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What If It Never Rained Again?

VO: Noah Baum WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp
A rainy day isn't always a good thing. But, rain and the water cycle are vital for life on Earth. Given all the contemporary concerns over global warming, climate change and the environment - what's the worst that can happen? What if it never rained ever again?

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What If It Never Rained Again?

Regular and reliable precipitation is integral to the continued survival of our planet. Rain is the most effective natural means of watering plants, making it crucial for agricultural industries and global food supplies. Of course, it also puts freshwater on the surface of the Earth, as part of the life-supporting water cycle. As experts estimate that over 500,000 cubic kilometers of rain falls around the world every year, accounting for an annual global average of 39 inches of the stuff, it’s almost impossible to imagine what life would be like without it. But what if it really did become a thing of the past? What would happen if, one day, the water cycle simply ceased to function, and it never rained again?

The impact would be immediate. Fields, farmlands and crops would die, and livestock produce would slow to a crawl. Very quickly, the world would have a major economic disaster on its hands. According to estimates, the 2014 California drought cost that state over $2 billion to recover from. Farms went unplanted and uncultivated, thousands of jobs were lost, and people resorted to utilizing groundwater for their simple, daily water needs – which proved extremely expensive. It cost just one state over $2 billion to defend against just one year’s worth of rain shortage. So, imagine how many hundreds of billions we’d need to even try to combat a worldwide drought!

Another effect felt fairly quickly would be the inevitable limits placed on power and electricity usage. Increasing areas use hydropower and nuclear plants for their energy. But without water, more expensive methods would be required, such as burning natural gas. This would likely result in extremely high prices for even limited energy supplies, affecting millions of households and businesses. The modern luxuries we take for granted – such as air conditioners, televisions and games consoles – would almost certainly be banned, as unnecessary energy hogs. The home comforts of contemporary living would slowly be stripped away.

Within a few rain-less months, perhaps after a year without rainfall, extreme desert conditions will’ve developed across large parts of the world. Rivers would eventually dry up, and once-lush areas of greenery will’ve dried, died and disappeared. Billions of animals and insects would die of dehydration, and those lucky enough to find a freshwater supply would likely defend it to the death. Clearly water itself would be an extremely sought-after commodity, with water companies becoming unfathomably rich thanks to their monopoly on the precious resource. Any means of producing water would be a must-have technological breakthrough, and our efforts to find and distribute it would become increasingly desperate – with attempts to desalinate ocean water taking precedence, or the tapping of underground reserves.

These unprecedented conditions would ultimately lead to ultra-severe water rules and regulations. Mandatory water meters would likely be installed on every household to forcibly limit water use, and basic lifestyle needs like cooking, doing the laundry, and taking a shower would either become very expensive pursuits or virtually unpracticed in millions of homes. Taking the 2014 California Drought as an example once again, hundreds of residents couldn’t flush their toilets or drink water from their taps because local supplies were swiftly drying up. On a global scale, the knock-on effects would be never-ending. Before long, all but the mega rich would struggle to source even the bare minimum amounts of water needed to survive.

Indeed, as the availability and distribution of water becomes an increasingly fractious issue, wars could begin to break out – with countries invading each other in search of it. There’d follow more extreme rationing of water, as the dwindling supplies are sent to frontline soldiers – leaving everyday citizens with less and less to drink. As with oil in today’s world, battles would likely erupt wherever known water supplies exist – meaning warzones would appear in northern regions of the United States, Canada, and Scotland. So, while millions, perhaps even billions, would die from dehydration or hunger, millions more would likely perish fighting in the Great Water Wars.

In terms of individual lives and families, the untold stress would bring a massive drop in general morale. Increased living costs, combined with the daily fear that your personal water supply could fail at any moment, would mean widespread mental health issues, mounting unhappiness and a probable breakdown of trust and communication within communities. Droughts are also often linked to increases in heart-related illnesses, while the struggle to ensure that the remaining water is safe and clean would inevitably give way to the spread of waterborne disease.

And the dangers only worsen when we consider the global population as one. Much of the world would be shrouded in forest fires, triggered by the extreme dryness. And without rainfall to quench them or firefighters fit enough to fight them, these fires would rage indefinitely, leaving behind vast swathes of dead landscape. At first, there’d be mass evacuations from towns and cities, with millions of people forced to relocate elsewhere. But eventually, even the areas we’d evacuate to would become unstable, volatile and dangerous places.

But sooner or later, without rain the proverbial river would run dry for everyone. The rich and poor; Young and old; The fit and unfit… We’d all inevitably and indiscriminately die out. Even the more practical attempts to desalinate the oceans would prove far too time-consuming and expensive for a steadily dwindling world population. And the Earth’s reserves of groundwater can only last so long, before they too dry up or our attempts to siphon them trigger severe land collapses. Even the greatest of lakes would dry up eventually, leaving humanity without a drop of water to consume.

And after most (if not all) of humanity has died out, the Earth would look nothing short of apocalyptic. Billions of human and animal skeletons would litter the landscape. Areas that were once lush, green forests would be black, burnt dust lands. Large parts of the planet would’ve sunken, slid and collapsed in on itself. Our once great cities will’ve crumbled. The last of the planet’s freshwater supplies would evaporate from the surface, the atmosphere would irreparably alter, and global temperatures would rise and rise – boiling away the oceans as it does. Within just a few hundred years, the runaway greenhouse effect would transform Earth into something like Venus – extremely hot, dry, and definitely uninhabitable. So, next time a spot of rain ruins your plans, remind yourself that the alternative is much, much worse.

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