Around The World, A Frantic Search For Water

California has entered its fourth  year of epic drought.   The vast number of people living in California are not immediately threatened–they actually don’t use all that much water–but California agriculture may be well down the road to all but disappearing (and that is a really big deal–California feeds the US).  California may also be entering a mega-drought that will in fact threaten its vast population.  But California is just the tip of the iceberg.  In Taiwan, severe rationing has been applied across the nation.  In China, drought in the grainbelt threatens summer harvest (as does flooding, ironically).  In Central America, a quiet food  crisis has  been brought on by an extended drought.  Millions of people are threatened by an ongoing inability to plant and harvest subsistence crops.  In Brazil, some 26 million people in and around Sao Paulo could run out of  water by year’s end–and they have no “Plan B”.  In Africa–well, just look at the Global Drought Monitor.  A fair part of the world’s food-producing areas are in drought.

What is happening around the world in regard to drought is absolutely amazing.  But it is even more amazing when placed in context, because in place after place we see that societies are choosing to provide water to people instead of plants.  This is a perfectly rational decision, of course.  It is defensible from an economic perspective (our service/financial/industrial economy dwarfs our agricultural economy).  It is defensible from a humanitarian perspective (better to let plants die than humans).  It is defensible from a resource stewardship perspective (we simply don’t have enough water and will have to come up with new ways and new places to grow food).  But still, deciding to not supply water to agricultural areas will have consequences.

All decisions have consequences, some which are foreseen and some which are not.  Some of the consequences of the displacement of agriculture are interesting and will have a significant impact:  Supply chains to cities will grow longer, more complex, and more at risk of catastrophic failure.  Food availability will decrease.  Prices will increase.  The poor will suffer tremendously.  Sickness and societal instability will increase.  Under-developed countries will fall under increasing pressure and the weakest of these will give way to conflict and outright destabilization.  Forced human migration, already skyrocketing due  to water imbalances worldwide, will massively increase.

Making such projections is not guesswork:  all of this is what happens when food prices increase, and there is nowhere for food prices to go but up as our existing industrial agriculture system comes apart in places where there is water stress.

Our global industrial agriculture system is the result of two major influences: the application of mechanization and industrial processes to farms  during and especially in the aftermath of world war II, and, the green revolution.  The first of these brought mechanization.  The second of these brought specially-bred strains and massive use of fertilizers and pesticides.  Over the years, increases in the intensity of mechanization and chemical use have characterized modern farming the world over.  And the venture has been a marked success:  We have produced enough food to support large numbers of people.  Characteristic of all populations, the availability of food has given rise to a huge increase in the population that consumes that food.  In other words, cheap food resulted in a massive increase in human population.

But here is the dilemma that we find ourselves in:  now that we have exploded our population, we find that we are facing critical restrictions and declining availability on every input necessary to sustain industrial agriculture.  Around the world, there is a frantic search for water for agricultural use.  Northern India is pumping its water table down at an astonishing and unsustainable pace.  Mexico and Central America are drawing down what few water reserves they have at an amazing  and unsustainable pace.  Turkey and the Middle East have lost unprecedented amounts of ground water over the last decade.  California is pumping groundwater at a heedless and ultimately very damaging pace, leading soils to subside by up to a foot a  year in some places.  Industrial agriculture’s problem with water is huge, but water is just one of the critical inputs; there are others in crisis as well.  We soon face a crisis of shrinking amounts of phosphate rock available to support global industrial agriculture.   Modern agriculture cannot function without phosphate rock and it has been estimated that fields that do not have phosphate applied will see a 95% decrease in productivity.  And of  course, with the WHO declaring that the almost universally-used agricultural chemical glycophosphate (Roundup) causes cancer, we may be seeing a massive crack form in agriculture’s chemical dependency.  If industrial agriculture is not broken, it is breaking.  And without it we cannot feed the more than seven billion souls in this world.

But I digress. Back to water.  What caused all the changes to water resources around the world?  Well, the world itself is changing on a fundamental level.  The natural systems that God put in place to sustain life on earth are in rapid and accelerating decline, all as a natural result of man’s rebellion of God’s rule – otherwise known as sin.   Our natural word is falling apart and understandably so, because we are told that the consequence of sin is death (Romans 6:23).  Ultimately, that means the introduction of sin – the substitute of Satan’s administration of the earth for God’s administration of the earth – will kill everything that lives on earth if God does not intervene first (and, mercifully, we are assured He will in Mark 13:20).  And of course, the society of man is built entirely on the natural world.  As the natural world declines so to, inevitably, does the society of man.  And what happens when there are resource shortages facing the more than seven billion people on this earth?  We fight.  Societies go into almost immediate conflict.

Christ himself told us exactly what would happen in our days in Matthew 24:1-8.  He said sin would become more and more profound, and that there would be famine and disease and conflict (and significant increases in earthquakes and disasters).  These are hallening and we can trace them back to changes in natural systems of the world.  And we can trace those changes to man’s rebellion against God.  And here is the most sobering thing:  We are seeing the real-time fulfillment of Christ’s prophecy telling us what to look for immediately before He returns.  If there has ever been a reason to stop and take stock of our lives and our use of the time and resources God has given us, now is the time.

A small part of the world sees much of what is going on (as evidenced by this very, very good article, which I recommend).  It is up to us to provide the missing spiritual links and help them connect the dots.  More than that, we need to tell the world  of the love and redemption that is freely available in Christ.  We need to be proclaiming the final message to a sinful world.  Let us be about our work.

Scott Christiansen