Lack of fresh water is now a global crisis. Water shortages mean food shortages, with hunger creating death tolls substantially exceeding those of the current Covid-19 crisis. According to the United Nations, some 800 million people are without clean water, and 40% of the world’s population is impacted by drought. By one measure, almost 100 percent of the Western United States is currently in drought, setting an all-time 122-year record. Meanwhile, local “water wars” rage, with states, cities and whole countries battling each other for scarce water resources.
The ideal solution would be new water flows to add to the hydrologic cycle, and promising new scientific discoveries and technologies are holding out that possibility. But mainstream geologists have long contended that water is a fixed, non-renewable resource —and vested interests are happy to profit from that limiting proposition. Declaring water “the new oil,” an investor class of “Water Barons” —including wealthy billionaire tycoons, megabanks, mega-funds and investment powerhouses — has cornered the market by buying up water rights and water infrastructure everywhere. As Jo-Shing Yang, author of “Solving Global Water Crises,” wrote in a 2012 article titled “The New ‘Water Barons’: Wall Street Mega-Banks are Buying up the World’s Water”:
Facing offers of millions of dollars in cash from Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, UBS, and other elite banks for their utilities and other infrastructure and municipal services, cities and states will find it extremely difficult to refuse these privatization offers.
For developing countries, the World Bank has in some cases made water privatization a condition of getting a loan.
Geologists say that all of the water on Earth, including the atmosphere, oceans, surface water and groundwater, participates in the natural system called the “hydrologic cycle,” a closed circuit in which water moves from the surface to the atmosphere and back again. Rainwater falls, becoming groundwater which collects in aquifers (underground layers of porous rock or sand), emerging as rivers and lakes, and evaporating into clouds to again become rain. New water called “juvenile water” may be added through volcanic activities, but this addition is considered to be negligible.
The most widely held theory is that water arrived on the planet from comets or asteroids, since any water on Earth when it was first formed would have evaporated in the intense heat of its early atmosphere. One problem with that theory is that comet water is different from Earth water. It has a higher ratio of deuterium (“heavy water” with an extra neutron in it). Asteroids, too, are not a good fit for Earth’s water.
A more likely theory gaining new attention is that Earth’s water comes largely from within. Minerals containing hydrogen and oxygen outgas water vapor (H2O) under intense pressure and heat from the lower mantle (the layer between Earth’s thin crust and its hot core). Water emerges as steam and seeps outward under the centrifugal force of the spinning earth toward the crust, where it cools and seeps up through the fractured rock formations of the crust and the upper mantle.