Tuesday, May 22, 2012

18 TRILLION tonnes of stupidity raises ocean levels

     In just the last 50 years, humans have pumped up 18 trillion tonnes of precious  fossil water, non-renewable water from the rock deep below desert and arid parts of the Earth.
   Used wisely and slowly in some closed loop system - say waste water to enclosed greenhouse for example, it might have lasted for thousands of years for a small but frugal population on those dry lands.
   Instead we blew it - literally.
   Blew it up in the air through massive one kilometre long sprinklers to grow open air, water hungry crops like wheat.
   Yep, turns out that Saudi Arabia, for but one example, literally blew all of its water resources in a 30 year bid to become self sufficient in food.

    Why this death wish ? In part, because the alternative of burning oil to make agriculturally-needed levels of fresh water could  just as easily use up a heck of a lot of her other inheritance, this time in petroleum.
    Sadly, here is a rare, but morally valid environmental case, for this particular country selling her oil globally and buying her food globally, with the money earned.
   Why ? Because most of that precious water was almost instantly transported up into the atmosphere where it soon fell to Earth again as rain.
   So what is the problem ?
   Well that rain, by definition, rarely fell on the desert or arid land that had originally drilled and pumped it up out of the rock.
   Instead it fell on wetter lands and in the ocean. Eventually almost all of the water that fell on even wet land made its way into the ocean.
    The fraction that slowly,slowly,slowly descends deep into the earth and into porous aquifer rock does so over glacial (if not geologically) lengths of time - maybe 10,000 to 100,000 years, maybe never if a barrier rock now lies above the once-accessible  porous sandstone or gravels.
   As a result, by a small but steady and readily measurable amount, we have raised the overall water level in the oceans leading to stronger storms, flooding and erosion - all produced by greedy, technology-crazed, farmers in places like Saudi Arabia and in land-locked southern Alberta pissing away their great grandchildren's only hope for life-bringing water.
   I say technology crazed, in response to Vaclav Smil's pioneering work on the late 19th century 's inventions of new prime movers and newly
strong and sharp metals and ceramics.
   Now, by 1900, humanity really could drill endlessly into the Earth, punch through the hardest,most abrasive, hottest bed rock and pump endless amounts of matter in or out of Earth's hitherto hidden depths.
   It could - that was clear.
   But should it? That was unclear, and frankly rarely asked by these perpetually teenage boys playing with their new toys.
   Drilling and pumping up precious non-renewable water as much as and as fast as we can from aquifers means using up a life-blood far more precious than oil or uranium.
      We can always get endless amounts of energy in the desert from the Sun, but Ole Sol is more niggardly with the water she sends us in the form of comets.
    Morality, economics and science/technology must work together when we are given these new toys - their use is by no means value-free....

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