Next Crisis: Water Consumption

Climate journalism is like being at a third-world bazar where the media behave like merchants all shouting, pitching their catastrophe stories.

Die Welt’s recent piece From Proud Jordan River, To A Smelly Trickle (roughly translated) features the crisis of water consumption and the injustice of water’s uneven distribution. Now water needs to be redistributed, along with wealth and misery.

Although the article is mainly a rant against Israeli water policy, its other objective is to admonish western societies for their profligate use of water.

This is a theme that’s steadily gaining traction on the environmental front here in Europe – along with biodiversity, ocean acidification, manmade microscopic aerosols and climate change. It’s the latest hot-seller catastrophe joining the enviro-bazar.

Die Welt doesn’t hold back citing environmental and activist groups for its reliable, “unbiased” and shocking information. At first the story focusses on Israeli water management and how it’s unfair to neighboring countries.

Die Welt writes:

According to Amnesty International, the average Israeli consumes 300 liters of water daily, while a Palestinian consumes only 70 liters. In poor regions a mere 20 liters is available daily for each person.

At the end of the story, Die Welt admonishes western lifestyles and its excessive use of water.

The story concludes with a photo gallery that informs readers how much water consumption is needed to manufacture some basic daily products we enjoy in our daily lives. Examples:

1 hamburger: 2400 litres
1 hardboiled egg for breakfast: 135 litres
1 slice of bread: 40 litres
10 grams of cheese: 50 litres
1 cup of coffee: 140 liters
1 German breakfast: 365 liters
200 grams of potato chips: 185 liters
2-gram computer chip: 32 liters
1 sheet of paper: 10 liters
1 cotton T-shirt: 4100 liters!
1 pair of cowhide shoes: 8000 liters
1 new car: 450,000 liters

The idea is to tell us consumers that we are simply consuming too much water and that it’s having catastrophic impacts on the environment and poor people. It’s unfair and it has to be regulated. We need to feel guilty about it.

Wikipedia lists the potential manifestations of excessive water consumption:

There are several principal manifestations of the water crisis.
– Inadequate access to water for sanitation and waste disposal for 2.5 billion people
– Groundwater over drafting (excessive use) leading to diminished agricultural yields
– Overuse and pollution of water resources harming biodiversity
– Regional conflicts over scarce water resources sometimes resulting in warfare.

Expect the water crisis to get worse (not in reality, but in the media and political world). Get ready to hear a lot more about this in the future. Water-saving devices will be joining energy-saving devices soon in the government’s force-the-people-to-buy-list.

Explore posts in the same categories: Drought and Deserts

20 Comments on “Next Crisis: Water Consumption”

  1. C Monster Says:

    Gee. I could have sworn I only filled the coffee maker to the 10 cup line this morning.

    One hundred and forty liters, eh?
    I’m going to have to get new glasses–if it doesn’t use too much water.

    Reply: Please read the story again. It’s the amount of water needed to MANUFACTURE a cup of coffee: from growing, to processing, to distribution, etc. – PG

  2. DirkH Says:

    Björn Lomborg’s “The Skeptical Environmentalist” (German title “Apokalypse No!”) is required reading. He points out that most of the high water consumption numbers are caused by agriculture and the fact that many countries let their farmers use the water for free or nearly free; so it’s a supply & demand problem. Keeping the water prize low is an indirect subsidy to the farmers and done for political reasons.

    It’s not a new story; it’s an evergreen; a story that newspaper editors can pull up any time they have a blank page to fill. At the same time, water reprocessing and saltwater desalination become cheaper all the time. A funny thing is that Singapore has started marketing reprocessed waste water as “NEWater” and sell it in plastic bottles, rivaling Evian et.al:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NEWater

  3. Ian Mott Says:

    The trully misleading part of this fantasy is the implication that the water is actually used up, as if it were a limited resource that is only capable of being used once. The claimed high water use for the hamburger, for example, is based on the amount of rain that falls in a field and is transpired by the grass that feeds the cow. But this is classic gonzo accounting. The grass will still transpire the water even if the cow is excluded from the field. And a consumers decision to not eat a hamburger will have zero influence on how fast the grass grows and how much water is used in that growth. Equally, it appears necessary to state the breathtakingly obvious. The water that is transpired by the grass is not extinguished. Rather, it is returned to the atmosphere as water vapour and will then fall on another field where it is used again, and again. So the total volume of water that is applied to each item is a cumulative total from a number of cyclical uses.

