2013 Philomathia Symposium Background Information

The global environment and its life support systems for human society are undergoing profound change. Rapid shifts in climate, together with human population growth, urbanization and economic development, will have far-reaching impacts on ecosystems and human society in the coming century. Water plays a critical role at the intersection of the physical, biological and social systems experiencing these impacts. Water shapes virtually all aspects of human societies, and reliable water supplies are essential for agriculture, industry, energy generation, and residential use. Both scarcity and excess of water can present major crises, posing economic, political, and social challenges. Conflicts over water are expected to become more common, especially in ecologically and socially precarious regions of the world.

UC Berkeley’s 2013 Philomathia Forum will address Water, Climate and Society: Challenges and Strategies in a Rapidly Changing World. Water is a critical and relatively poorly understood component of the global climate system, and changing climate will reshape the global distribution of water resources in ways that are unprecedented in recorded human history. A warmer atmosphere generates more intense storm events, while changing circulation patterns will bring extreme droughts to regions that currently have ample water supplies. Water availability shapes the distribution and productivity of natural and agricultural ecosystems across the earth's surface, with critical feedbacks to the climate system. The development of water infrastructure, through dams, diversions and irrigation, has altered terrestrial water flows with profound impacts on biodiversity, ecosystem function, agricultural productivity, and urban growth. As society’s water demand continues to grow, new approaches to urban and agricultural water management will be needed.

The Philomathia Forum will bring together academics, decision-makers, and stakeholders, with a focus on two themes: 1) the future of urban water, and strategies for water management and infrastructure; and 2) the impact of changing water supplies on food supplies, security, population, and the natural environment, and the feedbacks between the land surface and the climate system.