Planet dying of our thirst for water

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A tractor kicks up dust in Los Banos, California as the state suffers through a third straight year of drought, with reservoirs at record lows and fields in the central valley sitting unplanted.

Step away from that smart phone. Eschew that cheeseburger. Junk those jeans.

If you think that giving up your nightly tub-soak for showers or buying a low-flush toilet has cut your environmental footprint down to responsible size, think again.

The sad verdict is in, from a new book by environmental sleuth Stephen Leahy. Its title, Your Water Footprint: The Shocking Facts About How Much Water We Use to Make Everyday Products says it all.

If, for instance, you’re munching your burger while chatting on your cell and wearing jeans, you’ve just used up about 11,000 litres of water we’ll never get back, by Leahy’s painstaking calculation.

Take the burger: “a typical 160-gram (5-ounce) cheeseburger requires 2,400 litres (634 gallons) of water to produce,” he writes. “Many times the amount of water the average North American uses every day for drinking, bathing, washing dishes and flushing the toilet.” Most is used for producing the beef at a cost of 15,415 litres per kilogram. The cheese and bun add on about 100 litres (26 gallons) of “virtual water.”

As for the smart phone, Leahy says, every step of the production process sucks up water, “from creating the microchips to mining the metals for the batteries to polishing the silica glass for the touch screens.” And there’s worse news: “the number of activated cellphones is soon expected to exceed the world’s population. To manufacture these phones will require 6.7 trillion litres (1.8 trillion gallons) of water.”

The jeans? We won’t even go there.

Leahy, an award-winning Ontario environmental journalist who roams to the ends of the earth to report on environmental dangers, makes it clear that the most innocent-seeming actions and products are far from water-neutral. While billions of people on the planet face drought and water shortages, others in wealthy countries unwittingly splash the stuff around on goods that could be made or substituted for more frugally.

That’s important, Leahy points out, because while two-thirds of our “blue planet” is covered in water, only a tiny portion of it is drinkable. And when it’s gone it’s gone.

The huge amount of vital water used up every day to produce food, energy, goods and rides of all sorts is staggering. But the good news, says Leahy, is that we aren’t helpless in cutting the world’s water use. We can reduce our car, airplane and gadget use and dial back on power generation that drains huge quantities of water to produce. Also fossil fuels that siphon off way more water than the oil that’s produced – not to mention even worse biofuels with a water footprint more than 3,000 times bigger than crude oil!

But in the meantime, Leahy says, small stuff also helps. Apart from the obvious – don’t run the water while cleaning your teeth – here are some handy eco-tips to make you and the planet feel better.

If you have a garden, attach a rain barrel to your downspouts for watering.

Sweep your walkways instead of hosing.

Take your car to a car-wash instead of doing it yourself. They use recycled water.

Speed dial 311 when you see any public water leak.

Buy second hand clothing.

Go retro. With polyester you’ll gain 80s cred and save on the flood of water it takes to grow more chic fabrics like cotton and wool. If you’re over 50, dust off that leisure suit. Dude, what’s not to like?

Olivia Ward is a foreign affairs reporter for the Star. Link to Original Story 

 Your Water Footprint:  The Shocking Facts About How Much Water We Use To Make Everyday Products

Published Nov 2014 Firefly Books  160 Pages, 125 Unique Infographics, $19.95 Paperback (Also avail in hardcover) Order on Amazon In Canada:  Order on Chapters-Indigo In UK:  Order on WH Smith