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Water Efficiency – The Resource Matrix Part 2 of 4 – Water’s Role in Global Warming
Last week, we introduced you to the Resource Matrix, which is everywhere, it is all around us. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.
We showed you how economics leads to people maximizing their benefits in “win-lose” propositions: you want diamonds and gold for nothing and they want to give you useless junk for a king’s ransom. And how we’ve been hypnotized in believing what they want is also what we want.
But the scales have been falling from our eyes, we’re beginning to see the truth, and the power has been shifting away from the “I want your goodies for nothing” crowd:
- Do-gooders have increased our awareness and worked to change deals from “win-lose” to “win-win”
- There is no “free lunch:” finite energy resources will run out; actions have consequences, and the consequences of our actions are already visible, rather scary, and quite irreversible; and that the “I want your goodies for nothing” crowd hasn’t been telling the truth
We now realize we’re all in this together: we have greater awareness of our actions and the desire to change, and have ways to change.
Hallelujah and Praise the Collective!
Today, we introduce the resource called water, its parallels with fossil fuels, and its role in global warming.
None of this is to dismiss or diminish the contribution of fossil fuels in global warming. Hey, just like the Special Olympics, if you participate, you get a medal. We just think that gold-medal winner Fossil Fuels has stolen the spotlight, letting silver-medalist Water Use keep us hypnotized in believing that water is a free lunch, and that nature will clear up polluted waters while getting away with breaking the rules.
Water, water, everywhere,
not a drop to drink.
According to our friends at How Stuff Works, who I wrote about sarcastically for their oxymoronic clean coal article in discussing how true public relations stuff really works, gives us this data:
- 98% of the planet’s water is in the oceans. It’s salt water – we can’t drink it or irrigate our crops with it.
- 2% is usable. Of that 2%:
- 80% is locked up in polar ice caps and glaciers
- 18% is underground in aquifers and wells
- 1.8% is in lakes and rivers
- 0.2% is elsewhere: either floating in the air as clouds and water vapor, locked up in plants and animals (and your body), and in foods and beverages.
Okay, so 20% of the usable water (only 0.4% of all water on Earth) is accessible, right?
Well . . . no. Many of the aquifers, wells, lakes, and rivers have been sucked dry like a once-juicy fly carcass in a spider’s web. (The 18% and 1.8% you see above is like the money in the Social Security Fund: there actually is nothing there.)
And many of those water sources that do still have a drop to drink are worse than the ocean’s salt water. Drink salt water and you’ll need to yawn into a bucket. Drink this water and you’ll kick the bucket.
And I know you aren’t asking this burning question:
“So . . . global warming to release fresh water from ice caps and glaciers is a good thing, no?”
Percentage this, percentage that.
Talk my language, will you?
I know I’m pulling the disgusting old government trick: drowning you in an ocean of water statistics.
So let’s make it plain and simple:
You bring in $10,000 a month. You’re also living high on the hog and doing your personal best to outshine every bling-bling Hip Hopster Musical Artist in materially conspicuous consumption:
- $9800 goes to the McMansion mortgage and gold-plated Rolls Royce lease
- $160.00 goes to investments in clothing and accessories
- $0.40 has been lost in the sofa cushions
- $39.60 a month is for everything else: food, phone and electric bills, income taxes, and all the other non-essentials: Don’t spend it all in one place!
Aquifers and wells and lakes and rivers:
Dry or polluted, oh my!
Fred Pearce, author of When the Rivers Run Dry, helps us quickly understand it:
We can all save water in the home. But as laudable as it is to take a shower rather than a bath and turn off the faucet while brushing our teeth, we shouldn’t get hold of the idea that regular domestic water use is what is really emptying the world’s rivers. Manufacturing goods … consumes a certain amount, but that’s not the real story either. It is only when we add in the water needed to grow what we eat and drink that the numbers really begin to soar. (emphasis mine.) (Fred Pearce, When the Rivers Run Dry, Boston: Beacon Press, 2006. p 3)
Here are a few numbers he gives:
- to grow a pound of rice: 250 to 650 gallons of water
- to grow a pound of wheat: 130 gallons
- to produce a quart of milk: 500 to 1000 gallons
- to produce a pound of cheese: 650 gallons
- to produce a 1/4 pound of burger: 3000 gallons
He kindly puts water use into perspective in annual terms:
- 1 ton (265 gallons) for drinking
- 50 to 100 tons (13,250 to 26,500 gallons) around the house
- 1500 to 2000 tons (397,500 to 530,000 gallons) for food and clothing
How Many Gallons to Produce One Pound of Beef?
Lies, damned lies, and statistics
US Beef industry’s Cattlemen’s Association: 441 gallons
Fred Pearce: 12,000 gallons
Water Footprint Network: 1854 gallons (calculations: 15500 litres of water per kg; 4079 gallons per kg; 1854 gallons per pound)
In an industrial beef production system, it takes an average three years before the animal is slaughtered to produce about 200 kg of boneless beef.
The animal consumes nearly 1300 kg of grains (wheat, oats, barley, corn, dry peas, soybean meal and other small grains), 7200 kg of roughages (pasture, dry hay, silage and other roughages), 24 cubic meter of water for drinking and 7 cubic meter of water for servicing.
This means that to produce one kilogram of boneless beef, we use about 6.5 kg of grain, 36 kg of roughages, and 155 litres of water (only for drinking and servicing).
Producing the volume of feed requires about 15300 litres of water on average.
Where does all that water come from?
From virtually everywhere
If it comes from imported goods (Thai rice or Egyptian cotton), the water comes from those countries.
