Re: Overpopulation (was Re: Exowombs & AGING: a few billion too many)

From: James Rogers (
Date: Sun Feb 24 2002 - 12:31:21 MST

On 2/23/02 3:37 PM, "Spike Jones" <> wrote:
> Isn't the Colorado River water fully utilized? I don't think
> that water is dumped into the briny deep anymore.
> The problem is that we think of water as free. If fresh water
> had a price tag associated with it, we might move to stop
> the waste. Likewise with sunlight: practically unlimited
> wealth, being spilled upon the ground.

The Colorado river water basin is a good example of the problem of poor
freshwater utilization, though in a more complex and political sense than
merely dumping it into the ocean. In the case of the Colorado river, the
desert States view it as an essential and critical resource as they depend
on it almost by necessity. California depends on it mostly in the sense
that it is cheap and convenient for California, though that state has many
potential freshwater resources at its disposal.

By legal treaty in 1922, both the States of Arizona and Nevada (among
others) have substantial water rights along the Colorado river basin, as
does California. A problem is emerging in that California has been taking
FAR more water, to the tune of several million foot-acres (1 foot-acre ~=
1.2 million liters), out of the basin than it has been legally entitled to
for many decades and has in fact become dependent on it as a source of
cheap/free water. Nevada and Arizona have overlooked this fact for some
time because they weren't actually drawing their full allotment and were
letting the water flow on through to California.

Fast forward to the late 1990's, after a couple decades of sustained growth
and population booms in Nevada and Arizona. (For those interested, the State
of Nevada has sustained an average 5% annual population growth for decades,
the highest in the nation, due primarily to an intentionally favorable
economic climate; everything is cheap, taxes are comparatively non-existent,
and regulatory red tape is kept to a bare minimum. Not bad for a State that
most people think of as a desert wasteland.) First Arizona, and then Nevada
start asserting their rights to the water in the Colorado river basin to
feed their growing cities (e.g. Las Vegas, which has grown explosively),
since that region of both States literally have no substantial aquifers or
water sources except the Colorado river. California then goes ballistic and
wants to continue using the cheap water they've enjoyed for ages despite the
fact that California entered in a legal treaty that guarantees them no more
than a certain amount of water will travel downstream. A political mess

I'm not sure where I was going with that, but freshwater distribution is
among the biggest factors of where populations can viably concentrate.
California has vast water resources within the state, controlling almost the
entire Pacific Coastal Water Basin, but have managed the distribution and
usage of it relatively poorly. People in California don't live where the
water is, and prefer to tap the easily accessible water supplies of the
desert States to their east which have no other alternative. One of the
problems is that the political system often wants to bend resource
allocation to fit political desires rather than produce the most efficient
utilization. Even the deep desert States could enjoy relatively high
population densities if the freshwater resources were managed efficiently.
Unfortunately, there is a tendency to manage such resources politically

When I was stating that North America could support 2 billion people without
straining the environment, I was assuming sane resource management. Even a
harsh desert State like Nevada could sustainably support around 10 million
people on its own resources and most regions of the United States (never
mind Canada and Mexico) could support far higher population densities. I'm
not suggesting that we pave the continent with suburbia, just that vastly
higher efficiencies could be achieved in resource management if politics
wasn't skewing the economics so severely. North America is barely using
some of its resources and wasting most of the rest through inefficiency.

Fresh water is an interesting example because the legal tradition east of
the Rocky Mountains is that fresh water is infinite in supply. West of the
Rocky Mountains, and particularly in the intermountain regions, the legal
tradition has always treated water as a very finite commodity. I think in
some ways the West has handled this much better than the East, in part
because the West has not had to overturn a couple centuries of legal

-James Rogers

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