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We need to track the world's water like we track the weather

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    We need to build
    a weather service for water.
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    Yet, until we collectively
    demand accountability,
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    the incentives to fund it will not exist.
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    The first time I spoke at a conference
    was here at TED, eight years ago.
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    Fresh out of grad school,
    little did I know
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    that in those few minutes onstage,
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    I was framing the questions
    I was going to be asked
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    for the next decade.
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    And, like too many 20-somethings,
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    I expected to solve
    the world's problems --
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    more specifically,
    the world's water problems --
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    with my technology.
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    I had a lot to learn.
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    It was seductive,
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    believing that our biggest
    water quality problems persist
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    because they're so hard to identify.
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    And I presumed
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    that we just needed simpler, faster
    and more affordable sensors.
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    I was wrong.
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    While it's true that
    managing tomorrow's water risk
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    is going to require better data
    and more technology,
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    today we're barely using
    the little water data that we have.
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    Our biggest water problems persist
    because of what we don't do
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    and the problems we fail to acknowledge.
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    There's actually little question
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    about what today's water data
    is telling us to do as a species:
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    we need to conserve more,
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    and we need to pollute less.
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    But today's data is not going to help us
    forecast the emerging risks
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    facing businesses and markets.
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    It's rapidly becoming useless for that.
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    It used to carry more value,
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    but it's never actually told us
    with any real accuracy
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    how much water we have
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    or what's in it.
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    Let's consider the past decade
    of water usage statistics
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    from each of the G20 nations.
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    Now, what these numbers do not tell you
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    is that none of these countries
    directly measures how much water they use.
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    These are all estimates,
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    and they're based on outdated models
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    that don't consider the climate crisis,
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    nor do they consider its impact on water.
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    In 2015, Chennai,
    India's sixth-largest city,
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    was hit with the worst floods
    it had seen in a century.
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    Today, its water reservoirs
    are nearly dry.
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    It took three years to get here,
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    three years of subaverage rainfall.
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    Now, that's faster than most nations
    tabulate their national water data,
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    including the US.
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    And although there were forecasts
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    that predicted severe shortages
    of water in Chennai,
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    none of them could actually help us
    pinpoint exactly when or where
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    this was going to happen.
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    This is a new type of water problem,
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    because the rate at which
    every aspect of our water cycle changes
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    is accelerating.
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    As a recent UN warning
    this month revealed,
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    we are now facing one new
    climate emergency every single week.
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    There are greater uncertainties
    ahead for water quality.
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    It's rare in most countries
    for most water bodies to be tested
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    for more than a handful
    of contaminants in a year.
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    Instead of testing, we use
    what's called the "dilution model"
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    to manage pollution.
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    Now, imagine I took
    an Olympic-sized swimming pool,
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    I filled it with fresh water
    and I added one drop of mercury.
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    That would dilute down
    to one part per billion mercury,
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    which is well within what
    the World Health Organization
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    considers safe.
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    But if there was any unforeseen drop
    in how much water was available --
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    less groundwater, less stream flow,
    less water in the pool --
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    less dilution would take place,
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    and things would get more toxic.
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    So this is how most countries
    are managing pollution.
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    They use this model to tell them
    how much pollution is safe.
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    And it has clear weaknesses,
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    but it worked well enough
    when we had abundant water
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    and consistent weather patterns.
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    Now that we don't, we're going to need
    to invest and develop
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    new data-collection strategies.
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    But before we do that, we have to start
    acting on the data we already have.
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    This is a jet fuel fire.
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    As many of you may be aware,
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    jet fuel emissions play
    an enormous role in climate change.
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    What you might not be aware of
    is that the US Department of Defense
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    is the world's largest
    consumer of jet fuel.
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    And when they consume jet fuel,
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    they mandate the use
    of the firefighting foam pictured here,
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    which contains a class
    of chemicals called PFAS.
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    Nobody uses more of this foam
    than the US Department of Defense,
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    and every time it's used, PFAS
    finds its way into our water systems.
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    Globally, militaries have been using
    this foam since the 1970s.
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    We know PFAS causes cancer, birth defects,
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    and it's now so pervasive
    in the environment
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    that we seem to find it in nearly
    every living thing we test,
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    including us.
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    But so far, the US Department of Defense
    has not been held accountable
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    for PFAS contamination,
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    nor has it been held liable.
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    And although there's an effort underway
    to phase out these firefighting foams,
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    they're not embracing safer,
    effective alternatives.
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    They're actually using
    other PFAS molecules,
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    which may, for all we know,
    carry worse health consequences.
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    So today, government accountability
    is eroding to the point of elimination,
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    and the risk of liability
    from water pollution is vanishing.
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    What types of incentives does this create
    for investing in our water future?
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    Over the past decade, the average
    early stage global investment
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    in early stage water technology companies
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    has totaled less than
    30 million dollars every year.
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    That's 0.12 percent of global
    venture capital for early stage companies.
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    And public spending is not going up
    nearly fast enough.
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    And a closer look at it reveals
    that water is not a priority.
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    In 2014, the US federal government
    was spending 11 dollars per citizen
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    on water infrastructure,
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    versus 251 dollars on IT infrastructure.
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    So when we don't use the data we have,
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    we don't encourage investment
    in new technologies,
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    we don't encourage more data collection
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    and we certainly don't encourage
