1. We’re running out of water.
We see it in the headlines almost every day: Drought in Texas and China. Nevada’s Lake Mead in danger of going dry. The Colorado River and the Rio Grande no longer flowing to the sea.
Water seems to be getting more and more scarce. But it’s not. The amount of water on Earth isn’t changing, and as a planet we’re in no danger of running out.
One of the most misleading “facts” we learn about water, starting in the second grade or so, is that 97.5 percent of the water on Earth is unusable by humans, because it’s salty ocean water.
Actually, the oceans are Olympian springs of fresh water — every day, the sun, the sea and evaporation combine to make 45,000 gallons of rainwater for each man, woman and child on Earth. Even in the United States, where we use water with profligacy, the oceans are making more fresh water for each of us in a month than we’ll use in a decade.
And one of the most remarkable qualities of water, of course, is that we never really use it up. Water reemerges from everything we do with it, whether it’s making coffee or making steel, ready to use again.
The problem is that we’ve built our communities, our farms and our reservoirs in places we expect water to be. The scarcity we’re seeing is a result, in part, of a shifting climate — it’s still raining, but it may not be raining in the watersheds of our reservoirs. Water scarcity is also a result of population growth; more people need more water. And it is often a hidden cost of economic development. As people get wealthier, they use more water for things such as bathing and running the dishwasher, and more energy, which requires huge volumes of water.