First posted on the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet blog on April 27, 2012.
As the world population grows toward 10 billion, consumption of water, food and energy is expanding at a rate that cannot be maintained without depleting the planet’s resources. If we fail to address these two issues together, we face a grim future of economic, social and environmental ills, warns a new report prepared by a group of scientists and other experts for the Royal Society.
The report “People and the Planet,” published this week by the London-based society, examines trends in population and consumption and points to some stark realities:
- While population increase has been declining since the mid-1960s, experts project we will still add 2.3 billion people by 2050, much of it in increasingly crowded cities.
- Along with an increasing demand for basic needs, the gap between the haves and the have-nots is striking. For instance, the report says, “a child from the developed world consumes 30-50 times as much water as one from the developing world.” By 2025, the report says, 1.8 billion people could be living in areas where water is a scarce commodity.
- A similar gap holds for food and energy: While average consumption of calories has increased, in 2010 “close to one billion people did not receive enough calories to reach their minimum dietary energy requirements.” Per capita emissions of CO2 “are up to 50 times higher in high income than low income countries, with energy insufficiency a major component of poverty.”
“The world now has a very clear choice,” concluded Sir John Sulston, a fellow of the Royal Society and chairman of the report’s working group. “We can choose to address the twin issues of population and consumption. We can choose to rebalance the use of resources to a more egalitarian pattern of consumption, to reframe our economic values to truly reflect what our consumption means for our planet and to help individuals around the world to make informed and free reproductive choices. Or we can choose to do nothing and to drift into a downward vortex of economic, socio-political and environmental ills, leading to a more unequal and inhospitable future.”
Safe Water Network gives villagers in India a push toward a better future
By David Funkhouser
At a village meeting in Rajasthan, India, Ravindra Sewak of Safe Water Network
presented a challenge: We can help you build a new cistern that will improve
your water supply and your health, but you will have to pay for some of it, and
take over and maintain the system.
The villagers balked. In this desert land where just a few inches of water fall
each year, poverty rules. Typical annual incomes range from $1,000 to $1,600.
Women and children can walk several kilometers each day to fetch water for
drinking, cooking and cleaning. Dysentery is so common, Sewak said, it’s not
even considered a disease anymore.
Ravindra Sewak, Safe Water Network's India country director
With so few resources, how could they pay for this, and handle this new work? “I
had to leave at one point,” Sewak said, describing how he walked out of the
meeting to let the residents ponder the question before them. “You have to make
them believe that they have to maintain it. They need a sense of ownership and
willingness to pay so they can see the long-term vision and take responsibility. …
They need to contribute to make this work.”
ON CONNECTICUT’S SHORE,
A SEARCH FOR CLUES
Hartford Courant, July 22,2007 (updated May 2, 2014, see endnote)
By DAVID K. FUNKHOUSER
BRANFORD –Peter Banca looked out a window of his Stony Creek home, across his sloping lawn to the green swath of marsh named for his father, a look of surprise on his face.
“I had no idea,” he said when confronted with the prediction that the marsh would disappear in a few decades. But he knew the implications immediately.
Banca marsh has been losing 10 or more feet of its seaward edge each year to what some scientists call sudden wetland dieback — a so-far unexplained phenomenon in which marsh grasses die off, leaving mud, pocked with holes, to wash away with the tide. Even away from the edge, pockets of marsh grass are fading into barren mud sinks.
The fate of Banca marsh, and of tidal wetlands around the world, may be tied to rising sea levels and global warming in intriguing ways. The life of these simple grasses ebbs and flows to the moon’s orbital cycles, to the pressing influence of humans and perhaps even to a fungus that sails across the Atlantic Ocean on dust storms kicked up by drought in Africa.
High water from a storm covers Neck Road in Madison, leading toward Grass Island. (Photo courtesy of Sid Gale)
Hartford Courant, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2007
By DAVID FUNKHOUSER
GUILFORD — Pollyanna Rock has always been a familiar foothold for Kathy Waugh, the spot she swam to as a child to test her mettle in the sea during summer days at her grandparents’ cottage on Mulberry Point.
The Long Island Sound tide rose and fell, but the black boulder never dropped completely out of sight beneath the water surface. Forty years later, she still visits the modest two-bedroom house, though her family rents it out most of the summer. And now, for about six hours a day, she can no longer see Pollyanna Rock.
This is a small measure of how a rising sea is changing the map of Guilford, as it is changing coastlines around the world. The sea has been coming up for thousands of years, following the retreat of glaciers after the last Ice Age, scientists say. But the water level is rising faster now, and scientists say that is driven by global warming.
Whatever you believe about climate change, some things are irrefutable: The sea off Connecticut’s coast rose at least 8 inches over the past century, and it is rising about a tenth of an inch per year now. And Pollyanna Rock is not the only thing that is disappearing.