Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • We need to build a weather service for water.

  • Yet, until we collectively demand accountability,

  • the incentives to fund it will not exist.

  • The first time I spoke at a conference was here at TED, eight years ago.

  • Fresh out of grad school, little did I know

  • that in those few minutes onstage,

  • I was framing the questions I was going to be asked

  • for the next decade.

  • And, like too many 20-somethings,

  • I expected to solve the world's problems --

  • more specifically, the world's water problems --

  • with my technology.

  • I had a lot to learn.

  • It was seductive,

  • believing that our biggest water quality problems persist

  • because they're so hard to identify.

  • And I presumed

  • that we just needed simpler, faster and more affordable sensors.

  • I was wrong.

  • While it's true that managing tomorrow's water risk

  • is going to require better data and more technology,

  • today we're barely using the little water data that we have.

  • Our biggest water problems persist because of what we don't do

  • and the problems we fail to acknowledge.

  • There's actually little question

  • about what today's water data is telling us to do as a species:

  • we need to conserve more,

  • and we need to pollute less.

  • But today's data is not going to help us forecast the emerging risks

  • facing businesses and markets.

  • It's rapidly becoming useless for that.

  • It used to carry more value,

  • but it's never actually told us with any real accuracy

  • how much water we have

  • or what's in it.

  • Let's consider the past decade of water usage statistics

  • from each of the G20 nations.

  • Now, what these numbers do not tell you

  • is that none of these countries directly measures how much water they use.

  • These are all estimates,

  • and they're based on outdated models

  • that don't consider the climate crisis,

  • nor do they consider its impact on water.

  • In 2015, Chennai, India's sixth-largest city,

  • was hit with the worst floods it had seen in a century.

  • Today, its water reservoirs are nearly dry.

  • It took three years to get here,

  • three years of subaverage rainfall.

  • Now, that's faster than most nations tabulate their national water data,

  • including the US.

  • And although there were forecasts

  • that predicted severe shortages of water in Chennai,

  • none of them could actually help us pinpoint exactly when or where

  • this was going to happen.

  • This is a new type of water problem,

  • because the rate at which every aspect of our water cycle changes

  • is accelerating.

  • As a recent UN warning this month revealed,

  • we are now facing one new climate emergency every single week.

  • There are greater uncertainties ahead for water quality.

  • It's rare in most countries for most water bodies to be tested

  • for more than a handful of contaminants in a year.

  • Instead of testing, we use what's called the "dilution model"

  • to manage pollution.

  • Now, imagine I took an Olympic-sized swimming pool,

  • I filled it with fresh water and I added one drop of mercury.

  • That would dilute down to one part per billion mercury,

  • which is well within what the World Health Organization

  • considers safe.

  • But if there was any unforeseen drop in how much water was available --

  • less groundwater, less stream flow, less water in the pool --

  • less dilution would take place,

  • and things would get more toxic.

  • So this is how most countries are managing pollution.

  • They use this model to tell them how much pollution is safe.

  • And it has clear weaknesses,

  • but it worked well enough when we had abundant water

  • and consistent weather patterns.

  • Now that we don't, we're going to need to invest and develop

  • new data-collection strategies.

  • But before we do that, we have to start acting on the data we already have.

  • This is a jet fuel fire.

  • As many of you may be aware,

  • jet fuel emissions play an enormous role in climate change.

  • What you might not be aware of is that the US Department of Defense

  • is the world's largest consumer of jet fuel.

  • And when they consume jet fuel,

  • they mandate the use of the firefighting foam pictured here,

  • which contains a class of chemicals called PFAS.

  • Nobody uses more of this foam than the US Department of Defense,

  • and every time it's used, PFAS finds its way into our water systems.

  • Globally, militaries have been using this foam since the 1970s.

  • We know PFAS causes cancer, birth defects,

  • and it's now so pervasive in the environment

  • that we seem to find it in nearly every living thing we test,

  • including us.

  • But so far, the US Department of Defense has not been held accountable

  • for PFAS contamination,

  • nor has it been held liable.

  • And although there's an effort underway to phase out these firefighting foams,

  • they're not embracing safer, effective alternatives.

  • They're actually using other PFAS molecules,

  • which may, for all we know, carry worse health consequences.

  • So today, government accountability is eroding to the point of elimination,

  • and the risk of liability from water pollution is vanishing.

  • What types of incentives does this create for investing in our water future?

  • Over the past decade, the average early stage global investment

  • in early stage water technology companies

  • has totaled less than 30 million dollars every year.

  • That's 0.12 percent of global venture capital for early stage companies.

  • And public spending is not going up nearly fast enough.

  • And a closer look at it reveals that water is not a priority.

  • In 2014, the US federal government was spending 11 dollars per citizen

  • on water infrastructure,

  • versus 251 dollars on IT infrastructure.

  • So when we don't use the data we have,

  • we don't encourage investment in new technologies,

  • we don't encourage more data collection

  • and we certainly don't encourage investment in securing a water future.

