Skip to Content

Pathfinders : Water Worlds 1 and 2

Water World 1

“We were just standing around in our shorts, stunned and amazed, trying to make sense of it”. Thus spoke one Inuit villager, on describing winter temperatures of 9ºC that should have been -30ºC (Independent on Sunday, 27 August). As the Arctic warms up twice as fast as the rest of the world, and sea ice has shrunk in area by a quarter and in thickness by a half, its inhabitants are discovering that their igloos are heat traps, their water supply needs wells and their workplaces need air-conditioning. Meanwhile Greenland farmers – for they do exist – are starting to grow broccoli, cauliflower and Chinese cabbage, while having to make up, among their thousand words for reindeer, some new words for the salmon which are appearing in their rivers, and the barn owls, hornets and robins which are now adventuring to the far north. What the Inuit think of global warming can be surmised by the number of their houses and snowmobiles that have started falling through the ice, and one can easily see why they think “the world is slowly disintegrating.” Meanwhile in Siberia, roads and buildings built on the permafrost are starting to collapse, and the Permafrost Institute in Yakutsk has recently suffered a major flood (BBC Online, 12 September).

Greenland is the second biggest ice mass after Antarctica, with glaciers as large as Manhattan and as high as the Empire State Building, and it is now melting at a rate that has alarmed even the alarmists. Evidence from NASA satellites and ground-based researchers concluded in February 2006 that Greenland's glaciers are melting twice as fast as they were five years ago. If the ice cap were to completely disappear, which it is quite likely to do by the end of 2100 at this rate, global sea levels would rise by 6.5m (21 feet) (BBC Online, 11 August). If this happens, New York, New Orleans and half of Florida including Miami, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale will be underwater.

Not surprisingly perhaps, Washington is facing rebellion from state governors all over the country to stop stalling over Kyoto and do something, not least because their own oil and gas companies are already one jump ahead with ‘greener’ technology and need the relevant legislation to be enacted so they can capitalize on it. Leading the way is Da Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who when not terminating crooks by state execution is so keen to display his green credentials he sided with the Democrats against his own party in order to pass the Global Warming Solutions Act, which aims to cap emissions in California, the world’s 12th largest CO2 emitter, by 25 percent by 2020 (BBC Online, 1 September). But even Arnie is unlikely to hold back the Arctic flood, because capitalism just doesn’t sit down and listen to reason, as his Republican ex-buddies know perfectly well. The reason they opposed his cosy Californian carbon-capping caper was because they knew perfectly well that unless such a plan was federal, so that nobody could get out of it, all the investment would leak out of the state into neighbouring ones which were not required under their state law to worry so energetically about the problem.

Water World 2

While the Inuit are fast running out of ice, a third of the world’s population are faced with a shortage of any water at all. The situation has arisen twenty years earlier than projections forecasted, according to a report by the International Water Management Institute in Colombo, Sri Lanka (New Scientist, 26 August). The report states that while in some places physical shortage of water is to blame, in others it is a question of lack of financial investment. So are they talking billion-dollar pipelines from the water sources to the dry interiors in Africa, Asia and parts of China? Not a bit. The state-of-the-art technology is, wait for it, plastic buckets and bags, lots of big ones, to catch the stuff as it falls out of the sky. Storing roof and road run-off, they argue, could double or triple food production in sub-Saharan Africa and south-east Asia. Not only that, but saving water for ‘unrainy days’ in this way could slow the expansion of rain-fed agriculture into virgin habitats from 60 per cent by 2050 down to 10 per cent.

The predictable response of most people reading this would be a Homer Simpson-like ‘Duh’. You don’t need to be an engineering genius to figure out that water butts are a good way of saving water, so why in hell aren’t they doing it already, you cannot resist asking? Presumably because in the capitalist scheme of things, poor Africans, Indians and Chinese peasants don’t have the price and don’t rate the price even of a plastic bucket.

Water World 3

Socialists always welcome any sincere attempt to solve the world’s problems, even if some of these attempts are inevitably misguided. One doesn’t in all honesty expect a great contribution to be made by new-age mystics so it is no surprise that when Madonna and husband Guy Ritchie approached the UK government with a scheme to clean up nuclear waste, using a deeply mystical Kabbalah water which they claimed had received extensive testing in a Ukrainian lake, the government didn’t show much interest in the Ritchies’ esoteric knowledge of Jewish mystical liquids and in fact showed them the door (New Scientist, 26 August). One might expect however that the government official who recounted this story would show the appropriate respect for such eminent celebrities, or at least a cool and precise scientific detachment. Instead, the official described the encounter as follows: “It was like a crank call…. The scientific mechanisms and principles were just bollocks.” Lovely to see scientists descend to plain English occasionally.