I'm working on a novel that is set in the western US and one of the main sources of conflict and tension in the story is the struggle over water: who owns it, who is entitled to manage it, what people do when there is not enough of it. When one of the major characters in my novel, Helen, discovers that her well has run dry and then (as if this is not bad enough) that the water management board will not allow her to divert or use any water from the spring on her own property, she becomes very worried.
A few of my writer friends have read early drafts of this story, providing me with lots of comments that have already improved my manuscript, but one particular comment left me a little unsure of how to proceed. "This dry well doesn't seem like a particularly big problem," the comment said. "Maybe Helen should be facing something really scary, like cancer or some other dire disease."
Maybe one has to have grown up in an arid environment, like I did, to understand that lack of water is really scary. When a person grows up with clean water literally available at the touch of a button, or turn of the tap, they may not fully appreciate just how frightening a prospect it might be to find that water is suddenly not available.
Millions of people around the world face this sort of reality every day, and today's Blog Action Day has been undertaken to raise awareness of just how important water is to our survival.
Two years ago, I helped organize a workshop on "Applications of Complexity Science for Public Policy" for the Global Science Forum, part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). One of our participants, John Finnigan, the Director of the Center for Complex Systems Science at Australia's national science agency, the CSIRO, said that his agency is investigating the likelihood that the earth, and humanity, may be approaching a "tipping point" in which massive water shortages will occur.
Tipping points are those key transition points, like bifurcation points, where a tiny change can result in a huge effect. Finnigan spoke about the human-earth system as a complex entity that was nearing a tipping point largely because of social and economic factors. His agency has undertaken a number of research projects to develop smarter ways to address the complex problem of water management.
I don't find it surprising that this pioneering work is being carried out in Australia, a country that, for the most part, is as arid (or more so) than the western United States. If all of the US was as arid as Australia, perhaps our country would be one of the ones taking the lead on this most pressing of problems facing humanity.
Please help spread the word about how important it is to ensure a supply of clean water around the globe. Visit the Blog Action Day main website, where you can learn more about how you can help.