Few aspects of human history are as mindboggling as the sudden disintegration of advanced societies. It is tempting to seek common patterns or even draw some lessons for modern times from the many ancient cases of societal disintegration. In PNAS, Downey et al. (1) report that universal warning signals of reduced resilience systematically preceded the collapse of Stone Age societies. Might similar indicators of fragility be relevant in modern times? Of course, the nature of human societies has changed entirely. However, there are at times striking parallels between stories of collapse even if they happened in entirely different periods. Consider the abrupt abandonment of the iconic alcove sites in Mesa Verde by the ancestral Puebloan people: the greatest “vanishing act” in prehistoric America (2). Archaeological evidence now reveals that before Pueblo peoples massively migrated in the mid-to-late 1200s, there had actually been a slow build-up of tension (3, 4). Over a century of drought, violence, and political turmoil drove increasing numbers of people into the Mesa Verde region, which was relatively productive for farming, straining carrying capacity as well as cultural traditions and resulting in destabilizing conflicts. Portions of the northern Southwest began to empty out in the first decades of the 13th century and by the mid-1200s even the favored central Mesa Verde region was starting to lose population, well in advance of the “Great Drought” beginning in the late 1270s that seems to have given the final blow. Now, Syria is the scene of a sudden massive exodus, and some aspects of the complex situation do seem to echo the Pueblo story. The Fertile Crescent has likely been experiencing the worst drought in 900 y, making subsistence farming in the countryside extremely challenging and driving millions in Syria to the cities, where tensions increased …
A likely consequence of global warming will be the redistribution of Earth’s rain belts, affecting water availability for many of Earth’s inhabitants. We consider three ways in which planetary warming might influence the global distribution of precipitation. The first possibility is that rainfall in the tropics will increase and that the subtropics and mid-latitudes will become more arid. A second possibility is that Earth’s thermal equator, around which the planet’s rain belts and dry zones are organized, will migrate northward. This northward shift will be a consequence of the Northern Hemisphere, with its large continental area, warming faster than the Southern Hemisphere, with its large oceanic area. A third possibility is that both of these scenarios will play out simultaneously. We review paleoclimate evidence suggesting that (i) the middle latitudes were wetter during the last glacial maximum, (ii) a northward shift of the thermal equator attended the abrupt Bølling-Allerød climatic transition ~14.6 thousand years ago, and (iii) a southward shift occurred during the more recent Little Ice Age. We also inspect trends in seasonal surface heating between the hemispheres over the past several decades. From these clues, we predict that there will be a seasonally dependent response in rainfall patterns to global warming. During boreal summer, in which the rate of recent warming has been relatively uniform between the hemispheres, wet areas will get wetter and dry regions will become drier. During boreal winter, rain belts and drylands will expand northward in response to differential heating between the hemispheres.
Concern has been spreading across scientific disciplines that the pervasive human transformation of Earth's natural systems is an urgent threat to human health. The simultaneous emergence of “GeoHealth” and “Planetary Health” signals recognition that developing a new relationship between humanity and our natural systems is becoming an urgent global health priority—if we are to prevent a backsliding from the past century's great public health gains. Achieving meaningful progress will require collaboration across a broad swath of scientific disciplines as well as with policy makers, natural resource managers, members of faith communities, and movement builders around the world in order to build a rigorous evidence base of scientific understanding as the foundation for more robust policy and resource management decisions that incorporate both environmental and human health outcomes.
Changes in Earth's surface temperatures caused by anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are expected to affect global and regional precipitation regimes. Interactions between changing precipitation regimes and other aspects of global change are likely to affect natural and managed terrestrial ecosystems as well as human society. Although much recent research has focused on assessing the responses of terrestrial ecosystems to rising carbon dioxide or temperature, relatively little research has focused on understanding how ecosystems respond to changes in precipitation regimes. Here we review predicted changes in global and regional precipitation regimes, outline the consequences of precipitation change for natural ecosystems and human activities, and discuss approaches to improving understanding of ecosystem responses to changing precipitation. Further, we introduce the Precipitation and Ecosystem Change Research Network (PrecipNet), a new interdisciplinary research network assembled to encourage and foster communication and collaboration across research groups with common interests in the impacts of global change on precipitation regimes, ecosystem structure and function, and the human enterprise. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]Copyright of Bioscience is the property of American Institute of Biological Sciences and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use. This abstract may be abridged. No warranty is given about the accuracy of the copy. Users should refer to the original published version of the material for the full abstract. (Copyright applies to all Abstracts)
Twentieth-century water policies relied on the construction of massive infrastructure in the form of dams, aqueducts, pipelines, and complex centralized treatment plants to meet human demands. These facilities brought tremendous benefits to billions of people, but they also had serious and often unanticipated social, economical, and ecological costs. Many unsolved water problems remain, and past approaches no longer seem sufficient. A transition is under way to a "soft path" that complements centralized physical infrastructure with lower cost community-scale systems, decentralized and open decision-making, water markets and equitable pricing, application of efficient technology, and environmental protection.
Water is a naturally circulating resource that is constantly recharged. Therefore, even though the stocks of water in natural and artificial reservoirs are helpful to increase the available water resources for human society, the flow of water should be the main focus in water resources assessments. The climate system puts an upper limit on the circulation rate of available renewable freshwater resources (RFWR). Although current global withdrawals are well below the upper limit, more than two billion people live in highly water-stressed areas because of the uneven distribution of RFWR in time and space. Climate change is expected to accelerate water cycles and thereby increase the available RFWR. This would slow down the increase of people living under water stress; however, changes in seasonal patterns and increasing probability of extreme events may offset this effect. Reducing current vulnerability will be the first step to prepare for such anticipated changes.