Climate models predict a continuation of the trends we’ve been seeing in many countries: heat waves happening more often and more intensely, longer and more severe droughts owing to decreased precipitation, wildfires as a consequence of long-term dry spells, and water stress for both urban and rural populations as well as for agriculture. Nowhere are these trends more in evidence than in the American West. The extraordinary engineering that has gone into making the West prosperous is at risk. (I blogged about the landmark history of water policy and politics in the West, Cadillac Desert, here in September.) Continue reading
I wrote about Cadillac Desert, the classic book about water in the American West, in September. Scores of millions of people depend on the waterworks that were built up over the 20th Century there, and many millions more benefit from the bounty of fruits and vegetables that grow there, much of it in California, where agriculture accounts for 80% of overall use. The story of Cadillac Desert, though, is that there has been a tremendous price paid for all that concrete, steel, energy, and the treasure needed to build and operate the waterworks. Environmental destruction has been catastrophic, lives were lost when dams broke, thousands of small farmers and their communities were destituted because the water too often benefited Big Ag, and the American taxpayer was bilked out of billions over time. Continue reading
The Great Transition is the title of the preeminent sustainability theorist and activist Lester Brown’s last book. The Energiewende – energy transition – is what the Germans call their brilliant initiative to reshape the energy economy. Call it a transition, revolution, mobilization or transformation, or what you will. Call it clean tech, green tech, the green economy, sustainable development, or even the Low Carbon and Environmental Goods and Services Sector (LCEGSS). Whatever you want to call it and however you slice it, we are in the midst of a series of remarkable breakthroughs. Continue reading
I just wanted to flag the fact that I led a group of grad students to Berlin at the end of May and we had a fabulous six-day series of tours and briefings. I’ll be writing with a bit of depth about the trip here soon, but in the meantime, you can see my post at our NYU Center for Global Affairs blog, The Global Citizen.
The United Nations has declared today World Water Day. The theme this year is water and energy. There are obvious connections, such as that hydropower supplies 20% of the world’s electricity. But here’s an interesting thing you may not have known: 8% of global energy generation is used for pumping, treating and transporting water.
The UN is not alone in promoting World Water Day and the urgent message that we can’t do without this essential resource – this essential component of life – and we can and must do much better in managing it. WaterAid, for instance, is a highly effective, global NGO with over 30 years experience bringing water to under-served communities. Continue reading
The IPCC got it. Years ago. And one of their many important contributions has been to focus our attention on the need for adaptation to the worsening impacts of climate change. I wrote about their comprehensive Special Report for Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX) here two years ago. Continue reading
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has issued a report, “2001-2010, A Decade of Climate Extremes,” that underscores, if we needed it, how late in the day it has become.
“WMO’s report shows that global warming was significant from 1971 to 2010 and that the decadal rate of increase between 1991-2000 and 2001-2010 was unprecedented. Rising concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases are changing our climate, with far reaching implications for our environment and our oceans, which are absorbing both carbon dioxide and heat.” That statement, from WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud in the press release, couldn’t say it better. Continue reading
Back in 2006, Lord Nicholas Stern and his team produced the first comprehensive look at the economic impacts of climate change. The Stern Review was a serious clarion call to policy makers that climate change was a threat where nearly everyone feels it most: in the pocketbook. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has also considered these impacts from the time of their first assessment report in 1990 through to their report this year on extreme events and disasters.
By monoculture, I don’t just mean the production of one crop over vast quantities of land, with all the resultant havoc that that plays on the soil, water, native flora and fauna, and, to be perfectly clear, on the climate system, but I also mean the monomania that is incarnate in Big Ag. Monomania is a serious disorder, characterized by, according to my dictionary, “excessive concentration on a single object or idea.” In the case of much of American farming, that single object is the production of as much corn as possible at the greatest possible return on investment. The monomania of corn production utterly disregards economic, environmental and social concerns. The word itself is, to be sure, old-fashioned, but it is nevertheless manifest in how modern society goes about the business of growing our food, feed and, most wastefully of all, our fuel. Continue reading