Essay: Have We Underestimated the Importance of Water to Human Geography?

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¶ … Water

to human geography?

Human Geography is the study of features and phenomena on earth that are human-made features. Geographers monitor these features and record changes and do so through examining the spatial organization or how it is that land features, humans and human-made features are arranged upon the earth. The human being's use of space on the earth greatly affects the environment of the earth. For example the construction of dams, roadways, highways, and bridges, as well as construction of homes and business structures, have drastically changed the landscape of the earth.

Facts and Statistics on Water Use

The work of Singh (2007) entitled: "What is Human Geography" states that there are two primary issues concerning the world's water:

(1) Scarcity; and (2) Contamination.

Singh states that each year "...41,000 km3 of water are available globally, of which 9,000 km3 are actually available for human use. Water is not available evenly across the world, and water consumption varies accordingly." (2007) Seventy-three percent of the global water supply is consumed by agriculture according to Singh (2007) and industry consumes another 10%. This leaves a remainder of 17% of the world's water that is available for use by humans. Singh states that water shortages are "...both periodic and continuous throughout the world." (Singh, 2007)

There are two manners in which water may become polluted:

(1) Organic waste can cause major problems such as oxygen depletion in rivers and lakes. The contamination can lead to diseases; and (2) Much industrial waste is not degradable and greatly impacts water quality, surface water, and the atmosphere. While surface water pollution may be reversible, acid rain (atmosphere) is a difficult issue to tackle as pollution may occur far from the source.

II. The Hydrologic System: Natural and Technical

The work of Chorley and Barry (1971) entitled: "Introduction to Physical Hydrology" states that "Water, Earth, and Man, both in organization and content, reflects the foregoing attitudes by illustrating the advantages inherent in adopting a unified view of the earth and social sciences." (Chorley and Barry, 1971) Water is stated to be not only a "commodity which is directly used by man but it is often the mainspring for extensive economic development, commonly an essential element in man's aesthetic experience, and always a major formative factor of the physical and biological environment which provides the stage for his activities." (Chorley and Barry, 1971)

The hydrologic cycle of water is stated to be not only a "great natural system..." But as well it is stated to be a "technological and social system." (Chorley and Barry, 1971) Estimates state that approximately 10% of the national wealth of the United States is vested in capital structures that have a designed specifically for the purpose of bringing about an alternation in the hydrologic cycle. Specifically for the purpose of collecting, diverting and storing approximately one-fourth of the available surface water "distribute it where needed, cleanse it, carry it away, and return it to the natural system." (Chorley and Barry, 1971)

III. Technological Structure in the Hydrologic System

The technological structures for accomplishing this are stated to be "omnipresent" and to include:

(1) Dams;

(2) Reservoirs;

(3) Aqueducts;

(4) Canals;

(5) Tanks; and (6) Sewers. (Chorley and Barry, 1971)

These have become "increasingly sophisticated in the form of reclamation plants, cooling towers, or nuclear desalinization plants." (Chorley and Barry, 1971)

IV. Water Use and Allocation Decision-Makers Identified

It is stated that estimates of the major decision makers who are involved in water use and allocation include:

(1) at least 3,700,000 farmers;

(2) Managers of 8,700 irrigation districts;

(3) 8,400 drainage districts;

(4) 1,600 hydroelectric power plants;

(5) 18,100 municipal water-supply systems;

(6) 7,700 industrial water-supply systems;

(7) 11,400 municipal sewer systems; and (8) 6,600 industrial-waste disposal systems. (Chorley and Barry, 1971)

Chorley and Barry (1971) state that the mean depth of the oceans are 3.8 km and that the oceans cover approximately 71% of the earth's surface and hold 97% of all the water on earth with 75% of the total fresh water on the earth "locked up in glaciers and ice sheets, while almost all of the remainder is ground water." (Chorley and Barry, 1971) at any given moment the earth's lakes and rivers hold only a mere 0.33% of all the fresh water on earth and the atmosphere holds a mere 0.035%. (Chorley and Barry, 1971)

Hydrological studies focus primarily on the transfer of water between these stores. Exchanges of water in the hydrological cycle are stated to include:

