Over at Aguanomics there is a guest post by Damian Bickett, a PhD student from University of California Berkley. In this post Damian discusses the use of the term “Peak Water” in a book by Peter Gleick (among others) of the Pacific Institute. You can read the whole post here, but this is the final two paragraphs…
Now, to get to water. Besides the major problems I have with peak oil, even if true, applying it to water is odd. Water is a renewable resource rather than a nonrenewable one (except some groundwater situations), and so Peak Oil refers mainly to a permanent condition while with water, it is more about management. Attempts to bring the alleged water crisis underneath the umbrella of Peak Oil seems to be an attempt to corral anti-growth, anti-corporate activists into the same tent, and it confuses the message of both problems.
Bottom Line: People are flexible and can deal easily with less, but we need good price signals to do so. The oil market allows prices to rise and to therefore allocate the scare resource. Water prices ought to be able to do the same.
Source: Aguanomics: Peak Water?.
I started writing a comment that got longer and longer, and ended up deciding to post the comment here on UrbanWorkbench with a link to it in a short comment on Aguanomics, here’s my full comment…
You breeze through the concerns of Peak Oil as though they have no merit. Not all people who are concerned about the peak of fossil fuels and the impact on humans in the inevitable descent of fossil fuel supplies slavishly believe that electric ambulances are the way to go. You don’t state the position from which you attack Peak Oil, so I’ll refrain from arguing that with you, however the attack on a term such as Peak Water, which I agree is not the same as the concept of Peak Oil, seems pretty harsh.
Water may be a renewable resource, but given predictions of climate change and increased pollution of water from industrial and agricultural sources worldwide, clean water seems to be increasingly scarce, and treatment options aren’t typically getting cheaper to construct or operate. A quick search shows that Chapter 1 (on Peak Water) of the book by Peter Gleik is available at this link.
Speaking of water as a straight commodity that can be managed by price alone gives a narrow focus to the discussion. In a democratic stable market, price is important, but outside of this situation price has the potential to becomes another weapon for impoverishment and monopolistic corporations. I’m not an economist, I can just see that outside of a stable free market there is significant risk of abuse. Also it should be noted that clean water is a threatened resource in parts of the world, even in parts of America.
I think Peter was remarkably kind in his response above, while you may not agree with everything he writes, it is a small community of educated people who care about the protection of water quality, and seemingly even fewer who are concerned about Peak Oil and transitioning to a lower demand society – some of us care about both.
Your bottom line is rather smug considering the lengths that people go to to survive, I know how flexible people can be regarding water consumption, I’ve lived on 6 litres of water a day for weeks at a time in the Australian desert, but I wasn’t growing any of the food I ate. And although I would have paid for it if I had to, somehow I think the idea of making someone pay for water to survive using “pricing signals” sucks, bottom line: even rationing would be better at that stage.
Nothing is black and white, while not the intention of your post, it doesn’t adequately answer the problems of peak oil, climate change, water scarcity and the financial crisis. Each of these issues has a tipping point and all are inter-related.
Thanks for reading, please feel free to comment or contact me. I do believe that discussions are important to further understanding and equip policy makers to make better decisions, but let’s get there as a team.