The World Isn't Running Out of Water

Apparently a quote from environmental activist Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians has made it into the new Mad Max movie.  The Council of Canadians even wonders aloud if Barlow is the inspiration for Mad Max.

The quote from Barlow in Mad Max is that "the world is actually running out of water," sampled from the documentary Blue Gold: World Water Wars.  The National Post covered the story, and never once thought to examine whether Barlow's claim was true – which it most certainly is not, if we consider any meaningful time frame.  Barlow repeated the claims at the Nairobi Social Forum: "I want to talk, comrades and friends, about a global crisis in which we know the world is actually running out of water."  Comrades?

Although the "Earth's oceans have lost about a quarter of their original mass ... over the course of around four billion years," the Danish researchers studying this issue noted the following:

Today the atmosphere is rich in oxygen, which reacts with both hydrogen and deuterium to recreate water, which falls back to the Earth's surface. So the vast bulk of the water on Earth is held in a closed system that prevents the planet from gradually drying out.

Thus, the world is not running out of water anytime soon, unless by "soon" you mean a timescale on the order of hundreds of millions to billions of years.  And solar evolution isn't likely the policy issue Barlow is thinking about.

Perhaps Barlow means we are running out of fresh water?  After all, at a speaking engagement in Penticton, British Columbia in 2011, she claimed that "today most major rivers in the world don't reach the ocean."  I would welcome seeing the data to support this ridiculously incorrect statement.

But even that claim would be wrong.  The World Bank's estimate for global renewable internal freshwater resources has increased 13 percent over the past 50 years.

And access to clean water is improving for the world's population.  Since 1990, the proportion of the world's people having access to an improved water source has increased from 76 percent to over 89 percent and is continuing to rise steadily.  Similarly, during the last quarter-century, the percentage of the global population with access to improved sanitation facilities has increased from 47 to 64 percent.  At these rates of increase, all people could have access to clean water within several decades.

The world isn't running out of water, and more and more people continue to gain access to the water they need for a productive and healthy life each day.  The Mad Max movie series makes for great entertainment, but it is futuristic dystopian fiction – a fact that some in the activist community appear to have forgotten.