Monday, February 1, 2010

A liquid asset

It's a curious thing, but it looks as though the top-heavy income structure in this country could have planetary implications.
Have you a moment to spare? Then let me explain my thinking.

We all know about the bankers' bonuses, but how often do we stop to think what the bankers do with their wealth? If you've walked around the more affluent parts of London recently you'll have noticed the vast amount of scaffolding. Not only is there scaffolding, but there's also the constant whine of pile-driving, not to mention frequent road closures. For a banker, with an affluent home in London, you are limited in the ways you can expand. Local planning restrictions prevent you from going upwards, the proximity of your neighbours prevents you from spreading sideways, the only way you can go is down. And this is precisely what's happening. The wealthy of the capital are digging down, not just one level, but frequently two. What are they putting in their newly-claimed, underground territory? Swimming-pools!

London has always had its underground rivers weaving their way to join the Thames (the Bourne and the Fleet, to name but two), the city is also under-pinned by a labyrinth of sewerage and water pipes. Now, however, London also stands atop a growing acreage of captive water.

What are the planetary implications of all this? Bear with me.
Have you been watching the BBC's absorbing new series, 'How Earth Made Us' presented by Prof. Iain Stewart? Each programme takes one of the four elements that together comprise our planet: earth, water, air and fire. In the programme on water, Prof. Stewart told the viewers something that I, for one, had never heard before, and it's all to do with the way the wealthy hoard water.

Water is finite, the water of the world flows through its rivers, evaporates into its atmosphere and returns as rain. The only time it is held captive is when we trap it in reservoirs and swimming-pools. So long as the water is moving, the planet's stability is not threatened. But man in the western world has grown very fond of water. We like it for far more than the life-saving qualities it has to offer. We like it for its ornamental attractions, we use it for fountains, cascades and ornamental ponds. We like it for the frequent baths and showers that we consider essential. We like it for swimming and all forms of water sports.

We use a prodigious amount of water and, realising its finite quality, we hoard the water we plan to use in vast reservoirs. By and large, these reservoirs are concentrated in the prosperous northern hemisphere and, such is our growing demand, these reservoirs now hold five times as much water as that flowing in the world's rivers.

Just picture it for a moment, a top-heavy planet overburdened in the north with sedentary water. What do you think are the consequences?
You're dead right . . . over the past forty years the weight of this water has caused a change in how the planet spins on its axis, with an accompanying slight speeding up of its rotations.
And what's to say that this speeding up process won't itself grow faster?

Which brings us back to the bankers. No, let's not blame the bankers. When it comes to water, we are all millionaires compared to those suffering in the drought-stricken areas of the world. Can we be persuaded to cut back on our liquid assets and truly value this precious and finite commodity?

Water could survive without us . . . it wouldn't work the other way round!