Two inexorable dynamics are on a collision course in the world today. Hundreds of millions of people rely on glaciers for their fresh water supplies. These glaciers are retreating at an alarming pace. It doesn't matter whether you believe this is due to human-caused global warming or some natural climatic trend, the fact of the shrinking glaciers is irrefutable. At the same time, the human population is increasing. Most demographic projections indicate that we're heading for an increase of about 50% by the middle of the century, to a total of 9 to 10 billion people.
It is estimated that one fifth of the world's population does not currently have access to safe drinking water. These two colliding trends assure us that this problem is destined to grow far worse. In many water-stressed areas of the world, the lack of fresh water already not only constrains development but leads to social destabilization, misery, and untimely death for millions of people. Unless this desperate situation can be reversed, the oft-predicted water wars of the future will be inevitable.
The only place to obtain the vast amounts of freshwater that will be needed to extricate humanity from this dilemma is from the desalination of sea water. The technologies to accomplish this are already well-developed, but in order to perform it on such a scale will take prodigious amounts of energy. Fortunately, we have all the energy we need if we only decide to build the Integral Fast Reactors (IFR) necessary to both desalinate the water and pump it inland to where it's needed. Once again it becomes obvious that it's not a lack of technological know-how that is keeping us from pre-emptively solving a seemingly intractable problem, but a lack of awareness and political will.
As in so many cases, abundant clean energy will enable us to resolve one of the most critical problems facing humanity in the 21st century. The conflicting trends of population increase and freshwater decrease are a fact of life. The longer we wait, the worse the problem will become. It is high time we take action.