In my work as a geologist, policy analyst, and water management specialist, I have encountered bureaucrats, politicians, and engineers who view environmental issues as unimportant. At best, environmentalists are painted as idealists who naively believe in the pristine quality of nature, and at worst as fear-mongering alarmists. This view, while holding some truth, is dangerous -- the large environmental issues of our time present profound challenges with grave consequences for society if mishandled. While some environmentalist concerns may be overblown (GMOs, for example), it is undeniable that environmental issues, such as climate change, air quality, water quality and supply, are inextricably linked to many of the toughest policy issues of our time including migration, public health, and social equity.
According to the World Economic Forum's 2016 Risk Report, an annual report which surveys hundreds of global security experts, environmental issues present some of the most severe threats to global security today. Experts rated the failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation the most impactful perceived risk, while water crises was ranked third. Water crises, failure of climate change-mitigation and adaptation, and extreme weather events were rated the top three highest concerns for the next 10 years, closely followed by food security.
In today's globalized world environmental issues pose a serious threat, not only in their own right, but due to the serious secondary effects they can spur such as mass migration, spread of infectious disease, and degradation of the global food system. How can we recognize which issues are significant when dealing with a system as incredibly complex as the natural world? My hope is that this blog will serve as a space to break down this complexity and sort the real issues from the hype – to delve into the numbers, policies, and drivers of today's environmental problems and analyze their implications for tomorrow.