David Beckman, Senior Attorney & Director, Water Program, Los Angeles
I spent part of this week at the Milken Institute’s 15th Annual Global Conference, billed by some as “Davos with Palm trees,” this year featuring a keynote by former President Bill Clinton. The conference brings together movers and shakers in business, policy, education, health, energy and philanthropy—so if you think that may be a certain Senator, Governor, or movie star in the corridor, it probably is.
So what was I doing there? I was there because water is becoming one of the most important resource issues in the world—not just the concern of environmentalists, but increasingly of business, finance, and even the Department of Defense.
This year, the Global Conference featured a panel on water scarcity, in which I participated with a terrific slate of business people, investors, and academics. You can watch a video of our panel, moderated by Willow Bay, here.
Across the globe, as many as one in six people don’t have access to a sufficient amount of safe freshwater. Water scarcity is on the rise in many places in the U.S. and in the world, as the demand for water bumps up against or exceeds the amount of physically available water in many regions. This of course creates shortages, particularly during droughts that have been in the news this year. In the U.S., this isn’t just a problem limited to the American Southwest. Water shortages in Texas and the Southeast have been widely reported. And these days you can pick up the Washington Post and read about sub-normal rainfall even in the humid DC environs.
One of the points I made during our panel discussion at the Global Conference was that scarcity is not going away anytime soon; indeed, in the U.S. by mid-century, the best scientific projections of the impact of climate change, intensive water use, and population growth suggest even greater water risk over a large swath of the country. As this analysis for NRDC by Tetra-tech vividly shows, fully one-third of U.S. counties will have high or extreme water risk as measured by a five factor index by mid-century.
Today, Participant Media is releasing in LA and NY an impressive new film, Last Call at the Oasis, which chronicles the world’s water woes. The film doesn’t just deliver bad news—although it should serve as an overdue wake-up call. It also highlights solutions that can meet the water scarcity and pollution challenge. You can watch the trailer here.
These include aggressive water efficiency investments, for example in appliances that use far less water than their predecessors. And “green infrastructure”—rain gardens, pervious pavement, cisterns, and similar approaches which “soften” the hardscape in cities, allowing water to soak into the ground instead of running off and carrying pollution to streams and rivers.
NRDC is hard at work mainstreaming this solution set across the country. We’ve contributed an essay to the Last Oasis book, published to accompany the movie, highlighting ten ways you can be part of the water solution in your home, yard, and business.
When significant international gatherings like the Global Conference and filmmakers like Participant Media turn their attention to water, it’s a good thing. Whether or not water is the oil of the twenty-first century, as some say, its an issue quickly taking center stage. So, connect to the video of the Milken Panel for an update…and then go see Last Call at the Oasis.
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