“In China’s thousands of years of civilization, the conflict between humanity and nature has never been as serious as it is today.” — Minister of Environment Zhou Shengxian, February 2011. 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 violent protests to rising food prices, diminishing water supplies are exerting a profound and harmful effect on the […]

In his keynote address to the 1883 International Fisheries Exhibition in London, T.H. Huxley, a prominent biologist of the day, maintained that the ocean’s supply of fish, such as cod, was inexhaustible: Fish were present in the oceans in such large numbers and reproduced prolifically, while only an insignificant fraction of them in proportion to their numbers was captured. Huxley concluded that human fishing efforts could not meaningfully affect the number of fish in the oceans and that it was unnecessary and even wasteful to attempt to regulate their capture. More than two centuries earlier, Hugo Grotius, the famous Dutch […]

At the dawn of the 20th century, the world population was inching toward a modest 2 billion. In the 111 years since, notwithstanding the impact of war, genocide, disease and famine, the global population has soared, reaching 3 billion around 1960 and now quickly approaching the neighborhood of 7 billion. By 2050, the planet will likely be home to 2 billion more. We may not be witnessing the detonation of the “population bomb” that Paul Ehrlich warned of in his seminal 1968 book, but such rapid demographic change is clearly pushing the international community into uncharted territory. With a limited […]