  • So are we doomed?

  • Part of what I'm still learning

  • is how to balance the doom and the urgency with things we can do,

  • because Greta Thunberg and the Extinction Rebellion

  • don't want our hope -- they want us to act.

  • So what can we do?

  • It's hard to imagine life without a weather service,

  • but before modern weather forecasting,

  • we had no commercial air travel,

  • it was common for ships to be lost at sea,

  • and a single storm could produce a food shortage.

  • Once we had radio and telegraph networks,

  • all that was necessary to solve these problems

  • was tracking the movement of storms.

  • And that laid the foundation for a global data collection effort,

  • one that every household and every business depends upon today.

  • And this was as much the result of coordinated and consistent data collection

  • as it was the result of producing a culture that saw greater value

  • in openly assessing and sharing everything that it could find out and discover

  • about the risks we face.

  • A global weather service for water would help us forecast water shortages.

  • It could help us implement rationing well before reservoirs run dry.

  • It could help us detect contamination before it spreads.

  • It could protect our supply chains,

  • secure our food supplies,

  • and, perhaps most importantly,

  • it would enable the precise estimation of risk

  • necessary to ensure against it.

  • We know we can do this because we've already done it with weather.

  • But it's going to require resources.

  • We need to encourage greater investment in water.

  • Investors, venture capitalists:

  • a portion of your funds and portfolios should be dedicated to water.

  • Nothing is more valuable

  • and, after all, businesses are going to need to understand water risks

  • in order to remain competitive in the world we are entering.

  • Aside from venture capital,

  • there are also lots of promising government programs

  • that encourage economic development through tax incentives.

  • A new option in the US that my company is using

  • is called "opportunity zones."

  • They offer favorable tax treatment for investing capital gains

  • in designated distressed and low-income areas.

  • Now, these are areas

  • that are also facing staggering water risk,

  • so this creates crucial incentives to work directly with the communities

  • who need help most.

  • And if you're not looking to make this type of investment

  • but you own land in the US,

  • did you know that you can leverage your land

  • to conserve water quality permanently

  • with a conservation easement?

  • You can assign the perpetual right to a local land trust

  • to conserve your land

  • and set specific water quality goals.

  • And if you meet those goals,

  • you can be rewarded with a substantial tax discount every year.

  • How many areas could our global community protect

  • through these and other programs?

  • They're powerful because they offer the access to real property

  • necessary to lay the foundation for a global weather service for water.

  • But this can only work if we use these programs as they are intended

  • and not as mere vehicles for tax evasion.

  • When the conservation easement was established,

  • nobody could anticipate how ingrained in environmental movements

  • corporate polluters would become.

  • And we've become accustomed to companies talking about the climate crisis

  • while doing nothing about it.

  • This has undermined the legacy and the impact of these programs,

  • but it also makes them ripe for reclamation.

  • Why not use conservation easements as they were intended,

  • to set and reach ambitious conservation goals?

  • Why not create opportunities in opportunity zones?

  • Because fundamentally, water security requires accountability.

  • Accountability is not corporate polluters sponsoring environmental groups

  • and museums.

  • Those are conflicts of interest.

  • (Applause)

  • Accountability is:

  • making the risk of liability too expensive

  • to continue polluting and wasting our water.

  • We can't keep settling for words. It's time to act.

  • And where better to start than with our biggest polluters,

  • particularly the US Department of Defense, which is taxpayer-funded.

  • Who and what are we protecting when US soldiers, their families

  • and the people who live near US military bases abroad

  • are all drinking toxic water?

  • Global security can no longer remain at odds with protecting our planet

  • or our collective health.

  • Our survival depends on it.

  • Similarly,

  • agriculture in most countries depends on taxpayer-funded subsidies

  • that are paid to farmers to secure and stabilize food supplies.

  • These incentives are a crucial leverage point for us,

  • because agriculture is responsible for consuming 70 percent

  • of all the water we use every year.

  • Fertilizer and pesticide runoff

  • are the two biggest sources of water pollution.

  • Let's restructure these subsidies to demand better water efficiency

  • and less pollution.

  • (Applause)

  • Finally:

  • we can't expect progress

  • if we're unwilling to confront the conflicts of interest

  • that suppress science,

  • that undermine innovation

  • and that discourage transparency.

  • It is in the public interest

  • to measure and to share everything we can learn and discover

  • about the risks we face in water.

  • Reality does not exist until it's measured.

  • It doesn't just take technology to measure it.

  • It takes our collective will.

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

We need to build a weather service for water.

Subtitles and vocabulary

Operation of videos Adjust the video here to display the subtitles

B1 US TED water data pfas pollution jet fuel

【TED】Sonaar Luthra: We need to track the world's water like we track the weather (We need to track the world's water like we track the weather | Sonaar Luthra)

  • 95 6
    林宜悉 posted on 2019/10/15
Video vocabulary