So I’ve been reading a bit about water lately, our voracious appetite for it, the nonchalance with which we waste it, and the devastating over-consumption that is already starting to crack the land and our lives beneath us.
But I just turn on the tap and it’s always there… but it seems like it rains pretty often… There’s no water restrictions at the moment so it can’t be that bad…
One of the critical elements that the average urban dweller tends to forget/neglect/hasn’t realised yet is that most of the fresh water on Earth is used in food production. About 70% actually is used for irrigation purposes, 20% for power generation and industry and the remaining 10% is what we use in our homes and cities.
So if it’s only 10% that we use in our homes it’s not really an issue then is it?
Unfortunately it’s a big issue. Our cities are growing, some of them at an exponential rate, and it is estimated that by 2025 urban demand for water will increase by as much as 150%. Unfortunately that water is going to be diverted away from the farms and the farmers, leaving them with less precious resources to grow more and more food for an ever increasing population.
(This then begs the question, how much of our agricultural land are we selling to foreign companies, ultimately allowing them to produce food using the precious dwindling resources of arable land and water and then exporting it back to their homelands?)
Believe it or not we “eat” a lot of water. On average each calorie we consume takes 1L of water to produce, and with people consuming between 1800-3900 calories a day you can see that it really starts to add up. There are some foods (and fibres) which are drastically less water intensive than others and in the future this may well become a determinant on which we base our food and our lifestyle choices.
Vegetables and grains use far less water than meat and dairy, and to give you an idea, irrigation scientist Wayne Meyer calculates that under Australian conditions the production of 1kg of dry wheat grain takes 715-750L of water, 1kg maize takes 540-630L, 1kg of paddy rice takes 1,550L, 1kg of beef takes 50,000-100,000L, and 1kg of clean wool takes 170,000L of water!!!
Now all of a sudden instead of just drinking 2-3L a day plus water used for washing, cleaning, showering and flushing, the average well-off person can easily consume 2-3tonnes of water, in the form of food and fibre everyday! That’s seven times as much as we use for all other purposes including watering parks, gardens and sports fields, and arguably our largest personal impact on the planet.
All across the world underground water tables are dropping at an alarming rate and some are already close to exhaustion. About one-fifth of humanities freshwater is provided by these aquifiers, however there is a disturbing tendency to view groundwater as an inexhaustible resource and as such extract it much faster than it can recharge. In America the Ogallala aquifier lying under 8 states in the Midwest is being depleted at 10 times the rate of natural recharge, with some experts fearing it could dry up in 25years. This in itself is devastating as once dried up aquifiers can collapse and then can never be recharged again. The great North China Plain is China’s largest food bowl and 70-75% of the water used is supplied by groundwater from an aquifier which has sunk by as much as 90m in recent years.
In Europe 60% of cities with a population greater than 100,000 are extracting groundwater faster than it can be recharged, proving that even in areas of static population we are pushing our resources to the limit.
So why don’t we hear about this in the news? Why aren’t our politicians and our governments taking more steps to ensure that we continue to have water to drink, wash and clean with, and with which to grow the food that we eat? Why are we allowing corporations to extract clean water in some of the poorest, driest countries so it can be sold in bottles in countries where there is still relative abundance?
Have we become complacent? Or is this a case of the ostrich with it’s head in the sand? Or are these issues genuinely not on the radar for a population saturated with celebrity and superficiality. Are we really that disconnected? From our food? Our water? Our Earth?
Issues of food and water security and scarcity can and will effect every person on the planet in the future.
So what can we do to contribute to the solution?
Watch this space… Maybe we can come up with some ideas together.