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A Child’s Water Life and the Social Cost of Water

I was reading two articles in VOX, "The concept of the social cost of carbon, We’ve been radically underestimating the true cost of our carbon footprint"¹, and "Climate change is a global

injustice. A new study shows why"², to see how they might correlate with the global water crisis.

The cost of carbon is the social cost of climate change per metric ton. The Obama administration had priced it at $45 per metric ton while the Trump organization calculated $1 per metric ton.

The social cost of carbon is complicated, but the current analysis indicates we are way, way, way off in pricing it accurately. One critical consideration is the discounted rate of the future value of money, and the other is that people tend to value the future less than the present. In economic terms, it’s called the “rate of pure time preference.”

I planned on applying the principle of the “social cost of carbon” to water scarcity, water abundance (flooding, storm surge, rising rivers, tropical storms, etc.), water security, water pollution, and water sanitation. I became distracted by the quote that human life is estimated to be worth $10 million. I don’t know how you can determine a value on human life, but the insurance industry has no choice but to give it some weight. Hey, I still think my life is priceless.

Frank Partnoy, now a Berkeley Law professor, argued this point in a 2012 interview with the New York Times. “A human life is often estimated to be worth around $10 million,” he said. “But if you apply a 3 percent discount rate to this, that means that a human life 500 years from now is only worth $3.81 today.” So, basically, the current social cost of carbon does not include the cost of mortality. If it did, then the social cost of carbon could be in the thousands.

I started thinking about the value of my life. Since I am older, the value of my life is depreciating faster and faster. But what about the importance of my grandchildren’s lives? What is the value of a three-year-old child? And then, I started researching how water shapes the lives of children across the world. Water scarcity affects all humans but particularly the growth of children psychologically and physically. I found disturbing data on how the global water crisis affects children in the UN report called The Climate Crisis is a Child’s Right Crisis.³

UN Facts:

  • 920 million children (over one-third of children globally) are currently highly exposed to water scarcity. This is likely to worsen as climate change increases the frequency and severity of droughts, water stress, seasonal and interannual variability contamination -- and demand and competition for water increases, resulting in depletion of available water resources.

  • 820 million children (over one-third of children globally) are currently highly exposed to heatwaves. This is likely to worsen as global average temperatures increase and weather patterns become more erratic. 2020 was tied for the hottest year on record.

  • 400 million children (nearly 1 in 6 children globally) are currently highly exposed to cyclones. This is likely to get worse as high-intensity cyclones (i.e categories 4 and 5) increase in frequency, rainfall intensity grows, and cyclone patterns shift.

  • 330 million children (1 in 7 children globally) are currently highly exposed to riverine flooding. This is likely to worsen as glaciers melt, and precipitation increases due to higher water-content in the atmosphere as a result of higher average temperatures.

  • 240 million children (1 in 10 children globally) are currently highly exposed to coastal flooding. This is likely to worsen as sea levels rise, with the effects magnified considerably when combined with storm surges.

  • 600 million children (over 1 in 4 children globally) are currently highly exposed to vector-borne diseases, such as malaria and dengue, among others. This is likely to worsen as temperature suitability and climatic conditions for mosquitos and pathogens that transmit these diseases spreads.

  • 815 million children (over one-third of children globally) are currently highly exposed to lead pollution due to exposures in contaminated air, water, soil and food. This is likely to get worse without more responsible production, consumption and recycling of lead-containing products

The water stats are staggering when you consider how the global water crisis has a direct and indirect correlation to a child's well-being. When I read these stats, I think about the children across the world who are the ages of my grandchildren, who are from 3 to 8 years old. I can see them all in my mind. I can see them thirsty, dehydrated, unable to wash their hands, drinking polluted water … having stomach pains because they drank the unsanitary water. Hy head hurts thinking about it. And my heart bleeds for them.

Greta Thunburg has claimed that we have stolen her future. We have also stolen her water.

Children require more water than adults to grow a healthy life. Imagine a billion small, healthy, and developing brains needing clean water. What will their minds and bodies be like when they become adults in terms of healthcare, economics, and the overall future?

What are we going to do about it? So, what is the social cost of water per metric ton? I have not done the math yet, but I bet it’s more than $45 or $1 per metric ton.


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