PG5C. Stay Current—The Environmental Impact of Populations

2024-05-18. Mexico City Has Long Thirsted for Water. The Crisis Is Worsening. By James WagnerEmiliano Rodríguez Mega and Somini Sengupta, The New York Times. Excerpt: A system of dams and canals may soon be unable to provide water to one of the world’s largest cities, a confluence of unchecked growth, crumbling infrastructure and a changing climate. The groundwater is quickly vanishing. A key reservoir got so low that it is no longer used to supply water. Last year was Mexico’s hottest and driest in at least 70 years. And one of the city’s main water systems faces a potential “Day Zero” this summer when levels dip so much that it, too, will no longer provide water. …Mexico City, once a water-rich valley that was drained to make way for a vast city, has a metropolitan population of 23 million, among the top 10 largest in the world and up from 15 million in 1990. It is one of several major cities facing severe water shortages, including Cape TownSão Paulo, Brazil; and Chennai, India…. Full article at

2024-04-04. Africa’s Carbon Sink Capacity Is Shrinking. [] By Rachel Fritts, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: The population of Africa, the second-largest continent in the world, currently sits at about 1.4 billion, but is set to exceed 2 billion by 2040. This means greater swaths of land than ever before are being used for agriculture, and livestock numbers are increasing. A new estimate of Africa’s greenhouse gas budget between 2010 and 2019 quantifies just how much these changes in land use have affected Africa’s role in the global carbon cycle. …To make their estimates, Ernst et al. …took a comprehensive look at all major potential carbon sources, including human sources such as agriculture and fossil fuel emissions and natural sources such as termites and wildfires. They also considered natural sinks: the grasslandssavannas, and forests that still cover much of the continent. The team found that between 2010 and 2019, Africa transitioned from being a slight net carbon sink to a slight net carbon source. …likely to increase if current trends continue….

2024-03-14. Python farming as a flexible and efficient form of agricultural food security. [] By D. NatuschP. W. AustC. CaraguelP. L. TaggartV. T. NgoG. J. AlexanderR. Shine & T. Coulson, Nature – Scientific Reports. Abstract: Diminishing natural resources and increasing climatic volatility are impacting agri-food systems, prompting the need for sustainable and resilient alternatives. Python farming is well established in Asia but has received little attention from mainstream agricultural scientists. We measured growth rates in two species of large pythons (Malayopython reticulatus and Python bivittatus) in farms in Thailand and Vietnam and conducted feeding experiments to examine production efficiencies. …In terms of food and protein conversion ratios, pythons outperform all mainstream agricultural species studied to date. The ability of fasting pythons to regulate metabolic processes and maintain body condition enhances food security in volatile environments, suggesting that python farming may offer a flexible and efficient response to global food insecurity….

2024-02-15. Broadwater County judge rules against developers in ‘landmark’ water ruling. [] By Amanda Eggert, Montana Free Press. Excerpt: A Broadwater County judge ruled this week in favor of a small coalition of landowners and water rights holders who challenged a subdivision proposed for an area already grappling with water supply and quality issues. In a sprawling, 85-page order, Broadwater County District Court Judge Michael McMahon chastised the Broadwater County Commission for authorizing preliminary plat approval of the Horse Creek Hills subdivision near Canyon Ferry, despite an “abjectly deficient” environmental assessment that failed to take into account impacts to water quantity, water quality, public safety and wildlife….

2024-02-10. How One of the Nation’s Fastest Growing Counties Plans to Find Water in the Desert. [] By David Condos, KUER (NPR Utah). Excerpt: Like many places across the West, two things are on a collision course in Utah’s southwest corner: growth and water. Washington County’s population has quadrupled since 1990. St. George, its largest city, has been the fastest-growing metro area in the nation in recent years. …The region has essentially tapped out the Colorado River tributary it depends on now, the Virgin River. …The district’s 20-year plan comes down to two big ideas: reusing and conserving the water it already has….

2023-09-20. How much stuff does it take to not be poor? About 6 tons per year. [] By ERIK STOKSTAD, Science. Excerpt: How much stuff do people need to lead a decent life? It’s a hard, and subjective, question. But researchers have now estimated for the first time what it takes, quantitatively speaking, to keep one person out of abject poverty: about 6 tons per year of food, fuel, clothing, and other supplies, researchers report this month in Environmental Science & Technology. …The study comes as the United Nations wrestled this week with exactly that daunting challenge. The U.N. is trying to kick-start progress on its Sustainable Development Goals, a set of 17 grand ambitions that include ending poverty worldwide by 2030, while also preventing environmental degradation and fighting climate change. Fossil fuels get a lot of attention in this debate, but raw materials such as cement, metal, timber, and grain are also important because their production and refining contributes about 23% of carbon emissions and more than 90% of biodiversity loss….

2023-05-11. Coral Chemistry Reflects Southeast Asia’s Economic Expansion. [] By Rebecca Dzombak, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: Soil erosion from economic development sent sediments into the South China Sea—and into coral skeletons. Economic expansion leaves indelible marks on coral chemistry, according to a new study. By analyzing barium levels in coral cores, scientists can access decades-old records of regional development and erosion rates. …Li et al. present a new multidecadal record of erosion based on barium concentrations and isotopes from coral cores. The cores came from the South China Sea near southern Taiwan and central Vietnam. Each one provided about 2 decades of data recorded at a monthly resolution….

2023-05-05. Groundwater Pumping Is Causing Mexico City to Sink. [] By Humberto Basilio, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: …Mexico City is sinking. …Scientists agree that groundwater extraction is a contributing factor to this subsidence, although estimates of the extraction rate vary. Authors of a new study published inGeophysical Research Letters used satellite data to narrow these estimates. They found that between 1 and 13 cubic kilometers (0.2 and 3 cubic mile) of groundwater have been pumped each year since 2014 to serve the 22 million residents of the Mexico City Basin. (For reference, that’s enough water to fill up to 5 million Olympic-sized swimming pools.) …Mexico City’s urban growth also blocks precipitation from reaching the spongy sediments by increasing the amount of land covered by impervious surfaces like roads and parking lots. …some researchers argue that the main trigger is long-term compaction of an ancient lake bed. The city was built on Lake Texcoco, which filled with silt in the 17th century after Spanish conquistadores began draining the lake. Since then, the weight of the city’s development has caused the silt to steadily pack more tightly, making the ground shrink and sink….

2022-12-09. Animals Are Running Out of Places to Live. [] By Catrin Einhorn and Lauren Leatherby, The New York Times. Excerpt: WILDLIFE IS DISAPPEARING around the world, in the oceans and on land. The main cause on land is perhaps the most straightforward: Humans are taking over too much of the planet, erasing what was there before. Climate change and other pressures make survival harder. This week and next, nations are meeting in Montreal to negotiate a new agreement to address staggering declines in biodiversity. The future of many species hangs in the balance. Meet some of the animals most affected as humans convert more and more land: ….

2022-11-18. US declares lab-grown meat safe to eat in ‘groundbreaking’ move. [] ByOliver Milman, The Guardian . Excerpt: The US government has cleared the way for Americans to be able to eat lab-grown meat, after authorities deemed a meat product derived from animal cells to be safe for human consumption. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will allow a California company called Upside Foods to take living cells from chickens and then grow them in a controlled laboratory environment to produce a meat product that doesn’t involve the actual slaughter of any animals. The FDA said it was ready to approve the sale of other lab-grown meat, stating that it was “engaged in discussions with multiple firms” to do the same, including companies that want to grow seafood from the cells of marine life. …Making food more sustainable is a major focus of the Cop27 climate talks, shortly finishing in Egypt. The global production of food is responsible for a third of all planet-heating gases emitted by human activity, with raising animals for meat responsible for the majority of this share. Pasture and cropland occupy around 50% of the planet’s habitable land and use about 70% of fresh water supplies….

2022-11-04. Human population boom may have doomed Madagascar’s giant animals. [] By Tess Joosse, Science Magazine. Excerpt: Two thousand years ago, lemurs the size of humans and giant “elephant birds” roamed Madagascar. A thousand years later, they were nearly gone. This mass extinction coincided with a boom in Madagascar’s human population, according to a new study, when two small groups of people linked up and took over the island. …the researchers concluded the modern Malagasy population is most closely related to Bantu-speaking people of eastern Africa and the Austronesian-speaking people of southern Borneo, in southeast Asia. …the modern Malagasy population is descended from a small ancestral Asian population made up of only a few thousand people that stopped mixing with other groups about 2000 years ago. When exactly the Asian population traveled to Madagascar is a mystery. But by 1000 years ago, this small group had made it to the island. It began to mix with a similar-size African population in Madagascar, and the population began to grow right at the peak of the megafaunal mass extinctions about 1000 years ago, the researchers report today in Current Biology.…

2022-10-13. Inside the Global Effort to Keep Perfectly Good Food Out of the Dump. [] By Somini Sengupta, The New York Times. Excerpt: In Seoul, garbage cans automatically weigh how much food gets tossed in the trash. In London, grocers have stopped putting date labels on fruits and vegetables to reduce confusion about what is still edible. California now requires supermarkets to give away — not throw away — food that is unsold but fine to eat. Around the world, a broad array of efforts are being launched to tackle two pressing global problems: hunger and climate change. Food waste, when it rots in a landfill, produces methane gas, which quickly heats up the planet. But it’s a surprisingly tough problem to solve. Which is where Vue Vang, wrangler of excess, comes in. On a bright Monday morning recently, she pulled up behind a supermarket in Fresno, Calif., hopped off her truck and set out to rescue as much food as she could under the state’s new law — helping store managers comply with rules that many were still unaware of. …In the United States, the single largest volume of material sent to landfills and incinerators comes from food waste. Worldwide, food waste accounts for 8 to 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, at least double that of emissions from aviation. According to estimates from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, that is enough food to feed more than a billion people. …In Asia, Europe and the United States, several new mobile appsoffer discounts on restaurant food that’s about to be thrown out.…

2022-08-18. Seeing Through Turbulence to Track Oil Spills in the Ocean. [] By Guillermo García-Sánchez,  Ana M. Mancho,  Antonio G. Ramos,  Josep Coca and  Stephen Wiggins, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: After oil and tar washed up on eastern Mediterranean beaches in 2021, scientists devised a way to trace the pollution back to its sources using satellite imagery and mathematics….

