Significant Figures by Peter Gleick

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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…

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…