What’s your Water Footprint?

H2O: it's the new climate change
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H2O: it's the new climate change

Water is the new climate change. Well, not exactly. They’re related. But water scarcity is the greatest environmental concern, and one of the ways that climate change is rearing its ugly head. As the climate heats up, water sources like the Tibetan Plateau, which supplies half the water for 40% of the world’s population, is drying up.

And we’re sucking down the world’s water with a giant straw. The water made to produce what we eat and wear, to run our lives, and the water we waste equals about 1058 gallons per day per person in North America and Europe. People living in Asia use about 320 gallons per day.

How is this possible? Let’s see, it takes 37 gallons of water to produce a cup of coffee, 1800 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef, and about 410 gallons per pound of rice and 160 per pound of wheat. That cotton dress shirt you’re wearing while you read this at work—it took 660 gallons of water to make it. Dyeing a tee shirt and finishing it prepping it so that it’s ready to hang in your favorite department or outdoor store. It took all the water for 70 people for one day just for that phase of your tee shirt’s life, which doesn’t include growing the cotton for it, harvesting the cotton, washing it, spinning it into thread, and so on. Meanwhile there are 700 million Chinese people drinking contaminated water each day, and the Portland Oregon water supply, often considered the cleanest in the country, at times has acetaminophen, ibuprophen, caffeine and other drugs in it according to the Portland Water Bureau. Big brands consume up to 43,000 Olympic pools of drinking quality water each year to make your stuff, and it takes water to make nearly everything

So how do you measure your water footprint? And then how do you reduce it?

Dr Arjen Hoekstra, Professor in Multidisciplinary Water Management at the University of Twente in the Netherlands says, in an interview with CNN, that there are two approaches: ”One is to substitute types of consumption articles for other ones, which take less water -- like going from a meat-based diet to a vegetarian one, drinking tea instead of coffee, not wearing cotton but a synthetic fiber." He acknowledges, “This is probably limited, because people don't shift from meat to vegetarian as they just don't like not to have beef; or they like cotton.” His other approach: “ Keep the same kind of consumption pattern but when choosing cotton, or when choosing beef, choose the sound one. If [companies] make things more transparent, by citing the precise impact of a certain article on the water system, through the water footprint, you provide that kind of information and you label it somehow, then consumers within the same category have some choice to go in the better direction.”

WE're not there yet--but in the mean time you can get a better understanding of your own water footprint. At Waterfootprint.org you can find out how much water most people use for drinking, cooking, and cleaning, and calculate the footprint of the foods you eat each day. For example, an apple a day may keep the doctor away—with a flood. It has consumed about 19 gallons by the time it reaches your lips!

What you can't measure you can't manage, so here's a place to start. Challenge yourself to take less from the pool. Where are you willing to cut back?