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littlebluedog
littlebluedog
Tim
Thursday, August 14th, 2008 01:25 pm
virtual water

I'm smart, but I don't know enough science and/or logic to debunk this article, which criticizes water conservation efforts as failing to consider the concept of "virtual water" -- that is, how much water it takes to produce the goods we consume.

Example: On average, 155 gallons of water are required to grow one pound of wheat. For a cup of coffee: 37 gallons. For a pair of leather shoes: 4,400 gallons. And so forth.

Worldwide, the average water footprint, per person, is 323,410 gallons per year. In the U.S., it's about twice that.

Agriculture accounts for about 70% of all water use in the world, so on a consumer level, the article suggests, swapping veggies for meat can conserve up to 750 gallons of water per day. A less severe change is not throwing away food, which can be hundreds of times more wasteful than taking a longer shower.

19CommentReply

thatsassylassie
thatsassylassie
thatsassylassie
Thursday, August 14th, 2008 08:48 pm (UTC)

I understand the logic behind all this, but it still seems like its unavoidable. So everyone goes vegan and spares the cattle (meat and leather) industry. To say nothing of all the people that are suddenly out of jobs... but then we all still need wheat and rice. Aren't rice paddies just FLOATING in water? I can't imagine rice is low on the water requirement for production. It is mind-boggling to me.


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circumambulate
circumambulate
Circumambulate
Thursday, August 14th, 2008 08:55 pm (UTC)

A certain amount is absolutely unavoidable, but we have also put almost no effort into conservation in agriculture, and we aren't particularly careful to match crop and environment. There's a lot of potential for savings with some minimal investment, and the information does give people some ability to manage their footprint.


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thatsassylassie
thatsassylassie
thatsassylassie
Thursday, August 14th, 2008 09:00 pm (UTC)

I totally understand the point, and I'm not saying we should throw up our hands in defeat and all be eco-pigs. Its just one of those concepts that I find really overwhelming when you break it down into statistics.


ReplyThread Parent
littlebluedog
littlebluedog
Tim
Thursday, August 14th, 2008 09:08 pm (UTC)

I agree, it is pretty startling if you've never thought about it in those terms before (which I definitely haven't!).


ReplyThread Parent
tertyl
tertyl
Random thoughts of a Madman
Thursday, August 14th, 2008 08:50 pm (UTC)

in a related story.

http://www.dhmo.org


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littlebluedog
littlebluedog
Tim
Thursday, August 14th, 2008 08:55 pm (UTC)

I've heard about that stuff. SCARY!


ReplyThread Parent
circumambulate
circumambulate
Circumambulate
Thursday, August 14th, 2008 09:08 pm (UTC)

I don't know that there's much there that needs to be debunked - you could probably provide a different method of analysis to figure water use, but there's no real way to get around how much water is wasted through input costs. We are far to often, unfortunately, directed to the most obvious, and least effective conservation methods.

There was just a similar study that exposed the misdirection inherent in rating auto efficiency in MPG, rather than GPM - for example, getting all of those 16mpg SUV's to convert to 25mpg mid-sized vehicles would save almost twice as much gas as all the 25 MPG folks into a 40mpg hybrid, but we assume that the higher number must always be better..


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fozz47
fozz47
needs better respect for your superiors
Thursday, August 14th, 2008 10:01 pm (UTC)

I understand the thinking, but articles like this seem to put me over the edge to fall into not-caring-land anymore. It just seems to big a problem to deal with, and anything that I do (stop eating anything that requires water to grow) doesn't seem like it will stop the problem.

And I still love my long showers when it's cold out.


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littlebluedog
littlebluedog
Tim
Thursday, August 14th, 2008 10:05 pm (UTC)

I hear you, but I'm really guilty of throwing away food, and I know that's definitely a thing I can (and should) fix, and this is fantastic reason to do so. There's certainly MORE I can do, like go off the grid, go vegan, bike everywhere on something I make myself out of scrap metal, etc., but I figure even small steps can help if everyone takes one together.


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fozz47
fozz47
needs better respect for your superiors
Thursday, August 14th, 2008 10:11 pm (UTC)

Yeah, and food prices nowadays should help curb waste to some extent.


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solteronita
see the moon? it hates us.
Thursday, August 14th, 2008 10:45 pm (UTC)

I figure even small steps can help if everyone takes one together

This is what I think. Which makes me more annoyed at people that insist on berating vegans, bicyclists, etc. for their choices. If everyone did one or two things that worked for them we'd all be doing our part to support the same cause!


ReplyThread Parent
obsqurity
obsqurity
owner of this corner, and not much more
Thursday, August 14th, 2008 10:04 pm (UTC)

One of the things it seems to fail to consider is the functional lifespan of the product. Sure, it may require a bazillion gallons of water to produce a leather bag or a pair of shoes, but those are durable goods which are in turn expected to last and be functional for a long time. So comparing them directly to the amount of water used in a shower, or to produce x amount of food seems pretty invalid to me.

The whole concept of "virtual water" seems goofy to me too.
The phrase alone makes me contemplate the total amount of water contained on Earth and in our atmosphere. It seems like that amount must be fairly constant... we aren't losing water, we're only losing readily accessible, pure, usable water. And some of that can be addressed with technological innovations such as desalination and other purification techniques.


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littlebluedog
littlebluedog
Tim
Friday, August 15th, 2008 03:42 am (UTC)

Right, but when you're talking about consumables, I think it's valid. The article is like everything else selling an agenda in that there's dramatization and some unnecessary statements (e.g., the water footprint of durable goods).

Water conservation boils down (ha!) to energy conservation, which does, at least in the dominant technology paradigm, consume non-consumable resources. I suppose I could continue throwing away food in protest of petroleum-based energy production, but there's only so much difference one man can make.


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jef182
d
Thursday, August 14th, 2008 11:53 pm (UTC)

First law of thermodynamics applies- water is neither created nor destroyed. One does not irrecoverably "spend" water making tennis shoes- or any other product.

Tossing uneaten food is not like puting it's virtual water on a rocketship and shooting it off-planet. The only challenge are the constraints (political mind you- not technological) surrounding how to more efficently move it around.


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littlebluedog
littlebluedog
Tim
Friday, August 15th, 2008 12:07 am (UTC)

Well ... granted, but water conservation doesn't assume water is destroyed. The energy required to purify water pre- and post-use is.


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jef182
d
Friday, August 15th, 2008 02:12 am (UTC)

You're not suggesting that the energy used to purify water is destroyed?

/Issac Newton rolls in grave


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littlebluedog
littlebluedog
Tim
Friday, August 15th, 2008 02:18 am (UTC)

OK, non-renewably consumed.


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circumambulate
circumambulate
Circumambulate
Friday, August 15th, 2008 04:10 am (UTC)

The mass is conserved, the water may not be, depending on the process involved. Cracking water into hydrogen and oxygen, for example is destructive - you no longer have the water that went into the process.


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crackmonkey
crackmonkey
Hue hue hue
Friday, August 15th, 2008 05:57 am (UTC)

I recommend this book to just about everyone, right after this book. Both are pretty scary and somewhat hopeful, and help to put much of my daily behavior into perspective.


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