Water shortages are on the rise, from Mexico to the Andes, northern China to southern India, and Spain to Pakistan. Drought, soaring populations and population densities, changing diets, and increasing living standards are all factors. Is this an issue that technology can fix?
Judging by investors’ responses, the answer seems to be yes. FourWinds will invest up to $4.7 billion in water treatment and desalinization and companies that make meters, pumps, and pipes.
BlueWater Bio is a player in the wastewater and sludge treatment arena. Their claim to fame is a treatment technology called Hybrid Bacillus Activated Sludge (HYBACS). It uses proprietary bacteria that eats waste, saving on chemicals. The high quality treatment effluent has reuse potential for commercial or industrial applications, but I wouldn’t recommend drinking it.
Monsanto’s top 20 experts have been examining how climate science will affect the company, with drought being the leading problem to solve. New drought-resistant crops are being created.
“The most advanced of these is now a drought-tolerant corn product … commercializable within several years,” said Monsanto’s head of technology strategy and development David Fischhoff . “We expect this to be the first generation of an ongoing stream.”
Monsanto is currently trading at nearly 39 times its forecasted earnings for the year to August, 2008. Investors seem confident that such products will be increasingly needed and used, especially with the anticipated effects of climate change.
Although technology can come to the rescue and potentially take the edge off of the water crisis, there are some obstacles that will be hard to overcome.
Water consumption spikes as the “standard of living” increases. Americans use twice the water of their European counterparts. Many water-efficient fixtures are being developed, from faucets to simple gray water systems that reduce water consumption. Agriculture uses a lot of water. One kg of beef requires 1600 liters of water, which can cause problems as the apetite for meat increases around the globe.
Economic inequality, not surprisingly, plays a role in who will have the best access to water and associated technologies. Rural areas in developing countries may be the hardest hit.
“The technologies exist,” said Merrill Lynch analyst Robert Miller-Bakewell. “You and I and the World Bank and everyone else can identify the need. The big problem all along is about who’s going to pay for it all.”
As climate change alters the weather, disrupting condensation patterns and droughts are in the forecast. A multi-faceted approach is ultimately the required response.
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