2022-08-16. The most damaging farm products? Organic, pasture-fed beef and lamb. [] By George Monbiot, The Guardian. Excerpt: Arable crops, some of which are fed to farm animals, occupy 12% of the planet’s land surface. But far more land (about 26%) is used for grazing: in other words, for pasture-fed meat and milk. Yet, across this vast area, farm animals that are entirely pasture-fed produce just 1% of the world’s protein. Livestock farmers often claim that their grazing systems “mimic nature”. If so, the mimicry is a crude caricature. A review of evidence from over 100 studies found that when livestock are removed from the land, the abundance and diversity of almost all groups of wild animals increases. The only category in which numbers fall when grazing by cattle or sheep ceases are those that eat dung. Where there are cattle, there are fewer wild mammals, birds, reptiles and insects on the land, and fewer fish in the rivers. Perhaps most importantly – because of their crucial role in regulating living systems – there tend to be no large predators. …the world’s urban areas occupy just 1% of the planet’s land surface, in comparison with the 26% used for grazing. Agricultural sprawl inflicts a very high ecological opportunity cost: the missing ecosystems that would otherwise exist…

2022-07-25. Tyre dust: the ‘stealth pollutant’ that’s becoming a huge threat to ocean life. [] By Karen McVeigh, The Guardian. Excerpt: For decades, coho salmon returning from the Pacific Ocean to the creeks and streams of Puget Sound in Washington state to spawn were dying in large numbers. No one knew why. Scientists working to solve the mystery of the mass deaths noticed they occurred after heavy rains. Toxicologists suspected pesticides, as the main creek they studied ran through a golf course. But no evidence of pesticides was found. …The first real breakthrough happened when they tested actual runoff collected from a nearby road and exposed test salmon to it. The fish died within hours. …It was when they tested car tyre particles – a poorly understood yet ubiquitous pollutant – that they knew …“When we tested the tyres it killed all the fish,” said McIntyre. From there, they were able to identify the culprit: a toxic chemical known as 6PPD-quinone, the product of the preservative 6PPD, which is added to tyres to stop them breaking down. The pioneering study, published in 2020, has been heralded as critical to our understanding of what some describe as a “stealth pollutant”. …Tyre-wear particles – a mixture of tyre fragments, including synthetic rubbers, fillers and softeners and road surface particles – are considered by environmental scientists to be one of the most significant sources of microplastics in the ocean. Created during acceleration and braking, they are dispersed from road surfaces by rainfall and wind. The main environmental pathway is from road run-off into storm drains, where they empty into rivers and the sea. …A 2020 study suggested windblown microplastics are an even bigger source of ocean pollution than rivers.…

2022-07-17. This Pioneering Economist Says Our Obsession With Growth Must End. [] By David Marchese, The New York Times. Excerpt: Growth is the be-all and end-all of mainstream economic and political thinking. Without a continually rising G.D.P., we’re told, we risk social instability, declining standards of living and pretty much any hope of progress. But what about the counterintuitive possibility that our current pursuit of growth, rabid as it is and causing such great ecological harm, might be incurring more costs than gains? That possibility — that prioritizing growth is ultimately a losing game — is one that the lauded economist Herman Daly has been exploring for more than 50 years. In so doing, he has developed arguments in favor of a steady-state economy, one that forgoes the insatiable and environmentally destructive hunger for growth, recognizes the physical limitations of our planet and instead seeks a sustainable economic and ecological equilibrium. …I’m not against growth of wealth. I think it’s better to be richer than to be poorer. The question is, Does growth, as currently practiced and measured, really increase wealth? Is it making us richer in any aggregate sense, or might it be increasing costs faster than benefits and making us poorer? Mainstream economists don’t have any answer to that. …In ecological economics, we’ve tried to make a distinction between development and growth. When something grows, it gets bigger physically by accretion or assimilation of material. When something develops, it gets better in a qualitative sense. It doesn’t have to get bigger. An example of that is computers. You can do fantastic computations now with a small material base in the computer. That’s real development. And the art of living is not synonymous with “more stuff.” People occasionally glimpse this, and then we fall back into more, more, more.…

2022-07-16. Did Nature Heal During the Pandemic ‘Anthropause’? [] By Emily Anthes, The New York Times. Excerpt: …in 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic canceled the tourist season, …for ecologists, it has also been an unparalleled opportunity to learn more about how people affect the natural world by documenting what happened when we abruptly stepped back from it. …On April 5, 2020 — the peak of the pandemic lockdowns — 4.4 billion people, or 57 percent of the planet, were under some sort of movement restriction, scientists estimated. Driving decreased by more than 40 percent, while air traffic declined by 75 percent. …With humans holed up in their homes — cars stuck in garages, airplanes in hangars, ships in docks — air and water quality improved in some places, …Noise pollution abated on land and under the sea. Human-disturbed habitats began to recover. …In March 2020, Hawaii’s Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, a popular snorkeling destination, closed and remained shuttered for nearly nine months. …Without swimmers kicking up sediment, water clarity improved by 56 percent, Dr. Rodgers and her colleagues found. Fish density, biomass and diversity increased in waters that had previously been thick with snorkelers. …scientists found that many species had moved into new habitats as pandemic lockdowns changed what ecologists have sometimes called “the landscape of fear.” …“We are noisy and novel and resemble their predators — and in many cases are their predators,” Dr. Gaynor said. …the mountain lions that live in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California typically stay away from cities. But after local shelter-in-place orders took effect in 2020, the animals became more likely to select habitats near the urban edge, …. Dr. Wilmers speculated that the mountain lions were responding to changes in the urban soundscape, which might typically be filled with human chatter and the rumble of passing cars. “But as soon as those audio stimuli are gone, then the animals are, like, ‘Well, might as well go see if there’s anything to eat here,’” he said.…

2022-06-07. As the Great Salt Lake Dries Up, Utah Faces An ‘Environmental Nuclear Bomb’. By Christopher Flavelle, The New York Times. Excerpt: SALT LAKE CITY — If the Great Salt Lake, which has already shrunk by two-thirds, continues to dry up, here’s what’s in store: The lake’s flies and brine shrimp would die off — scientists warn it could start as soon as this summer — threatening the 10 million migratory birds that stop at the lake annually to feed on the tiny creatures. Ski conditions at the resorts above Salt Lake City, a vital source of revenue, would deteriorate. The lucrative extraction of magnesium and other minerals from the lake could stop. Most alarming, the air surrounding Salt Lake City would occasionally turn poisonous. The lake bed contains high levels of arsenic and as more of it becomes exposed, wind storms carry that arsenic into the lungs of nearby residents, who make up three-quarters of Utah’s population. …As climate change continues to cause record-breaking drought, there are no easy solutions. Saving the Great Salt Lake would require letting more snowmelt from the mountains flow to the lake, which means less water for residents and farmers. That would threaten the region’s breakneck population growth and high-value agriculture — something state leaders seem reluctant to do. [

2021-10-12. A recipe for fighting climate change and feeding the world. Source: By Sarah Kaplan, The Washington Post. Excerpt: Scientists hope this new kind of perennial grain offers a taste of what environmentally friendly farming could look like. …Most commercial crops are annual. They provide only one harvest and must be replanted every year. Growing these foods on an industrial scale usually takes huge amounts of water, fertilizer and energy, making agriculture a major source of carbon and other pollutants. Scientists say this style of farming has imperiled Earth’s soils, destroyed vital habitats and contributed to the dangerous warming of our world. But Kernza — a domesticated form of wheatgrass developed by scientists at the nonprofit Land Institute — is perennial. A single seed will grow into a plant that provides grain year after year after year. It forms deep roots that store carbon in the soil and prevent erosion. It can be planted alongside other crops to reduce the need for fertilizer and provide habitat for wildlife. In short, proponents say, it can mimic the way a natural ecosystem works — potentially transforming farming from a cause of environmental degradation into a solution to the planet’s biggest crises.… []

2020-07-30. India’s Food Bowl Heads Toward Desertification. By Gurpreet Singh, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: Water-guzzling rice consumes more water than Punjab can recharge. If current irrigation rates continue, the state will empty its groundwater reserves within 20 years. …In the mid-1960s, Punjab’s agricultural sector blossomed, owing in part to federal subsidies for fertilizers and pesticides. In the 1970s, the state government established a corporation to access the region’s abundant groundwater by constructing thousands of wells. Today at least 40% of India’s surplus food stocks are harvested in Punjab. …In the pursuit of growing more rice and wheat, more than 1.4 million agriculture tube wells have been dug in Punjab over the past 60 years. On average, groundwater levels have sunk 51 centimeters every year. Last year, groundwater levels fell more than 60 centimeters, said Gopal Krishan, a hydrology and soil scientist at India’s National Institute of Hydrology…. “This is alarming,” he said. More than 3.35 cubic meters of water are needed to grow 1 kilogram of rice, according to India’s Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices. Cultivated over 2.7 million hectares, an estimated 11 billion kilograms of rice grow in Punjab every season. The water demanded by these rice crops (equivalent to nearly 36 billion cubic meters of water) amounts to 27 times more than the yearly household consumption (1.3 billion cubic meters) by the 28 million people living in the state…. []  

