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Pacific Institute Insights is the staff blog of the Pacific Institute, one of the world’s leading nonprofit research groups on sustainable and equitable management of natural resources. For more about what we do, click here.

  • These signs are common along Highway 5 in California’s Central Valley, especially where junior water-rights holders have land that won’t get water during droughts. Ironically, this one is placed right in front of a newly planted almond orchard.

    National Geographic ScienceBlogs: Why Has the Response to the California Drought Been so Weak?

    By Peter Gleick, President

    July 20, 2014

    In the past few weeks, I have had been asked the same question by reporters, friends, strangers, and even a colleague who posts regularly on this very ScienceBlogs site (the prolific and thoughtful Greg Laden): why, if the California drought is so bad, has the response been so tepid?

    There is no single answer to this question (and of course, it presumes (1) that the drought is bad; and (2) the response has been tepid). In many ways, the response is as complicated as California’s water system itself, with widely and wildly diverse sources of water, uses of water, prices and water rights, demands, institutions, and more. But here are some overlapping and relevant answers.

    First, is the drought actually very bad?

    …»

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  • private-sector-engagement-slide

    Can We Reasonably Expect the Private Sector to Advance Sustainable Water Management? Should We?

    By Peter Schulte, Research Associate

    June 16, 2014

    Over the past several years, the CEO Water Mandate has articulated to businesses why and how they can advance sustainable water management by making their own operations more efficient and by contributing to watershed efforts to promote sustainability. This is a proposition that some, especially a segment of the NGO community, are skeptical of. Many of these concerns are outlined in a paper from the Public Services International Research Unit (PSIRU) entitled Conflicts, Companies, Human Rights and Water—A Critical Review of Local Corporate Practices and Global Corporate Initiatives.

    This week, the Mandate released a discussion paper – in collaboration with WWF International – that tackles these claims and shines a light on why we believe they are largely not true.

    Let’s go through these contentions one-by-one: …»

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  • Figure. Claims that environmental laws will destroy the economy have been regularly made and are consistently false. This graph shows U.S. GDP from 1929 to 2013 in real 2009 dollars (corrected for inflation) along with the years major environmental laws were passed. (Prepared by Peter Gleick, Pacific Institute. GDP data from the US Bureau of Economic Analysis.)

    Huffington Post: Will New Climate Regulations Destroy the Economy? (Hint: No.)

    By Peter Gleick, President

    June 2, 2014

    No. On the contrary, they might just save it by helping stimulate new technologies and industries and by reducing the risks of climate disruption.

    There is a long history of claims that new rules to protect the environment or human health will seriously harm the United States economy. These claims are political fodder, they are provocative, and they are always wrong. In fact, the evidence shows the opposite: environmental regulations consistently produce enormous net benefits to the economy and to human health. In 2008, for example, the United States’ environmental technologies and services industry supported 1.7 million jobs. The industry at that time generated approximately $300 billion in revenues and exported goods and services worth $44 billion.

    Overall, a peer-reviewed 2011 study found that just the programs established by the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments were expected to yield direct benefits to the American people that vastly exceed costs of complying with the regulations. The study’s central benefits estimate in 2020 exceeded costs by a factor of more than 30-to-1.

    And these partial economic assessments ignore the health benefits of these rules. Health experts have estimated that the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments, for example, for 2010 alone:

    …»

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  • bridging-concern-and-action

    Do Businesses in the U.S. Have an Enlightened Self-Interest in Sustainable Water Management?

    By Jason Morrison, Corporate Sustainability Program Director

    April 8, 2014

    Water challenges are not just an issue for companies with operations and/or suppliers in developing countries; they are confronting businesses here and now in the United States. And while the current drought in California and the Southwest or the one in the Midwest last year get considerable attention, many regions in the US face a chronic imbalance between water supply and demand. These regional imbalances, coupled with a variety of other water-related concerns nationally, present current and future water risks for US business.

    looming-water-challenges-infographicThis of one of the key findings of a new study released by the Pacific Institute and VOX Global, titled “Bridging Concern and Action: Are US Companies Prepared for Looming Water Challenges?” Based on a survey of over 50 companies, it reveals that most of participating companies believe water challenges will significantly worsen in the next five years. More specifically, 60% of companies indicate water is poised to affect business growth and profitability within five years, and more than 80% say it will affect their decisions on where to locate facilities. …»

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  • Gleick-headshot-2013

    Huffington Post: The State of Our Water: World Water Day 2014

    By Peter Gleick, President

    March 21, 2014

    Welcome to World Water Day 2014. As I said last year, I think every day should be World Water Day, not just March 22nd, but hey, we take what we can get. Here are some thoughts that warrant repeating about water and important water news from the past year.

