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Why This Matters: Drought and water scarcity are becoming permanent fixtures across the globe and have rippling effects that will impact all life on Earth.
In the Western United States, extreme drought has prompted the first-ever water shortage declaration along the Colorado River, which supplies drinking water to 40 million people.
An October 2020 study found that the Amazon rainforest is running out of rain and could soon become a savannah. Water scarcity creates a vicious cycle. As water sources dwindle due to heat and drought, demand for water and energy resources will only increase. Agriculture will be the first sector to suffer from water cuts, and food prices will likely rise, while hydroelectric dam closures will increase electricity costs. Meanwhile, dry conditions will continue to worsen yearly wildfires, decimating natural landscapes and water systems.
Escaping this cycle is only possible with sweeping efforts to protect 30% of all land and water by 2030. Still, even as the COP26 climate conference approaches, many countries have fallen behind on their Paris agreement commitments despite a tightening climate deadline.
A Drained Swamp
A coalition of experts from Brazilian universities, WWF-Brazil, the Amazon Environmental Research Institute, Google, and The Nature Conservancy examined 150,000 satellite images measuring all surface waters across Brazil. They found that, before accounting for this year’s record-breaking drought, the nation’s wetlands, lakes, rivers, and other surface water sources had declined by 15% from 1991 to 2020. “The prospects are not good; we’re losing natural capital, we’re losing water that feeds industries, energy generation, and agribusiness,” said Cassio Bernardino, a project manager for WWF-Brazil. Brazil’s “society as a whole is losing this very precious resource, and losing it at a frighteningly fast rate.”
Ecologists say that although water systems shift over time, human activity has magnified these changes, causing the devastating loss of the world’s wetlands. “We’re altering the magnitude of those natural processes,” said Mažeika Patricio Sulliván, an ecology professor at Ohio State University. “This is not just happening in Brazil; it’s happening all over the world.” Since 1900, 90% of South America’s wetlands have vanished, including parts of the world’s largest tropical wetland, the Pantanal. Forty percent of North America’s wetlands have also disappeared. Ecologists say that these regions can heal and regenerate if given the space and time to do so, but the threat of wildfires looms as long as temperatures continue to rise. “The integration of water loss and wildfires: that’s a big issue that we need to start thinking more about,” said Sulliván.
By Amy Lupica, ODP Daily Editor In another significant blow to the Pebble Mine project in Alaska, the EPA has asked a federal court to allow Clean Water Act protections for parts of Bristol Bay, a body of water that stands to be decimated if the project continues. Environmental advocates and Alaska Native tribes hope […]
By Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer California’s record-breaking drought is not just a result of climate change — it’s also making climate change worse. According to a new study, population growth and energy-sapping water projects have driven up emissions and slowed down decarbonization campaigns. As it gets more and more difficult for Californians to rely […]
By Amy Lupica, ODP Daily Editor A federal judge has thrown out a Trump administration environmental rollback that scaled back federal protections for the nation’s streams, marshes, and wetlands. Despite support from farm and business groups, the federal judge ruled that the rollback could lead to “serious environmental harm.” Environmental groups are celebrating the decision, which will reinstate protections for […]
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