2020-06-17. How Humanity Unleashed a Flood of New Diseases. By Ferris Jabr, The New York Times. Excerpt: What do Covid-19, Ebola, Lyme and AIDS have in common? They jumped to humans from animals after we started destroying habitats and ruining ecosystems. …Zoonotic pathogens do not typically seek us out nor do they stumble onto us by pure coincidence. When diseases move from animals to humans, and vice versa, it is usually because we have reconfigured our shared ecosystems in ways that make the transition much more likely. Deforestation, mining, intensive agriculture and urban sprawl destroy natural habitats, forcing wild creatures to venture into human communities. Excessive hunting, trade and consumption of wildlife significantly increase the probability of cross-species infection. Modern transportation can disperse dangerous microbes across the world in a matter of hours. “Human-caused ecological pressures and disruptions are bringing animal pathogens ever more into contact with human populations,” David Quammen wrote in his 2012 book “Spillover,” “while human technology and behavior are spreading those pathogens ever more widely and quickly.”… []  

2020-06-11. Thousands of Tons of Microplastics Are Falling from the Sky. By Scott Hershberger, Scientific American. Excerpt: Carried by the wind, dust particles from places such as the Sahara Desert can float halfway around the world before settling to the ground. As the plastics discarded by humans break down into tiny pieces in the environment, they, too, drift through the atmosphere. …Researchers spent more than a year collecting microplastics from 11 national parks and wilderness areas in the western U.S. …the results, published on Thursday in Science [], reveal the sheer scale of the problem: more than 1,000 metric tons of microplastics—the weight of 120 million to 300 million plastic water bottles—fall on protected lands in the country’s western region each year. The new findings add to scientists’ concern over microplastic pollution’s potential impacts on the environment and human health. …Plastics in the environment “carry all sorts of pesticides, heavy metals and all the other chemicals that we’ve made over time,” he adds. “They’re going to carry them directly into our lungs.” …Janice Brahney, a watershed scientist at Utah State University and lead author of the new study, initially set out to investigate how dust carries nutrients, not plastic. But after peering into her microscope and seeing colorful beads and fibers among the bits of dust, she refocused her efforts. … The particles and fibers they captured originated as carpeting, paint, cosmetic products, camping gear, and more. But the largest contribution came from clothing. …The scientists found microplastics in almost every sample they collected. In total, 4 percent of the identifiable dust particles were plastic. Brahney and her colleagues “immediately realized the gravity of what we were seeing,” she says. “That was a moment of being just completely astounded.”… [ ] See also article in Science [] and New York Times article [].

2020-04-13. China Limited the Mekong’s Flow. Other Countries Suffered a Drought. By Hannah Beech, The New York Times. Excerpt: …farmers and fishers across the Mekong River region were contending with the worst drought in living memory. …new research from American climatologists shows for the first time that China, where the headwaters of the Mekong spring forth from the Tibetan Plateau, was not experiencing the same hardship at all. Instead, Beijing’s engineers appear to have directly caused the record low water levels by limiting the river’s flow. …The Mekong is one of the most fertile rivers on earth, nurturing tens of millions of people with its nutrient rich waters and fisheries. But a series of dams, mostly in China, have robbed the river’s riches…. [

2020-04-16. ‘There’s No More Water’: Climate Change on a Drying Island. By Tommy Trenchard, The New York Times. Excerpt: A delicate ecosystem was disrupted in the Comoros, off East Africa, when forests were cleared to make way for farmland. The consequences offer lessons for other parts of the developing world. …The island, part of the nation of the Comoros off the East African coast, receives more annual rainfall than most of Europe. But a combination of deforestation and climate change has caused at least half of its permanent rivers to stop flowing in the dry season. Since the 1950s, the island has been clearing forests to make way for farmland and in the process disrupted a delicate ecosystem…. [

2020-03-06. Human Composting Is a Greener Way to Go. By Kimberly M. S. Cartier, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: …In 2019, 93.8% of people who died in the United States were either buried or cremated, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. However, those two funeral methods each have a large environmental impact. Burial puts millions of liters of embalming fluid and thousands of cubic meters of wood into the ground. The carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by cremation is equivalent to driving a car hundreds of kilometers. …Composting deceased persons, or natural organic reduction, provides another sustainable alternative to cremation and burial. The concept got its start from the widespread practice of composting dead livestock. …In the pilot study, the researchers composted six donated research subjects using natural plant material as a starter. After 4–7 weeks, each body turned 2–3 cubic yards of starter into 1.5–2 cubic yards of compost and bones. …Human composting has a long way to go before it becomes commonplace. In May 2019, Washington became the first state to legalize the practice. Similar legislation is under consideration in California and Colorado…. [

2020-02-13. Science Gets Up to Speed on Dry Rivers. By Margaret Shanafield, et al, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: Australia’s third-longest river, the Darling, normally experiences periods of medium to low flow, punctuated by flood events. But vast stretches of the river in New South Wales have been bone dry for the past two summers, and in 2019 the river was dry by early spring. The lack of flows has left communities along its banks in dire straits, with many trucking in water to serve even basic domestic water requirements. Millions of dollars have been spent building pipelines to distant reservoirs, while groundwater resources have also been put under increased stress to fill gaps. River ecosystems have also felt the impacts acutely, with mass fish deaths being just one example. Periods of drought are partly responsible for the diminishing flows in the Darling. More important, however, are increasing water withdrawals over several decades that have taken a toll on this river, whose flow has been heavily altered by damming and diversion for irrigation. The challenges posed by the increasing frequency and duration of no-flow periods in rivers are not unique to arid regions: Over half of the world’s streams and rivers are dry for some part of the year, and the geographic extent of nonperennial waterways is forecast to increase because of climate change and increasing water use. Headwaters in humid regions typically also dry out for part of the year because they drain such small regions. These streams, too, are being affected by climate change…. [ In Indonesia, Outlaw Gold Miners Poison Themselves to Survive. By Richard C. PaddockPhotographs by Adam Dean, The New York Times. 

2019-12-30. In Indonesia, Outlaw Gold Miners Poison Themselves to Survive. By Richard C. PaddockPhotographs by Adam Dean, The New York Times. [] Excerpt: TALIWANG, Indonesia — The wildcat miner had something to prove: Processing gold ore with liquid mercury was perfectly safe. So he drank some of the toxic chemical, choosing the promises of gold fever over the pain of mercury poisoning. …For decades, Mr. Syarafuddin and thousands of small-scale miners like him have worked illegally in West Sumbawa on land the government leases to large mining companies. The outlaw miners pay nothing for rights to the land but reap as much as $6 million a month in gold. …About one million small-scale gold miners operate across Indonesia, the world’s largest island nation, and the outlaw industry presents a vexing paradox for the country. The use of mercury in the wildcat camps results in devastating effects on health and the environment. The heavy metal is well known as a slow-acting poison that seeps into the food chain, causing birth defects, neurological disorders and death. But because the mines are a short-term boon to the economy — employing people who might otherwise live in crushing poverty — the government is reluctant to shut them down….

2019-12-30. ‘A Slow-Motion Chernobyl’: How Lax Laws Turned a River Into a Disaster. By Steve Fisher and Elisabeth Malkin, The New York Times. [] Excerpt: A look at 15 years of attempts to clean up Mexico’s most polluted waterway revealed that the country has neither the means nor the laws to preserve its environment. …By the time the polluted Santiago River bursts over a waterfall on the outskirts of Guadalajara, in western Mexico, its stench seems to be everywhere: hovering over crops, seeping into homes, fouling the tap water. The river smells of industrial waste and sewage — a catastrophe years in the making, with far-ranging consequences. Activists say the chemicals streaming from factories have contributed to a toxic brew that has killed and sickened many along its banks. The environment minister recently called it an “environmental hell.”….

2019-11-15. Modeling How Groundwater Pumping Will Affect Aquatic Ecosystems. By Adityarup Chakravorty, Eos/AGU. [] . Excerpt: Almost 30% of Earth’s freshwater supply lies hidden from view as groundwater. These waters, though mostly invisible, are vital for us humans. Groundwater provides about half the global supply of drinking water and is used to grow the majority of the world’s irrigated crops. Groundwater is also an inextricable cog in the global water cycle. In many areas, discharge from groundwater replenishes streams and rivers, helping sustain aquatic ecosystems. Many of these ecosystems are now under threat, according to a new study. Inge de Graaf, a hydrological environmental systems researcher at the University of Freiburg, and colleagues simulated on a global scale how current rates of groundwater extraction will affect surface streams and rivers and the ecosystems associated with them. “Almost 20% of the regions where groundwater is pumped currently suffer from a reduction of river flow, putting ecosystems at risk,” de Graaf wrote in a recent blog post. “We expect that by 2050 more than half of the regions with groundwater abstractions will not be able to maintain healthy ecosystems.”….

2019-10-22. The World Can Make More Water From the Sea, but at What Cost? By Henry Fountain, The New York Times. [] E Excerpt: THUWAL, Saudi Arabia — Desalinated seawater is the lifeblood of Saudi Arabia, no more so than at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, an international research center that rose from the dry, empty desert a decade ago. Produced from water from the adjacent Red Sea that is forced through salt-separating membranes, it is piped into the campus’s gleaming lab buildings and the shops, restaurants and cookie-cutter homes of the surrounding planned neighborhoods.  …Desalination provides all of the university’s fresh water, nearly five million gallons a day. But that amount is just a tiny fraction of Saudi Arabia’s total production. …desalinated water makes up about half of the fresh water supply in this nation of 33 million people, one of the most water-starved on Earth. Worldwide, desalination is increasingly seen as one possible answer to problems of water quantity and quality that will worsen with global population growth and the extreme heat and prolonged drought linked to climate change. … the United Nations definition of absolute water scarcity, which is about 350 gallons per person per day, and a 2017 report from the World Bank []suggests that climate change will be the biggest factor increasing the pressure on water supplies in the future. …There are environmental costs to desalination as well: in the emissions of greenhouse gases from the large amount of energy used, and in the disposal of the brine, which in addition to being extremely salty is laced with toxic treatment chemicals…. 

