Bill Nye Saves the World season 3 recap and review

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Photo Credit: Netflix

03.02 – Surviving in a World Without Water

How do we avoid cases like Flint, Michigan? How are we even in a position where there isn’t clean drinking water available in a US city?

Even though the earth is 70% water it’s about to become our scarcest resource. We can partially rely on rainfall and snowmelt, but climate change is drastically shifting rainfall patterns on earth, and maybe it doesn’t rain or snow where you are. Which leaves Bill Nye ranting about climate change again. Which is great because climate change and water resources are the most serious problems facing humankind right now.

Sure, the Earth is covered with oceans, but desalination is hard. It takes energy and then you’re left with a lot of salt that can be toxic if you dump it back in the ocean. Countries like Australia and the United Arab Emirates are making desalination work, but they have the money and resources. But everyone else around the globe will have to save more water and find a way of making more of it.

Case Study: Can a city sink? Derek Muller goes to Mexico City which is slowly sinking while water resources become more scarce. Hydrogeologist Dr. Erik Morales Casique explains that Mexico City was built on a lake when the Spaniards took it from the Aztecs. But as the inhabitants consume the groundwater, the city starts to sink down. Derek is shown a number of dramatic examples of the city sinking, including a 25-foot tall pipe whose opening used to be at ground level. Buildings along the street clearly display warping.

Former director of the Mexico National Water Board Dr. Fernando Gonzalez Villarreal says that the city uses 62,000 liters of water a second.

Loreta Castro Rivera, a professor at UNAM say that although it rains a lot in Mexico City, there’s nowhere for the water to collect. She says there could be rainwater catchments sites in every public space and a distribution system that would provide it to the local community. A large-scale deployment would supply a quarter of the demand for water, which would make the problematic Cutzamala pipe system obsolete.

Some parts of the city are dropping a foot a year. In the studio, Bill drops a banner from the rafters to illustrate the 25 feet that Mexico City has sunk – and it is significant. Many people don’t connect their water problem with the sinking of the city.

Bill in the Weeds: Water is weird. Bill runs a number of different simulations to demonstrate the different ways water behaves in its different forms.

Panel of Experts: This panel discusses the possibility of future water wars. Correspondent Derek Muller, head of Climate Initiative at Princeville Global Melanie Nakagawa, and associate professor of international affairs at George Washington University Marcus King.

Is water the new oil? King says no because oil has many substitutes and water doesn’t. But it can be used similarly to oil as a geopolitical tool to fight wars or force change.

Nakagawa notes that times of scarcity it prompts innovation and the same is true of water conservation.

King has seen water and water infrastructure used as weapons used in wartime strategy.

Nakagawa maintains that access to clean water is essential in stimulating the economy by allowing women and girls – who as of now are spending hours every day collecting and transporting drinking water for their community – the time and access to education. Bill agrees that one of the best things that can be done to combat climate change is improving the standard of living for women and girls, which starts with providing clean water.

Case Study: How do I survive in a world without water? Nazeem Hussain meets in the desert with survivalist Thomas Coyne to learn how to survive in extreme climates.

The first step is to change clothes. Nazeem’s jeans and a dark t-shirt would kill him in a survival situation in the desert. Willow trees indicate the presence of water in the ground, so you can harvest water from the tree using transpiration. Just seal a plastic bag around the leaves on the tree and tree will breathe out water into the bag.

Two hours will get you a mouthful. If you happen across running water you can’t trust that there might not be a dead animal upstream contaminating the water. You can purify the water using distillation. Iodine can also purify the water but tastes nasty. Adding vitamin C helps.

Water sommelier Martin Riese joins Bill and Nazeem in the studio. He’s America’s only certified water sommelier, which he acknowledges is a little silly. Still, water from different sources does have different flavors as they have different mineral content and additives. They sample LA Tap (distinct notes of chlorine), Triple Distilled (the fast food of water), and Astronaut Urine (has a sweet note).

This is followed by a silly segment about the future of wet t-shirt contests in the year 2047 when access to water is scarce. It may be silly, but it highlights how frivolously we are able to use water now, and how soon we will have to start worrying about it.

#billmeetsciencetwitter: Rianne Campell, Researcher at the University of California Irvine, studies the effects of drugs on the brain. If you can identify the proteins in the brain that form during drug abuse, you can maybe inhibit that protein to reduce cravings and cure addiction.