We may not be witnessing the detonation of the "population bomb" that Paul Ehrlich warned of in 1968, but rapid demographic change is pushing the international community into uncharted territory. With limited amounts of arable land and fresh water for irrigation, figuring out how to feed a planet adding upward of 70 million people each year looms as one of the 21st century's most pressing challenges.
Coming Up Empty: Tackling Resource Scarcity
With global demand for basic natural resources inexorably rising, analysts have begun to confront the possibility of a future characterized by scarcity. Some scarcity issues, like food shortages, are familiar, but likely to grow worse. Others, like the depletion of ocean fish stocks, have only recently become apparent. Solutions, whether political or technological, do exist, but they will not come easily. And at times, as with China's efforts to address its growing water scarcity crisis, they might even exacerbate the problem.
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Faith in the unlimited nature of ocean fisheries persisted into the 20th century, until it finally became undeniable that the inexhaustibility of ocean fisheries was but a myth. What has happened to world fisheries? What are the implications of the now readily apparent limitations of fish stocks? And how might those stocks be managed to assure their continued availability? Such questions are now being raised and addressed globally.
What is the biggest challenge that China faces? Corruption, the gap between the rich and poor, and the rapidly aging population often top the list of answers to this question. Yet a closer look suggests that the greatest threat may well be lack of access to clean water. From "cancer villages" to rising food prices, diminishing water supplies are exerting a profound effect on the Chinese people and the country's economic rise.