Water scarcity. Peak water. Drought. Demand outstripping supply. Those of us tasked with water resource management have known for a long time that while the rest of the world fiddled over climate change, fossil fuel dependence and a host of other distractions both legitimate and ephemeral, water was continuing to slip through the cracks and down the drain. Water is imbedded in just about every aspect of our lives—from basic living requirements to the products and services we’ve grown accustomed to, to the energy that makes our modern world possible—and yet its contribution is so effective that it’s almost as transparent as that fresh glass of water you just poured out of your tap.
But 2011 may be the year when it all changes. According to data gathered by Nielsen as part of its 2011 Global Online Environment and Sustainability survey, water and air pollution are now rated as a top environmental priority by three-fourths of the survey’s respondents—putting water and air above global warning, which itself fell in the ranks from number 1 (with 72% of respondents ranking it as the top priority) to number 3 (with only 66% of respondents ranking putting it in the top spot).
Certainly the new rankings are due, in part, to increasing skepticism over climate change—particularly in the US, where 48% of respondents indicated they were concerned about global warming, compared to 62% in 2007.
In a statement regarding the survey, Dr. Maxwell T. Boykoff, Senior Visiting Research Associate, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, explained the results: “There are many possible reasons for declines in concern about climate change/global warming. Focus on immediate worries such as job security, local school quality, crime, and economic well-being have all diminished media attention for climate stories in the past two years. In the face of other pressing concerns, a public ‘caring capacity’ for climate change has been tested. Without continued attention pad to global warming/climate change in the media, such concerns may have faded form the collective public conscience.”
Meanwhile, in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and North America, water pollution was cited as a main environmental concern, while in Asia water shortages and air pollution are a top concern.
The survey was conducted in 51 countries throughout Asia, Europe, Latin America, The Middle East, Africa, and North America between March and April of this year. Over 25,000 responded to the survey, and their answers indicate that “the fastest-growing worldwide concern was over water shortages at 75%;” a rise of about 15% compared to the 2007 survey results.
So what do you think? If the reduced concern in climate change has to do with a lack of media attention, then what explains the increase in concerns over water scarcity and water quality? Is public awareness really on the rise, and if so, how can this increased interest be harnessed in productive ways? And should water be separated from climate change when the impact that catastrophic weather events—like Hurricane Irene—adversely affects all areas of water resource management, from supply to delivery to quality and availability?