Addressing the depletion of natural resources

Texas is currently suffering its worst drought in recorded history with much of it in what the U.S. Drought Monitor classifies as D3, Extreme Drought, or D4, Exceptional Drought. Several municipalities are in danger of completely running out of water in less than six months. Some may have no water in fewer than 50 days. This is much worse than a water shortage where severe rationing goes into effect. They are facing the possibility of no water at all. You turn on the tap and nothing comes out.

Most of the municipalities are tiny, consisting of a few hundred to a few thousand people. They are probably relying upon reservoirs or deep wells for water. But aquifer water levels have dropped, and reservoirs in some cases have dried up completely. Towns this small don’t have the resources to plan for extreme drought. State and regional planning are needed.

Larger towns in the state are being impacted too. The West Texas town of Big Spring (pop, 27,000) is now recycling sewage water to make it drinkable again. While this may have a high Yuck factor, this is better than discharging wastewater into creeks where it flows away, as they’ve previously been doing. Besides, NASA has been cleaning sewage water on spacecraft for decades and none of the astronauts have complained. One of the best ways to meet the growing worldwide resource shortage, which is amplified by climate fluctuations, is through conservation and re-use.

The Texas Forest Service estimates that upwards of five hundred million trees have been killed by the drought. This will drastically impact animal and bird populations as well as greatly increase the chance of fires.

McKinsey and Company has released a detailed study titled Resource Revolution: Meeting the world’s energy, materials, food, and water needs. It concerns the huge and fast-growing demand for resources which the planet will somehow have to meet, and soon. By 2030, there will be 3 billion more middle class consumers globally, in addition to the 1.8 billion now. They will want cars, better food, electricity, air conditioning, hot water, sewage treatment plants, and internet access. This increasing demand for commodities has reversed the declines in prices of the 20th century and are now higher than anytime (cost-adjusted) since 1900. The big problem is that the demand is coming during a time of decreasing resources. Most of the easy energy has already been gotten. There have been huge advances in agricultural productivity. But more is needed.

In its study, McKinsey & Co. presents 15 “opportunities” for addressing the dilemma. A better word might be “mandates.” If resources aren’t there when needed, then people will go hungry and this will also lead to severe social unrest.

Among its recommendations:

  • Build energy efficiency
  • Increase yields on all size farms
  • Reduce food and municipal water waste
  • Shift road freight to rail or barge

All of this is basically common sense. All of it is do-able. The planet needs to make a concerted, unified effort to make it so.

(crossposted from IVN)


  1. The world can’t support the middle class consumers that exist today (and I realize that I’m typing this on a computer, etc). What will we do with 3 billion more? With statistics like this, I really feel like the world will dramatically realize the meaning of “unsustainable” -something that cannot be sustained will inevitably end. That “something” here is our consumerist, industrial society. I’m far from convinced that increasing yields on farms will do much, when desertification and huge shifts in climate patterns promise to severely disrupt agriculture, or that shifting from one horribly polluting form of transport to another will help solve these massive problems (which are of debatable ability to be solved, to begin with).

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