"As the U.S. prepares to head to the polls, we’re making it easier than ever for everyone to participate in the political process. Last month, we made it simpler for people to register to vote. Now, we’re taking this a step further and introducing a brand new, state-by-state guide for people looking for information on how to vote in November. We’re also sharing some search trends to track the engagement and interest of American voters around the party conventions." See article for more details.
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To give you some context for this: In 1948, Israel was more than half parched, nearly-uninhabitable desert. The steady northward spread of the desert had been greatly accelerated by Ottoman deforestation, and the whole ecosystem verged on collapse. David Ben Gurion, the first president, made it his crusade to make the country green: "There will be bears in the Negev (desert)!," he would famously say. This meant everything from aggressive water conservation across the country, to research in water technologies, to a steady program of reclaiming the desert, with schoolchildren routinely going out in large groups to plant trees.
Today, I can barely recognize the country of my childhood; as you go south of Jerusalem, miles and miles which I remember as barren deserts are now lush forests and farms.
But this was almost lost in the past decade, as powerful droughts -- the same droughts which triggered the Arab Spring -- have ravaged the Middle East. The Kinneret (also known as the Sea of Galilee) saw its water level drop terrifyingly, year after year, close to the threshold where osmotic pressure would fill it with salt and destroy it as a freshwater lake. The Dead Sea was shrinking into a giant mud puddle, and we talked about it meeting the same fate as the Aral Sea, now just a memory.
The rise of modern desalination has changed this calculus completely. Because it doesn't rely on boiling or similar processes, it's energy-cheap. It's maintainable, and while it requires capital outlays in the way that building any large plant does, it doesn't require astronomical or unusual ones. This makes it a technology ready for use across the world.
There is one further potential benefit to this: Peace. Water is a crucial resource in the Middle East (and elsewhere!), far more scarce than oil. It's needed not just for humans, but most of all for crop irrigation, as droughts destroying farmland have been one of the biggest problems facing the region. The potential for desalination to change this creates a tremendous opportunity for cooperation -- and there are nascent signs that this is, indeed, happening.
At an even higher level, relieving the political pressures created by lack of water, and thus lack of working farms, could have far more profound effects on the region as a whole. Even before the recent droughts, things like the steady desertification of Egypt's once-lush Nile Valley (a long-term consequence of the Aswan Dam and the stopping of the regular flooding of the Nile) were pushing people by the million into overcrowded cities unable to support them. Having farming work again doesn't just mean food, it also means work, and it means a systematic reduction in desperation.
Desalination looks to be one of the most important technologies of the 21st century: it's hard to overstate how much it could reshape our world.
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