    And as for third world water shortages, it is worth reflecting that, even in an arid 400mm rainfall zone, the volume of water that falls on the thatch roof of a typical African mud hut, but is not collected or stored, is much more than the inhabitants will ever use in a single year. See “Reflections on a mud hut” http://ianmott.blogspot.com/2009/01/reflections-on-mud-hut.html
    Reply: Right you are. It’s the latest scam science being fed to a gullible public. – PG

    • Bernd Felsche Says:

      Yes. It’s a crazy mentality to believe that the material is “consumed”.

      When I was first offered these “catastrophic” numbers a few years ago, I simply asked that if 450,000 litres of water is used in the making of a new car, why the car doesn’t then weigh at least 450 tons.

      It was too much to expect the presenter to understand conservation of matter (and energy), I suppose. They simply *repeated* that it used that much water.

  4. DennisA Says:

    Well said Ian.

    When these journalists write this stuff, I wish they would do just a little research:

    http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=7645

    In 2007, however, the North Aral Sea was enjoying a renaissance, due the construction of a dam in 2005 that prevents water from flowing into the South Aral Sea. This pair of images acquired by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite shows the recovery of the Aral Sea between April 15, 2005 (bottom), and April 14, 2007 (top). The recovery is most dramatic in the upper right part of the image, although a close look at the lake’s borders show a general rise in water level throughout the lake. Much of this recovery actually occurred in the first year after the dam was completed.

  5. Curt Says:

    I suppose the scaremongers want us to stop showering and bathing, so we can be as revolting as they are. Has anyone else noticed that most of these guy are old hippies. If they ran the world, we’d all be dead from E-Coli.

    Ugh.

  6. Derek Says:

    I think you are spot on with this, for “them” it has far more mileage in it than “ocean acidification”.

    Think of all those “water saving” devices companies could sell to us, whilst “we” tried o do our bit to “save the planet”.
    (Whilst the politicians can tax us for our water use)

    Yes, I do understand the post, but am looking at how it will be sold to us, by who, and why.

  7. Brian H Says:

    ‘Round and ’round…the odds are that much of the water in your body was once dinosaur urine. Ewww!
    LOL

    As far as available fresh water, my perennial hope and hobby-horse, the Focus Fusion project (focusfusion.org), would make desalination cheap enough (this decade) to green the world’s deserts, and maybe even keep LA and Salinas and Napa valley fully supplied. ;)

    Conservation and sharing are nice; surplus is better.

  8. Ian Mott Says:

    The easiest way to increase water supply is to increase the velocity of circulation through the evaporative/precipitation cycles. DennisA’s example of the Aral Sea above highlights the role this increased storage action also increased local rainfall. But this is only a minor part of the full story. This area is within the region of atmospheric high pressure that rings the earth and creates the desert zones. That means a large portion of evaporation from the Aral Sea is lost as it is lifted high to descend later in the temperate zones north and south. But a significant portion of local evaporation also enters a dew cycle, with less than a millimetre falling each day, but doing so every day, in a way that is not recorded in the rainfall data. This smaller scale cycling has a significant impact on humidity levels, vegetation health and water use from other sources like ground water. And on an annual scale, 250 days of 1mm dewfall will make a similar, if not greater, ecological contribution than a single 250mm rainfall event. So it is not the actual evaporation total from the lake that directly improves rainfall outcomes. It is the cumulative totals from dewfall and transpiration from the larger area of surrounding vegetation that enables higher rainfall totals to be observed.

    BrianH, the greens have completely misunderstood the true potential of alternative energy sources when they insist on using them for base power generation. The most productive use of solar and geothermal resources is in directly raising the temperature of captive saline water (pre-heating) to the point where it can go through desalination processes much more cheaply. Most desalination operations to date appear to use base load energy to carry out the entire heating operation, at considerable expense, when passive pre-heating would supply the majority of the heat energy at minimal cost. They also appear to insist on using 3% saline sea water as primary input when abundant supplies of 1%, or less, water is available at river mouths as the fresh water merges with the ocean. Combine these two elements and the “problem” of expensive desalinated water evaporates.

