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Follow the Water: we must understand complex systems like water, for a better future

Today is Blog Action Day 2010: This year, the focus is water.

My company, Leading Futurists, has not yet done a project on the future of water. But water, as a central part of human systems, is in nearly every talk, workshop, paper, and report that we create for our clients. More lately, we’ve talked of our human systems' dependence on water, and the concept of an industry, a consumer, or a product’s “water footprint”. Water, in short, is among the top handful of critical issues humankind faces, and we work hard to raise and focus awareness on it.
Why would something as prosaic as water be so important? It’s the simple fact that water is critical to nearly every part of our ecosystem and our human systems. The case for water is easier to make with people from dry places, and with businesspeople in water-dependent sectors such as brewing and paper production—for them water is a budget line item and a constant sustainability issue. The case for water’s importance is harder to make with people who live where the price of water is low, and where there is no local serious water issue. That means most Americans, for example, are not particularly focused on water as an issue, nor do most readily recognize it, in their daily lives, as a critical or “peak” resource.
Water illustrates one of the difficulties in exploring emerging and future issues. People are typically un-practiced about seeing the complex interplay of issues, trends, and changes around us, and making sense of them. Water is part of a system of complex systems. Following through in our thinking many of the issues, forces, and interactions in those systems is essential to really understanding water issues.
Water is critical in its own right. But it is also among the big and complex topics, also including energy, climate, healthcare, and economics, that we must confront and must understand as well as we can. And as we do so, we may get more comfortable at exploring big, complicated issues that matter. So consider, please, giving a bit of your time and energy, and “follow the water.” 
Image: Pink Sherbet Photography, via Flickr, cc license
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