Ag, Land Use and the Whole Crisis

The failure of the Colorado River to reach the sea, Jonathan Foley argues, is evidence of dramatic challenges facing humanity that go beyond climate change. From an essay at Environment 360:

Across the globe, we already use a staggering 4,000 cubic kilometers of water per year, withdrawn from our streams, rivers, lakes and aquifers. Of this, 70 percent is used for irrigation, the single biggest use of water, by far, on the globe. As a result, many large rivers have greatly reduced flows and some routinely dry up. Just look at the Aral Sea, now turned to desert, or the mighty Colorado River, which no longer sends any water to the ocean, for living proof.

Foley, a climate scientist and head of the Institute on the Environment at the University of the Minnesota, argues for a more inclusive view of the set of global problems we face. He believes the argument in favor of action on climate change is close to being won. But the struggle to feed earth’s growing population, and the enormous implications that has for land and water use around the world, pose problems of similar scale to that of decarbonization of our energy system, Foley argues. And those problems right now, he believes, are getting short shrift.