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Is water becoming ‘the new oil’?

Mark Clayton, Christian Science Monitor
Population, pollution, and climate put the squeeze on potable supplies – and private companies smell a profit. Others ask: Should water be a human right?

… Water, Dow Chemical Chairman Andrew Liveris told the World Economic Forum in February, “is the oil of this century.” Developed nations have taken cheap, abundant fresh water largely for granted. Now global population growth, pollution, and climate change are shaping a new view of water as “blue gold.”

Water’s hot-commodity status has snared the attention of big equipment suppliers like General Electric as well as big private water companies that buy or manage municipal supplies – notably France-based Suez and Aqua America, the largest US-based private water company.

Global water markets, including drinking water distribution, management, waste treatment, and agriculture are a nearly $500 billion market and growing fast, says a 2007 global investment report.

But governments pushing to privatize costly to maintain public water systems are colliding with a global “water is a human right” movement. Because water is essential for human life, its distribution is best left to more publicly accountable government authorities to distribute at prices the poorest can afford, those water warriors say.

“We’re at a transition point where fundamental decisions need to be made by societies about how this basic human need – water – is going to be provided,” says Christopher Kilian, clean-water program director for the Boston-based Conservation Law Foundation. “The profit motive and basic human need [for water] are just inherently in conflict.”

Will “peak water” displace “peak oil” as the central resource question? Some see such a scenario rising.
(29 May 2008)

Water shortages and drought are the next scourge, warns US group

David Gow, The Guardian
The next scourge to afflict the global economy after soaring oil and food prices will be a surge in the cost of water brought on by growing scarcity, one of the world’s biggest companies warned yesterday.

General Electric, the US industrial group, said it would cut its own use of water by 20% by 2012 and export water-saving and recycling technology to countries – often emerging economies – hit by shortages. Jeff Immelt, chief executive, said in Beijing: “We believe that, just as greenhouse gas emissions have been a big societal challenge, the same thing is true for water.”

Lorraine Bolsinger, vice-president of GE’s Ecomagination green technology division, added: “There is going to be a price on water that is going to reflect its scarcity in a way it doesn’t today. We’re going to see that change over time – certainly in emerging markets.”
(29 May 2008)

Scientists oppose SA desalination plans

Penelope Debelle, The Age (Australia)
A PLANT to keep a Greg Norman-branded golf course green is one of three desalination proposals in South Australia causing scientific and public concern.

Three hundred residents from the Port Hughes on the Yorke Peninsula attended a public meeting this month where marine ecologist Toby Bolton warned that too little was known about the cumulative, long-term effects of desalination plants for them to be regarded as the solution to the nation’s water shortages.

… Dr Bolton said it was difficult to think of a more inappropriate location than BHP’s proposed Spencer Gulf plant. It would operate in an area that combined poor tidal exchange with mangrove and samphire swamps that nurtured organisms for the marine food chain such as giant cuttlefish and the area’s prized whiting.

Dr Bolton, from Flinders University’s Lincoln Marine Science Centre at Port Lincoln, said he did not oppose desalination plants that were in open ocean where strong tidal currents dispersed the waste brine.

He is one of five South Australian scientists who last month wrote to the State Government warning it of the dangers of desalination when so little was known about its long-term effects on marine life.
(31 May 2008)

Apocalypse in the Oceans

Anneli Rufus, AlterNet.
In pictures, on CSI Miami, and to the naked eye the sea looks the same today as it ever did: blue, green or blue-green, rolling in glassy crashing curls, tormented then serene. It will look this way tomorrow, next year, arguably for eternity. No matter what freaks us out on earth, our species takes great comfort in knowing that the sea always looks exactly the same.

From up here.

But not down there. Not underneath. Under the swells and the sparkles and the froth, fathoms down, the globe’s oceans have transformed over the last several decades, transforming even as we sit here into wastelands, ghost worlds, desolate deathscapes that could be filmed in situ for sci-fi films about the post-apocalypse. You won’t find this out from a day at the beach. The smiling sea captain depicted on the fish-sticks box is keeping mum. But Canadian food journalist Taras Grescoe tells all in his important new book, Bottomfeeder (Bloomsbury, 2008).

“Rather quickly, the oceans are becoming environments unlike any we have ever known,” Grescoe agonizes, giving as his first example the North Atlantic, where he watches Nova Scotian fishermen exulting over a new lobster boom while apparently neither knowing nor caring about its probable cause: human greed.

Yes, climate change plays a part but it’s marginal compared to the massive overfishing required to supply restaurants and stores in a world that stuffs itself on tuna sandwiches, salmon steaks, shrimp cocktail and sashimi.
(30 May 2008)