Cities Under Threat From Scarcity

Price controls on water and uncontrolled growth of both population and industry in places such as Sao Paolo and California are on display. The problem itself isn't severe in some cases where it could be solved rather simply (though not simple in terms of politics) by raising the price of water. In China, where there's a willingness to dominate nature, water diversion is an option over the intermediate to long term.

Individual water demand is a small part of the problem. Encouraging the general public to save water is a religious exercise for greens, not an actual strategy for reducing water consumption because household demand is 10% or less in most places. A conspiracy of irrational environmental policy (thinking water restrictions will make a difference) and pro-agriculture policies creates a situation where the political system is broken by resource constraints.

This problem evolved from the r/K selection model of reproductive strategy. Here's a bit from the wiki:
r-selection makes a species prone to numerous reproduction at low cost per individual offspring, while K-selected species expend high cost in reproduction for a low number of more difficult-to-produce offspring. Neither mode of propagation is intrinsically superior, and in fact they can coexist in the same habitat, as in rodents and elephants.
What has happened in many areas is that the political and economic system have been designed to favor an r-strategy because resources were considered abundant. In California, the public is so in the mindset of r-strategy that it doesn't even police its borders. California doesn't even use the powers it has to remove illegal aliens under U.S. immigration laws. Basically, people are of the mindset that there is no limit to resources of any kind.

Environmentalism is popular in California, but it isn't serious in reality or in theory. Public campaigns focus on unimportant issues that would have no substantial impact on the environment even if the public wholeheartedly support it. In the case of water, even if everyone slashed their water consumption to "drought levels," as they are in California and Sao Paolo, it has no impact on the problem of water scarcity because household water use is a trivial amount in the grand scheme of things.

It's remarkable how quickly these problems went from zero to crisis in a matter of months though, and how fast the attitude of the public shifted as soon as their mindset of no scarcity was blown up. Once resource limits have been reached, the existing social order breaks down. No longer able to satisfy everyone's needs and wants, a public accustomed to unconstrained resources begins to fight over their share and consider different ways of apportioning resources. In some places, this will lead to a peaceful shift in politics and economics. The institutions are flexible and can accommodate the changes. In other places, the system cannot accommodate the changes and more serious political or economic changes unfold.

Guardian: São Paulo – anatomy of a failing megacity: residents struggle as water taps run dry
The São Paulo water crisis, or “hydric collapse” as many are calling it, has left this city of 20 million teetering on the brink. Though domestic use accounts for only a fraction of the water consumed in the state of São Paulo – where extensive agriculture and industry places intense pressure on available resources – for paulistanos, as the city’s residents are called, learning to use water wisely is suddenly the most pressing need of all.

The sudden nature of the crisis has left people struggling to cope with the reality of the taps running dry. The state governor Geraldo Alckmin has insisted repeatedly that the water will continue to flow as usual, and no state of emergency has yet been declared, though some experts believe such a declaration well overdue. In the meantime, residents of São Paulo are making their own arrangements: storing water at home, and in some cases drilling homemade wells. In part a result of badly stored water, instances of dengue fever spread by mosquitoes almost tripled in January, compared with the previous year.

...When they tried to agree on how future water purchases should be split between residents, an argument broke out almost immediately. “People were really, really shouting at each other,” says Berger. “I left after a while – I couldn’t stand it. I heard one person saying that elderly residents are at home all day and use more water, so they should pay more.” Others argued that since some flats had several residents, the cost should be divided per person, and there was even a suggestion that people with dogs should pay extra – “because they bathe them”.

“It was like a horror film,” says the building manager, Maria Aurilene Santana. “No one seemed able to agree on anything.” When a small amount of water finally trickled into the tanks Santana says “people were filling buckets, grabbing as much water they could.” According to a crisis report published on 9 February by the pressure group Aliança Pela Água (Water Alliance), whereas catastrophic situations like flooding often fosters solidarity, a lack of resources tends to do the opposite, leading to chaos and even violence. In Itu, a city 100km from São Paulo a desperate water shortage in late 2014 led to fighting in queues, theft of water, and the looting of emergency water trucks, which are now accompanied by armed civil guards. These events left many paulistanos wondering how the hardship might play out in their own pressurised and densely populated city.

It's worth noting that several civilizations in the America's collapsed due to resource exhaustion, in part due to shifting climate and lack of water. See Tainter.

For more on r/K selection theory as it applies to politics, I recommend The Evolutionary Psychology Behind Politics: How Conservatism and Liberalism Evolved Within Humans

Another relevant book is Un-Civilization: Urban Geo-Politics in a Time of Chaos. That is a free digital version (PDF or epub) at the link.

If you read only one book, then it must be Tainter's The Collapse of Complex Societies

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