy that water is forcing us to do what it wants. We've manhandled it for long enough. We should have been more humble, it's teaching us a lesson.


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