2019-08-17. New maps show how little is left of West Coast estuaries. By Peter Fimrite, San Francisco Chronicle. [] Excerpt: The most detailed study ever done of coastal estuaries concludes that nearly 750,000 acres of historic tidal wetlands along the West Coast, including enormous swaths of Bay Area habitat, have disappeared largely as a result of development. The cutting-edge survey led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration determined that 85% of vegetated tidal lands that once existed in California, Oregon and Washington has been diked, drained or cut off from the sea. The study, published Wednesday in the scientific journal PLOS One [], documented dramatic decreases in wetland habitat around San Francisco Bay, the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and nearly 450 other bays, lagoons, river deltas and coastal creek mouths throughout the West. …As the Trump administration relaxes rules protecting wetlands and streams, communities around the bay have already begun identifying areas where tidal marshes can be expanded, restored or re-created. A restoration blueprint, called the San Francisco Bay Shoreline Adaptation Atlas, was released in May by the San Francisco Estuary Institute and SPUR, a San Francisco urban planning research center. …The goal is to eventually restore 100,000 acres of bay marsh, much of it in the Napa and Suisun areas, along the Petaluma River and in the South Bay….

2019-05-28. Food Delivery Apps Are Drowning China in Plastic. By Raymond Zhong and Carolyn Zhang, The New York Times. [] Excerpt: BEIJING — In all likelihood, the enduring physical legacy of China’s internet boom will not be the glass-and-steel office complexes or the fancy apartments for tech elites. It will be the plastic. The astronomical growth of food delivery apps in China is flooding the country with takeout containers, utensils and bags. …The vast majority of this plastic ends up discarded, buried or burned with the rest of the trash, researchers and recyclers say. …People in China still generate less plastic waste, per capita, than Americans. But researchers estimate that nearly three-quarters of China’s plastic waste ends up in inadequately managed landfills or out in the open, where it can easily make its way into the sea. More plastic enters the world’s oceans from China than from any other country. …Recyclers manage to return some of China’s plastic trash into usable form to feed the nation’s factories. The country recycles around a quarter of its plastic, government statistics show, compared with less than 10 percent in the United States. But in China, takeout boxes do not end up recycled, by and large….  

2019-05-08. Two-thirds of the world’s longest rivers no longer run free. By Elizabeth Pennisi, Science Magazine. Excerpt: About two-thirds of the world’s longest rivers are no longer free flowing, compromising their ability to move sediment, facilitate fish migration, and perform other vital ecosystem services, according to a new study. And with more than 3700 large dams in the works, the future of free-flowing waterways looks even bleaker, researchers say. …In particular, the researchers focused on the 246 longest rivers encompassing more than 1000 kilometers of flowing water—think the Nile and Mississippi rivers—because of their huge ecological impact. Just 90 of those big rivers are still unencumbered, they report today in Nature. Most of the remaining unblocked rivers are in the Amazon, the Arctic, and Africa’s Congo basin. “In the U.S., Europe, and more developed areas, these longer, free-flowing rivers don’t really exist,” Poff says. And those free rivers that remain “are some of the most important places for freshwater species,” says Michele Thieme, a WWF freshwater ecologist. Freshwater plants and animals are declining twice as fast as terrestrial and marine populations, WWF has found. And rivers in general have a lot of hidden value not fully appreciated by policymakers, Thieme notes….

2019-05-06. Biodiversity Report Paints a Bleak Picture. By Randy Showstack, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: The natural world is under siege and declining at a dizzying and dismal rate, according to a sobering new report on biodiversity. The rate of global change in nature during the past half century “is unprecedented in human history,” according to a landmark global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services released today, 6 May. The global rate of species extinction “is already at least tens to hundreds of times higher than the average rate over the past 10 million years and is accelerating,” according to the report [] by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). The report states that about 1 million species are threatened with extinction, many within decades. …“Goals for conserving and sustainably using nature and achieving sustainability cannot be met by current trajectories, and goals for 2030 and beyond may only be achieved through transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors,” the report states. …The report, compiled by 145 expert authors who reviewed about 15,000 scientific and government sources and also drew on indigenous and local knowledge, is the most comprehensive document ever prepared about biodiversity. …75% of the terrestrial environment and 40% of marine environments have been severely altered by human actions, about 55% of the ocean area is covered by industrial fishing, the growth of urban areas has more than doubled since 1992, and the amount of renewable and nonrenewable resources that are extracted globally each year has doubled since 1980. According to the report, the direct drivers of change in nature that have the largest global impact are, in order, changes in land and sea use, exploitation of organisms, climate change, pollution, and the invasion of alien species….  See also New York Times article Humans Are Speeding Extinction and Altering the Natural World at an ‘Unprecedented’ Pace [] and Science article Landmark analysis documents the alarming global decline of nature []

2018-10-18. Searching for Water Across Borders. By Jeff Nesbit, The New York Times. [] Excerpt: As climate change begins to make water scarcity a critical security issue globally, wealthier countries have begun to look outside their borders to meet their water needs. In moves that have important trade and geopolitical implications, Saudi Arabia and China have come to America to help solve their water problems and feed their people. In 2014, Saudi Arabia’s largest dairy company, Almarai, bought about 15 square miles of farmland in Arizona for $47.5 million to grow alfalfa to feed its dairy cows back home. Huge amounts of water are required to cultivate the crop — nearly four times as much as wheat — which is why the Saudis had come to Arizona. China, too, had come to the United States for food that requires vast amounts of fresh water to produce. Facing water scarcity issues in and around the Gobi Desert, China has been importing more than half of the world’s soybeans, another water-intensive crop, from farmers in the United States and South America. And not just soybeans. In 2013, a Chinese company bought the world’s largest pork producer, Smithfield Foods. Until recently, the meat from a quarter of all the hogs raised in the United States — a process that also consumes enormous amounts of water to grow the feed for these animals — ended up in China….  

2016-07-28. How Irrigation in Asia Affects Rainfall in Africa. By Sarah Stanley, EoS Earth and Space News, AGU. Excerpt: Agricultural irrigation is so widespread that it accounts for about 4% of the total evapotranspiration of water from Earth’s surface. Scientists have known for some time that water vapor from irrigation affects regional and global climates. Now, for the first time, researchers have shown that irrigation in one region can directly affect the climate of another region thousands of kilometers away. De Vrese et al. used the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology’s Earth System Model to simulate the fate and impact of water used for irrigation in South Asia from 1979 to 1999. In the simulations, early spring winds carried water vapor from irrigation in South Asia across the Arabian Sea and into East Africa, increasing humidity there. By late spring, when irrigation in the Middle East, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan is in full swing, wind transported water vapor into Africa, increasing humidity as far west as Nigeria. …The simulations show that water vapor transport from South Asian irrigation increases springtime rainfall in Africa by up to 1 millimeter per day. Increased rainfall and cloud cover may cool the surface by up to 0.5 kelvin. In the arid parts of East Africa, as much as 40% of the total yearly rainfall may be attributed to irrigation in Asia….

2016-04-29. The case for farmed fish. By Dan Farber, UC Berkeley Blog. Excerpt: It’s time to take a second look at fish farms. Environmentalists, not to mention foodies, tend to turn up their noses at fish farms.  It’s true that badly managed fish farms can be a source of water pollution and other environmental problems.  But sustainable fish farming would have major environmental benefits. To begin with, fish farming provides an alternative that may reduce pressures on wild fish stocks. Fish are a major source of protein in many parts of the world, and the result has been massive damage to wild fisheries and ecosystems.  …We shouldn’t let our sense that fish farming is “unnatural” get in the way of environmentally sensible choices….

2015-11-16. Celebrating United Nations World Toilet Day. By Cathy Cockrell, UC Berkeley News Center. Excerpt: …the annual international observance dedicated to the toilet, meant to draw attention to the worldwide sanitation picture and its impact on health, safety and the environment. The facts may be startling to those who enjoy modern sanitation: An estimated 2.4 billion people worldwide (about one in three) lack access to a facility that at least separates human excrement from human contact. More than a billion relieve themselves on the ground or into open bodies of water. Nearly a thousand children a day die of diarrhea related to water, sanitation or hygiene. …William Tarpeh…’s using new technical processes to extract nitrogen from urine to create a nutrient-rich fertilizer.  …Emily Woods is Tarpeh’s counterpart on the feces side of sanitation. A mechanical engineering grad student at Berkeley, she’s also co-founder of Sanivation, a young business venture that has begun converting human feces into cooking charcoal in a poor community in Kenya……..

2015-10-20. SUBWAY® Restaurants Elevates Current Antibiotic-Free Policy U. S. Restaurants Will Only Serve Animal Proteins That Have Never Been Treated With Antibiotics. Subway Policy Statement. [Consumers are recognizing that the routine use of antibiotics in the livestock industry contributes to a proliferation of superbugs that are too strong to be wiped out by these crucially important medicines. Infections that are difficult — or sometimes impossible — to treat are on the rise. Experts at the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the World Economic Forum are in agreement: Antibiotic resistance caused by overuse of these drugs in human medicine and in agriculture is one of the top public health threats in the world today.

