Award-winning environmental journalist launches book that will change the way you drink
by Lisha Van Nieuwenhove
Did you know that the average North American lifestyle is kept afloat by about 7,600 litres of water a day? We’re not talking trying to cram in more than the eight glasses recommended for our health – we’re talking about how much water it takes to propel our lives.
A new book written by Uxbridge resident and award-winning environmental journalist Stephen Leahy gives shocking insight into the “water footprint” that we use each day. We’re all familiar with the term “carbon footprint”, and this new term can be jarring when first learned, as it’s not likely something you’ve heard about before.
Open up Your Water Footprint: The Shocking Facts About How Much Water We Use to Make Everyday Products and you’ll quickly learn that the world’s most abundant resource is also the world’s most abused.
“Our supply of water is limited,” explains Stephen. “It doesn’t go away. We’re using the same water the dinosaurs drank. The problem is, we’re creating a cycle of demand that our world cannot keep up with. It’s simply not sustainable. We undervalue water.”
The book was originally commissioned by Firefly Books after a publisher there read “A Cup of Coffee with Stephen Leahy” in The Cosmos about two years ago. Your Water Footprint is easy to read, with lots of what Stephen calls “info graphics”. There is lots of reading to be done, but each picture does an excellent job of telling a story, and although the facts each chapter pours out (pun semi-intended) can be overwhelming, they are captivating and eye-opening. Take a pair of jeans, for example. One pair of jeans takes 7,600 litres of water to make. Much of the cotton from which jeans are made grows in India. Water is needed to irrigate the cotton crops, and it comes from nearby rivers. Once the raw cotton is harvested, it must be washed. More water use. It is then shipped to Bangladesh – the fuel used in the vehicle(s) that transport it requires water, as do the vehicles themselves. The cotton is processed further, being spun and dyed (more water in the dye), and the now-contaminated water often lands back in the rivers it came from. Eventually the finished garment gets a couple more washes, and the jeans get packaged up and shipped off to retailers – more fuel, more transport, more water. 7,600 litres doesn’t seem so unreasonable.
“The book doesn’t say that us using water is bad,” says Stephen. “It’s more about helping us all to understand where we’re doing things wrong and how they can be fixed. We need to be conscious of what we purchase, because there’s always a price to pay in water. Remember the three r’s – reduce, reuse and recycle. That helps. Eating vegetarian once in awhile – that helps, because it uses way more water to eat a diet high in beef. Even chicken uses less water.”
Stephen says he learned a great deal writing the book, as he had been more involved in other environmental issues.
“I didn’t know the extent to which water is involved in everything. ALL forms of energy require water. It’s amazing.”
The book is already starting to be used in some schools, in classes as young as grade six.
As a freelancer, Stephen writes mainly for Inter Press Service, a news agency that claims to be the world’s leading provider of news and analysis on sustainable development. Stephen covers topics ranging from climate change, energy, water, biodiversity, development, to native peoples, and his work often takes him all over the world.
He will be at Blue Heron Books this Saturday, November 8, from 1 – 4 p.m., to officially launch Your Water Footprint: The Shocking Facts About How Much Water We Use to Make Everyday Products, as well as answer any questions that readers may have.