As it appeared in the Sunday Standard, Botswana on Sunday November 25, 2012 edition.
What goes around comes around. The Good and Bad.
Today we move to the more exciting bits of this series!
We will uncover the vicious cycle causing water tables to decline and learn how they contribute to growing aridness to seeing the economy turn around.
The take-away from last week was if we take care of this long-term position, it will take care of the fast-changing short-term worlds for us (food security to household incomes). We ignore this; the cycle brings the problem back harder and faster. But such long-term positions do not happen by accident. There is a reason.
I left you with a question at the end of the article.
What is the circle of causality that is pushing the water table down?
What did you see? Perhaps you saw different versions of it. Looking carefully, they were not quite circles but were straight-line thinking. Linear thinking makes up parts of circular causal thinking.
So, let’s take a few examples.
Sometimes I get, the water table is down because our consumption levels have gone up. This is because population numbers and therefore its related activities have gone up. And this is because … and sometime we stop here. In half-jest I proceed by adding, that ‘while fertility rates are up we are not dying fast enough’. At this point, the class roars into laughter. Mostly at the ludicrous reasoning.
We also know this is so, because we know of countries, whose population numbers and life expectancy are way higher than ours, yet do not see declining water table levels (see Picture 1).
So, here’s yet another tip. Any causal factor used in a vicious cycle has to stand the tests of space and of time. The above reasoning has not withstood the test of space.
At other times I see, water tables are going down because the rainfall levels are going down, and rainfall levels are going down because global warming levels are up. Global warming levels are up because ….
Usually at this point, I would pause the group and question it. Does this line of reasoning suggest that before the advent of global warming, while the water tables may have been higher then, than it is today, were its levels rising with each year. Which means to say the water tables in 1960s or 70s were higher than it was in the 50s?
Stillness settles in the room. Sometimes, it is because we do not know if this is true, mostly because we have not seen the data. But again, it sounds like another ludicrous reasoning. The reason is not passing the test of time.
So, what have been your thoughts about the cycle? Had it looked like the above? Not to worry. It happens to the best of us.
So, what then is the circle of causality that is causing the water table to go down? To uncover the cycle, we would need to learn to watch reality like watching a movie – as if without shutting our eyes. Snapshots will not do. So here we go.
Watching the reality like watching a movie
Rainfall is a part of the story. Yes? As more rains fall on the earth’s surface, they run off into rivers and seas. And where they fall on land it sinks through the soil and seeps downwards. As they do so, they help to recharge underground aquifers which in turn help to cause the water tables to rise.
The reverse is also true.
The less rains fall, the less there are seepages and recharges the water tables fall instead. Here we have come back to last week’s question. But notice; be it whether it is good news or bad news, the causality is the same. So for now, we will continue watching the cycle as if it is positive.
Let’s go back to where we left off the cycle. When the water tables rise, what does that lead to happening next?
Here, imagine the water tables across the region rising through the underground soil. As they do so, we see more moisture in our soils and as they emerge through the surface, we would now have surface water. They could either become a pond or your dam. The more the underground water rises, the bigger the pond. And so is the reverse.
What happens when surface water rises? Just as when water levels drop in our dams, we impose water restrictions. Well, we may say, this time we allow consumption of water … by humans, animals and plants.
When we do not have enough water, notice who we take off the list first? Did you say plants? That’s usually true or we introduce plants that resist droughts. Then we try by as much as possible to share the available water resources between humans and animals.
To continue the thinking, we take it off from where we see plants consume water. Should we leave them out of the story; it will be less than about the whole. So, let us say plants consume water. What happens to the cycle next?
We are now more than half-way around the cycle. Remember we started with rising rainfall levels? And we have now reached partway around the cycle to increased vegetation (see Picture 2).
When the vegetation increases over time alongside with surface water, what do you think will be their impact on rainfall levels in the next cycle?
These will be the subject of discussion in Part IV of this series in next week’s column “Have Greens, Will Rain!” Well, I am sure; you and your friends will enjoy closing the cycle! You may notice different responses along gender or age lines. Try it out and notice.
Would rainfall levels decline? Or could they increase? What do you think?
Thinking ahead, what will be the impact of this causality on economic diversification?
Don’t forget the tips!
Till then have a lovely week discovering and learning!
This is the 3rdof a five part series of this article. Each part will build on the earlier article to an eventual conclusion. We invite you to participate in the column as well as do your ‘own homework’ – searching and discussing the issue to build your own conclusions.
Ms Sheila Damodaran, an international Strategy Development Consultant in the use of systemic thinking for managing national persistent issues, welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. For upcoming programmes, refer to www.loatwork.com/Senior_Leadership_Introduction.html.