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LIVING MY GAP YEAR

How to Make a Difference: Water Crisis and Water Hope

Zuzu Tadeushuk

Water is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. We depend on it for almost everything we do, and we also waste it in almost everything we do. Today in America, we have become accustomed to the idea that the planet is running out of fresh water. But only the idea of it. When instances of water shortage actually present themselves to our population in temporary, circumstantial forms (2011-17 drought in Cali, 2016 contamination in Flint, etc), the nation is thrown into a royal uproar over the inconvenience. But these immediate issues are only the fleeting shadows (or foreshadows, I should say) of the greater global water crisis that is now our planet’s slow and stealthy death knell.

What I want to make clear, though, is that it’s not actually all that slow, or stealthy. The demise of our life-source, lifestyle, and planet, of our civilization, not to mention our own charming species, is advancing fast, advancing now: and right in front of our own charmed eyes. Scientists predict that by the year 2030 more than half of the world’s population will live under chronic water shortage, a condition defined by the Water Stress Index as having less than 1,000 cubic meters of water available per head per year. That's only fourteen years from now: MOST OF US WILL STILL BE AROUND to experience this chronic shortage. Talk about California droughts and Flint contaminations— these sorts of irksome scarcities are going to become a year-round reality for 50% of humanity.

The sooner we address the water crisis, then, the better, for each year that passes sees roughly 3,750 billion cubic meters of fresh water consumed worldwide— a figure that shows no sign of diminishing, as the global rate of water consumption, driven by growing population, increases by no less than 64 billion cubic meters per year. To the best of my minimal mathematical ability, I tried to put this in perspective, and calculated that the world consumes 4.3 million Olympic swimming pools worth of water every day. That is enough Olympic pools to cover the five boroughs of New York City SEVEN TIMES OVER, EACH DAY. In other terms, all of New York could be submerged daily under 46 feet of water, enough to reach the fifth floor of the Empire State Building.

So what might we do to slow the course of this trajectory? There are various technological, legislative, and economical reforms that can be made to help conserve water. For example:

  • farmers can implement more efficient methods of watering crops, such as drip-irrigation.

  • Politicians might impose higher tariffs on water purchase and fines for pollution.

  • Nations might privatize the management and distribution of water: if companies handle our resources rather than governments, water would be better shielded from political corruption and partisan power struggles.

But these aren’t really things you and I can jump up and do right this minute (Unless, of course, you happen to be a state governor, in which case I doubt you are reading my blog). Anyhow, for those plebeian, non-state-governerning members of our society, I propose a list of day-to-day measures that will allow us each, in our own orbit, to impact this wretched state of worldly water affairs.

Ways the First World Water Consumer Can Help:

1. You may look at me funny when I tell you that one of the most effective ways you can limit water consumption is by eating vegetarian. But let me explain. The majority of water consumption is concealed in something known as "virtual water”— all the water that goes into the creation of a product but cannot be seen in its outcome. Beef is the most water-intensive product that we make, as beef cattle have an average lifespan of three years in a holding tank before their slaughter: the virtual water in a single kilo of beef accounts for the water that the cow drank for three years (24,000 liters), the water used to grow the grain he ate for three years (3,060,000 liters), and the water used to service the farmhouse and the butchering procedure (7,000 liters). The total? A staggering 15,400 liters of water to create A SINGLE KILO OF BEEF! Other meats (especially goat and poultry) are less water-intensive than this, not to mention vegetables and fruits, which are exceedingly more efficient to produce. Moral of the story? Maybe allot a few days each week to eat vegetarian. Opt for a turkey burger instead of a beef one next time. Or dare I suggest…a veggie burger? 

2. Stop wasting food! Agriculture is by far the largest consumer of clean water, accounting for more than 70% of global water usage. But the average household in an advanced economy like that of the US throws out 30% of the food it buys. That means that of all that water we dumped into agriculture (and that inefficient kilo of steak!) an entire THIRD of it goes down the drain when it reaches our tables. So please, buy only as much food as you’ll eat; cook only as much food as you’ll eat; serve yourself ONLY as much food as you’ll eat! Store the leftovers— and don’t forget them at the back of the fridge for months!!

3. Be frugal with household water. The largest consumer of household water is the flushing of toilets. A thing quite necessary, to be sure. But perhaps over-used. I know I’m volunteering myself for all sorts of ridicule here when I remind you of this nursery saying, but… “If it’s yellow, let it mellow— if it’s brown, flush it down.” Sorry.

You can also conserve household water by

  • Turning off the shower faucet while you shampoo or shave.

  • Turning off the sink faucet while you soap your hands before dinner, or scrub your dishes after. Rinsing requires water to be running: sudsing does not. Just shut it off for a minute.

  • Don’t shower every day. It has been proven unnecessary, and even unhealthy, to strip the skin of its natural oils so persistently, so do yourself (and the planet) a favor and decrease your shower and bath time. No one will smell the difference: our bodies adjust their oil/odor production to our washing schedule, not vice versa.

4. Stop using lawn products. Fertilizers and insecticides get washed away with rain and run into ground water supply, polluting otherwise clean reservoirs.

5. Any other ideas you have— I’ve done a bunch of research but am definitely no expert. What else can you come up with?

Because the issue of water shortage is one that people of all ages, races, and religions can and must take an interest in— it’s not yet too late to shift our fate. Though we can’t keep water on this planet forever, we may at least extend its presence here by a few centuries if we pull ourselves together and make some amendments to our lifestyles. Starting now! Use less, pollute less, and spread the awareness— three…two…one…GO.

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