    • Those of us who are lucky enough to live in countries with high-quality tap water take it for granted. Go to your tap, draw a glass of water, and drink it. Then remember that nearly a billion people still do not have reliable access to safe, affordable tap water and cannot do what you’ve just done.
    • Stop taking your toilet for granted, too. Nearly 2.5 billion people (more people than lived on the planet in the 1930s) don’t have safe sanitation.
    • Do you know anyone who had cholera, or typhoid, or dysentery? Probably not. Yet just a few generations ago, some of your ancestors certainly died from one of these diseases. The bad news is that millions of people still die from these preventable diseases — associated directly with the lack of safe water and sanitation.
    • That food you’re eating or the clothes you’re wearing or the computer you’re sitting at to read this? It took a lot of water to produce them. That water is part of your water footprint. Here are some resources that discuss water footprints.
    • …»

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  • blog-water-definitions-2-4-14

    Defining Water Scarcity, Water Stress, and Water Risk: It’s Not Just Semantics

    By Peter Schulte, Research Associate

    February 4, 2014

    Over the past couple years, the Pacific Institute’s Corporate Sustainability Program, in its role with the UN Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate, has been developing the Corporate Water Disclosure Guidelines, which provide a common framework for how companies can report water-related information to stakeholders in a meaningful manner. One of the core goals of this effort is to encourage companies to report their water-related information in a more harmonized way, so that companies are thinking and talking about water in a similar, more comparable way.

    One obstacle to more harmonized water reporting is the fact that many companies, stakeholders, and corporate water assessment tools do not have a shared understanding of key water-related terms used in disclosure. In particular, many companies and others use the terms “water scarcity,” “water stress,” and “water risk” (often used to indicate geographic areas where water challenges are more pronounced) in a variety of ways and often interchangeably. For example, some companies report water use reduction specifically in areas of water “scarcity,” while others report water use reductions in areas of water “stress.” In other cases, many companies refer to areas facing water stress, but actually mean different things. …»

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  • sustainable-agriculture-water-action-hub

    Up-scaling Sustainable Agriculture Initiatives on the Water Action Hub

    By Mai-Lan Ha, Research Associate

    November 19, 2013

    Technology for development has been a hot topic in the development sphere, particularly here in the Bay Area. The rapid advancements in broadband and mobile technology, combined with the proliferation of mobile applications, and increasing internet penetration rates worldwide have allowed these new tools to take a central role in programs working to meet sustainable development objectives.

    A few weeks ago, I attended Net Impact’s annual conference as a judge for AT&T and EDF’s Ideathon, “How Would You Address the Water Crisis,” focused on utilizing mobile technology to help address the issue of water scarcity. The participants were thoughtful young professionals and students interested in understanding more about the water crisis and working with others to develop real solutions to address it. …»

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  • collective-action-morrison-schulte-9-17-13

    Collective Action on Water – To What End?

    By Jason Morrison, Program Director and Peter Schulte, Research Associate

    September 17, 2013

    The United Nations has designated 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation, which highlights the critical importance of cross-sectoral collaboration in promoting sustainable water management. But just to make an obvious point, public-private water stewardship partnerships are not about collective action simply for the sake of collective action; they’re about jointly tackling shared water challenges. And the highest priority ones at that.

    In recent years, companies are beginning to think more systemically and strategically about with whom and on what water issues they look to engage in a collective action context. The $2 billion dollar question (conservative estimate) becomes: are the other two segments of society – public sector and civil society – doing the same? …»

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  • cooling_our_consumption

    AT&T Tool Kit Uncovers Billions of Gallons of Potential Water Savings in Cooling Systems

    Guest Blog by John Schulz, Director, AT&T Sustainability Operations

    September 4, 2013 

    “Great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds.”  – Alexander Graham Bell

    Coming from a telecommunications company and attending a conference entitled Water Cooperation – Building Partnerships, I find this an appropriate quote with which to open. It is true that while we can attribute some of the greatest inventions of our time to individuals, it is hardly those individuals alone who achieve them. This is especially true when tackling the challenge to protect and preserve a shared resource such as water. …»

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  • Photos: Eyal Ofer

    Aligning Two Worlds: Business and the Human Right to Water and Sanitation

    By Mai-Lan Ha, Research Associate

    August 21, 2013 

    Available, Affordable, Accessible, Acceptable, and Safe – the cornerstones of the human right to water and sanitation were codified in California in 2012 with the adoption of Assembly Bill 685. California’s adoption of the right heralded another step in the progressive realization of the right to water and sanitation globally. It followed the UN General Assembly’s adoption in 2010 of a binding resolution acknowledging the right to safe drinking water and sanitation and national-level recognition of the right by countries such as South Africa, Kenya, and Belgium.

    The human right to water has been a longstanding area of work for the Pacific Institute, starting with two papers on basic human needs and water and the Human Right to Water in 1996 and 1999, respectively. …»

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