2015-05-01. Hacking Our Diet. onEarth magazine of NRDC. Excerpt: The American way of eating is bad for our health—and the planet’s. Let’s reboot. Around the middle of the last century, everything changed about the way Americans eat. Drugs, chemicals, and machinery transformed thousands of years of agriculture in just a few short decades, with world-shaping results. We can produce way more, yes—but we’re using more land, more fuel, more pesticides, and more drugs to do it, with a deleterious impact on our water, wildlife, public health, and climate. …significant change is on the menu, driven by social, cultural, and, particularly, technological innovations in how we produce, package, ship, and store our food….

2014-12-23. Restored Forests Breathe Life Into Efforts Against Climate Change. By Justin Gillis, The New York Times. Excerpt: LA VIRGEN, Costa Rica — …this small country chopped down a majority of its ancient forests. But after a huge conservation push and a wave of forest regrowth, trees now blanket more than half of Costa Rica. Far to the south, the Amazon forest was once being quickly cleared to make way for farming, but Brazil has slowed the loss so much that it has done more than any other country to limit the emissions leading to global warming. And on the other side of the world, in Indonesia, bold new promises have been made in the past few months to halt the rampant cutting of that country’s forests, backed by business interests with the clout to make it happen. In the battle to limit the risks of climate change, it has been clear for decades that focusing on the world’s immense tropical forests — saving the ones that are left, and perhaps letting new ones grow — is the single most promising near-term strategy. That is because of the large role that forests play in what is called the carbon cycle of the planet. Trees pull the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, out of the air and lock the carbon away in their wood and in the soil beneath them. Destroying them, typically by burning, pumps much of the carbon back into the air, contributing to climate change….

2014-06-09. Of Fish, Monsoons and the Future. Excerpt: AKOL, CAMBODIA — …Tonle Sap Lake… yields about 300,000 tons of fish, making it one of the world’s most productive freshwater ecosystems. …But the Tonle Sap is in trouble — from overfishing to feed a fast-growing population, from the cutting of mangrove forests that shelter young fish, from hydroelectric dams upstream, and from the dry seasons that are expected to grow hotter and longer with climate change. …Keo Mao, a 42-year-old fisherman from Akol, says he hopes his five children can find a way out of the life that has sustained his family for generations. “The lake now is not really so good,” he said. “There are too many people.”…Cambodia’s population is growing rapidly, at a rate of nearly 2 percent a year. Many rural Cambodians, including subsistence farmers displaced by land grants to large agribusinesses, have migrated to the Tonle Sap from upland areas. Others come after selling their farmland to pay off debt. From 1998 to 2008, the most recent period studied, the number of full-time Tonle Sap fishermen grew by 38 percent to 38,200, and the number of lakeside farmers, many of whom fish part time, increased 33 percent to 520,800. …“But the human aspect of an ecosystem is crucial,” said Jianguo Liu, who leads the International Network of Research on Coupled Human and Natural Systems, or Chans-net, a network of 1,300 ecologists, economists, and sociologists. “The central message of Chans is that humans and nature are coupled, just like husband and wife,” says Dr. Liu, director of the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability at Michigan State University. “They interact, work together, and the impacts are not just one way. There are feedbacks.” By Chris Berdik, The New York Times.

2014-05-19. A Sacred Reunion: The Colorado River Returns to the Sea.  Excerpt: …It is the first time in sixteen years that the Colorado River, which flows 1,450 miles (2,334 kilometers) from its headwaters in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado to the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California) in northwestern Mexico, will have reached its final, natural destination. This reunion between river and sea is due to an agreement between Mexico and the United States, known as Minute 319, to advance the restoration of the Colorado Delta by releasing a pulse flow and sustaining base flows in a five-year experiment. The pulse flow, which began on March 23, is now nearing its end.  Scientists had not planned on the river reaching its estuary as part of this grand experiment.  But that it has, is a wonderful bonus. This confluence of the river and the high tides signals that “improving estuarine conditions in this upper part of the estuary is possible if restoration efforts continue in the future,” [wrote] Francisco Zamora, director of the Colorado River Delta Legacy Program at the Sonoran Institute. …Before the big dams and diversions of the 20th century, the Colorado’s nutrient-rich freshwater mixed with the Upper Gulf’s salty tides to create the perfect water chemistry and nursery grounds for Gulf corvina, totoaba, brown and blue shrimp, and other fisheries of great commercial and cultural importance to the region and to the indigenous Cucapá…. – By Sandra Postel of National Geographic.

2013-07-06.  The real threat to our future is peak water.  Excerpt: As population rises, overpumping means some nations have reached peak water, which threatens food supply. …Today some 18 countries, containing half the world’s people, are overpumping their aquifers. Among these are the big three grain producers – China, India, and the United States – and several other populous countries, including Iran, Pakistan and Mexico. During the last two decades, several of these countries have overpumped to the point that their aquifers are being depleted and their wells are going dry. They have passed not only peak water, but also peak grain production. …Among the countries whose use of water has peaked and begun to decline are Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. In these countries peak grain has followed peak water…. After being self-sufficient in wheat for over 20 years, the Saudis announced in early 2008 that, with their aquifers largely depleted, they would reduce wheat planting by one-eighth each year until 2016, when production would end. By then Saudi Arabia projects it will be importing some 15m tons of wheat, rice, corn and barley to feed its Canada-sized population of 30 million. It is the first country to publicly project how aquifer depletion will shrink its grain harvest…. Syria…grain production peaked in 2002… Iraq peaked in 2004. …in the Arab Middle East the world is seeing the collision between population growth and water supply at the regional level. …In the United States, farmers are over-pumping in the Western Great Plains, including in several leading grain-producing states such as Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. …but the water is drawn from the Ogallala aquifer, a huge underground water body that stretches from Nebraska southwards to the Texas Panhandle. It is, unfortunately, a fossil aquifer, one that does not recharge. Once it is depleted, the wells go dry and farmers either go back to dryland farming or abandon farming altogether, depending on local conditions…. Lester Brown, The Observer.

2013-04.  28,000 Rivers Disappeared in China: What Happened?. Angel Hsu and William Miao, The Atlantic.  Excerpt: …As recently as 20 years ago, there were an estimated 50,000 rivers in China, …. But now … more than 28,000 of these rivers are missing. …Official explanations from the Chinese government have attributed the significant reduction to statistical discrepancies, water and soil loss, and climate change. …Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute and a leading water expert agrees: “Climate change is a real threat to the world’s resources, and we already see evidence of impacts on water availability, quality, and extreme events. But the water challenges in China are far greater than just climate change,” he said. Pinning the rivers’ disappearance on climate change is politically palatable right now, and the human origin of global warming is not controversial in China. But in an unusual twist, blaming climate change allows officials to absolve themselves of the poor management, governance, lack of groundwater extraction controls, and rapid development that are more likely culprits for the river’s disappearances. “As China’s population and economy have rapidly grown, the country has experienced serious degradation of its water resources, including massive overuse and contamination,” Gleick said. “The ‘disappearance’ of major rivers and streams is far more likely to be directly connected to uncontrolled and unsustainable extraction of water for industry and agriculture, though climate change may play a greater role in the future.” ….

2013-04-23.  In China, Breathing Becomes a Childhood Risk. Edward Wong, New York Times.  Excerpt:   …Levels of deadly pollutants up to 40 times the recommended exposure limit in Beijing and other cities have struck fear into parents and led them to take steps that are radically altering the nature of urban life for their children. Parents are confining sons and daughters to their homes, even if it means keeping them away from friends. Schools are canceling outdoor activities and field trips. Parents with means are choosing schools based on air-filtration systems, and some international schools have built gigantic, futuristic-looking domes over sports fields to ensure healthy breathing. “I hope in the future we’ll move to a foreign country,” Ms. Zhang, a lawyer, said as her ailing son, Wu Xiaotian, played on a mat in their apartment, near a new air purifier. “Otherwise we’ll choke to death.” …Scientific studies justify fears of long-term damage to children and fetuses. A study published by The New England Journal of Medicine showed that children exposed to high levels of air pollution can suffer permanent lung damage. The research was done in the 1990s in Los Angeles, where levels of pollution were much lower than those in Chinese cities today. A study by California researchers published last month suggested a link between autism in children and the exposure of pregnant women to traffic-related air pollution. Columbia University researchers, in a study done in New York, found that prenatal exposure to air pollutants could result in children with anxiety, depression and attention-span problems. Some of the same researchers found in an earlier study that children in Chongqing, China, who had prenatal exposure to high levels of air pollutants from a coal-fired plant were born with smaller head circumferences, showed slower growth and performed less well on cognitive development tests at age 2. The shutdown of the plant resulted in children born with fewer difficulties. …Some children’s hospitals in northern China reported a large number of patients with respiratory illnesses this winter, when the air pollution soared. During one bad week in January, Beijing Children’s Hospital admitted up to 9,000 patients a day for emergency visits, half of them for respiratory problems, according to a report by Xinhua, the state news agency. …Face masks are now part of the urban dress code….

20 April 2012. Food for thought on greenhouse gas emissions by Rachel Berkowitz,   PhysicsToday. Excerpt: The third highest greenhouse gas contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide and methane, N2O is the most potent of the three gases because it’s a better absorber of IR radiation. We humans generate 6 million metric tons of nitrogen as N2O emissions, and 10 billion metric tons of carbon as CO2, per year. But it’s going to be tricky to reduce N2O emissions, as food production processes have been accelerating to feed Earth’s growing human population, which is currently at 7 billion. The nitrogen-use efficiency of crops is far from perfect, and efficiency is further reduced when crops are used as animal feed. Eric Davidson, president and a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, … calculated that to stabilize atmospheric N2O concentrations at 345 ppb, people would need to reduce both their meat consumption and industry emissions by 50%… lends new value to Albert Einstein’s observation that “Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.”…. 