(1) Evaporation;

(2) Moisture transport;

(3) Condensation;

(4) Precipitation; and (5) Run-off. (Chorley and Barry, 1971)

V. Ethics, Justice & Policy Considerations and Geography

The work of Kobayashi and Proctor (2004) entitled: "How Far Have We Cared? Recent Developments in the Geography of Values, Justice and Ethics" states as follows:

"Geographers of the 'baby boom' generation, the immediate post-World War II era, grew up with the concerns of the civil rights movement, the early stages of second-wave feminism, the ecological movement, and the 1960s anti-war movement. Students during the turbulent times of the 1960s, they are the aging professors of the discipline today, and their life experiences are profoundly etched upon the moral questions that we ask today as well as on the broader set of issues that define public policy." (Harvey, 1975 as cited in: Kobayashi and Proctor, 2004)

Stated otherwise, considerations that are now present in regards to human geography ethics and justice were not at issue in earlier decades and neither did this enter into much of the planning for the same. Foresight did not dwell closely in policy, justice or ethics considerations in terms of development of the technical hydrological system.

Kobayashi and Proctor (2004) hold that it is accurate to state the assumption that ethics "have always been an aspect of geography" and note that Immanuel Kant "was fundamentally concerned with developing an explicit understanding of ethics upon which his vision of geography could be layered." However, according to Kobayashi and Proctor presently,

"...we are less concerned with the specifics of his moral system than with the normative grid that Kantian thought, as well as that of other Enlightenment thinkers, effectively placed over subsequent notions of space and rationality. Most geographers today would recognize that while most of the content of Kant's geography has long-since been replaced with new ideas, his influence on the fundamental ways in which we think about human being, and his role in shaping the values of colonial and imperial expansion that underlie today's political and economic systems, was profound." (Kobayashi and Proctor, 2004)

The work of Sally Eden (2000) entitled: "Environmental Issues: Sustainable Progress?" states that sustainability is presently a "slipper concept: it continually changes meaning as it is analyzed, reinvented and operationalized for a host of policy documents and institutional purpose.

The work of Muir (2007) entitled: "MREs in Human Geography: Space, Policy and Power: The Geographies of Biodiversity Conservation in People Dominated Landscapes - a Case Study of the Payamino Project in the Sumaco Region of Ecuador" states that while "...biodiversity conservation is not traditionally considered the domain of the human geographer, recent work at the intersection of political, cultural and applied ecology (Adams and Hulme, 2001; Berkes, 2004; Zimmerer, 2000, 2006) has firmly placed the new geographies of conservation in the sphere of geographers interested in development, understandings of nature and multispatial analysis of the expansion of protected areas into increasingly human dominated landscapes." (Muir, 2007)

The work of White (1997) is stated to have "reflected back on four key scientific debates of that period:

(1) Soil taxonomy vs. landscape classification;

(2) Upstream vs. downstream approaches in watershed management;

(3) Separation of water and sediment pollution from a more comprehensive view of water quality; and (4) Emphasis on individual vs. community-based resource management." (Muir, 2007)

White is stated to express that he contemplates how management of water resources "might have been developed if researchers and organizations had concentrated on landscape ecology, upstream land-use, water quality and community-based approaches a half century ago." (Muir, 2007) White further posits a well0educated opinion on the search for "integrated water development." (Muir, 2007)

White is stated to have acquired three primary lessons from the UN water programs:

(1) the difficulties water managers face in examining the full range of choice open to them; (2) the lack of consistent criteria for evaluating proposed or completed projects; and (3) a continuing failure to analyze in detail, through post audits, the actual consequence of water decisions for the environments and peoples affected." (Muir, 2007)

VI. Water Resource Geography Characteristics

According to Gaile and Willmott (2003) in the work entitled: "Geography in America at the Dawn of the 21st Century" states that the largest part of 'water resource geography' "thrives on 'live' contemporary water problems. Recent floods, wetlands losses, groundwater depletion and policy debates capture the imagination and effort of most water resource geographers. They seek to understand and help rectify these important water problems." (Gaile and Willmont, 2003) Muir states that urban water… [END OF PREVIEW]

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