05 May 2011

It’s Called Mother Nature for a Reason

Prince Charles appears to have skipped third grade:

Firstly, the Prince claimed that, “For every pound of beef produced in the industrial system, it takes two thousand gallons of water. That is a lot of water and there is plenty of evidence that the Earth cannot keep up with the demand”. However, it is a simple law of markets that the Earth can keep up with any level of demand, for any product. If demand exceeds supply at a given price, prices will rise, until supply and demand are re-equilibrated. Increasing water prices will mean that beef is more expensive, naturally regulating the American consumption that Charles is so worried about. Water goes to beef production because steak, burgers and so forth are highly valued; if we were to ration the amount of water used in making beef, it would go to some other good which is less valued. Since water rationing would also necessarily mean beef rationing, prices would increase nonetheless. The consumer, and in particular the less well-off consumer looking for cheap food, would be hit the hardest.

I was never particularly interested in earth sciences when I was in school, but I do remember going over the water cycle in the third grade, and I do remember a good portion of what was taught in my high school chemistry class.

What I remember about the water cycle is that water does, in fact, have a cycle by which water evaporates from bodies of water to form clouds.  These clouds will eventually release rain once enough particulates are accumulated in the clouds, bringing water to land masses which, if not manually collected, either seep into the ground and fill natural wells or flow into lakes and rivers and begin the evaporation process all over again.

What I remember from chemistry is that virtually any molecular compound can be converted to another molecular compound, given the right resources.  I also recall that the number of atoms is essentially fixed, although they can change uses (e.g. oxygen can be converted from being in a water molecule to being in a carbon dioxide molecule).

These two facts suggest that running out water should not be a worry for anyone because, first, water is cyclical.  What goes in must come out.  There will always be water, although there may be times when it requires transport and purification.  Additionally, even if water runs out, there will be enough atoms in existence to support the creation of synthetic water.   Atoms can be rearranged almost infinitely, and there are enough atoms in existence to ensure that water can be created manually.

Perhaps, then, Prince Charles would do well to go back to grade school and study the basics of earth science and chemistry.  Perhaps then he would less liable to saying things that belie an astonishing ignorance of basic scientific facts.

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