Davos dribbles

What a world of blather, the Davos meeting must be. The corporate chattering classes titilating themselves with scary, fuzzy, big-picture boogaloo. Clever talk and a few good dinners musing about issues they guess are complex, looming, and someone else’s problem (tomorrow) must console them for the rest of the year when they have to deal with problems that are binary, here today and better be solved now.

At least, that’s the only explanation I can think of for the gloomy twaddle that the Davos organisation promulgates (in unreadable charts) about the global risk “centres of gravity” that are bound to drag us into a hot, crowded, hate-filled future.

Dystopia, the opposite of a utopia, describes a place where life is full of hardship and devoid of hope. Analysis of linkages across various global risks reveals a constellation of fiscal, demographic and societal risks signalling a dystopian future for much of humanity

Extract from Global Risks Report [Davos] 2012: The Seeds of Distopia

It must be a good screw, this high-toned scare mongering. From Erlich’s population bomb, to the Club of Rome, to the UNEP Rio Report and the IPCC’s scandalous climate scares, the same steamy entrails seem to be served up every few years to the alarming trumpets of another ideological priesthood dominated, typicality, by rent-seekers and grant-hungry academics. It’s as if the problems of scarcity, allocation, consumption and investment were not age-old and eternal but somehow surprising new crises challenging the fabric of our societies in ways never before conceived. As if the almost exponential growth in global prosperity of the past three hundred years were bound, ineluctably, to come crashing and burning to a calamitous halt just in our lifetime (if not sooner) despite all of the evidence to the contrary.

DavosRiskMatrix

Take, for example, the highest impact and most likely risk “centre of gravity” that the Davos report discerns — by surveying just 470 people among whom academics (30%), NGOs (17%) and International Organizations (9%) figured prominently (surprise, surprise!) —a “Water Supply Crisis.” A quick check on Google Scholar reveals that the problem of the alleged global shortage of fresh water has been chestnut since the late 1960s; that is, for fifty years or so the problem of potential excess demand has been discussed by academics and policy makers without, however, much evidence that a global “crisis” point has been reached or is even imminent.

On the contrary, the evidence is that the known, available, recoverable supply of fresh water exceeds human demand (6.9 bn people) by a factor of 10 (see this helpful summary by geoscientists: Oelkers, E.H., J.G. Hering, and C. Zhu. “Water: Is There a Global Crisis?.” Elements 7, no. 3 (2011): 157). There are, certainly, serious policy challenges in mobilising, allocating and distributing existing fresh water resources, especially for agricultural use (drinking water is a tiny fraction of total fresh water use). Excess demand for fresh water in some locations is chronic and abuse is growing: see the graphic illustration in the Oelkers et. al. paper of the shrinking of Lake Chad. But the problem is not about supply; it’s about demand, or to be more precise, about water productivity especially in agricultural use. Water is a renewable resource that demands urgent improvements in pricing and management, especially, in most places, to increase the price to farmers to something more in proportion with consumer prices. But there is no global fresh water supply crisis.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing if, instead of pedalling this alarmist fluff based on an index of fear, the Davos organisation could treat the evidence of problems more seriously and focus on plausible solutions.

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