The Big Drip

Jacob Ethan Flores
5 min readJun 21, 2017

A while back I watched The Big Short. Good movie, I recommend it. Apparently quite historically accurate, as far as blockbusters go.

One thing in that movie stuck out. In a way that hurts, as was intended. Michael Burry is a portrayed protagonist in the film, and as one of the investors with foresight in the story (the most foresight, actually), he is given the role of ‘prophet of collapse’. While other investors eventually discover the mortgage crisis brewing, they are tipped off by the work of Burry — he buys credit default swaps from Goldman Sachs by the ton. An employee of Goldman tips off the investor that tips off others and the story moves from there.

I’m highlighting this Prophet of Collapse role because it is used in the very final frame before the credits roll. As the film relays where the characters are after the collapse and what they are up to, they end with Burry. He has liquidated his hedge fund and is focusing on personal investments. In water.

Upon a quick review of Burry you’ll find an auspicious quote from him: “Ironically, I’m in this book, ‘The Big Short,’ but I’m not a big short. I don’t go out looking for good shorts. I’m spending my time looking for good longs. I shorted mortgages because I had to. Every bit of logic I had led me to this trade and I had to do it. And I had to pull back on equities, because I saw what was coming I thought would affect everything.” [source]

So, with this in mind, let’s look at his investments in water as a “long”.

Scarcity increases value. Burry is looking for value. He is estimating that water will be a scarce commodity in the future. So, he’s investing in water. Cause for pause.

If Burry’s investments pan out, trouble is on the horizon. Access to clean water is correlative with all other indicators of a healthy society, which implies the opposite is true as well. In past posts I’ve voiced concern regarding the effects of climate change on human conflict and migration. Some have pointed to drought as one of the triggers of the Syrian civil war, for example. Therefore, it’s imperative that people put energy into devising new ways of capturing and filtering water from the environment. A corollary to this is the need for an open solution to water capture and filtration, so that users can easily maintain and perhaps even upgrade these systems to suit their needs. Let’s look at some solutions currently under development:

  1. WaterGen — A company based out of Israel that initially started out selling systems to the Israeli military. It has now opened up sales to other institutions and individuals. A single small unit can run on less energy than a hair dryer on high heat and produce between 3 and 4 gallons of water a day. The system just needs a source of electricity and it can pull water from the air. WaterGen also sells portable purification systems that run on solar panels. A company with products that would serve people well during natural disasters, infrastructure compromise, ecological distress, or significant social conflict.
The GENNY ‘water from air’ home appliance — Source: WaterGen

2. The Slingshot — The Slingshot is another water vapor distillation system, and it’s differentiating claim is that it can run on any combustible fuel (including cow dung) and produce clinical-grade drinking water from almost any any source. These two factors make the product especially relevant for people that don’t have access to an (optimal) energy infrastructure or clean water. The system runs by means of a Stirling model engine, with its mechanism roughly outlined below:

Stirling Engine Water Purification — Source: Water Testing Blog

3. WarkaWater — A water capture structure designed by Arturo Vattori and Andrea Vogler. From their site: “Warka Water is a vertical structure designed to collect/harvest potable water from the air giving an alternative water source to rural population that face challenges in accessing drinkable water. WW not only provides a fundamental resource for life — water — but also creates a social place for the community, where people can gather under the shade of its canopy for education and public meetings […] Air always contains a certain amount of water, irrespective of local ambient temperatures and humidity conditions. This makes it possible to produce water from air almost anywhere in the world. Locations with high rates of aerosol and humidity are best to install WW. WW is a vertical structure designed to harvest potable water from the atmosphere (it collects rain, harvests fog and dew). The objective is to give to the community up to 100 L (26.4 gal) of drinking water every day.

The Warka Water Tower — Source: Warka Water Org

4. The Dew Bank — A biomimetic water bottle that utilizes the nanoscale hydrophobic structure of the wings on the (onymacris unguicularis) Namibian Desert Beetle. These structures can also be utilized in an industrial setting, which is the pursuit of NBD Nano.

The Dew Bank Water Bottle — Source: Yanko Design
The Dew Bank Water Bottle — Source: Yanko Design

There are many projects, even more than the 4 listed here. Some of this technology seems to be easier to open than others, and some systems seem to require a lower level of maintenance than others. But it is imperative for communities large and small to have leverage over the ways they source, clean, and consume water. Perhaps some convergence of these technologies can enable solutions that scale between individuals and cities of 1M+. A crucial factor is the pace and ease at which these systems can be deployed and implemented.

As far as open source water solutions go, a preliminary Google search will show that most individuals are focused on rainwater capture. This is probably the most sensible approach, especially in the short term, but if the climate is unpredictable or people are on the move, then some of these other technologies need to be considered. So, room to improve and innovate in this space.

Up next on the Abundance Pyramid Series: Shelter



Jacob Ethan Flores

Poet, tech analyst, artist. Building bridges between design, technology, biology, and the commons.