August 26, 2008
Water and the Oceans
Once again the time has come for the Global Innovation Outlook to shift gears. Today we say goodbye to the Security & Society focus area and usher in the era of Water and the Oceans. (Stay tuned for the Security & Society report, due out in a few weeks.)
Now, the GIO is known for taking on big topics; things like healthcare, energy and the environment, or economic development in Africa. But we have never endeavored to study something as fundamental as water. It doesn’t get any bigger than this.
Simply put, water is essential to all forms of known life. We drink it, bath in it, fish in it, grow our crops with it, and generate power from it. It covers two-thirds of the surface of the earth. The human body is 75 percent water.
And yet, the future of the world’s most basic resource is changing in unprecedented ways. Immigration, population growth, and climate change are affecting the way we all think about our relationship with the world’s water supply. And by 2050, when the world’s population is expected to peak at about 9.4 billion people, it is conceivable that water could become one of the scarcest and most valuable commodities in the world.
None of this is new to you, of course. We’ve been hearing things like “water is the new oil” and such for years now. (This is not even remotely true, however, because water has no alternative). And there are dozens if not hundreds of well-meaning attempts to address regional water shortages and conserve ocean and river habitats around the world.
That’s why the GIO is going to be taking a slightly different approach to this increasingly urgent issue. We’re going to be operating on the assumption that there is plenty of water in the world to serve all of humanity’s needs. In fact there is more than enough. For example, there are 13 billion cubic kilometers of fresh water on this planet. Yet the 6.6 billion people on Earth only need 4 cubic kilometers to survive.
Therefore, what we have is not a shortage of fresh water. What we have is a poor distribution of an abundance of water. This is a management problem, one that requires us all to get smarter about how water is used; by individuals, by governments, and by industry. It requires collaboration, innovation, and information. And it requires the active participation of the private sector in developing the so-called “business of water,” whereby water is valued properly and companies have sufficient economic incentive to solve these problems.
Not coincidentally, these are the strengths of the GIO. Through this series of seven deep dives (San Diego, Atlanta, Singapore, Dubai, Amsterdam, Rio and Beijing) we hope to work together with the private sector, governments, academics, and nonprofits to unlock key data points about water that will help us be smarter about understanding, distributing and conserving water throughout the world.
Over the course of the coming weeks, leading up to the first deep dive in San Diego on September 18th, we’ll be treating some of the more complex issues around Water and the Oceans here in this blog. Feel free to weigh in on these topics by adding your comments. And check back frequently for updates on this fascinating and challenging GIO focus area.