Published May 24, 2015 – 6:27pm
Your Water Footprint, Firefly Books, 2014.
An unstable world is a thirsty world warns award winning author
Did you know it takes 7,600 litres of water to produce a single pair of jeans? Or that one smartphone needs 910 litres to manufacture?
The world’s most precious resource is often taken for granted. That’s the message Stephen Leahy will convey at the Walrus Talks Water event, Monday at 7 p.m. at the Spatz Theatre in Halifax.
“Most of us don’t realize how important water is,” Leahy said in an interview. “We need it to do anything, and we need it to make everything. We already have a planet where two out of five people don’t have access to enough water.”
Sponsored by the Walrus Foundation, the event will host a panel of nine water experts. Each speaker will have seven minutes to get their message across to the audience.
“The numbers are only getting worse,” said Leahy. “By 2025, three out of five people are going to be living with chronic or annual water shortages.”
Leahy, 61, is one of Canada’s most prominent environmental journalists. The Toronto-area writer focused his attention on water issues three years ago, after experiencing the reality of water shortage himself while on assignment in rural Australia. Last year, he published a book called Your Water Footprint.
“The majority of the water we use doesn’t come from the tap. On average in Canada, a person uses 500 litres of water every day,” he said.
“But the total water consumption in our daily lives is 8,000 litres per person. So that other 7,500 litres is in the stuff we consume.”
Those figures may seem hard to believe, but Leahy’s research came directly from the UNESCO Institute for Water Education in the Netherlands, the largest water research facility in the world. The biggest problem, he said, is a lack of awareness.
“I’m hoping to make all of our hidden, indirect water use visible,” said Leahy. “Because it’s real. This is not a mythical thing. This is real water being used, and we just don’t see it.”
If Canadians don’t change their consumption habits, the problem is only going to get worse.
“Water is being misused,” said Leahy. “Water gets depleted, and the quality goes down. So now we’re dealing with more and more contaminated water. So there are health risks. And, of course, prices will go up.”
Society’s dependence on water is huge, but Leahy said even the smallest changes in our daily lives can make a big difference.
“An unstable world is a thirsty world. But this is something we have control over with our purchasing decisions. Buy local and consume less to reduce the strain. Use low-flow toilets and shower heads. Start the conversation about water with your friends and colleagues because 8,000 litres a day is not sustainable.”
Water consumption isn’t the only issue being addressed Monday. The state of the oceans will be discussed, as well.
Susanna Fuller, another speaker and marine conservation co-ordinator at the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax, said ocean pollution needs to get under control.
“The ocean provides us with all sorts of things, from swimming to jobs to that good smell of salty air,” said Fuller, 41. “But a ton of garbage goes into that ocean.”
Fuller said Nova Scotians are generally aware of this problem, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.
“We’re Canada’s Ocean Playground, but we still take it a bit for granted,” she said. “We need to think about what goes into that body of water. It’s so important.
“When you’re enjoying your fish and chips, think about where it came from. Think about how you’d like to have that food being produced, and think about how you’d like to have it taken care of. I think we all sort of forget that we’re surrounded by water and how important it is to us.”
[A Walrus Talks Water video will be available online later – Stephen]