Did you know that 38% of the world’s land is used for agriculture? Or that there are 4.4 million fishing vessels and 1.4 billion cattle in the world? 

See these and more facts and figures in this recent infographic from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

The Aral sea used to be one of the fourth largest inland water bodies in the world based on surface area. It began shrinking in the 1960s due to the construction of dams that diverted two major rivers that fed it. Read more from Al Jazeera. 


Abandoned ships in Kazakhstan’s Aral Sea.

Steve Lansing, a senior fellow at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, is helping preserve the centuries-old water-temple system in Bali that distributes water from a volcanic lake to over two hundred farming villages. Lansing and landscape architect Julia Watson are working with the people of Bali to craft a plan to enable tourists to explore the area and preserve it. Watson says the idea is to protect “the most resilient system and the most bio-diverse agro ecosystem known to man.”

An Extra Cheap Way To Get Salt Out Of Water Could Help Make The World Less Thirsty

Desalination is usually a hugely expensive and environmentally costly process, but this simple clay still just needs a little sunlight to render brackish water clean and delicious.

(via pubhealth)


Each robotboat is fully autonomous, needs no fuel, and will bring to bear myriad sensors at remote points on the surface of oceans, lakes, and rivers.  

Here’s why the Robotboat is the best way yet to generate information about the world’s oceans:

  • More data = better ocean management
  • Fully automatic = cheap to acquire data
  • Fast = station-keep in high seas; get to points of interest quickly
  • Durable = collect longitudinal data; self-righting
  • Each boat = millions upon millions of datapoints

Electricity flows from ocean turbine to grid for first time in western hemisphere

Tidal power went from theory to reality Thursday when, for the first time in the western hemisphere, electricity flowed from an ocean-based turbine to the electricity grid.

Watch now: Steve Lansing, a senior fellow at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, discusses the Byzantine system for the distribution of water from a volcanic lake in Bali to over two hundred farming villages. It’s worked since the 12th century, it’s egalitarian and it’s still-sustainable. “It’s one of the few functioning, ancient democratic institutions that we know about. It’s kind of beautiful.”


Lester Brown on ‘How the battle for water will reshape our world’

From AlterNet via YouTube:

By 2025, two-thirds of people worldwide are expected to face water shortages as businesses, agriculture and growing populations compete for the ever more precious commodity.

Map source: Water for Life Decade (UN)

Lester Brown (PopTech 2006), preeminent environmentalist and founder of the Worldwatch Institute and the Earth Policy Institute, warns that consumption habits must change to maintain a healthy social, economic and environmental balance in the world.

Recently, PopTech launched its second Edition, Small is beautiful: The micro-everything revolution. Our Editions explore an emerging theme at the edge of change from the perspective of some of the remarkable innovators shaping it. In the coming weeks, we’ll highlight pieces from contributors who are exploring the dynamics of the micro-everything revolution, from design and engineering for radical affordability to overcoming hurdles to distribution. Today, we’re excerpting a piece from  2011 PopTech Social Innovation Fellow Sameer Kalwani who developed the technology platforms for Sarvajal.

From telecommunications to transportation, India has made rapid advances in its infrastructure. At Sarvajal, we hope to be on the forefront of India’s next technological evolution – basic services infrastructure — as we strive to meet our mission of providing high-quality drinking water to every denizen. Previous water distribution models relied on large-scale production and would often take years to implement, not to mention costly transportation system and high maintenance expenditures. On top of that, poor infrastructure would lead to severe product losses. For example, in New Delhi, up to 40% of the treated, clean water is lost through pilferage and cracked pipes. But Sarvajal has worked to alleviate some of these issues; a new decentralization of the filtration process allows us to distribute water for a fraction of the previous cost and get to every nook and cranny of a population.

Read more…

Another Look at “Carbon for Water” in Western Kenya

By Kevin Starr (PopTech 2010)

Vestergaard-Frandsen (VF), a manufacturer based in Switzerland, recently distributed about 900,000 of its LifeStraw Family water filters gratis to households in Kenya’s Western Province. Since I’d been a vocal critic of the project in concept, I thought I ought to have a look at how it’s working out on the ground.

And so a couple weeks ago, I flew from Nairobi to Kisumu with Ned Breslin of Water for People. We hired a car and traveled to the epicenter of the filter distribution, splitting up to visit as many households as we possibly could. Driving down forking dirt roads, we got out of the car periodically and walked to random houses. What with explaining what we were up to and the inevitable tea and biscuits, we got to only 20 houses, but every single one had gotten a LifeStraw filter. This was a remarkably effective distribution effort. 

What happened to the filters after distribution was less impressive: 10 months after distribution, only three of the 20 were currently in use. One guy showed me his still in the bag—he said he couldn’t figure out how to use it. Another said his kids had burned it up. Yet another told us rats had eaten part of it, and he couldn’t get a replacement. One woman said she only used the filter when her husband made her do so.

Now an informal series of conversations hardly qualifies as science, and some of the houses we visited were in an area where VF rolled out their program on top of another organization’s existing work, and that may have affected use patterns. Still, it was pretty obvious why filters went unused: The LifeStraw is poorly designed. A universal complaint—mostly from women—was that it is too slow and too much work. It takes about half an hour to filter the two liters in the reservoir at the top and it requires continual refilling to satisfy a family’s daily needs. The women in the houses we met simply decided it was too much hassle.

And this is the biggest problem of giveaways: You can give people whatever you want, as long as you can get someone to pay for it. The LifeStraw filter costs $30 at the factory; given what’s been learned from other water efforts in Western Kenya, I’d be surprised if you could get local people to pay $3 for it. If it had to pass muster with real customers—i.e., its intended users—it would be in real trouble. My hunch is that it would simply die a quiet death in a corporate conference room somewhere.

But it stays alive because the real customers are not poor people, but in this case, the buyers of carbon credits. With the approval of the Gold Standard Foundation (one of the two major accrediting bodies), VF concocted a deal—“Carbon for Water”—to finance this giveaway with carbon credits. The crux of the deal, worth about $30 million, is that the filters will replace the wood-fired boiling of water, hence preventing carbon emissions. 

Read more…