What will we need more in the next decade: new technology or water?

One in a series of excerpts from THE NEXT DECADE by Stratfor CEO George Friedman.

Consider the problem of water availability. Increased industrialization, along with a still-growing population enjoying higher standards of living, is already creating regional water shortages. These depletions have sometimes created political confrontations between nations that might well mature into wars. Add to this the possibility that climate change might alter weather patterns and that those changes might reduce rainfall in populated areas, and the problem could become a crisis.

There is, of course, no water shortage. The water is simply mixed with salt and inconveniently located, but it exists in staggeringly vast quantities. The technology needs improvement, but we do know how to desalinate water. We also know how to transport water in pipelines. The problem is that desalination and water transportation are both hugely expensive and require enormous amounts of energy. That sort of energy will not be found in available solutions. As I said in The Next 100 Years, we will need space-based solar generation or other very radical approaches to increase available energy by orders of magnitude.

When we look at the major problems we have to solve, such as aging population, contracting workforce, and lack of water, we ?nd a consistent pattern. First, the problem is emerging in this decade, but it will not become an unbearable burden until later. Second, the technologies to deal with it—from cures for degenerative diseases to robotics to desalination—either exist or can be conceived of, but are not yet fully in place. Third, implementing almost all of them (save the cure for degenerative diseases) requires both a short-term solution for energy and a long-term solution.