    investment in securing a water future.
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    So are we doomed?
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    Part of what I'm still learning
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    is how to balance the doom
    and the urgency with things we can do,
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    because Greta Thunberg
    and the Extinction Rebellion
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    don't want our hope --
    they want us to act.
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    So what can we do?
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    It's hard to imagine life
    without a weather service,
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    but before modern weather forecasting,
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    we had no commercial air travel,
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    it was common for ships to be lost at sea,
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    and a single storm could produce
    a food shortage.
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    Once we had radio and telegraph networks,
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    all that was necessary
    to solve these problems
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    was tracking the movement of storms.
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    And that laid the foundation
    for a global data collection effort,
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    one that every household
    and every business depends upon today.
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    And this was as much the result of
    coordinated and consistent data collection
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    as it was the result of producing
    a culture that saw greater value
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    in openly assessing and sharing everything
    that it could find out and discover
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    about the risks we face.
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    A global weather service for water
    would help us forecast water shortages.
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    It could help us implement rationing
    well before reservoirs run dry.
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    It could help us detect
    contamination before it spreads.
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    It could protect our supply chains,
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    secure our food supplies,
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    and, perhaps most importantly,
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    it would enable
    the precise estimation of risk
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    necessary to insure against it.
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    We know we can do this because
    we've already done it with weather.
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    But it's going to require resources.
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    We need to encourage
    greater investment in water.
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    Investors, venture capitalists:
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    a portion of your funds and portfolios
    should be dedicated to water.
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    Nothing is more valuable
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    and, after all, businesses are going
    to need to understand water risks
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    in order to remain competitive
    in the world we are entering.
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    Aside from venture capital,
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    there are also lots of promising
    government programs
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    that encourage economic development
    through tax incentives.
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    A new option in the US
    that my company is using
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    is called "opportunity zones."
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    They offer favorable tax treatment
    for investing capital gains
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    in designated distressed
    and low-income areas.
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    Now, these are areas
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    that are also facing
    staggering water risk,
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    so this creates crucial incentives
    to work directly with the communities
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    who need help most.
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    And if you're not looking
    to make this type of investment
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    but you own land in the US,
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    did you know that
    you can leverage your land
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    to conserve water quality permanently
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    with a conservation easement?
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    You can assign the perpetual right
    to a local land trust
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    to conserve your land
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    and set specific water quality goals.
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    And if you meet those goals,
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    you can be rewarded with
    a substantial tax discount every year.
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    How many areas could
    our global community protect
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    through these and other programs?
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    They're powerful because they offer
    the access to real property
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    necessary to lay the foundation
    for a global weather service for water.
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    But this can only work if we use
    these programs as they are intended
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    and not as mere vehicles for tax evasion.
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    When the conservation easement
    was established,
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    nobody could anticipate how ingrained
    in environmental movements
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    corporate polluters would become.
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    And we've become accustomed to companies
    talking about the climate crisis
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    while doing nothing about it.
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    This has undermined the legacy
    and the impact of these programs,
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    but it also makes them
    ripe for reclamation.
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    Why not use conservation easements
    as they were intended,
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    to set and reach
    ambitious conservation goals?
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    Why not create opportunities
    in opportunity zones?
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    Because fundamentally,
    water security requires accountability.
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    Accountability is not corporate polluters
    sponsoring environmental groups
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    and museums.
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    Those are conflicts of interest.
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    (Applause)
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    Accountability is:
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    making the risk of liability too expensive
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    to continue polluting
    and wasting our water.
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    We can't keep settling for words.
    It's time to act.
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    And where better to start
    than with our biggest polluters,
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    particularly the US Department
    of Defense, which is taxpayer-funded.
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    Who and what are we protecting
    when US soldiers, their families
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    and the people who live near
    US military bases abroad
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    are all drinking toxic water?
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    Global security can no longer remain
    at odds with protecting our planet
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    or our collective health.
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    Our survival depends on it.
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    Similarly,
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    agriculture in most countries
    depends on taxpayer-funded subsidies
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    that are paid to farmers to secure
    and stabilize food supplies.
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    These incentives are
    a crucial leverage point for us,
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    because agriculture is responsible
    for consuming 70 percent
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    of all the water we use every year.
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    Fertilizer and pesticide runoff
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    are the two biggest sources
    of water pollution.
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    Let's restructure these subsidies
    to demand better water efficiency
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    and less pollution.
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    (Applause)
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    Finally:
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    we can't expect progress
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    if we're unwilling to confront
    the conflicts of interest
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    that suppress science,
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    that undermine innovation
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    and that discourage transparency.
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    It is in the public interest
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    to measure and to share everything
    we can learn and discover
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    about the risks we face in water.
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    Reality does not exist
    until it's measured.
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    It doesn't just take
    technology to measure it.
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    It takes our collective will.
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    Thank you.
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    (Applause)
Títol:
We need to track the world's water like we track the weather
Speaker:
Sonaar Luthra
Descripció:

We need a global weather service for water, says entrepreneur and TED Fellow Sonaar Luthra. In a talk about environmental accountability, Luthra shows how we could forecast water shortages and risks with a global data collection effort -- just like we monitor the movement of storms -- and better listen to what the earth is telling us.

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Video Language:
English
Team:
TED
Projecte:
TEDTalks
Duration:
13:29

English subtitles

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