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Environmental Entrepreneurship & Water:
The Ultimate Environmental Commodity?
Prof. Robert M. Kalin, BSc. MSc. PhD. CEnv FICE FRSC FGS, Head of Civil Engineering,
Strathclyde University and Director of Research, David Livingston Centre for Sustainability
The past decade saw a major renaissance in environmental the lack of clean water and proper sanitation is less than
awareness and a seemingly strong willingness to implement a generation away. Nowhere is the problem worse than
real change. However, we can best describe how the end the Middle East, Asia and Africa, where a five-fold increase
of the decade passed into history by paraphrasing T.S. in water consumption since 1950, mainly for agriculture,
Elliot's The Hollow Men: ‘this is the way...(Copenhagen) leaves the prospect of future human conflict and even war
ends, not with a bang but a wimper’. over water resources but a matter of time. Climate
The focus of environmental issues and debate have become
change will likely accelerate the use of declining water
wrapped up in climate change impact and mitigation,
resources with resulting desertification (chiefly due to use
economically linked to carbon. We should have no doubt
of groundwater), and thus water-related migration will be
that man has induced some measure of climate change
a certainty. An example is the overuse of Spain’s water
and environmental impact linked to industrialisation and
resources through human (largely UK) migration to
the use of carbon resources to fuel the engines of global
Spain’s warm climate and concurrent export of ‘virtual’
economic growth. But the economic value of the environ-
water from the Mediterranean countries to the super-
ment is much greater than carbon (as a commodity), and
markets of Europe. At the end of the last decade
includes values of soil, ecosystems and biodiversity, habitats
Barcelona resorted to importation of nearly 23 Million
(terrestrial and marine), etc. spanning poles to the equator.
litres of drinking water to provide water to nearly 180,000
Environmental Capital is the fuel that maintains our
tourists due to the over exploitation (The Guardian,
standard of living. The elusive ‘sustainable planet’ therefore
Wednesday May 14 2008). A compounding fact is that
needs a new breed of Environmental Entrepreneurs who
recent estimates suggest 5 million deaths per year from
can sustain economic growth through ‘out of the box’
water related illnesses in the developing world with these
development of new business models and commodity
sick people occupying over 50% of all hospital beds in
trading, and water is the obvious first choice to join global
regions that are already overstretched. If we juxtapose
carbon trading.
this with problems in terms of the NHS statistics, we are
a minor blip in comparison to the thousands dying every
The world population has risen three-fold within the life-
day from diarrhoea, typhoid, cholera, and a range of other
time of the post-war generation (2.5 billion to 7 billion)
infectious diseases. It would appear the climate change
and is increasing remorselessly towards 9 to 10 billion.
and energy focus of the affluent West has left the
Supplying food for this rising population, coupled with
environmental industry (as a global community) with little
increasing urbanisation and burgeoning living standards,
opportunity for direct action to benefit water resource
has resulted in increased contamination of the environment
management, leaving the main protagonists for change,
and a marked reduction in the volume of our global ‘fresh
charities and UN agencies, to do their best.
water bank’. A potential global disaster brought about by
ENVIRONMENT INDUSTRY MAGAZINE
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