Watering Down Development

by | Aug 30, 2008

Before the abysmal British summers of 2007 and 2008, a series of hot summers lead to the inevitable speculation that the UK would, in the near future, have a summer climate like that of the Mediterranean. If only! This in turn fuelled speculation that the water supply shortages that the country experienced would also become a more permanent feature of British life. This has always baffled us Editors, one of whom remembers a radio program broadcast a few years ago, about the ‘drought’. What was especially baffling was that the Editor in question had, as the program began, run some water from a tap, into a kettle, to make a cup of tea, and had just walked home over a bridge crossing a river, which seemed to have burst its banks into a field. What kind of ‘drought’ is happening while rivers are bursting their banks, and taps are flowing?

Our suspicions that something fishy was going on were confirmed when top secret satellite data was leaked to us from a highly confidential source. The data was generated by sophisticated sensing techniques known as ‘taking a picture in space’ to form an image of the surface of the Earth. When we got it, complex algorithms called ‘Photoshop’ running on a supercomputer called a ‘Pentium P5’ at Climate Resistance HQ processed the data to make the image readable by humans, and to reveal the truth to the claims that the world faces water shortages.

In seriousness, however… Talk of water shortages are key to many stories about the future. And climate change offers a superficially plausible reason to panic about ‘water wars’, and the breakdown of society. This shallow thinking holds that as people use more water than natural cycles can replenish, and as climate shifts, taking water away from its ‘natural’ flow, so the effect of drought will cause tensions that will escalate into wars, and other forms of social chaos. This is environmental determinism, writ large. And it is a departure from the thinking which guided the great Victorian engineers, who, over a century ago, set about building enormous reservoirs, dams, drainage and irrigation infrastructure, sewers, and water treatment works. And into the bargain, they even managed to make it look nice! They were not concerned with nature’s providence, but how to meet human needs, regardless of her whims. The scale of those projects, in today’s narrow mindset is incomprehensible. Hence, ambitions throughout the world are diminished by this sense of impossibility. That is less of a problem here in the UK, where, for a few months of the year, because of insufficient investment, we might not be allowed to water the garden or to wash the car. Where there are not the legacies of the Victorian (and later) engineers, the reality of water scarcity is much grimmer.

The absurd hand-wringing and washed-out arguments relating to ‘water shortage’ are challenged by a new film produced by WORLDwrite. Here is a trailer from the film, which puts the mealy-mouthed effluent from the panic-mongering misanthropists into context.

[youtube Q-etT7VdWy8 ‘Flush It’ – WORLDwrite]

What is striking about the trailer is that, even in just a few moments, it exposes the absurd thinking behind cynicism towards development and its possibilities, and its disregard for the abilities and lives of those living in the developing world. These problems are much bigger problems than scarcity. In fact, they actively cause scarcity, and the problems associated with it.

Because of the influence of environmentalism masquerading as ‘science’, it is taken as read that development is impossible, and scarcity is inevitable. The ensuing arguments create ‘ethics’, by which development is challenged, seemingly in the interests and on behalf of the very people who it aims to help. But as we have said before, this kind of ethics is generated not for the benefit of people living in the developing world, but people – usually quite well-off people – often seeking little more than a direction for themselves, or to assuage guilt. WORLDwrite are particularly good at revealing the hypocrisy and doublespeak beneath conspicuous compassion, and the self-interest of people using images of starving and diseased children, whilst deciding for them what aspirations and resources they ought to be entitled to. What WORLDwrite’s productions ultimately reveal is that the biggest obstacle to solving the world’s real problems is the intellectual poverty right here in the ‘developed’ world.

Flush It will be premiered at the Battle of Ideas festival in November – well worth a visit, for the film, and for the many debates relating to the subject, whatever your views.

1 Comment

  1. Mark Pollock

    Sydney’s huge Warragamba dam was completed in early 1960 when the population was about one million. We have had rapic population growth and now, with no new storage facilities being built, we suffer occasional water shortages.

    These water shortages are not caused by the population quadrupling. No way. They are really caused by fossil fuel induced AGW causing drought. No politician in Australia would seriously propose building anything as radical as a new dam. Instead, we are building a huge sea water filtration which might provide 10% of Sydney’s fresh water needs – if required. The recent torrential rain has reduced the urgency of the plant but population is still growing and it might get dry again at some time in the future.

    The filtration plant will be powered by electricity from our coal burning power plants.

    You couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried.


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