"Eliminating water shortages depends on a global attempt to raise water productivity similar to the effort launched a half-century ago to raise land productivity, an initiative that has nearly tripled the world grain yield per hectare." –Lester R. Brown, World Facing Huge New Challenge on Food Front in Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization
We are facing issues of near-overwhelming complexity and unprecedented urgency. Can we think systemically and fashion policies accordingly? Can we change direction before we go over the edge? Here are a few of the many facts from the book to consider:
- There will be 219,000 people at the dinner table tonight who were not there last night—many of them with empty plates.
- If the 2010 heat wave centered in Moscow had instead been centered in Chicago, it could easily have reduced the U.S. grain harvest of 400 million tons by 40 percent and food prices would have soared.
- Winter temperatures in the Arctic, including Alaska, western Canada, and eastern Russia, have climbed by 4–7 degrees Fahrenheit over the last half-century. This record rise in temperature in the Arctic region could lead to changes in climate patterns that will affect the entire planet.
- Half the world’s people live in countries where water tables are falling as aquifers are being depleted. Since 70 percent of world water use is for irrigation, water shortages translate into food shortages.
- In Sana’a, the capital of Yemen—home to 2 million people—water tables are falling fast. Tap water is available only once every 4 days; in Taiz, a smaller city to the south, it is once every 20 days.
- Virtually all of the top 20 countries considered to be “failing states” are depleting their natural assets—forests, grasslands, soils, and aquifers—to sustain their rapidly growing populations.
- The indirect costs of gasoline, including climate change, treatment of respiratory illnesses, and military protection, add up to $12 per gallon. Adding this to the U.S. average of $3 per gallon brings the true market price closer to $15 per gallon.
- Between 2007 and 2010, U.S. coal use dropped 8 percent. During the same period, 300 new wind farms came online, adding 21,000 megawatts of U.S. wind-generating capacity.
- Algeria has enough harnessable solar energy in its vast desert to power the entire world economy.
- One of the quickest ways to cut carbon emissions is to change light bulbs. Switching to more-efficient lighting around the globe could save enough energy to close more than 700 of the world’s 2,800 coal-fired power plants.
“We can get rid of hunger, illiteracy, disease, and poverty, and we can restore the earth’s soils, forests, and fisheries. We can build a global community where the basic needs of all people are satisfied—a world that will allow us to think of ourselves as civilized.” –Lester R. Brown
World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse is available online at www.earth-policy.org.