Imagine that every man, woman and child in the United States lacked access to safe drinking water. Now imagine that British scientists had discovered vast underground reserves of potable water from the Rockies to the Appalachians, and a university researcher had announced a major breakthrough in nanotechnology that could convert wastewater into clean, drinkable H2O. With human suffering on that scale, we would drill for the water until the new technology came online, environmental consequences be damned, right? Or would the Environmental Protection Agency “crucify” water drillers, too?
A similar question is about to be answered. Researchers from the British Geological Survey and University College London have discovered vast underground reserves of water in Africa, with some of the richest pockets in some of the driest lands. A long drill is all that stands between the Sahara Desert and the equivalent of a continent-wide freshwater sea. The total volume of these pockets is estimated at 100 times that of Africa’s current annual renewable freshwater resources. Drilling for this water to supplement existing supplies would be a significant step in both saving and improving the lives of the more than 300 million Africans without access to safe drinking water. It would also help irrigate African crops. More food, more water, less human misery.
Drill, baby, drill!
Not so fast. The scientists’ report states, “Careful characterization of the resource is required to guide investments in water supply and to manage the resource to minimize environmental degradation and widespread depletion.”
In other words, environmentalists are worried about what will happen once the water is gone. But the real question is: What are we saving this water for? The static thinking of Western bureaucrats could stifle what otherwise might be the civilizational sparkplug needed to stabilize African social culture and get Africa over the hump to self-sustainability. The resource may not last forever, but it may be the bridge to more renewable technologies. According to the United Nations Human Settlements Program, the average duration for water collection for urban households in Africa can be up to two hours. If people don’t have to spend hours each day searching for food and water, they’ll have more time to erect and maintain the core components of modern society, like durable infrastructure.
Once scientists develop the technology to convert wastewater into drinkable water, this underground supply will no longer be needed. British scientist Sarah Haigh is developing a nanotechnology that will do exactly that. A prototype could be available as early as next year.
It’s unclear whether the radical environmentalist movement, an influential component of President Obama’s base with a significant presence in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, understands the connection between Western civilization’s technological and economic advancements, the energy resources that power them and how these advances can elevate the rest of the world. Technology, not government, has been history’s greatest progenitor of humanitarian relief.
Stonewalling a new oil rig is obviously not the moral equivalent of stonewalling a potable water well. But this is why the comparison is so useful. It provides a gradable scale upon which we can properly measure the moral confusion of radical environmentalists, who have raised the ground we walk upon over our heads and turned basic morality upside down. We know they wouldn’t permit the disruption to the environment that accompanies drilling for oil. Would they permit the disruption to the environment that accompanies drilling for drinkable water in regions of the world where people lack access to drinkable water? The moral tragedy is that we have to ask the question at all.