As population grows and demand for food and products increase, so does our demand for water. But in the face of growing pressure on our water resources from depletion, pollution and climate change, we need to make more of what we have.
It is a unique challenge of our generation that many in the developing world have cellular phones and TVs, but lack reliable access to water. Odd, perhaps, given that water is marketed as essential for life, a human right, and heart rending pictures of women and children walking miles to fetch water are routinely flashed to tug at everyone’s heart strings.
“We would like to take on international problems, problems of development, problems in the United States, but have them done with academic content and interest. Instead of people being sent to random places, we would take engineering companies that have an interest in a particular region in solving a problem, and they would bring the problem to the students.”
US rice production dominates our consumption at over 90% (USDA, 2012), and the question is whether or not that choice is the best one for our water and our environment.
Over the past decade, average global food prices have more than doubled, with 2008 and 2010 seeing excruciating price spikes that each had far-reaching economic, geopolitical and social consequences.
The global population, now 7 billion, is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050 and will require 70 percent more food than we are producing today, and much more water for agriculture, drinking and industry. Will we have enough water to meet the demand?
Rice is the world’s third-largest crop after wheat and corn; by some estimates it accounts for fully one-fifth of the total calories consumed by the human race. Given these facts, it’s not surprising that countries that have historically struggled with devastating famine would do whatever it takes to ensure strong production of the grain, even if it meant promoting growing practices that would ultimately prove unsustainable.
Can we manage the needs of 9 billion people for water, food and energy without depleting our resources and ruining the environment? “The solutions,” says Tim Fox, “are all within the capability of existing technology.”
In order to maintain the status quo, let alone to grow, cities like Beijing, Tianjin, Shijiazhuang and Zhengzhou need more water. But the South-North Water Transfer Project–which when completed will transfer 174 times more water per year than the city of Los Angeles receives from various diversions of the Colorado River– is putting in place a fundamentally unsustainable growth trajectory that could undermine the stability so vigorously sought by the leaders of the nation.
Small island states are uniquely vulnerable to climate change because of their geography and socioeconomic characteristics. As the physical impacts of climate change interact with social and economic vulnerabilities, climate change poses a significant threat to the islands’ physical, social, and economic well-being.