Davos: hypocrisy at day one

Wow. Just… wow. I mentioned, previously, that Davos sounded like it’d be a rich man’s burden kind of event, but this is just mind-blowing.

The chief executives of Coca-Cola Co., Nestlé SA and others will warn the World Economic Forum in Davos this week that the world is running out of water, threatening conflict, higher prices and lost production.

Some will likely then strap on skis to take advantage of the Swiss resort’s glistening slopes. But the pistes of the Alps are also contributing to the world’s water woes.

Europe’s ski resorts have been racing to install snow-making machines to bed the slopes with artificial snow as snowfall becomes less reliable and resorts compete with one another to offer guaranteed good skiing. That is great for skiers and businesses that rely on them, but not so great for local water supplies.

Snow cannons suck up a lot of water. As much as 35% of all water used in Davos now goes to making artificial snow, according to a report released last month by the Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research to examine the net benefits of snow-making machines. Davos bought 16 additional snow cannons for this season, according to town authorities.

wsj pic

The article is kind enough to include some non-comforting information, too often not seen in such information, concerning water use generally, “moving forward”:

Based on current usage patterns, about 30 countries will be short of water by 2025, according to the Sri Lanka-based International Water Management Institute, a nonprofit supported by 60 governments. That is mainly because most irrigation for agriculture is inefficient, while demand for meat, wheat and other high-protein foods that require a lot of water is growing rapidly as people in China and India become wealthier and more urban.

But the battle against climate change is sucking up water, too, creating what analysts in the field call an accelerator effect. Take biofuels, produced to cut use of fossil fuels such as gasoline that spew the carbon dioxide that causes global warming. Biofuels are mostly made from crops that have to be grown, which puts pressure on land and food prices, as well as on water resources. It takes on average 1,000 liters (260 gallons) of water to make one liter of ethanol-based biofuel, according to the IWMI. For gasoline, it takes 2.5 liters.

The same goes for some of the alternatives to coal-fired power plants that produce less carbon dioxide. Hydroelectric power requires large quantities of water. So do the cooling systems in nuclear-power plants. Clean-coal technologies, too, use more water than regular coal. Overall, industry accounts for around 23% of global fresh water use, compared with around 70% for agriculture and 7% for residential use. Demand is rising in all three areas.

“Some people call water the oil of the 21st century. Whether you like that description or not, one thing is clear, availability of water will be a key driver in the development of the world’s economy and government policies in the next decade,” said Andrew N. Liveris, chairman and chief executive of Dow Chemical, in a statement.

Still, though – blowing water out of snow-cannons during a World Economic Forum meeting is pretty moronic. Particularly compared to, say, not doing so, thereby highlighting exactly one of the world’s most significant problems.

I’m sure the poor countries of the world will be delighted when they hear about how their saviours treat fresh water, while meeting to discuss the needs of the global economy.

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