    • Brian H Says:

      Not all areas needing water have river mouths to exploit. And cutting the marginal cost of base load electricity (or other energy source; Israel has large plants using NG to generate power) by an order of magnitude or more will/would have an utterly revolutionary effect on the economics.

  9. Ian Mott Says:

    I agree, Brian, but there is also a convergence of technologies taking place here as well. Even when there are no river mouths to exploit, the pre-heating of sea water by solar or geothermal means (ie from sea water at 20C to 60C as feed stock) will halve the energy required to bring it to 100C. Add equal portions of urban waste water to drop the salinity level to 1.5% and the energy requirement is halved again. But that is only the supply side.

    A large portion of our fruit and vegetables are already grown under nets where the reduced bird and insect damage already covers the added cost of the membrane. And from this cost base it is then a short leap to add waterproofing to that membrane to create a closed system where each days transpiration from the crop can be captured and used repeatedly. So instead of needing 16 megalitres/hectare to produce a crop, the same can be achieved by recycling half a megalitre 32 times. And it follows that any such recycled half megalitre could cost a lot more than standard irrigation supply and still deliver a profitable crop.

    The critical technology shortfall at present is in the management and distribution of internal heat loads rather than in the membrane itself. And clearly, the lower the energy required to produce desalinated water the more expensive and sophisticated the internal crop heat management system can become. My guess is that a large water body would need to be maintained under the membrane as thermal mass to lower daytime temperatures. But this, in most arid zones, would also mean warmer night time temperatures with resulting increases in crop productivity that could also contribute to membrane and water costs. This sort of technology would also enable higher CO2 levels to be maintained under the membrane to deliver additional productivity gains. The potential is mind boggling.

    • Brian H Says:

      Yes, membrane tech is very powerful. A somewhat analogous tech is the condensation traps used on the ridges of hills and mountains which funnel fresh water downhill for village or irrigation use.

  10. Ian Mott Says:

    I should also point out that crops grown under membrane, and which only require 1 megalitre/hectare each year to maintain a closed cycle(ie replace leakage etc), will deliver major improvements in catchment efficiency in any location where rainfall exceed 100mm. In an arid 500mm rainfall zone, for example, could deliver another 4 megalitres in runoff for each megalitre of membrane. That would be enough to supply the household needs of 156 Palestinians at 70 litres a day.

  11. Derek Says:

    I have just watched the weather forecast on the Beeb this morning.
    In the North West (of England) we are currently under a hose water ban.

    Averaged over the UK we so far this year, according to the Beeb / Met Office have had 146% of our normal rainfall.
    What (water) shortage?

    Surely the different parts of the UK have heard of pipes…
    Really useful for transporting water about apparently.
    Oh, I get it, who pays for the pipes…

  12. Kilted Mushroom Says:

    We have already been through the water conservation mandate in Queensland Australia. Only approved water saving devices my be used or sold. Reduced water through shower heads, toilet flushing, restricted town water pressure etc. In addition we have regulated watering restrictions for cleaning and garden use.
    We have an unused desal plant, water recycling plant and dams at full capacity.

    • Ian Mott Says:

      Yes, Mushy. It will take a really good bushfire season and a few deaths before they realise that the new “water efficient” attachments are next to useless in fighting fires. And they will blame the increased nortality and property damage on good ole gullible warming.

      • Brian H Says:

        ARg. Increased nortality is indeed ‘orrible. Rampaging norts! The bind moggles. ;-)

      • Ian Mott Says:

        To which, Brian, one can only respond with nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.

      • Brian H Says:

        Hah! When the zombie-norts come after you, you won’t be so amused! >:{

      • Ian Mott Says:

        But thats what happens when you start drinking the bong water, Brian. Zombies, and their devious little mates, the norts, appear to be everywhere. Brain MRI scans reveal enlarged cranial voids similar to those with schizophernia and this is, apparently, where images of zombies and norts are generated.


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