The following, scary pictures are making it around the net at present:

And here separating the fresh water:

If we were to do similar with the air we breathe, say putting the earth’s atmosphere into a little ball that is throughout at normal standard pressure, looking at it would make you literally choke. But is this more than scaremongering? What do these pictures tell us? Let me first criticize this visual framing and then add a thought about how perhaps one may recover some justification for visualizing water resources like that.

The pictures are supposed to scare us about the scarcity of water and warn us not to poison that little drop we have. Here is a comment that is spot on (I especially like “This is the visual equivalent of that trick”, which made me create the phrase “visual framing”, perhaps because I am not sure about what framing really means):

If you want to make something sound big, you describe it in terms of area or length. If you want to make something sound small, you describe it in terms of volume. So, when someone tells you how many times all the X’s would stretch from the earth to the moon and back, they’re almost always trying to make X sound very abundant. In contrast, when someone tells you the dimensions of a swimming pool that would hold all the X’s, they’re usually trying to make X sound scarce.

This is the visual equivalent of that trick. We see the earth’s crust stretched over a huge sphere of other stuff (as in reality), but we see the water forming a 100%-water sphere, with nothing else inside it (unlike reality). As a result, the water looks woefully inadequate to give the earth what it needs. – John Cohen, via Metafilter

Spot on! This somewhat arbitrary 'cherry picking' of the most 'convenient' dimensionality (here area versus volume, 2D vs 3D) is something scientists use very effectively when creating false knowledge. If you are curious about what the heck this may mean, see for example “Pop Physics free Nanotech Scientific Journal Article Generator” and “More usual Cheating in Science”, where there are hands on descriptions for how to accomplish dimensional cheating.

HOWEVER – I think these pictures may visualize something else. In the second picture, the little drop of fresh water, 74.5% of that is in ice caps and glaciers. The water in the drops, although it is so little, that is the message I take from the first picture, is enough to cover almost the whole earth, all the oceans, although they are so damn deep. This being fact, it should certainly not surprise us that if 3/4 of the smaller drop is added, there can be a big problem with quite a height of water that covers a lot more of the low lying area that is now dry. (Enrico calculated the height but did not take into account that the water will swamp a lot of the dry area. Also, heating of the water, which makes the ball even bigger, comes on top. Scary indeed.)

Well, this shall be my only contribution to “global warming alarmism”. Those who know me also know that this is quite untypical. I do not think we will care about under how many meters of water the polar bears rot once the robots take our families to be collateral damage. Robots will also be able to swim and work under water, so, perhaps actually nice and reasonable life forms will go on without us, probably better than with us, no problem. ;-)