So here are a couple of facts to wrap your head around.
Number one. About 3.75 million people live in Cape Town.
Number two. The city is set to run out of water in about a month.
For months, the residents of Cape Town have been required to get by on 87 litres a day. Is this a lot? Hardly. Three flushes of the toilet and one two minute shower use 60 litres. So no. 87 litres is not a lot. In the next few days, the ration is due to be chopped down to 50 litres. And then barring a miracle, all the taps will be switched off altogether in a few weeks time. This will mean nearly four million people will have to queue up for hours to fill one Jerry can a day.
Is Cape Town alone in facing up to this nightmare? Nope. It is merely the first large city to get to find out how things look when the well actually runs dry. There are 29 huge cities around the world lined up to be the next on the six o clock news. Tokyo is the big one. Imagine thirty million people waiting in line every day. It would be bonanza for any manufacturers of Jerry cans I guess.
When I was growing up, the big fear was about what would happen when the world ran out of oil. As things have turned out, we will have solved the problem long before the oil wells run dry. Whilst our collection of Pygmy politicians play their silly little party games the rest of the world is riding off over the horizon. A pretty clear picture of the future is coming into focus and it isn't a good look for our puffed up little island. Yeah, I know. What's new, right?
Over the last few weeks I have become rather obsessive about the sheer speed of the unfolding renewable energy revolution. I started with a bunch of YouTube videos from a bunch of Hillbilly types in baseball caps and check shirts. So here's the thing. With four solar panels, a bank of car batteries and various other bits and bats of kit, you can create your own solar power station and hook it into your house. The whole shebang costs about a thousand pounds or so. And then? Then nothing. The system isn't like a car where you keep having to fill up to keep it running. Once the system is in place it runs on fresh air. Or fresh sunshine to be more precise. Our electric bill is about £120 a month. £1500 a year or so. Which of course means our £1000 investment will be repaid in eight months and then the days of the electric bill will be consigned to history.
Other countries have woken up and smelt this particular brew of coffee. By 2040 Germany will be 100% powered from renewable sources. Which of course means electricity will essentially be free of charge: forever. A professor came up with a snappy way of ramming home why this can be.
'The sun has never sent Germany an invoice'.
Germany has already worked out that the vast majority of its people are going to do exactly what I hope to do. It will become a country of twenty million micro power stations all hooked up together. So I wonder where people will choose to site new factories in 2040. Will it be in the UK with our forty year Hinckley Point deal with the Chinese to guarantee the dearest electricity on planet earth? Or will it be Germany where the monthly bill will basically be a big fat zero.
Free power is no longer a pipedream. It is a certainty for the countries who get their act together. And with free power will come free transport and the whole fabric of life will be re-modelled.
And of course Scotland should be in pole position to be member of this particular club. We've got the wind, waves, light and space to power a country with ten times our population and then some. Does this mean we can make like Germany? Not a chance. All this stuff needs serious investment and neither the Scottish Government nor our Councils are allowed to borrow necessary funds. Think about it. How many people manage to buy a house without a mortgage or a car without HP? Big infrastructure needs long term borrowing and London ain't about to allow us to sign on any dotted lines, especially if the infrastructure in question will make Scotland a preferred destination for inward investment. We couldn't be having that now, could we?
The last two centuries have been dominated by fuel. The nineteenth century was powered by Big Coal and the twentieth century ran on Big Oil. Many, many millions of men and women died in the pursuit of both. Soon there will be no big power players. Instead we will all be generating our own.
The identity of the most precious commodity in this unfolding century will come as no surprise to the people of Cape Town. Water of course. The new oil. All over the world underground reservoirs and aquifers are being sucked dry. Rain is falling in all the wrong places and when it falls, it tends to fall way too hard. At the same time millions of people are moving from the countryside to the new mega cities at the very time the same cities are in danger of running dry.
There are solutions of course, but by they are eye wateringly expensive. Sea water can be turned into drinking water by desalination plants. The moisture can be sucked from the air and maybe one day supertankers will carry water instead of oil. We will find solutions, but they will all be expensive. Who would ever have thought we would ever have to pay nearly £1.50 a litre for petrol? But we DID pay it. How much will a litre of clean water cost in fifty years time in today's money? 50p? £1? Who knows? What is certain is that all the money we spend on power now will be spent on water in the future.
At the turn of the twentieth century who could have possibly guessed that by 2000 the richest countries in the world would be the desert kingdoms of the Persian Gulf? Back then they were merely millions of acres of burning sand.
A few countries are going to luck out when water becomes the new oil. And here is where Scotland has the potential to become the new Saudi Arabia. Is there another country on earth with out natural collection and storage system? As in mountains and lochs. Maybe New Zealand? It's a short list. And of course we also have endless millions of acres of empty space. Hopefully one day we will be able to offer free power just like Germany. But how many countries will be able to offer unlimited access to fresh water?
Think about it. I reckon describing Scotland's future as dazzling is actually something on an understatement. Just ask the people of Cape Town or Tokyo. Much of the smart money in the world is being sunk into long term water. It's a no brainer really. Well we don't need smart money. All we need is smart people to turn out and vote 'Yes' for a future the rest of mankind can only dream of.