Apr 132011
Authors: Joe Vajgrt

It’s a simple fact of nature that biomass cannot be created without water. The source of all of the food that is consumed on this planet is the direct result of photosynthesis, a process that relies on an adequate supply of water.

Worldwide, about 70 percent of all fresh water is used for agriculture. In developing countries, the figure is as high as 90 percent, and the amount of water demanded has been steadily increasing over the past century.

According to the World Water Council, “While the world’s population tripled in the 20th century, the use of renewable water resources has grown six-fold over the same period.” This increase has stressed water supplies and is creating crisis situations in many of the world’s poorest places.

Already, more than 1 billion people live without adequate access to clean water. Roughly 2.6 billion lack adequate sanitation, and as a result, more than 3.5 million people die each year from water-related disease. The U.N. estimates that by 2025, nearly 3 billion people will face fresh-water stress or scarcity.

The U.N.’s World Water Development Report states, “Although population growth has slowed since the 1970s, economic development, in particular in emerging market economies, is translating into demand for a more varied, water-intensive diet, including meat and dairy products.”

This is a concern because of the staggering amounts of water it takes to produce meat and dairy. According to the WWC, it takes about 12 gallons of water to produce one pound of potatoes, 120 for a pound of wheat, and 168 for one pound of rice. In contrast, it takes 1,560 gallons of water just to produce a single pound of beef.

With water scarcity becoming more of a concern every day, the world simply does not have enough water to sustain this kind of inefficient allocation of resources. This is a real problem when you consider that global meat and dairy production is projected to more than double by 2050.

According to the U.N.’s Report on Global Warming, “The livestock business is among the most damaging sectors to the earth’s increasingly scarce water resources, contributing among other things to water pollution from animal wastes, antibiotics and hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and the pesticides used to spray feed crops.”

It’s not just water that is threatened by intensive livestock practices, either. A lot of people are shocked to find out that livestock generates more greenhouse gases than all forms of transportation combined.

According to the U.N.’s Global Warming Report, the global livestock industry “generates 65 percent of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the Global Warming Potential of CO2.”

The report also states that raising livestock accounts for “37 percent of all human-induced methane (23 times as warming as CO2), which is largely produced by the digestive system of ruminants.” That’s right – one of the most significant contributors to global warming is… cow farts.

The WWC points out, “With urbanization and changes in lifestyle, water consumption and environmental degradation are bound to increase. However, changes in food habits, for example, may reduce the problem.”

In other words, if we would eat more potatoes, wheat and rice and go just a bit easier on the steaks, we could make a significant dent in not only the burgeoning water crisis, but also on greenhouse gas emissions.

I don’t expect anyone to read this article and become vegetarian overnight. I’m just hoping that some of you might consider the vast environmental impact your dietary choices have. Even small steps to reduce your meat and dairy consumption, such as cutting out meat for one day a week, can have a profound impact.

Joe Vajgrt is a junior journalism major who was sent here from the future to warn you about cow farts. His column appears every Thursday in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 3:02 pm

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