If current urbanization and climate trends continue, by 2050 more than one billion city dwellers will suffer as a dearth of water creates global panic. This, according to a study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences which predicts that by the middle of the century, an estimated 993 million urbanites will have to make do with a daily water ration of roughly a bathtub full (less than 100 liters [26 gallons].
In a related story, “Plan B,” the 12th installment of the PBS series “Journey to Planet Earth” (hosted by Matt Damon,) features Lester Brown, founder and President of Earth Policy Institute and addresses the impact of the looming water shortage on our planet, highlighting the likelihood of its subsequent inability to produce food ample to sustain human habitation. Global food supplies, it reports, already stressed, could wither as emerging nations commit former farmland and forests to industrial/urban use forcing importation rather than domestic production of food. Decreasing world water supplies and increased industrialization will blunt food production as arable land increasingly surrenders to more profitable development. Brown explains that emerging cultures also require more livestock and animal products (dairy, for instance). Raising livestock requires even more grain (and releases methane into the atmosphere). As nations try to ween themselves from fossil fuels, grain designated for ethanol production–a notoriously inefficient use when compered with using it as food (which also requires inordinate amounts of water) is grain that never enters the food chain.
According to Brown, the outlook, while dismal, isn’t without hope. “All the problems we face can be dealt with using existing technologies,” says Brown, “And almost everything we need to do to move the world economy back onto an environmentally sustainable path has already been done in one or more countries.”