The year is 2211 and a team of scientist, archeologist, and engineers are scouring the earth and trying to ascertain how the greatest civilization mankind has ever known collapsed. One can only imagine what our descendants some two hundred years down the line will think if the unimaginable actually does happen. Great cities lay abandoned, incredible feats of engineering left to ruin, and evidence of poor water, oil, and environmental management is rampant. A collapse of this magnitude would be the greatest disaster in human history, many people would have to simplify their living and return to an agrarian society. The Maya, The Anasazi, and The Roman Civilizations are an amazing example of what could happen to a civilization. So what are the causes that could cause this type of collapse to happen?
Archeologists are finding the broken remnants of the all the motels and tract houses, and put two and two together, and realize that these people created a city of millions; in a region of North America that can’t possibly support a population that large. They had these fantastic schemes for bringing huge volumes of water hundreds of miles; they had this great thing called air conditioning that made it possible for people to sleep at night. When examining the concrete bowels of the city, the future investigators find what seems to be the key to the city’s collapse and loss of its inhabitants. What they find is a constant flow of cheap energy and water; they follow the city’s water supply to its source scanning for weaknesses in the system.
The labyrinth of pipelines lead to other cities and farmland all tapping into the same supply, hundreds miles away they reach the source at Hoover Dam. These massive engineering schemes turned the regions wild rivers into electricity for millions of homes. Behind these dams stored 9.2 trillion gallons of water enough water to support 20 million people. Ultimately these water supplies allowed desert cities to thrive, but they all dried. Off to the west these investigators look at what is now known as Los Angeles and find that the Los Angeles River, just 200 years earlier was overdeveloped and urbanized to the point that it resembled more of a brook then of a river. The free flowing river was tapped in a familiar manner just like the water sources that fed Phoenix. Over tapping, overpopulation, and over pollution seemed to have led to that urban metropolis’s demise. When there is not enough water and/or proper water management is not implemented it is impossible for a city’s inhabitants to survive. Presently of all the water resources on Earth only three per cent of it is not salty and two-thirds of the freshwater is locked up in ice caps and glaciers. Of the remaining one per cent, a fifth is in remote, inaccessible areas and much seasonal rainfall in monsoonal deluges and floods cannot easily be used. At present only about 0.08 per cent of the entire world’s fresh water is exploited by mankind in an ever increasing demand for sanitation, drinking, manufacturing, leisure and agricultural.
On the outskirts of a California suburb future investigators come across huge cracks in the desert. Probing the depths of the fissure they find highly compressed layers of soil, thus giving evidence that the underground aquifers had been depleted. Over pumping had caused the land to sink and fracture, many of the earth’s ancient aquifers, which take thousands of years to replenish, have been sucked dry. As a result the ground under our biggest cities had sunk over 30 feet.
Water Wars, Scarcity, Business, and Competition:
Presently we have already seen that competition for water can cause all kinds of trouble. In January of 2000 violent protest erupted in Cochabamba, Bolivia as the country’s population fight back over the privatization of their local water supply. On every inhabited continent there is increasing conflict over this precious commodity. History tells us that water has been one of the prime factors that have destroyed civilizations in the past. Water’s viability as a commercial resource, which includes fishing, agriculture, manufacturing, recreation and tourism, among other possibilities, can create dispute even when access to potable water is not necessarily an issue.
As a resource, some consider water to be as valuable as oil, needed by nearly every industry, and needed nearly every day. Like oil, water is an essential part of doing business in almost every industry, and unexpected shortages can trigger potentially catastrophic consequences.
The trouble for investors:
Companies disclose very little if any information about their exposure to water-related risks. “This is not an area that companies like to discuss quite frankly,” says Marc Levinson, an economist at J.P. Morgan and the principal author of the Forbes report “Watching Water: A Guide to Corporate Risk in a Thirsty World.”
Investors in general know very little about what is going on in companies’ supply chains. “The water risks are most obvious in the food and beverage sector. Together, Nestlé, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch, and DANONE consume an estimated 575 billion liters of water every year, or roughly the amount of water needed to meet the basic daily needs of every person on the planet. But “watergy,” as some are now calling it, is a very big deal for all industries. In the U.S., industry uses more water than agriculture thanks to its use in power generation. The industrial sector uses an estimated 45% of water in the United States, agriculture accounts for 42% and domestic uses, like drinking and sanitation, account for a mere 13%. Worldwide, agriculture uses about 70% of all water.
Water conflicts can occur on the intrastate and interstate levels. Interstate conflicts occur between two or more neighboring countries that share a Tran’s Boundary water source, such as a river, sea, or groundwater basin.
For example, the Middle East has only 1% of the worlds freshwater shared among 5% of the world’s population. Intrastate conflicts take place between two of more parties in the same country. An example would be the conflicts between farmers and industry (Agricultural vs. Industrial Use of Water).
Since we have a low supply of fresh water we need to conserve it. Conserving it means to save it, most Americans and Europeans have access to clean water but some countries have only dirty water to bathe in and to drink. More than 1 billion people worldwide do not have access to safe drinking water. That’s because they only have polluted or salty water. Polluted water also can’t be used for swimming, watering crops, or providing a habitat for plants and animals. The major causes for polluted water are sewage, chemicals from factories, fertilizers from farms, and landfills that leak. People who do have access to clean water have to use it wisely and protect it or else it will become endangered. If water becomes endangered all living things will be endangered too.
The next 200 years doesn’t have to mark the end of the upward surge of innovation and civilization, as we know it. We can take in to consideration all that history has taught us about mankind and our ability to look deep into our future. The converging forces that destroyed The Maya, The Anasazi, and The Roman Civilizations are similar to those that confront us today; but we have a huge advantage that those civilizations did not, the ability to look deeply into both the past and the future. To identify the forces of collapse and use that knowledge to avoid that fate, we have a vision to create a very different future. However, it will take a seismic shift to achieve it.
One can see that in the past periods of distress are also periods of innovation, we can envision whole new industries; invest in new technologies being developed, new jobs being created. With Human Innovation and Technology we have the power to chart a more sustainable course. Centuries from now scientist may look at the 1969 moon launch not as the high point of our success, but the beginning.
Our downfall is by no means inevitable, Jared Diamond author of a book referenced in this discussion “Collapse” as well as other experts in these topics chosen; say that we still have time to choose whether we fail or we succeed. We do not just have one track to choose, there are forks in the tracks; there are decisions to make on whether we go this way or that way, but the train is already moving. So we have to make our decisions now.
The Romans, The Maya, The Anasazi, they too faced hard choices when coming to crossroads. We have already made decisions and some are good decisions, if we keep making good decisions, then we can accomplish what no other civilization in human history has ever accomplished. Whatever we decide the odds are humans will live on, our species has the uncanny ability to simplify in the face of hardship and adapt. There are millions of descendants of the Maya, Anasazi, and Romans still living today. In the big picture the human experiment accounts for less than one percent of the earth’s four billion year history; Modern Civilization is less than two hundred years of that, but in that brief timespan our imprint has been profound.
Now the future of the planet and everything living on it is riding on the choices we make. Humans above all other species have a proven ability to make enormous leaps.
The legacy of collapse may be stacked against us, but our history is still a work in progress; it could be that we are living through the defining moment of Human Evolution; the time when our civilization 200 years from now is seen as the civilization that breaks the mold and chooses to succeed.