Dreamers, Ice Pirates, and Wishful Thinkers

This is chapter 26 out of a projected 35 from my current writing project, “The Environmental Wars: Fossils in the Air”. I am nearing completion of the primary story, getting the raw words written down; it stands at 73,210 words and perhaps has two more chapters to go before I can put down my keyboard. Then I can begin the next phase, editing and rewriting, graphic design, submission to Literary Contest and other self debasements. I thought that I would offer a peek to my Facebook friends first and see if I can garner some feedback.

I took a somewhat unusual style with this book, it alternates between a rather dark tale about a young woman’s “coming of age” struggle to find her place in the world and the all too real crisis that our planet faces in regard to anthropogenic climate disruption and the affects it has on freshwater. Chapter 26 is one such vignette, specific to the cryosphere. Do keep in mind that this is very much a work in progress so any spelling, grammatical, or story faux pas that you can point out will be gratefully appreciated.

Chapter XXIX

Ice

Basil Ring has a brilliant idea but no money or connections to realize it. Many have thought of a means to bring the fresh water stored in frozen form and locked away in the Cryosphere to the thirstier areas of Planet Earth. Many schemes have been floated to capture massive Icebergs after they calve from their parent glaciers, wrap them in plastic and tow them to North Africa 6. Feasibility studies have determined that one day it will be scientifically, and more importantly, economically viable but that day has not yet arrived. However, no one, with the exception of Basil, has thought of Strip-mining the ice in the same manner that coal is gathered from the earth and hauled away to be burned. Why not develop a similar process with ice and transport it using converted Oil-tankers? It is a brilliant idea, even if Basil does think so himself! His current problem is to find someone who will take him and his idea seriously without dismissing him out of hand,  like so many have done before; at least in Basil’s mind, that is.

The need,

Fresh water is a finite resource that remains in a relatively constant supply; continually recycled through the atmosphere and back for us to use. It makes up only 2.5 percent of the aggregate of water on planet Earth. The total amount of water that covers most of the surface of our little blue ball in space has a volume of approximately 332,500,000 cubic miles (mi3) or (1,386,000,000 cubic kilometers (km3)). This includes all of the water in the oceans, ice caps, lakes, rivers, groundwater, atmospheric water, including the fifty-five to sixty-five percent of water that makes up the human body, your pet, and the vegetables in your garden. 4, 10 More than enough, one would think to address the inhabitants of Spaceship Earth’s thirst ; however, the human population has exploded along with our uses for this precious resource. Just 1 percent of our freshwater is easily accessible, with much of it trapped in glaciers and snowfields. In essence, only 0.007 percent of the planet’s water is available to fuel and feed the needs of its 7.4+ billion inhabitants. 1, 2

Agriculture is responsible for 87 % of the total water used globally. Industrial usage is much more difficult to determine an accurate percentage for because it varies from country to country and from industry by industry; however, Energy Production is considered a potent consumer or withdrawer of Fresh Water for use in Steam and cooling.

“Water scarcity is an abstract concept to many and a stark reality for others. It is the result of myriad environmental, political, economic, and social forces.” 1

The source, the means.

One estimate of water distribution:

Oceans, Seas, and Bays holds 321,000,000 cubic miles or 96.54 percentage of the total amount of water on the planet. Ice caps, Glaciers, & Permanent Snow holds 5,773,000 cubic miles or 1.74 percent of the total. However, what is accessible and available is a fraction of that amount.

How much of the total water is freshwater? The world’s liquid fresh water (groundwater, lakes, swamp water, and rivers), the volume comes to about 2,551,100 mi3 (10,633,450 km3), of which 99 percent is groundwater, much of which is not accessible to humans. The water that people and the rest of life on Earth need every day comes from these surface-water sources. The volume of this water is about 22,339 mi3 (93,113 km3).  4

Basil has researched this information, because he can, and thought to himself one day, “If so many people around the world are thirsty for clean, fresh water and there is so much of it sitting around frozen at the Poles then why not mine it and distribute it to those in need?” Basil never inherited the gene for making money so he doesn’t think in terms of a market driven economy; the concept of selling water for profit never crosses his mind.

Could surface strip coal mining techniques be used to mine ice for fresh water in the Arctic and Antarctic?

Forget towing huge Icebergs. 5   Basil envisions a stable platform on the ice of Antarctica or the Arctic to begin ice-mining operations. Break up the ice into transportable chunks using explosive charges then move the ice to waiting tanker ships. Processing the ice can be accomplished in-route, or when it reaches its final destination. If transporting crude oil by bulk-tanker is acceptable, profitable, and the norm, then why not water?

Even Lloyd’s of London produced a very comprehensive Study of risk assessments associated with business opportunities in the Arctic. However, no mention of mining ice for freshwater appears anywhere in their sixty page document, available on their web site. “Arctic opening: Opportunity and Risk in the High North”, Lloyd’s and Chatham House, 2012

 

Which makes one wonder if it was all that comprehensive to begin with and how much Lloyd’s actually paid for the study in the first place?

