7 reasons why our future is on the water

By Rutger de Graaf-van Dinther, Founding Partner at Blue21

Do you ever feel like there’s not much you can do to save our planet? Well, you can. And it’s very simple: by making use of the water. Here are seven reasons why the world needs a blue revolution. And why you have to join it.

1. We are running out of land

As the world’s population continues to grow, we’re running out of land. Land to live on, land for growing food and biofuels. By the end of this century, we will require an additional 22 million km2. This is why we are converting the world’s most beautiful and vital ecosystems – such the rainforests! – into urban areas and agricultural land (growing soybean for cattle food, palm oil plantations for food and cosmetics). Until there’s no space left…

On the water, there’s space enough: about 70% of our planet is a blue solution space. And since most cities are located on the coast, they can easily expand on the water. Agricultural land around cities will remain functional, so it’s no longer necessary to sacrifice nature to create new agricultural land.

2. Cities on land are vulnerable


Most of the world’s largest cities are located in vulnerable coastal areas. With sea levels rising and more extreme weather, more and more flooding will occur in the future. In 2013, natural disasters displaced more people than war. Poor people in rapidly developing cities are particularly at risk. Within 35 years, total global flood damage is predicted to amount to 1 trillion US$ a year if we don’t change our strategy.

On water, floating houses, farms, roads and parks automatically adapt to the rising water level during a flood or storm. We can even create a floating breakwater structure to protect the floating city itself, and the city on the land. Floating cities may even become flood shelters for citizens on land.

3. Water will save us from our addiction to fossil fuels

Our society is addicted to fossil fuels. We consume them when we eat or drink: it takes 10 calories of fossil fuels to produce and deliver 1 calorie of food to our plate. We even breathe in one of the waste products from fossil fuels: CO2. To rid ourselves of this addiction, we need to capture CO2 and use it as a resource to produce biofuels. This requires huge amounts of space.

On water, we can do this by capturing CO2 in floating algae farms (to make biofuels, bio plastics, cattle food, fish food, food supplements) and produce food through sustainable aquaculture. At the same time, we can use waste water nutrients and CO2 from coastal cities in a productive way. This allows us to ‘store’ CO2, while keeping the rainforests and fresh water sources intact.

4. Water is the new oil

In the 20st century, economic development was based on oil and other fossil fuels. In the 21st century, water will be the key to economic progress. This is why it’s important to invest in a way that is futureproof, without making the same mistakes we’ve made before.

Water gives us this second chance, but only once.

5. Water is an innovation playground

On land, innovation is often constrained by existing infrastructure, energy grids and legislation. For instance, it’s not always allowed to sell excess solar energy to the grid or to produce your own drinking water.

But on the water, innovation can run free, while being more competitive with fossil fuels at the same time. You can also enjoy greater freedom, for example by designing your own sustainable, floating house. Or organizing your own water and energy supply with your neighbours.

6. We can actually have a positive impact

It often seems that humans can only have a negative impact on nature. That the only thing we can do is try to reduce or – sometimes – neutralize our impact and protect what’s left. Quite depressing, as this will only delay the destruction of nature. But we think we can be a productive part of the ecosystem and have a positive impact on the planet. Think about it:

A floating house can be a habitat for us, and for fish, and for other aquatic species – all at the same time.
Artificial 3D-printed reefs can protect us and create a new ecological system – at the same time.
Waste water as a resource for food and fuel can also clean up rivers and seas – at the same time.
International maritime parks can offer ecological tourism and nature protection – at the same time.

We are researching these subjects as we speak, since we need to strengthen the global ecosystem on which we depend. In the long term, there is no other way.

7. We can do this, now

Does all this sound too futuristic? Well, it isn’t. The technologies and innovations required have already been developed and successfully applied. The main challenge is to bring them all together and apply them on a large scale.
That’s where you come in. Together we can restore the balance. And create a symbiosis between population growth and ecological development.

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