5 June 2011. A Warming Planet Struggles to Feed Itself by Justin Gillis. Excerpt: The rapid growth in farm output that defined the late 20th century has slowed to the point that it is failing to keep up with the demand for food, driven by population increases and rising affluence in once-poor countries. Consumption of the four staples that supply most human calories — wheat, rice, corn and soybeans — has outstripped production for much of the past decade, drawing once-large stockpiles down to worrisome levels. The imbalance between supply and demand has resulted in two huge spikes in international grain prices since 2007, with some grains more than doubling in cost…
Now, the latest scientific research suggests that a previously discounted factor is helping to destabilize the food system: climate change…
For nearly two decades, scientists had predicted that climate change would be relatively manageable for agriculture, suggesting that even under worst-case assumptions, it would probably take until 2080 for food prices to double…
Until a few years ago, these assumptions went largely unchallenged. But lately, the destabilization of the food system and the soaring prices have rattled many leading scientists. 

2010 June 30. The Asian Century Calls for a Rethink on Growth. By Kevin Brown, The Financial Times. Excerpt: …The United Nations is forecasting that the world’s population will rise by more than 40 per cent to 9.3bn by 2050, with the proportion living in cities increasing to 70 per cent from slightly more than 50 per cent today. But the impact will be concentrated in Asia, where two-thirds of the world’s population lives, and where rapid economic growth is accelerating the natural process of urbanisation. While Europe is dealing with the problems of ageing, Asia (excluding Japan) will be trying to cope with a rush to the cities estimated at nearly 140,000 people a day.
…The physical manifestations of the dash for gross domestic product are obvious over much of the continent. In Mumbai, shanty towns breed resentment among street dwellers starving next to the luxury apartment blocks of the rich. In Hong Kong and Shenzhen, air pollution clogs the lungs of billionaires and their immigrant maids alike. In Kuala Lumpur, cars belch fumes in barely moving traffic jams because no government has yet built a metro system.
…The worst of these crises is already upon us. At least nine countries, including India and China, are officially regarded as “water stressed” because they have access to less than 1,700 cubic metres per person per year. Arjun Thapan, the Asian Development Bank’s special adviser on water and infrastructure, says the gap between supply and demand will reach 40 per cent by 2030, as population growth and rising prosperity trigger greater demand from industry and agriculture. Climate change is likely to make the shortage even worse. India, for example, gets much of its water from a short monsoon season. If rain falls more heavily than expected, or in different places, much of it may run off uncollected.
…What is really needed, though, is a new approach to growth. Noeleen Heyzer, head of the UN’s economic and social commission for Asia and the Pacific, says the impact of trying to maintain the existing growth pattern over the next 15 years would be environmentally and socially devastating. Governments in Asia, she says, “simply do not have the luxury of growing first and cleaning up later”. 

2010 June 2. UN Urges Global Move to Meat and Dairy-Free Diet. By Felicity Carus, The Guardian. Excerpt: 
…A global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change, a UN report said today. 
…As the global population surges towards a predicted 9.1 billion people by 2050, western tastes for diets rich in meat and dairy products are unsustainable, says the report from United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) international panel of sustainable resource management. 
…Both energy and agriculture need to be “decoupled” from economic growth because environmental impacts rise roughly 80% with a doubling of income, the report found. 
…Achim Steiner, the UN under-secretary general and executive director of the UNEP, said: “Decoupling growth from environmental degradation is the number one challenge facing governments in a world of rising numbers of people, rising incomes, rising consumption demands and the persistent challenge of poverty alleviation.” 

2010 May 26. China-India Water Shortage Means Coca-Cola Joins Intel in Fight. By Cherian Thomas, Unni Krishnan, and Sophie Leung, Bloomberg. Excerpt: …Dagar and Zhou show the daily struggle with tainted or inadequate water in India and China, a growing shortage that the World Bank says will hamper growth in the world’s fastest- growing major economies…. 
…China’s 1.33 billion people each have 2,117 cubic meters of water available per year, compared with 1,614 cubic meters in India and as much as 9,943 cubic meters in the U.S., according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The 1.2 billion people in India, where farmers use 80 percent of available water, will exhaust their fresh-water supplies by 2050 at the current rate, the World Bank estimates. 
…“Water is a resource under great pressure in China and globally,” said Kenth Kaerhoeg, a spokesman in Hong Kong for Coca-Cola Pacific, which has water recovery systems at its 39 plants in China to reduce consumption. “Economic development, climate change and population growth will increase pressure on freshwater resources in China.” 
… India has concentrated on conservation. The government has made it mandatory for new houses and condominiums in cities to collect rainwater in an effort to curb a decline in groundwater levels. 
…The Congress-led coalition is also implementing a six-year- old plan to replenish about a million lakes, ponds and water tanks. About 60 percent of India’s arable land still depends on the annual monsoon. 

2010 May 25. Berkeley Lab Report: Simple Energy Efficiency Measures Can Eliminate Electricity Shortage in India. By Julie Chao, LBNL Newscenter. Excerpt: …As chaotic as things are, there is a solution: simple energy efficiency measures, according to a new report from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), can eliminate the electricity deficit as early as 2013. What’s more, doing so will add $505 billion to India’s gross domestic product (GDP) between 2009 and 2017 (compared to India’s total GDP of $911 billion in 2007-2008), as businesses that have had to cut back due to electricity shortages can restore production. …The measures are feasible, Sathaye says, because in fact India has had energy efficiency programs in place in various sectors since at least 2001, when the government passed the Energy Conservation Act, which, among other things, created the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE). “Most developing countries hadn’t done anything like that in 2001,” Sathaye said. “It’s very unique. Neither the U.S. nor China have a bureau dedicated to energy efficiency.” …Still, the gap between electricity supply and demand continues to grow; India is now importing coal as well as natural gas to keep up with energy consumption. “Energy demand is increasing dramatically due to rising incomes, industrialization, urbanization and population growth,” said Mathur. “The demand will increase by a factor of two over the next 20 years and possibly by three. We’re in a very tight situation.” 

2009 November 19. The New Republic: Combating Climate For The Ladies. By Lydia Depillis, NPR. Excerpt: Is climate change gender-neutral? Not according to the U.N. Population Fund, which earlier today released a report arguing that women suffer disproportionately from the impacts of global warming….
But on the flipside, the report argues, women are also in the best position to help mitigate both the causes and effects of rising temperatures — which is why policies to empower women, like targeted microloans and reproductive healthcare, shouldn’t be treated as separate from climate policy.
…Letting women control their own reproductive destines is essential not only for their own well-being, but also to head off future emissions. Population growth, the UNFPA notes, has been responsible for between 40 percent to 60 percent of past emissions growth — and getting people to change their consumption habits has proven harder than simply helping women to make their own decisions on how many kids to have, through better education or access to birth control….
Beyond that, though, women are crucial to environmental management for things they can do, rather than things they can chose not to do. For example, women produce 60 percent to 80 percent of the food in developing countries, and often know agricultural techniques that sequester carbon and also keep fields in better shape…. 

2009 July 31. The Food, Energy and Environment ‘Trilemma’. By John Lorinc, The NY Times. Excerpt: At the 2009 Bio World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology, held in Montreal last week, industry players and scientists found themselves pondering two seemingly contradictory concerns.
One focused on how rapid advances in genetic engineering and biotechnology can expand the market for cellulosic ethanol and other “second-generation biofuels,” which are touted as low-emission substitutes for corn ethanol (itself a partial substitute for gasoline).
The other involved the problem of ensuring that exponential growth in the global biofuel market — which is projected to grow 12.3 percent a year through 2017, according to one recent study of the industry — will not hurt the environment and divert vast tracks of arable land needed for food or grain production.
A paper published in Science earlier this month, referred to the triple challenges of energy, environment and food as the biofuel “trilemma.” The authors identified five “beneficial” sources of biomass: perennial plants grown on abandoned farm fields, crop residue, sustainably harvested wood residue, double or mixed crops, and industrial/municipal waste.
“In a world seeking solutions to its energy, environmental, and food challenges, society cannot afford to miss out on the global greenhouse-gas emission reductions and the local environmental and societal benefits when biofuels are done right,” the authors state. “However, society also cannot accept the undesirable impacts of biofuels done wrong.”… 

2009 July 31. Family Planning Has Major Environmental Impact. ScienceDaily. Excerpt: Some people who are serious about wanting to reduce their “carbon footprint” on the Earth have one choice available to them that may yield a large long-term benefit – have one less child.
A study by statisticians at Oregon State University concluded that in the United States, the carbon legacy and greenhouse gas impact of an extra child is almost 20 times more important than some of the other environmentally sensitive practices people might employ their entire lives – things like driving a high mileage car, recycling, or using energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs.
The research also makes it clear that potential carbon impacts vary dramatically across countries. The average long-term carbon impact of a child born in the U.S. – along with all of its descendants – is more than 160 times the impact of a child born in Bangladesh.
“In discussions about climate change, we tend to focus on the carbon emissions of an individual over his or her lifetime,” said Paul Murtaugh, an OSU professor of statistics. “Those are important issues and it’s essential that they should be considered. But an added challenge facing us is continuing population growth and increasing global consumption of resources.”
In this debate, very little attention has been given to the overwhelming importance of reproductive choice, Murtaugh said. When an individual produces a child – and that child potentially produces more descendants in the future – the effect on the environment can be many times the impact produced by a person during their lifetime.
Under current conditions in the U.S., for instance, each child ultimately adds about 9,441 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of an average parent – about 5.7 times the lifetime emissions for which, on average, a person is responsible…. 

