Most Underrated Issue Of The Century, And A Critical Solution

I often comment and share news on global warming and climate change, but I think it’s worth stepping back for a moment and looking at how global warming and climate change are actually a threat to us.

Without a doubt, heat waves will harm and kill a number of people in decades to come, and temperatures could one day reach a simply unlivable level, but today and in the coming years, those aren’t the biggest threats we’re facing from climate change. Bigger yet are risks from increasingly strong superstorms, or from agricultural failures due to changing climatic patterns. Perhaps even bigger than those threats, however, is the threat of not having enough drinking water. In fact, we already have such a water crisis.

This water crisis, which could reach much more devastating levels in the years to come, might very well be the most underrated issue of our day — I think it is. And beyond climate change, it’s also due to factors related to our current agricultural practices, population growth, and how we create electricity.

Interesting & Shocking Water Facts

Below, I’m going to explore some key aspects of the electricity–water link below. But very quickly first, here are some water facts from Eat Drink Better that are worth contemplating:

  • About 60% of your body weight is water, and about 75% of your muscles are water.
  • The current water and sanitation crisis kills more people through disease than wars kill through guns.
  • “At any given time, half of the world’s hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from diseases associated with lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene.”


And here are a couple water facts from an Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week post I wrote on Wednesday:

  • 27% of the urban population in the developing world does not have in-home piped water.
  • 99.7% of all the water on earth is not available for human or animal consumption.


Electricity & Water

We already have a water crisis. Yet, the population is growing, world energy demand is growing, and without proper planning, the water crisis is going to grow into an even greater problem.

We do have some good news, though: we know that solar PV and wind power uses tens or hundreds of times less water (relative to the power they produce) than fossil fuels or nuclear power. Based on data from a “water and energy facts” article I wrote over two years ago, look at how top electricity sources compare on water efficiency:

Here’s a table of the data:

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) notes that wind power “uses less than 1/600 as much water per unit of electricity produced as does nuclear, and approximately 1/500 as much as coal.”

So, beyond their importance for fighting global warming, wind and solar energy are also important for water conservation. Additionally, as more areas get hit by crippling droughts, solar PV and wind will offer a more secure electricity supply. Already, we’ve seen nuclear and coal plants shut down due to heat waves and droughts, while wind farms and solar PV panels keep producing highly needed electricity.

Take Action

To fight droughts from global warming, to improve electricity security in the face of water shortage, and to lessen the water crisis, we should all take action:

  • Individuals should go solar, or invest in community solar or wind projects.
  • Businesses should also invest in solar and wind power projects, something that helps the world while also helping their bottom line.
  • And governments should facilitate the development of more solar and wind power through a large variety of policies and programs (to date, the most effective of which seems to be feed-in tariffs).

This is critical for our future, and even our present. Any more thoughts on this critical, underrated issue, or on solutions to it?

  • Daniel Coffey

    I think your view on water is correct as it pertains to its relation to conventional energy production at the generation site, but it is also far more directly linked to global warming than most people first appreciate. The fact that a more energetic (warmer) ocean and atmosphere inject more moisture into the atmosphere also interacts with the fact that, absent cold fronts or colder air masses, the moisture remains in the air and does not precipitate as rain. In like manner, when the highly moist air does encounter a cold air mass sufficient to cause precipitation results in vastly larger amounts of water falling as rain in inconvenient places, causing floods, etc. Depending on the temperature, one may encounter rain, sleet, frozen rain, hail, snow, etc, all of which present specialized challenges when they fall in abundance.

    As a last point, when one looks at the life-cycle for fuels and considers the water consumption at each phase required to bring forth energy from a particular fuel, the numbers change. Consider how much water is consumed in coal mining, natural gas extraction, transporting both, etc. It adds to the tally considerably.

    • Zachary Shahan

      Thanks. Excellent points and information. Appreciated. One of my goals this year is to focus more on the relationships between water and global warming, and water and energy. As part of that, will have to communicate what you’ve written here.