His talk was about "peak water" -- a concept that makes sense with oil (when use outpaces new discoveries), but not as much with water (previous post). Nevertheless, Gleick made these useful points:
- The demand for water has been expanding at an exponential rate, on the extensive margin (greater population) and intensive margin (more use per person). In these cases, there is less water for everyone as time passes.
- There is a point where "renewable" water becomes non-renewable, either because groundwater is over-drafted ("mined") or water is polluted (a big problem in China). In these cases, there is less water for the future.
- Some water basins (e.g., the Colorado River) are fully allocated, i.e., consumption equals total flows. In these cases, there is no additional supply.
While I agree with his analysis, I do not agree with the application of the "peak" analogy, since all of these phenomena are the result of poor water management -- not the physical/economic relationship between oil consumption and exploration. Put differently, we can manage water as a renewable resource (sustainably), but we will never be able to make oil into a renewable resource.
This was also the first time I met Peter. Like many of you who have suggested that I work with Peter and the Pacific Institute, I was eager to explore some options for collaboration -- especially since the Pacific Institute has no economists on staff.
I sent an email suggesting that we collaborate, and I will keep you posted on Peter's reply.
Bottom Line: Although we may not have "peak water," we certainly do have problems with water management, and I am glad that Peter Gleick is working on those problems.
* Addendum: Peter asked me to remove the mp3 of the lecture, and I have complied. (I am not sure if he would have given me permission had I asked, which I didn't, but I have asked now. I will repost the mp3 if he does extend permission. Until then, you will have to do with my summary and/or and ask one of the 80+ attendees what they remember.)