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El Salvador Prioritizes Geothermal Energy Development
January 11, 2013 09:06 AM - Sean Ahearn, Worldwatch Institute
During the last two decades, the global installed capacity for geothermal electricity has nearly doubled. Despite this recent expansion, geothermal energy is not getting the same level of attention as other renewable energy resources, and it remains heavily underutilized. If the world were able to tap just a small portion of the Earth's heat, we could provide everyone with clean and safe energy for centuries. Current estimates of our global potential for geothermal energy range from 35 gigawatts (GW) to 2,000 GW. However, simple technological improvements could greatly increase these projections.
Oil is Still World's Largest Energy Source, But Coal and Natural Gas are Gaining
January 5, 2013 08:03 AM - Matt Lucky & Reese Rogers , Worldwatch Institute
Oil remains the world's leading energy source - for now. In recent years, coal and natural gas have proven themselves increasingly important resources across the globe. Global consumption of coal increased 5.4 percent in 2011, to 3.72 billion tons of oil equivalent, while natural gas use grew 2.2 percent, to 2.91 billion tons of oil equivalent. Both are primary fuels for the world’s electricity market, and because they are often used as substitutes for one other, their trends need to be examined together. The bulk of coal use is for power generation, with smaller amounts being used in steelmaking. Spurred mainly by rising demand in China and India, coal's share in the global primary energy mix reached 28 percent in 2011—its highest point since the International Energy Agency began keeping statistics in 1971. Although the United States remains one of the world's largest coal users, just over 70 percent of global demand in 2011 was in countries outside of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), including China and India. Consumption in non-OECD countries grew 8 percent in 2011 to 2.63 billion tons of oil equivalent.
By harnessing an innovative mix of tools and approaches, governments can strengthen the economies of urban areas and improve their overall livability, according to research presented in the Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World 2012: Moving Toward Sustainable Prosperity. Today, nearly 1 billion of the world’s poor live in urban areas that are dangerously overcrowded and lack adequate access to basic sanitation and clean water, with wide-ranging health and environmental impacts. But even in wealthier countries, governments face serious challenges in making their cities more inclusive, sustainable, and livable. In 2010, informal urban settlements, known more commonly as slums, housed approximately one-third of the urban population of developing countries. "Slum populations are often viewed as an eyesore, but few realize that the urban poor are at the core of a city’s economy, accounting for a large share of employment and performing essential functions for the city," said Eric Belsky, Managing Director of Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies and State of the World 2012 contributing author.
Increasing Urban Populations May Lead to More Slums and Health Issues
December 12, 2012 04:16 PM - Editor, Worldwatch Institute
The world's urban population is expected to grow by 2.6 billion people between 2011 and 2050, bringing the total number of urbanites to 6.3 billion, according to new research conducted by the Worldwatch Institute for its Vital Signs Online service. This urban expansion will be especially burdensome for developing countries, where 82 percent of the world's population currently lives, writes report author Grant Potter. Although the developing world is less urbanized than the industrial world in relative terms, developing countries are home to an estimated 1.54 billion more people.
During the 1980s, Brazilian rubber tapper Chico Mendes was a prominent activist for the preservation of the Amazon region. He urged his government to set up reserves for rubber tappers and was instrumental in creating various organizations and unions for his peers. In 1988, Mendes was murdered by a rancher intent on logging the site of a future reserve. Partly in response to the international media outcry, Brazil created the Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve, consisting of 980,000 hectares of land protected for forest-dependent indigenous inhabitants.
Report: Climate-Related Migration
November 14, 2012 05:31 AM - Editor, Worldwatch Institute
Recent reports, as well as extreme weather events such as Superstorm Sandy, suggest that climatechange, and particularly sea-level rise, may be occurring faster than earlier anticipated. This has increased public and policy discussions about climate change’s likely impacts on the movement of populations, both internally and worldwide. Research suggests that when climate-related migration does occur, much of it is short distance and within national borders, as opposed to international, according to new analysis conducted by Lori Hunter, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, for the Worldwatch Institute’s Vital Signs Online service (www.worldwatch.org). Recent research has added nuance to the scientific understanding of the potential connections between climate change and human migration. Previous studies over the past two decades relied largely on descriptive data and simplistic assumptions to put forward at-times alarmist estimates of future numbers of "environmental refugees," ranging from 150 million to 1 billion people. But such broad-sweeping generalizations mask several central issues that are important in the development of appropriate policy responses. These include:
Meat Production Affected by Disease and Drought
October 23, 2012 10:15 AM - Editor, Worldwatch Institute
Global meat production rose to 297 million tons in 2011, an increase of 0.8 percent over 2010 levels, and is projected to reach 302 million tons by the end of 2012, according to new research conducted for our Vital Signs Online service. By comparison, meat production rose 2.6 percent in 2010 and has risen 20 percent since 2001. Record drought in the U.S. Midwest, animal disease outbreaks, and rising prices of livestock feed all contributed to 2011’s lower rise in production. Also bucking a decades-long trend, meat consumption decreased slightly worldwide in 2011, from 42.5 kilograms (kg) per person in 2010 to 42.3 kg. Since 1995, however, per capita meat consumption has increased 15 percent overall; in developing countries, it increased 25 percent during this time, whereas in industrialized countries it increased just 2 percent.
Electric Vehicles: Transitioning to a Sustainable Future
October 22, 2012 03:41 PM - Cameron Scherer, Worldwatch Institute
The US has a car culture. In 2010, 95% of American households owned a car and 85% of Americans drove to work each day. This is radically different from the lifestyle most Americans had after World War II, when 40% of Americans did not own cars. China and India are rapidly adopting the US living standard, and cars are flooding the streets. In 2011, China had 100 million cars on its streets, or about 10 percent of the more than 1 billion cars on streets worldwide. On average, 9.51 million automobiles were added each year between 2006 and 2010, exceeding the government’s ability to add roads and prepare for the increasing demand on transport infrastructure. Reacting to this mismatch, cities are establishing car quotas to attempt to slow the growth. This year in Beijing, for example, a car-quota system was put into effect, allowing the registration of no more than 240,000 new cars annually.
Limiting Overconsumption with "Economic Degrowth"
October 17, 2012 12:10 PM - Cameron Scherer, Worldwatch Institute
If everyone lived like the average American, according to the Global Footprint Network, the Earth could sustain only 1.7 billion people—a quarter of today's population—without undermining the planet's physical and biological systems. Overconsumption in industrialized societies and among developing world elites causes lasting environmental and human impacts. In his chapter, "The Path to Degrowth in Overdeveloped Countries," Worldwatch Senior Fellow and State of the World 2012 Project Co-director Erik Assadourian describes the benefits and opportunities of proactive "economic degrowth"—defined as the intentional contraction of overdeveloped economies and more broadly, the redirection of economies away from the perpetual pursuit of growth.
Food Security, Grain Production, and Climate Change
September 26, 2012 08:46 AM - Cameron Scherer, Worldwatch Institute
Global grain production is expected to reach a record high of 2.4 billion tons in 2012, an increase of 1 percent from 2011 levels, according to new research conducted by the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet project for the Institute's Vital Signs Online service. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the production of grain for animal feed is growing the fastest—a 2.1 percent increase from 2011. Grain for direct human consumption grew 1.1 percent from 2011, write report authors Danielle Nierenberg and Katie Spoden.