The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects that droughts will likely increase in central North America this century. How can we prepare for a future of perpetual drought?
The rains came late this year in Kenya. I was there for several months in the winter and spring to conduct research for a post-doctoral fellowship, examining the consequences of increases in fertilizer use on soil fertility, maize yields, nitrogen gas emissions and nitrogen leaching losses.
Companies globally are increasingly focused on the emerging risk of water scarcity, and so are their investors. The combination of rising populations, rapid economic growth in developing countries, and climate variability is triggering enormous water availability challenges around the world. We are at a critical juncture where the crises of food, energy and water, commodity price volatility, energy reliability, and fears of whether food production will be enough calls for a rethinking of our business-as-usual approaches. In partnership with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry Water mission, Columbia Water Center undertook a preliminary national level geospatial study of water risks perceptions and responses across 27 industrial sectors in India, including food processing, textiles, energy, oil and gas, retail, pharmaceuticals, information technology and health services. The results of the study are reported in “India’s Deepening Water Crisis? Water Risks for Indian Industries: A Preliminary Study of 27 Industrial Sectors.”
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.