water on earth 2 - USGS, ClimateBites.org

Note to Self – Part Two:
‘It’s the water, stupid!’

This updated USGS image is a striking  reminder of our vulnerability (click to enlarge).    In wet areas of the world—like northeastern U.S.—we take ample water supplies for granted, but globally it is a precious resource.

Our food supply depends on clean, fresh water—in the right amounts, in the right places, at the right times.

Last November, in Drought & Deluge:  It’s the Water, Stupid!, I wrote:

“Note to self:    When discussing climate, forget about far-off predictions.   Focus on what’s already arrived:    extreme downpours and drought.   Record-breaking droughts are making dry places dryer, with wildfires following right behind.   Meanwhile, record-breaking rains are making the wet places wetter, causing flooding.    Among the first victims:   farmland & food. . .

“In the U.S., droughts and floods damage our largest industry, agriculture.   For dry and poor countries, like Somalia, warming spells famine and refugees.    To wet nations, like Thailand, climate change brings deadly floods. . .”

According to the UN, “There is enough freshwater on the planet for six [now seven] billion people but it is distributed unevenly” and much is wasted or polluted.    As a result, over 1 billion people lack safe drinking water, and another 2.5+ billion lack water for sanitation.   Moreover, if current climate trends continue, “almost half the world’s population will be living in areas of high water stress by 2030.”     Africa and South Asia will be hit hardest.

The USGS image is a climate communication tool that says a lot with only six words.    And my “Note to self” will stay pinned to the wall.


* This variation on the USGS map was inspired by Jay Kimball at 8020 Vision via ETOM. The USGS site includes the details and mathematical calculations that underlie the graphics.

2 thoughts on “Note to Self – Part Two:
‘It’s the water, stupid!’

  1. Makan

    Hi Tom, yes the availability of freshwater is an issue close at hand. It ties in with climate change in a number of ways.

    Did you know that 40% of USA freshwater is used to cool thermoelectric power stations (nuclear and coal fired)? That’s more than the amount used for irrigation!

    In recent years some power stations have had to reduce output when drought conditions have reduced the water they rely on.

    It’s ironic that the coal used in power generation is causing droughts that directly affect the functionality of the power stations.

    It’s time for more solar, wind and geothermal power!


  2. Tom Smerling Post author

    Thanks for that amazing datum (“40% of USA freshwater…”)! Can you provide us with a citation for that? It deserves a blog post of its own, if you care to write one.

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