Time For Reflection by Dr. Chandra Senan


The unsustainable demand for water
and the consequences for our planet

by Dr. Chandra Senan

This book is an updated extract from Dr. Senan's book 'WATER' which was an adaptation of a
public lecture delivered at the Wrexham Science Festival (Glyndwr University, 2008)

Spiralling, unsustainable demands for water brought about by the burgeoning global population, relentless industrial development, inexorable growth of irrigated farming and rapid changes to the world's climate are some of the major challenges of our times. The possibility of an Arctic ocean totally devoid of ice in summer, the disappearance of the Himalayan glaciers and catastrophic rising sea-levels all loom ever closer and this in the face of increasing demands for food from the hungry and the rise in poverty.

The last decade has been the warmest ever on record globally, various places being subjected to freakish and fiendishly destructive weather (including scorching and plummeting temperatures) that has resulted in widespread loss of life (both human and animal) total devastation to homes, infrastructure and crops (courtesy of unforgiving hurricanes, tornadoes and unremitting floods) not to mention droughts and raging forest fires. There have been worrying changes to ocean currents such as the Gulf Stream, allied to variations in the ratio of fresh to salt water. The horrific effects of the BP oil spill (on aquatic life, humans, birds and other animals) in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 and its impact on the loop current of the Gulf Stream, coupled with the implications for the weather in Northern Europe cannot be overlooked.

Extreme weather has been experienced in Russia, Australia, Brazil, India, Germany, Columbia, Pakistan, Poland, China, Britain, the U.S.A., Canada, the Philippines and Thailand, to name but a few countries. Over the last century, the demand for water has increased 7-fold while there has been a 3-fold rise in human inhabitants. There is also the increasing toxicity of several water reserves, thanks to industrial pollution, while, simultaneously, precious aquifers are being totally drained.

The continuing decimation of what is left of the rainforests in South America and South East Asia is an ongoing tragedy, both for the animals and plants that live in it but ultimately for us humans too. The recent droughts in the Amazon rainforest (2005 and 2010) effectively made it an emitter rather than a net absorber of carbon dioxide in those years! Decreasing water tables, vanishing rivers, contracting lakes and ever-increasing desertification are all symptomatic of the worsening global situation.

Polar ice caps are shrinking while the melting boggy soil in the Arctic is releasing unprecedented amounts of methane (a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere. Some of the issues relating to biofuel production and their negative impacts on the remaining forests and food production are also considered. Apropos phenology (when a plant species responds at a different rate to climate change than its pollinating insect) pollination itself could be disrupted with disastrous consequences and not just for vegetarians either - evidence suggests that this is already happening which is yet another cause for concern.