Potable Water is a Scarce, Valuable and Rapidly Depleting Resource
That is your lifespan without water.
Yet living in a developed, Western nation, as a lot of us do, it seems our supply of this life-giving liquid is limitless. Easy-to-recall, sticky phrases such as, “70% of the earth is covered in water” further convince us that we need not worry about it. The Earth is a big place after all. But how much of that water can sustain the non-ocean-dwelling among us? Only about 1%. And that fountain of life is shrinking.
Can’t we make more? Well, with a lot of time and money, we can desalinate ocean water and drink it. But you’ll have to explain to Nemo why we’re drinking his home.
There are better ways to significantly slow down and push off the inevitable day in which we run out of water (known as “day zero”). We can push that day off indefinitely in fact, with a combination of luck and water-saving measures.
Technology has a large role to play in the global water crisis, we could design cities that can sustainably and responsibly consume water in ways that are significantly less labor-intensive than what is currently in place.
Smart Cities and Sustainability
You might recall, in the last issue of User/Use Case, I mentioned my favorite part of a smart city is its ability to potentially be “smart” enough to maintain homeostasis. For those unfamiliar with the term, homeostasis refers to an organism’s ability to “tweak” behaviors and processes to maintain a physiological steady state. Of course, the only true and constant steady state is death. Our bodies are always changing and fluctuating, hovering around that steady state, cheating death. There is always a thermostat or compass, pointing to certain “ideal” conditions for your body’s functions to carry on. If a Nest climate control system can do this in our house, technologically at least, we should be able to change most cities’ infrastructures to work similarly. This of course, is a lot more complicated than it sounds, and the next issue of this blog will deal with the ethical and human issues surrounding the creation of smart cities.
Amol Vidwans’s 2016 article on the water crisis and smart city initiatives in India poses a number of interesting ideas. For one, that every city that is being considered to be changed into a smart city have as one of its top concerns the application of smart city technology to reduce and optimize water use. India, just like many other areas of the globe, struggles with both increasingly severe weather events (due to climate change) and drought. The following are some of the basic principles of applying smart city technology to the water crisis:
Sensors in our bodies tell our brains when it’s time to consume water, sleep or eat. Our bodies speak to us constantly about things we need to adjust and we behave accordingly. It’s time for us to provide cities with the infrastructure, the neural pathways and muscles, to quickly adapt and provide us with only what we need, without destroying the future. That way maybe we can finally live the way nature intended, without compromising advances in technology and civilization.
That really scary, enlightening and depressing episode of Netflix and Vox’s ‘Explained’ about the water crisis