The Stream, August 25: Human Environmental Footprint Increases, But At A Slower Rate

The Global Rundown

The environmental effects of global agricultural development, expanding cities, and growing industries are still increasing, but at a slower pace than population and economic growth, according to a new study. Conflicts and instability in North Africa and the Middle East have damaged water, sanitation, and health systems, contributing to a decline in life expectancy. Hydropower dams and demand for irrigation water are sources of tension between five countries in Central Asia. A leak of contaminated water at Mexico’s largest gold mine was not reported to the public for three years. Data centers in China are striving to become more energy and water efficient.

“Although data centers are becoming increasingly water-efficient, the total volume of water they consume remains huge. In water-scarce cities like Beijing and Shanghai, we can’t always get the water we need. It’s really about securing our supply amid water shortage.” –Li Yong, an engineer at a Chinese data company, on the struggle to reduce energy and water consumption at data centers serving the country’s internet and communication needs. Some cities, including Beijing, have set energy efficiency requirements for data centers located there. (Yale Environment 360)

By The Numbers

0.01 milligrams per liter Maximum concentration of selenium allowed in drinking water in Mexico, where levels of the mineral in groundwater near the Penasquito gold mine increased to five times that amount. The levels have since gone down and are within limits, but the situation is still being monitored after a leak of contaminated water was first noted nearly three years ago. Government regulators and the company that operates the mine, Vancouver-based Goldcorp Inc., say the leak was contained on site and did not threaten public health or the environment. Neither notified communities living near the mine. Reuters

3 months Decrease in the average person’s life expectancy in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen between 2010 and 2013, in part due to the Arab Spring conflicts and resulting instability in those countries. Violence across northern Africa and the Middle East has damaged infrastructure, created water and sanitation shortages, and displaced health workers, all of which contribute to declining health outcomes in the region, researchers found. Reuters

Science, Studies, And Reports

Humanity’s environmental footprint increased 9 percent between 1993 and 2009, a significant amount but far below the 23 percent increase in population and the 153 percent growth in the global economy, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications. That means people are using natural resources more efficiently, the study’s authors said. Still, they warned that three-quarters of the world’s land is still under increasing pressure from development, farming, and other human activities. Mongabay

On The Radar

Water supplies continue to be a source of significant contention among five countries in Central Asia, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. No longer drawn together by the Soviet Union, tensions between the countries have arisen over hydropower and agricultural development. Foreign Affairs