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US Weather Extremes in 2012
May 30, 2013 06:08 AM - Editor, Worldwatch Institute
In 2012, there were 905 natural catastrophes worldwide, 93 percent of which were weather-related disasters. In terms of overall and insured losses (US$170 billion and $70 billion, respectively), 2012 did not follow the records set in 2011 and could be defined as a moderate year on a global scale. But the United States was seriously affected by weather extremes, accounting for 69 percent of overall losses and 92 percent of insured losses due to natural catastrophes worldwide, writes Petra Löw, a geographer and consultant at Munich Reinsurance Company,in the Worldwatch Institute's Vital Signs Online service (www.worldwatch.org). Of the 905 documented loss events, 45 percent were meteorological events (storms), 36 percent were hydrological events (floods), and 12 percent were climatological events such as heat waves, cold waves, droughts, and wildfires. The remaining 7 percent were geophysical events—earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. This distribution deviates somewhat from long-term trends, as between 1980 and 2011 geophysical events accounted for 14 percent of all natural catastrophes.
Natural Catastrophes in 2012 Dominated by U.S. Weather Extremes
May 29, 2013 01:07 PM - Petra Low, Worldwatch Institute
In 2012, there were 905 natural catastrophes worldwide, 93 percent of which were weather-related disasters. In terms of overall and insured losses (US$170 billion and $70 billion, respectively), 2012 did not follow the records set in 2011 and could be defined as a moderate year on a global scale. But the United States was seriously affected by weather extremes, accounting for 69 percent of overall losses and 92 percent of insured losses due to natural catastrophes worldwide.
Agriculture and Livestock Remain Major Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions
May 8, 2013 12:25 PM - Maddy Traynor, Worldwatch Institute
Global greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector totaled 4.69 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent in 2010 (the most recent year for which data are available), an increase of 13 percent over 1990 emissions. By comparison, global CO2 emissions from transport totaled 6.76 billion tons that year, and emissions from electricity and heat production reached 12.48 billion tons, according to Worldwatch Institute’s Vital Signs Online service.
Global Food Prices Continue to Rise
April 12, 2013 08:59 AM - Sophie Wenzlau, Worldwatch Institute
As both climate change and population growth continue to increase, there is reason to believe that food commodity prices will be both higher and more volatile in the decades to come. Continuing a decade-long increase, global food prices rose 2.7 percent in 2012, reaching levels not seen since the 1960s and 1970s but still well below the price spike of 1974. Between 2000 and 2012, the World Bank global food price index increased 104.5 percent, at an average annual rate of 6.5 percent.
Fracking: The Solution? Or The Problem?
April 5, 2013 10:33 AM - Allison Singer, Worldwatch Institute
Fracking advocates proclaim a natural gas revolution, but are they simply perpetuating our catastrophic fossil fuel dependence?
Achieving a Sustainable Food System with Organic Farming
March 22, 2013 10:13 AM - Editor, Worldwatch Institute
Despite a slight decline between 2009 and 2010, since 1999 the global land area farmed organically has expanded more than threefold to 37 million hectares, according to new research conducted by the Worldwatch Institute for its Vital Signs Online service (www.worldwatch.org). Regions with the largest certified organic agricultural land in 2010 were Oceania, including Australia, New Zealand, and Pacific Island nations (12.1 million hectares); Europe (10 million hectares); and Latin America (8.4 million hectares), write report authors Catherine Ward and Laura Reynolds.
The Looming Threat of Water Scarcity
March 19, 2013 11:47 AM - Maddy Traynor, Worldwatch Institute
Some 1.2 billion people—almost a fifth of the world—live in areas of physical water scarcity, while another 1.6 billion face what can be called economic water shortage. The situation is only expected to worsen as population growth, climate change, investment and management shortfalls, and inefficient use of existing resources restrict the amount of water available to people, according to Worldwatch Institute’s Vital Signs Online service (www.worldwatch.org). It is estimated that by 2025, 1.8 billion people will live in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, with almost half of the world living in conditions of water stress. Water scarcity has several definitions. Physical scarcity occurs when there is not enough water to meet demand; its symptoms include severe environmental degradation, declining groundwater, and unequal water distribution. Economic water scarcity occurs when there is a lack of investment and proper management to meet the demand of people who do not have the financial means to use existing water sources; the symptoms in this case normally include poor infrastructure.Large parts of Africa suffer from economic water scarcity.
Caribbean Nations Take Control of Their Collective Energy Future
March 8, 2013 01:24 PM - Katie Auth and Evan Musolino, Worldwatch Institute
In the face of the many challenges inherent in getting 15 countries—each with their own resources, priorities, and political complexities—to agree to anything, let alone a comprehensive regional energy policy, the Caribbean is now on the brink of taking a significant (and impressive) step forward. For the past half decade, a Draft Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Regional Energy Policy—designed to address critical issues like energy security, affordability, energy efficiency, and renewable energy—has been circulating among CARICOM's 15 member states, continually being revised to reflect the concerns of individual members, but never finalized.
Although the global consumption and installed capacity of hydropower and geothermal technologies have increased steadily since 2003, both types of energy saw slower growth in 2011, according to new research conducted by the Worldwatch Institute for its Vital Signs Online service (www.worldwatch.org). Global installed capacity of hydropower reached 970 gigawatts (GW), only a 1.6 percent increase from the previous year, while geothermal cumulative capacity reached 11.2 GW, slowing to below 1 percent for the first time since 2002, writes report author Evan Musolino. "Despite the recent slowdown in growth, the overall market for hydropower and geothermal power is increasing in part because these two sources are not subject to the variability in generation that plagues other renewable energy sources such as wind and solar," said Musolino, a research associate with the Worldwatch’s Climate and Energy Program. "The greater reliability of hydro and geothermal can thus be harnessed to provide reliable baseload power."
Converting Less Rainforest into Toilet Paper
February 8, 2013 11:29 AM - Robert Engelman, Worldwatch Institute
Score one for the strategy of pressuring corporations to act now for environmental sustainability. Whereas governments often meet, greet, and retreat on big issues like deforestation, environmentalists have convinced a major Asian pulp company to stop scalping the rainforests of Indonesia to produce paper and packaging.