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).

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…

Snow. Glaciers. Icecaps, River flows. All of these are vulnerable to climate change, especially rising temperature. This isn’t just theory. It’s now observable fact.   Scientists worry about the growing threat of climate change because the global climate is tied to everything that society cares about: human and environmental health, food and industrial production, water availability, extreme…

The latest in a long series of science summaries on climate change from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just been released. While the report has a massive amount of information in it, related to a wide range of geophysical implications of climate change, here are some of the key water-related findings for…

Peak Water in the American West

  It is no surprise, of course, that the western United States is dry. The entire history of the West can be told (and has been, in great books like Cadillac Desert [Reisner] and Rivers of Empire [Worster] and The Great Thirst [Hundley]) in large part through the story of the hydrology of the West,…

The evidence from real-world observations, sophisticated computer models, and research in hundreds of different fields continues to pile up: human-caused climate change is already occurring and will continue to get worse and worse as greenhouse-gas concentrations continue to rise. Because the climate is connected to every major geophysical, chemical, and biological system on the planet,…