Hard Wisdom for Scarce Water

Unlike other commodities, the price of water is very often a political decision, subject to the influence of interest groups that lobby for subsidies. As long as these distortions persist, new technologies will struggle to compete.

CAMBRIDGE – In California, residential consumers are being fined for wasting water. The goal is to combat a severe drought by reducing residential consumption by 20%. The trouble is that residential water use accounts for less than 15% of total consumption. The rest is used mainly for agriculture. Even if the desired cuts are achieved, they will account for less than 3% of total demand – a drop in an otherwise empty bucket.

Meanwhile, in China, some 30,000 workers are trying to change the weather, attempting to seed clouds from airplanes or using anti-aircraft guns to shoot shells into the air, hoping to coax some rain from the sky. There is no statistical proof that this type of weather manipulation works, but cloud seeders are also busy in the United States, mainly in the west.

These pointless policies are what I have come to call “political placebos”: attempts by governments to demonstrate to their citizens that they are doing something – anything! – to alleviate water shortages. Placebos may have their place in medicine, but when they distract from efforts to address the underlying malady, they can do more harm than good. Measures like those in California are like instructing police officers to blare their sirens wherever they drive to create the impression that crime is being fought. As climate change leads to deeper and more frequent droughts, the resulting water shortages will require new, sometimes difficult, solutions that go beyond futile attempts to placate the public.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.

required

Log in

http://prosyn.org/bFProb8;
  1. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

    Angela Merkel’s Endgame?

    The collapse of coalition negotiations has left German Chancellor Angela Merkel facing a stark choice between forming a minority government or calling for a new election. But would a minority government necessarily be as bad as Germans have traditionally thought?

  2. Trump Trade speech Bill Pugliano/Getty Images .

    Preparing for the Trump Trade Wars

    In the first 11 months of his presidency, Donald Trump has failed to back up his words – or tweets – with action on a variety of fronts. But the rest of the world's governments, and particularly those in Asia and Europe, would be mistaken to assume that he won't follow through on his promised "America First" trade agenda.

  3. A GrabBike rider uses his mobile phone Bay Ismoyo/Getty Images

    The Platform Economy

    While developed countries in Europe, North America, and Asia are rapidly aging, emerging economies are predominantly youthful. Nigerian, Indonesian, and Vietnamese young people will shape global work trends at an increasingly rapid pace, bringing to bear their experience in dynamic informal markets on a tech-enabled gig economy.

  4. Trump Mario Tama/Getty Images

    Profiles in Discouragement

    One day, the United States will turn the page on Donald Trump. But, as Americans prepare to observe their Thanksgiving holiday, they should reflect that their country's culture and global standing will never recover fully from the wounds that his presidency is inflicting on them.

  5. Mugabe kisses Grace JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images

    How Women Shape Coups

    In Zimbabwe, as in all coups, much behind-the-scenes plotting continues to take place in the aftermath of the military's overthrow of President Robert Mugabe. But who the eventual winners and losers are may depend, among other things, on the gender of the plotters.

  6. Oil barrels Ahmad Al-Rubaye/Getty Images

    The Abnormality of Oil

    At the 2017 Abu Dhabi Petroleum Exhibition and Conference, the consensus among industry executives was that oil prices will still be around $60 per barrel in November 2018. But there is evidence to suggest that the uptick in global growth and developments in Saudi Arabia will push the price as high as $80 in the meantime.

  7. Israeli soldier Menahem Kahana/Getty Images

    The Saudi Prince’s Dangerous War Games

    Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is working hard to consolidate power and establish his country as the Middle East’s only hegemon. But his efforts – which include an attempt to trigger a war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon – increasingly look like the work of an immature gambler.