2008 Nov. The Food and Farming Transition. by Richard Heinberg, MuseLetter #199. Excerpt: The only way to avert a food crisis resulting from oil and natural gas price hikes and supply disruptions while also reversing agriculture’s contribution to climate change is to proactively and methodically remove fossil fuels from the food system.
The removal of fossil fuels from the food system is inevitable: maintenance of the current system is simply not an option over the long term….
Given the degree to which the modern food system has become dependent on fossil fuels, many proposals for de-linking food and fuels are likely to appear radical. However, efforts toward this end must be judged not by the degree to which they preserve the status quo, but by their likely ability to solve the fundamental challenge that will face us: the need to feed a global population of 7 billion with a diminishing supply of fuels available to fertilize, plow, and irrigate fields and to harvest and transport crops.
If this transition is undertaken proactively and intelligently, there could be many side benefits—more careers in farming, more protection for the environment, less soil erosion, a revitalization of rural culture, and more healthful food for everyone…. 

2008 July 21. Mideast Facing Choice Between Crops and Water. By Andrew Martin, The New York Times. Excerpt: CAIRO — Global food shortages have placed the Middle East and North Africa in a quandary, as they are forced to choose between growing more crops to feed an expanding population or preserving their already scant supply of water.
For decades nations in this region have drained aquifers, sucked the salt from seawater and diverted the mighty Nile to make the deserts bloom. But those projects were so costly and used so much water that it remained far more practical to import food than to produce it. Today, some countries import 90 percent or more of their staples.
Now, the worldwide food crisis is making many countries in this politically volatile region rethink that math.
….The population of the region has more than quadrupled since 1950, to 364 million, and is expected to reach nearly 600 million by 2050. By that time, the amount of fresh water available for each person, already scarce, will be cut in half, and declining resources could inflame political tensions further.
“The countries of the region are caught between the hammer of rising food prices and the anvil of steadily declining water availability per capita,” Alan R. Richards, a professor of economics and environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said via e-mail. “There is no simple solution.”… 

2008 June 14. China Increases Lead as Biggest Carbon Dioxide Emitter. By Elisabeth Rosentha, The New York Times. Excerpt: China has clearly overtaken the United States as the world’s leading emitter of carbon dioxide, the main heat-trapping gas, a new study has found, its emissions increasing 8 percent in 2007. The Chinese increase accounted for two-thirds of the growth in the year’s global greenhouse gas emissions, the study found. 
The report, released Friday by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, found that in 2007 China’s emissions were 14 percent higher than those of the United States. In the previous year’s annual study, the researchers found for the first time that China had become the world’s leading emitter, with carbon emissions 7 percent higher by volume than the United States in 2006.
“The difference had grown to a 14 percent difference, and that’s indeed quite large,” said Jos Olivier, a senior scientist at the Dutch agency. “It’s now so large that it’s quite a robust conclusion.”
China’s emissions are most likely to continue growing substantially for years to come because they are tied to the country’s strong economic growth and its particular mix of industry and power sources, the researchers said.
China is heavily dependent on coal and has seen its most rapid growth in some of the world’s most heavily polluting industrial sectors: cement, aluminum and plate glass.
The United States still has a vast lead in carbon dioxide emissions per person. The average American is responsible for 19.4 tons. Average emissions per person in Russia are 11.8 tons; in the European Union, 8.6 tons; China, 5.1 tons; and India, 1.8 tons.
Experts said the new data underscored the importance of getting China to sign on to any new global climate agreement. Neither China nor the United States participated in the current treaty to limit emissions, the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012 and will be replaced by a new agreement to be signed in Copenhagen at the end of 2009…. 

24 November 2007. Far From Beijing’s Reach, Officials Bend Energy Rules. The New York Times–By HOWARD W. FRENCH. Excerpt: QINGTONGXIA, China – When the central government in Beijing announced an ambitious nationwide campaign to reduce energy consumption two years ago, officials in this western regional capital got right to work: not to comply, but to engineer creative schemes to evade the requirements.
The energy campaign required local officials to raise electricity prices as a way of discouraging the growth of large energy-consuming industries and forcing the least efficient of these users out of business. Instead, fearing the impact on the local economy, the regional government brokered a special deal for the Qingtongxia Aluminum Group, which accounts for 20 percent of this region’s industrial consumption and roughly 10 percent of its gross domestic product.
Local officials arranged for the company to be removed from the national electrical grid and supplied directly by the local company, exempting it from expensive fees,
…national officials aimed to cut energy use by 20 percent per dollar of output within five years. China’s energy consumption has more than quadrupled since 1980. The environmental toll is staggering. The country is already the world’s largest user of coal, the dirtiest type of energy. China’s coal consumption alone is projected to double in the next 20 years, according to the International Energy Agency.
…Even before the national energy consumption campaign began in 2005, Ningxia officials worked to get around environmental regulations that could hinder growth. Although Beijing issued rules in 2002 trying to limit the number of new coal-burning power plants, Ningxia has built at least three that either did not have the required permission, or failed to meet new environmental standards, according to the State Environmental Protection Administration.
… “To get reforms implemented, two things have to be done,” said Lin Boqiang, director of the China Energy Research Institute at Xiamen University. “One is to rate the local government’s performance on compliance, and if they don’t comply telling people they have to go. The other is introducing financially meaningful penalties. We haven’t seen either of these yet.”

26 September 2007. Can Earth’s Plants Keep up with Us? by Stephanie Renfrow. Excerpt: …as global population and incomes rise, will plants be able to keep up with the human appetite? And if they cannot, which regions will be short on food and other plant-based resources, and what will that mean for nations as they try to assure food security for their citizens?
Marc Imhoff, a biophysical scientist with NASA, has been exploring these questions with colleagues from the University of Maryland’s Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center, the World Wildlife Fund, and the International Food Policy Research Institute for six years. He said, “Our primary motivation has been to find out where we stand relative to our survival on the planet, and what our needs are compared to the capability of the biosphere to sustain them.
…To measure net primary production, Imhoff used an index, or scale, of vegetation based on satellite data from the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) instrument. …He combined the monthly vegetation data with temperature, humidity, rainfall, and land cover type in a model that simulates plant growth. The model provided Imhoff and his colleagues an estimate of the planet’s net primary production….
…Imhoff’s next step was to measure the amount of net primary production that humans use worldwide in an average year, and then tie it to cultural consumption habits. To do that, he turned to statistics from the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) on food and fiber consumption by country, taking the data from 1995 as a typical year that matched the satellite timeline….
…To Imhoff, a … surprising finding was the importance of technology in helping balance the equation between supply and consumption. “We found that using improved technology-especially in harvesting and storage techniques-can actually halve the amount of waste in agricultural production,” he said. “Take logging. Without the benefits of improved harvesting technology, you might literally lose a tree for every one that you use.”
…Asia’s per-capita consumption is on the rise,” he said. “If consumption begins to match Western levels, there will be a significant increase in demand for food and fiber products. If technology improvements do not come with that growth, then you’ll see populations that are outstripping their regional food production capacity. …Although citizens in industrialized countries may not find the rising population in developing nations of immediate concern, poverty has been connected to terrorism, war, underemployment, border pressures, disease, and political unrest….

10 April 2007. Millions Face Hunger From Climate Change. By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Excerpt: MEXICO CITY (AP) — Rising global temperatures could melt Latin America’s glaciers within 15 years, cause food shortages affecting 130 million people across Asia by 2050 and wipe out Africa’s wheat crop, according to a U.N. report released Tuesday. The report, written and reviewed by hundreds of scientists, outlined dramatic effects of climate change including rising sea levels, the disappearance of species and intensifying natural disasters. It said 30 percent of the world’s coastlines could be lost by 2080. …Polar ice caps will likely melt, opening a waterway at the North Pole and threatening to make the Panama Canal obsolete, IPCC member Edmundo de Alba said. Warmer waters will spawn bigger and more dangerous hurricanes that will threaten coastlines not traditionally affected by them. Latin America’s diverse ecosystems will struggle with intense droughts and flooding and as many as 70 million people in the region will be left without enough water, according to the report. ”What’s clear is places suffering from drought are going to become drier, and places with a large amount of precipitation are going to see an increase in precipitation,” de Alba said. Many Latin American farmers will have to abandon traditional crops such as corn, rice, wheat and sugar as their soil becomes increasingly saline, and ranchers will have to find new ways to feed their livestock, scientists said. …In Asia, nearly 100 million people will face the risk of floods from seas that are expected to rise between 0.04 inches to 0.12 inches annually, slightly higher than the global average. The report suggests that a 3.6-degree increase in mean air temperature could decrease rain-fed rice yields by 5 percent to 12 percent in China. In Bangladesh, rice production may fall by just under 10 percent and wheat by a third by the year 2050. The drops in yields combined with rising populations could put close to 50 million extra people at risk of hunger by 2020, 132 million by 2050 and 266 million by 2080, the report said. …On the Net:

7 February 2007. China Says Rich Countries Should Take Lead on Global Warming. By JIM YARDLEY, NY Times. Excerpt: BEIJING, Feb. 6 – China said Tuesday that wealthier countries must take the lead in curbing greenhouse gas emissions and refused to say whether it would agree to any mandatory emissions limits that might hamper its booming economy. Jiang Yu, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry, said … “It must be pointed out that climate change has been caused by the long-term historic emissions of developed countries and their high per capita emissions,” she said, adding that developed countries have responsibilities for global warming “that cannot be shirked.” …China is the world’s second largest emitter of the greenhouse gases contributing to climate change, …. Last November, the International Energy Agency in Paris predicted that China would pass the United States in emissions of carbon dioxide in 2009. …Qin Dahe, chief of the China Meteorological Administration, told reporters … “President Hu Jintao has said that climate change is not just an environmental issue but also … ultimately a development issue.” …”As a developing country that’s growing rapidly and has a big population, to thoroughly transform the energy structure and use clean energy would need a lot of money,” Mr. Qin said, according to Reuters…


6 November 2006. China to Pass U.S. in 2009 in Emissions. By KEITH BRADSHER. NY Times. Excerpt: LONDON, Nov. 6 – China will surpass the United States in 2009, nearly a decade ahead of previous predictions, as the biggest emitter of the main gas linked to global warming, the International Energy Agency has concluded in a report to be released Tuesday. As a developing country, China is exempt from the Kyoto Protocol’s requirements for reductions in emissions of global warming gases. Unregulated emissions from China, India and other developing countries are likely to account for most of the global increase in carbon dioxide emissions over the next quarter-century. Moreover, the biggest current emitter of the gases, the United States, has rejected the protocol in part because most lawmakers and President Bush say its exemption for rising powers like China is unfair. If nothing is done, global energy demand is projected to grow 53 percent by 2030, the energy agency said. As a result [of increased coal and oil consumption], energy-related carbon dioxide emissions will increase 55 percent, to 44.1 billion tons in 2030.Environmental officials from around the world began meeting Monday in Nairobi to discuss a new agreement after the Kyoto Protocol.