When the water is collected from rivers or pumped from underground, as it is in much of the world, it’s:
- increasingly expensive
- increasingly likely to deprive someone of water (nothing to drink)
- increasingly likely to empty rivers and underground water reserves
And when the rivers are running low, as they are more frequently, there is less water to grow anything at all.
The water used in growing and producing goods around the world is known as “virtual water” and the trade of these goods is known as “virtual water transfers.”
And who’s the biggest water exporting Mouseketeer of them all? The United States.
When you drink coffee from Central America, you are influencing the hydrology of the region, virtually taking a share of the Costa Rican rains. The same is true within a national and regional boundaries. The Colorado River is drained so Californians can eat their Big Macs and have friends over for a Sunday afternoon barbecue.
In the same way that your use of fossil fuel is measured as a “carbon footprint,” your water use, actual and through virtual water transfer, is measured as a “water footprint.”
How big is my water footprint?
I’ll show you mine if you show me yours
Arjen Y. Hoekstra, professor at the University of Twente, the Netherlands, introduced the water-footprint concept in 2002. It “shows water use related to consumption within a nation, while the traditional indicator shows water use in relation to production within a nation.” (Hoekstra and Chapagain, Globalization of Water, Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2008, p. 3)
With Hoekstra and Chapagain’s water footprint calculator (waterfootprint.org), you select your country, input food, domestic water use, and industrial goods consumption, press a button, and you get your:
- total water footprint for the year
- bar charts for the three components
- bar charts for individual food categories
For example, you’re in the US, eat only 1 pound of cereal a week (.4545 kg) and have a low-fat, low-sugar diet, use a low-flow showerhead, use a no-flush eco-toilet, and never run the tap while brushing your teeth. Two extremes:
- You’re the hippiest of the hip: making $10,000 a year: Your water footprint: 245 cubic meters (65,170 gallons)
- You’re the hippiest of the Yuppies: making $120,000: Your water footprint: 2979 cubic meters (792,414 gallons). Difference due to your income’s effect on industrial production.
Three notes on the calculations, because Professor Hoekstra is European and lives in the social welfare country that started birthing hippies in Amsterdam decades before they showed up in the US at Woodstock:
- You input kilograms for food:
- 1 kilogram = 2.2 pounds = 35.2 ounces
- 1 ounce = 0.028 kilograms. 1 pound = 0.454545 kilograms
- Your water footprint is in cubic meters per year:
- 1 cubic meter = 35.3 cubic feet = 266 gallons
- The higher your income, the greater your water footprint, even if you don’t personally consume anything: you’re a capitalist pig supporting the Establishment Regime, I guess
So how is Cinnamon’s capitalist water footprint? Answer: 650 cubic meters (172,900 gallons)
I showed you mine. Now you show me yours:
Get the naked truth: Calculate your waterfootprint now:
Water’s running out:
I get the fossil fuel analogy so far.
And what about climate change?
We return to Fred Pearce’s book to find an example, of which he has oceans:
China’s Yellow River: The fifth longest in the world, it begins high in the mountains of eastern Tibet and journeys more than 3000 miles. Almost half a billion people depend on it for drinking and crop irrigation, and it’s made China the world’s largest wheat producer and second largest corn producer. Yet more than half of the lakes it feeds have disappeared over the last 20 years, and a third of pastures have turned to desert. This desertification generates huge dust storms that choke lungs in Beijing, close schools in Koreas, dust cars in Japan, and rain dust on mountains across the Pacific and Western Canada.
State irrigation projects along the Yellow River soak up the majority of its water – the total official allocations are greater than the actual flow.
The resulting drought could be an early warning sign of global warming.
Much of the declines in moisture reaching rivers is in line with prediction of climate researchers. So how does this global warming happen?
Higher air temperatures from desertification increase evaporation from oceans and intensify the water cycle. This increases atmospheric water vapor – 8 to 10% more than today. This increases global rainfall, but the rain is being redistributed: middle latitudes (read: the US) are becoming drier. Higher temperatures increase evaporation on land, meaning soil dries out faster, meaning less rainfall is reaching rivers.
The higher temperatures melt glaciers and snowpacks. At first, this leads to unpredecented floods. After the glaciers disappear, meltwaters that feed rivers disappear. The combined decreasing rainfall and increasing evaporation will lower moisture by 40% in the southern and western states.
The Sierra Nevada snowpack could diminish by 70 to 80 percent over the next 50 years. And some of the world’s most productive agricultural regions could dry up.
Global climate is becoming more extreme: the dry areas become drier, and the wet areas become wetter. And more areas are becoming dry deserts. Loss of habitat and agricultural lands. It’s a vicious cycle.
So what can you do?
Navigating through the Resource Matrix
As Fred Pearce points out, your drinking and bathing account for 0.05% of your total water consumption. Your food and clothing weigh in at 95.00%, although I find his 12,000 gallons needed to produce a pound of burger rather wild.
As Professor Arjen Y. Joekstra shows with his Water Footprint Calculator, your consumption of meats accounts for a lot, as does your guilt by association of being in an industrialized country.
The obvious solution: eat fewer e-coli burgers from your neighborhood Salt and Fat Slop Bucket restaurant.
The wiser solution: like your choices in energy use, become more aware of the resources needed to produce anything and the consequences. Such as luxurious cotton grown in the Egyptian desert.
Next article in the water efficiency series:
How an illiterate, lice-infested, foul-mouthed
peasant on some other side of the globe affects you
We continue going with the flow of water, when we show the parallel between the current hot Oil Wars and in the future cold Water Wars.
And all of this is for one purpose:
To help you see the Resource Matrix, everywhere, all around you.
Thanks for letting us keep you updated . . .
To your green, brighter future,
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