Jason Morrison is the President of the Pacific Institute, a California-headquartered public policy, supply and sustainability think tank that has been focusing on water and climate issues for three decades. As for all our interviews, we started by showing him a video (see below) with testimonies of people that we collected around the world. That’s how our conversation about water preservation started
20 Questions About Water: What is your first reaction to these testimonies?
Jason Morrison: I think it’s true that people are not fully appreciating the fact that water is becoming increasingly scarce on the planet, and that we need to focus on how to manage water as a precious resource, which it is progressively becoming. If you go back one or two hundred years, we used to have relative abundance in most parts of the world, and as our population grows to 7+ billion people, we’re using a lot more of it, in more parts of the world, and we are reaching the limits of supply in many regions of the world.
20QAW: What are the biggest sources of water consumption in the world today?
J.M.: I think agriculture represents 80% of the water use in the world, industrial use is maybe 12%, and then only 8% is used by residents around the world.
20QAW: Historically, how have governments and institutions tried to raise awareness about water preservation?
J.M.: As you get into parts of the world where a drought hits, or where acute water scarcity is pronounced, then the government’s water resource agencies have launched education campaigns to try and help the public understand where the water comes from, the nature of the limited supply and how to better manage it. In parts of the world where water is relatively abundant, you don’t see these types of government outreach and awareness campaigns, they don’t exist. That feeds a perception of the population that it’s not a resource that they need to care much about, they can expect it to be there when they turn on the tap, if they have a tap.
“Companies have long known that water is a key resource that is scarce and that they need to better manage”
20QAW: What progress have we made in terms of water consciousness? Both at individual and industrial levels?
J.M.: I take this on a long-term temporal horizon. Over a long period of time, our collective water IQ, our collective water intelligence, has increased quite a bit, and over my 25-year career there’s been a big change in how the public understands water and its importance.
Companies, particularly businesses that are in water-intensive industries, have long known that water is a key resource that is scarce and that they need to better manage, and I would say they are ahead of the curve in many parts of the world in terms of implementing innovative technologies and practices to better manage resources. For the last five years of the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report, water has been in the top 5 in terms of impact, and that’s reflecting the views of CEOs and C-suite types from global companies that have recognised this problem, so it’s not a new issue in the perception of the business community, particularly large companies.
20QAW: What more can be done?
J.M.: There’s still a lot to be done around raising awareness about water. I would argue though that one of the issues we are forgetting and that we need to bring into the public discourse is not how little water we have, it’s how it’s distributed. We still have hundreds of millions of people around the world who don’t have adequate access to safe drinking water, and it’s even worse when it comes to safely managed sanitation. So there is one question around global water resource and whether we are reaching the limits of supply, and then another question around whether or not the water we do have is allocated equitably. There’s a lot of work to be done and a lot of awareness that needs to be raised in order to tackle this problem in the next fifteen years of the Sustainable Development Goals that the UN has put in place.
“There is one question around whether we are reaching the limits of supply, and then another question around whether or not the water we do have is allocated equitably”
20QAW: How do you imagine the water situation in a hundred years?
J.M.: I’m convinced that as a renewable resource, if we put our minds to it, we’ll be able to manage water in a way where supply and demand is balanced in basins around the world. It will cost us more than it does today to do that, because of the way we mismanage water. But that cost is something that will be worthwhile, and society will realise and appreciate the value of investing in water resources at basin scale. I also believe in the social and ethical imperative of making sure the world’s poorest get the water they need, as well as the need for aquatic ecosystems, which have been de-watered in many parts of the world, to have their water needs met. I’m convinced we’ll get there; it’s just a matter of putting our attention to it and investing the amount of money to achieve this.