Significant Figures by Peter Gleick

Dr. Peter Gleick is a scientist, innovator, and communicator on global water, environment, and climate issues. He co-founded and leads the Pacific Institute in Oakland – an independent non-governmental organization addressing the connections between the environment and global sustainability. Dr. Gleick’s work has redefined water from the realm of engineers to the world of sustainability, human rights, and integrated thinking across the disciplines of the geosciences, economics, and policy. He produced some of the earliest assessments of the impacts of climate change on water resources, explored the links between water and conflict, and defined basic human needs for water and the human right to water – work that has been used by the UN and in human rights court cases. He pioneered the concepts of the “soft path for water” and “peak water.” Gleick received the prestigious MacArthur “genius” Fellowship in 2003 and was named “a visionary on the environment” by the BBC. He was elected in 2006 to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. Wired Magazine featured Dr. Gleick as “one of 15 people the next President should listen to.” He received a B.S. from Yale University and an M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. He serves on the boards of numerous journals and organizations, and is the author, co-author, and editor of many scientific papers and books, including the influential series "The World's Water," "Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water" (Island Press), and "A Twenty-First Century U.S. Water Policy" (Oxford University Press).

California, and much of the southwestern US, is in a severe drought. Again. And as appropriate, there is growing debate about what we, as citizens, communities, corporations, and governments should do to tackle water shortages and the bigger question of sustainable water policy. Suggestions range from the large-scale and comprehensive (build more dams, transfer more…

The end of the rainy season in California is arriving in a few weeks, and the April 1st snowpack measurement, which is a key indicator of water conditions, is tomorrow. As we approach the dry spring and summer months, the scope and severity of California’s drought will become more apparent, but it is already clear…

In the last few months, as the severe California drought has garnered attention among scientists, policymakers, and media, there has been a growing debate about the links between the drought and climate change. The debate has been marked by considerable controversy, confusion, and opaqueness. The confusion stems from the failure of some scientists, bloggers, reporters,…

We’ve entered a new era: politicians can now talk loud and clear about the reality of human-induced climate change and the growing threats to humanity. With strong, unambiguous statements by President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, and a growing chorus of other top-level voices, the wholesale denial of climate science…

Droughts – especially severe droughts – are terribly damaging events. The human and ecosystem costs can be enormous, as we may relearn during the current California drought. But they are also opportunities – a chance to put in place new, innovative water policies that are not discussed or implemented during wet or normal years. In…

It is time to recognize the serious California drought for what it is: a bellwether of things to come; a harbinger of even more serious challenges to California water resources allocation, management, and use. The drought could end next month. It could go on for more years. But it will not be the last drought…

California has a “Mediterranean” climate, which means that each year it has a concentrated rainy season, followed by a long temperate and dry period. California’s rainy season typically runs from early October to late March, with very little precipitation outside of these months. (Figure 1 shows the average monthly rainfall for California.) It is now…

Just to provide a little perspective, here are the latest data and a graph on atmospheric carbon dioxide, with information going back 800,000 years. Present day is on the far right (“You are here”). The data come from the atmospheric monitoring program of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California and can be found here.…

Water policy and water problems always seem to be someone else’s responsibility. Those farmers who use all the water; the guy down the street who lets his sprinklers run all over the sidewalk; the Central Valley cities that don’t even have water meters; the environmentalists who are demanding water for some inconsequential fish we can’t…

In the 20th century, water policy seemed easy: figure out another source of water to satisfy some projected demand, and find the money to build it. The money was almost always federal “pork barrel” funding for big water projects, or occasionally state bond financing. The vast number of dams built in the United States (see the…