24 October 2006 Humans living far beyond planet’s means: WWF. By Ben Blanchard. BEIJING (Reuters) – Humans are stripping nature at an unprecedented rate and will need two planets’ worth of natural resources every year by 2050 on current trends, the WWF conservation group said on Tuesday. Populations of many species, from fish to mammals, had fallen by about a third from 1970 to 2003 largely because of human threats such as pollution, clearing of forests and overfishing, the group also said in a two-yearly report. …”If everyone around the world lived as those in America, we would need five planets to support us,” Leape, an American, said in Beijing. …”If the rest of the world led the kind of lifestyles we do here in Australia, we would require three-and-a-half planets to provide the resources we use and to absorb the waste,” said Greg Bourne, WWF-Australia chief executive officer…..

Spring 2006. Consequences of China’s Growth. By Michelle Chan-Fishel. Friends of the Earth news magazine. Excerpt: …At its current growth rate, China is expected to bypass Japan as the world’s third largest economy by 2020. But although its economic growth has been astounding, it has also been very uneven, with about 800 million rural poor excluded from the benefits. As a result,millions have migrated to cities in search of work, creating a pool of 100-150 million underemployed in China’s cities. …China’s economy shows no signs of slowing down. Unfortunately, China’s growth has also created an environmental crisis, marked by unchecked industrial pollution and acute public health impacts. The country’s own State Environmental Protection Administration reported that breathing the air in China’s most polluted cities is the equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, and according to some sources, the water in five of China’s biggest river systems cannot be touched, let alone drunk…. To help fuel China’s growth, Chinese companies are actively purchasing timber, oil, gas and mineral assets around the world…. In many respects, it’s … about saving the world from what Lester Brown (in his new book Plan B, 2.0) described as the … the Western economic model: the fossil-fuel-based, auto-centered, throwaway economy. “If it will not work for China,” Brown states, “it will not work for India.” Nor will it work for any country on our planet, including our own.

2 February 2006. High-Rises That Have Low Impact on Nature. By ROBIN POGREBIN, NY Times. Excerpt: With … the Bank of America building rising at 1 Bryant Park in Manhattan … it’s not architecture with a capital A that makes the tower unusual. …It is the double-wall technology that dissipates the sun’s heat; ventilation that runs under the floor rather than through overhead ducts; carbon-dioxide monitors that assure adequate fresh air; and a system that collects and reuses rainwater and wastewater, saving 10.3 million gallons of water each year. …Not so long ago, green construction was largely dismissed as prohibitively expensive and as just so much political correctness. But the arrival of the Condé Nast tower in Times Square in 1999, designed by Fox & Fowle … sent the message that corporate America saw something to gain from the green model. “What we did was take it from a Birkenstock cultural environment into a pinstripe environment,” said Bruce Fowle, of what is now FXFowle. …Motion sensors will allow for lights and computers to be turned off when a room is empty, and the roof will collect rainwater, thus reducing runoff by 25 percent. Collected in two 14,000-gallon reclamation tanks in the basement, the rainwater will replace water lost to evaporation in the building’s air-conditioning system and will irrigate plantings and trees inside and outside the building…. Building green used to add as much as 20 percent to a project’s cost, by some estimates. That figure has recently declined to between 2 and 5 percent, largely because of the availability of new technologies and building materials….”It’s almost become as American as apple pie now,” he said.

24 January 2006. Official Release: Gridded Population of the World, Version 3.


4 October 2005, A New Measure of Well-Being From a Happy Little Kingdom. By ANDREW C. REVKIN, NY Times. …The gross domestic product, or G.D.P., is routinely used as shorthand for the well-being of a nation. But the small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has been trying out a different idea. In 1972, concerned about the problems afflicting other developing countries that focused only on economic growth, Bhutan’s newly crowned leader, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, decided to make his nation’s priority not its G.D.P. but its G.N.H., or gross national happiness. Bhutan, the king said, needed to ensure that prosperity was shared across society and that it was balanced against preserving cultural traditions, protecting the environment and maintaining a responsive government. The king, now 49, has been instituting policies aimed at accomplishing these goals. …While household incomes in Bhutan remain among the world’s lowest, life expectancy increased by 19 years from 1984 to 1998, jumping to 66 years. The country…requires that at least 60 percent of its lands remain forested, welcomes a limited stream of wealthy tourists and exports hydropower to India. “We have to think of human well-being in broader terms,” said Lyonpo Jigmi Thinley, Bhutan’s home minister and ex-prime minister. “Material well-being is only one component. That doesn’t ensure that you’re at peace with your environment and in harmony with each other.” …It is a concept grounded in Buddhist doctrine, and even a decade ago it might have been dismissed by most economists and international policy experts as naïve idealism.

January 2005. Blue Oil. by Stephanie Pool, Terrain Magazine. The World Bank predicts that by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population will be short of water. Private corporations capitalize on this imminent crisis by contracting with municipalities to provide water services. Water is redefined as a scarce commodity subject to market forces, with corporations controlling its price-and who is allowed to buy it…..

January 2005. Ecological Footprint Quiz – – A tool to show your impact on Earth resources.


October 2004. The Ecological Footprint. A resource management tool that measures how much land and water area a human population requires to produce the resources it consumes and to absorb its wastes, taking into account prevailing technology.

July 2004. Thoughts on Long-Term Energy Supplies: Scientists and the Silent Lie. Physics Today. [Must be AGU member for access.] The world’s population continues to grow. Shouldn’t physicists care? by Albert A. Bartlett. The most sacred icon in the “religion” of the US economic scene is steady growth of the gross national product, enterprises, sales, and profits. Many people believe that such economic growth requires steady population growth. Although physicists address the problems that result from a ballooning population-such as energy shortages, congestion, pollution, and dwindling resources-their solutions are starkly deficient. Often, they fail to recognize that the solutions must involve stopping population growth. Physicists understand the arithmetic of steady, exponential growth. Yet they ignore its consequences, including the first law of sustainability: “Population growth or growth in the rate of consumption of resources cannot be [indefinitely] sustained.” (See Ben Zuckerman’s letter to the editor, Physics Today, July 1992, page 14.) Sustainability requires solutions that will be effective over time periods much longer than a human lifespan. Indeed, Paul Weisz makes a case on page 47 of this issue that many time-honored 20th-century energy sources, such as petroleum, natural gas, and coal, have been reduced to the point that their longevities are now expected to be of the order of a human lifespan…. Among physicists, there is a growing recognition that we have a responsibility to become more directly involved in the scientific aspects of problems facing society. …
Unchecked population growth as a source of problems is not news. More than 200 years ago, mathematician Robert Malthus (1766-1834) addressed the issue in his famous essay. He understood that populations had the biological potential for steady growth and that food production did not. Today, energy production does not have the capability of steady growth. Nevertheless, we are all aware of nonscientists with academic credentials who proclaim that our modern technology has proven Malthus wrong. The most egregious of the high priests of endless growth was the late Julian Simon, professor of economics and business administration at the University of Illinois and later at the University of Maryland. In 1995, he wrote: Technology exists now to produce in virtually inexhaustible quantities just about all the products made by nature…. We have in our hands now … the technology to feed, clothe and supply energy to an ever?growing population for the next seven billion years. In the eyes of the general public, the silence of scientists on the problems of population growth seems to validate the messages of the politically appealing and influential Julian Simons of the world…. Researchers continue to debate when the peak of world petroleum production will be reached. Analytical estimates range from 2004 to about 2025. But from a per capita perspective, world petroleum production reached a peak in the 1970s. I believe future historians may identify this peak as one of the most important events in all of human history.

23 June 2004. NASA RELEASE: 04-201 NASA SCIENTISTS GET GLOBAL FIX ON FOOD, WOOD & FIBER USE — NASA scientists working with the World Wildlife Fund and others have measured how much of Earth’s plant life humans need for food, fiber, wood and fuel. The study identifies human impact on ecosystems.13 January 2004. Consumer appetite erodes quality of life for all, By The world is consuming goods and services at an unsustainable pace, with serious consequences for the well-being of people and the planet, according to the Worldwatch Institute’s annual report, State of the World 2004.


2002 January 17. Tracking the Ecological Overshoot of the Human Economy.By Mathis Wackernagel et al., PNAS. Abstract: Sustainability requires living within the regenerative capacity of the biosphere. In an attempt to measure the extent to which humanity satisfies this requirement, we use existing data to translate human demand on the environment into the area required for the production of food and other goods, together with the absorption of wastes. Our accounts indicate that human demand may well have exceeded the biosphere’s regenerative capacity since the 1980s. According to this preliminary and exploratory assessment, humanity’s load corresponded to 70% of the capacity of the global biosphere in 1961, and grew to 120% in 1999.

cover for GSS book Population Growth

Non-chronological resources

The Gazette

Population Activities 

Population Reference Bureau 
United Nations Population fund