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The Four Most Thought-Provoking Environmental Books Coming in February
By John R. Platt
This month sees the publication of four striking new environmental books, at least two of which promise to make a stir.
Let's start with the big one: The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells. The book lays out a pretty tough scenario, asking if the current extent of climate change means we're already doomed. If the title and premise sound familiar, that's because this is an expanded, book-length extrapolation of the author's bleak, widely read and controversial New York Magazine article from 2017. Both the book and the article present a worst-case climate change scenario—warming and sea-level rise are just the start of the chaos to come, writes Wallace-Wells—and the book serves as a fright-fest and a call to action.
If you want to know more about taking action, or about climate change in general, try The Thinking Person's Guide to Climate Change by Robert Henson. This second edition of Henson's classic book lays out the science of climate change, illustrates how we know what we know, talks about the debates in politics, and lays out a series of solutions for people, politicians and companies. The previous edition of this book, by the meteorologist-turned-journalist, is considered a must-read in many circles.
Speaking of solutions, is one going to happen naturally? Just about every statistical model shows the Earth's human population growing at enormous rates through the coming century, but the new book Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline by Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson predicts the exact opposite. They argue that the growing empowerment of women around the world means the projected population bomb could soon be a dud. If the human population really does decline, the authors say, that could bring massive benefits to the climate and the planet—as well as a few growing pains for the people who live here. The book, likely to generate quite a bit of debate, explores the possibilities.
While most of this month's books look to the future, it also helps to examine the past. That's the point of Power Trip: The Story of Energy by Michael E. Webber, which looks to key moments in history to see how society has adapted to new energy technologies—and show how we can do it again. Along the way Webber writes about the potential costs of new technologies, the need to tailor solutions for different parts of the globe, and the requirement for public support of innovative new science.
That's our list for this month. For dozens of additional recent eco-books, check out our "Revelator Reads" archives.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Revelator.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Will Sarni
It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.
The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future
We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.
"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.
One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.
Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.
Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.
These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.
We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).
We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.
We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.
Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.
Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.
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