Many politicians run for office on the basis of improving our children’s future. Oftentimes the campaign message of the candidate will at some point describe future threats, such as national debt and global warming, and recommend what government policy should do to address these problems. Most of these plans take time, since there is a wide assumption most of our truly big problems will be here in the distant future.
It may be time to rethink that approach. As it turns out, several major problems will be faced by humanity in the not so distant future. These problems are no longer some vague, distant threat. By 2040, there are projections that humanity will deplete its reserves of drinking water. In the same year, 2040, fisheries across the world are expected to be depleted, according to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Commerce. In order to solve these problems, an extraordinary amount of planning and energy will have to be exerted in order to sustain humanity at the quality of life we experience today.
In 25 years, overfishing by both industrial and developing nations is projected to create a mass extinction of many fish and sea creatures we know today. In marine ecology, “dead zones” are the term used for fisheries that have been depleted. In 2004 the number of dead zones was 146, according to a study by the United Nations. By 2008, that number had grown to 405 with the vast majority of the zones being located in three places: China’s East Coast, Most of Northern Europe’s coastline, and the east coast of the United States. Despite the security of the problem there is hope for curing our ailing fisheries. Australia has designated much of it’s coastline as protected space similar to a national park, and is planning on vastly expanding the amount of ocean that is protected. In certain parts of the United States there have been regulations enacted to prevent overfishing on the Gulf Coast. By enacting the regulations most fishermen have actually been able to make more money because the amount of fish suitable for consumption has vastly risen. A combination of these two approaches would be a great first step.
The water shortage is already at our doorstep. Throughout Africa, whole lakes have dried up, and access to drinking water that is clean enough for human consumption has proved elusive. Africa is not alone in dealing with a shortage of clean water-there have been problems in China and India as well. Emergency evacuations in Iran are predicted within the next 20 years because of lack of access to drinking water. The water shortage is not exclusive to the developing world either. California only has enough water for the next year, according to a report issued by NASA earlier this month. The solutions to this problem are not as obvious. They involve changes to ways consumers use water, as well as the private sector. The two biggest culprits of water usage are farming and beverage companies. Fortunately, many companies see that a future water shortage will eat into their bottom line and are beginning to invest time and money into water conservation. This is certainly a good first step, but will likely not be enough. What will ultimately be a cure for the water problem is human ingenuity-inventing something that can make more water usable on a mass scale with little cost.
Both of these problems are dire, but fortunately we’ve been warned of them in advance. 25 years isn’t a long time, but if we look back at the advances we’ve made the last 25 years there is room for hope. We need to enact policies that address these problems if we are truly interested in making the world a better place for our children-and ourselves.