Perhaps it is because entities like Lloyd’s thinks only in terms of commodities and risk, not about enriching or saving human lives that they overlooked the humanitarian benefits of bringing fresh drinking water to the millions who are currently without it. Basil, of course, does not think in terms of Return on Investment, Risk Management, or the Political ramifications of mining the Poles for fresh water. He only thinks of the lives that might be saved, enhanced, and afforded the opportunity to make the World a better place. Gain, personal or otherwise never enters into his thought processes.

One bright sunny Sunday morning Basil is sitting in his apartment’s kitchen breakfast nook. He shares a flat in a Boston suburb with three other single men. All four men are reading one shared copy of the Boston Sunday Globe. The conversation finally turns away from the latest local sporting team’s win in the playoffs to topics that are more cerebral, allowing Basil to feel comfortable participating.

“Climate Change, how can these liberal tree huggers believe that the climate is warming when it has been so fackin’ cold out?” Paul states derisively.

“Actually, you are expressing your dismay at our local weather’s temperatures; Global Warming refers to Climatic conditions that are global in nature, so two different things.” Basil offers.

“Oh here we go again, the professor is going to give us a lecture on climate change and why we need to stop driving our cars, turn off the lights, and go back to living in teepees.” Richard mocks to the laughter of the group.

“Laugh if you like but anthropogenic climate disruption is real and we had all better start thinking of changing our lifestyles to mitigate its effects if we want to continue living here.” Basil responds. This statement only elicits further ridicule from his flat-mates all of whom, at Six foot heights, are much larger than the diminutive Basil.

“So Basil how is your big plan to save the planet and provide fresh water to all the towel heads in the desert workin’ out? You would be better off if you found yourself a better payin’ job and maybe a girl friend to occupy your time.” Roger comments, he is the largest and most critical of the three, relentless in his badgering of the cognizant but sensitive Basil.

“Explain to me why then it is perfectly acceptable to spend billions of taxpayer dollars subsidizing the Oil and Natural Gas Industry but not OK to develop a way of mining ice?” Basil asks, not knowing when he should just shut his mouth and just walk away.

“Because water don’t keep the lights on, cook our food, or fuel our cars, you dimwit!” Roger implacably and callously responds.

Three against one in a scientific disquisition is a winnable scenario if everyone agrees that scientific facts are the measure of reality; remove that leg of the milking stool however, and all bets are off. Basil might just as well debate with a barn full of dairy cows than try to convince his burly but doltish roommates of the veracity of climate change or the benefits of providing clean, fresh water to those who need it.

“Well then, would you agree that temperatures have risen dramatically since the mid eighteen hundreds?” Basil asks.

“Yeah, so what.” Roger responds.

“Have you heard about the Pine Island glacier? Temperature rise and a warming Ocean melt the Ice at the Poles. That freshwater flows into the Ocean and is wasted, resulting in Sea level rise and a desalinization of the Ocean. None of which are good things, yes?” 8, 9  Basil asks.

“Again, so what. What’s your point?” Roger retorts.

“Rather than wasting that resource, allowing the melt to add to ocean rise, and desalinate, would it not be better to harvest the ice before it melts and redistribute it where it is most needed?” Basil concludes.

“Dreamers gotta dream!” Paul states.

“Lets us know when you’ve got it all worked out, there Basil.” Richard mocks.

“Basil, you really are a fool. Why do you waste your time on such nonsense? Get a practical grip on yourself and find a decent paying job. You spend all your time thinking about things that don’t matter and can’t be changed. Find a girl and settle down, she’ll straighten you out.

Basil feeling dejected once again returns to his laptop; a suitable escape for dreamers, ice pirates, and wishful thinkers.

References:

  1. “Freshwater Crisis” National Geographic, <http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/freshwater/freshwater-crisis/>
  2. “Human Appropriation of the World’s Fresh Water Supply”, University of Michigan, 04 January 2006. <http://www.globalchange.umich.edu/globalchange2/current/lectures/freshwater_supply/freshwater.html>
  3. “Water & Energy Efficiency by Sectors”, EPA, 23 February 2016, http://www3.epa.gov/region9/waterinfrastructure/industry.html
  4. “How much water is on Earth?”, The USGS Water Science School, 26-Feb-2016. <http://water.usgs.gov/edu/gallery/global-water-volume.html>
  5. “Mining’ Icebergs For Fresh Water Believed Possible”, Toledo Blade , 02 September 1973 <news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1350&dat=19730902&id=1tBOAAAAIBAJ&sjid=DAIEAAAAIBAJ&pg=7264,4925994&hl=en>
  6. “Just Thaw And Serve”, Time, 29 May 2011, <http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2071147,00.html>
  7. “arctic opening: Opportunity and Risk in the High North”, Lloyd’s and Chatham House, 2012 <lloyds.com/~/media/files/news%20and%20insight/360%20risk%20insight/arctic_risk_report_webview.pdf>
  8. “Pine Island Glacier”, AntarcticGlaciers.org 16 September 2014. <http://www.antarcticglaciers.org/glaciers-and-climate/shrinking-ice-shelves/pine-island-glacier/>
  9. “Future sea level rise from ice sheets”, AntarcticGlaciers.org 03 March 2013. <http://www.antarcticglaciers.org/2013/03/future-sea-level-rise-from-ice-sheets/>
  10. “The Water in You”, U.S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey, 09 December 2015. <http://water.usgs.gov/edu/propertyyou.html

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