One aspect of sustainability and our global impact I focused on and have been thinking about throughout this class is the importance of education. I believe that so many of our goals to reduce waste, increase economic sustainability, etc., are realistic, but only after we get more people involved. I think that one reason many people do not think about or want to acknowledge their global carbon footprint, for example, is because it seems very difficult to change effectively. However, if everyone were educated on small things, such as what types of plastics are recyclable and which are not, for example, a big difference can be made. I believe that most people would be more willing to make positive changes if they were more aware of the great impact those changes could make. One example could be if someone is renovating their house and considering which toilet/ faucet/ shower head to buy. If they are informed about how efficient flushing greatly impacts our water footprint, they might be more willing to buy a toilet that uses less water per flush. If this water-saving toilet uses 2 gallons per flush and a not-as-efficient one uses 6 gallons per flush, even for a household of one person that saves around 24 gallons of water a day. I think many fo the goals outlined on the 17-goal list will become more feasible once we get everyone on the same page about how we can easily change our individual impacts on the world.
While doing research for this post, I found some pretty unsettling statistics. It’s well known that water plays a massive role in everything we do, and there is no denying its importance. It’s not necessarily something we take for granted, but most of us tend to forget just how much water we actually use on an extremely regular basis.
So here’s one of those troubling numbers: it takes approximately 1,800 gallons of water to produce just one pound of beef. This number – beef’s water footprint – is astounding. For comparison’s sake, the amount of water used to produce one pound of beef is equivalent to that of 90 eight-minute showers. These numbers are scary, but the logic behind them makes sense. Beef’s water footprint is so large because the methods of converting cattle to market meat are vastly inefficient, and the amount of time it takes for cattle to metabolize their food is expansive. This is the feed conversion ratio, and it is directly correlated to the amount of water needed to produce beef. The bigger the feed, the bigger the footprint.
There are certainly methods to taming this issue, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a concrete and terminal solution. We don’t need to cut meat out of our diets entirely. Instead, we can choose to eat beef in smaller portions, or even substitute it with chicken (already a healthier option). Chicken’s water footprint is 468 gallons – not perfect, but undoubtedly a huge improvement. Whatever your method may be, make sure to consider these numbers when eating meat.
Thinking about what I want to eat for dinner, I don’t often consider how my choices are impacting the environment. The agriculture and livestock industries require massive amounts of water; with this said, some choices for dinner are more environmentally sustainable than others. According to Kai Olson-Sawyer, a Senior Research and Policy Analyst in the GRACE Water and Energy Programs, “the total amount of water needed – to produce one pound of beef is 1,799 gallons of water; one pound of pork takes 576 gallons of water. As a comparison, the water footprint of soybeans is 216 gallons; corn is 108 gallons”. Thinking about the amount of fresh water required to raise livestock vs grow crops, choosing a plant-based diet is much better for long-term environmental sustainability, due to the extreme strain on our water resources from the livestock. The extensive amount of water required to raise animals comes partially from how much the animals need to eat and drink, as well as the number of animals that are produced in our massive food industry, especially in the United States. Due to the large differences in water requirements for production, plant-based diets contribute to much better environmental sustainability than diets that include meat.
It takes 872 gallons of water to produce 1 gallon of wine. Scaled down, it takes about 34 gallons of water for a 5 fluid ounces of wine, according to Huffington Post. But how is this even possible? How come it takes so much water to make wine? What is drought-stricken California doing to conserve water while remaining one of the largest winemaking regions in the world? The water consumption required to cultivate wine includes water used on the vines, water used in the winery and rainwater (crops consume the rainwater). The grapes for the wine require constant irrigation especially in drought-stricken areas such as California and parts of the Mediterranean region. It is important to note that wine grapes require about one-third of the amount of water used to grow almonds, so I guess we should all drink less almond milk and more wine? In the winery, the water use is mostly focused on sanitation. The barrels, tanks, presses and crushers are cleaned and disinfected after every. single. use. Even if the the equipment will be used to make the same type of wine. Wineries are, however, working to use less water. Many wineries, especially in France where crop irrigation is legally regimented, have converted to drip irrigation and today’s advanced technology allows for hoses that can sense when to turn off. Many wineries have adopted onsite water treatment systems so all that water used to clean the equipment can be recycled at the winery. I think it’s safe to say that wine will continue to be consumed all around the world but sustainable technologies and practices must be adopted in order to drink wine guilt free.
WaterSense, a voluntary public-private partnership program sponsored by the EPA, seeks to help homeowners and businesses improve water efficiency and reduce their costs by promoting efficient irrigation technologies. According to research by WaterSense, about thirty percent of water used daily by the average American family is devoted to outdoor uses. This water is used for a variety of tasks, such as watering lawns and gardens, washing automobiles, maintaining swimming pools, and cleaning sidewalks and driveways. This accounts for almost one-third of residential water use nationwide, which is estimated to be more than seven-billion gallons of water per day, or 2,555-billions gallons of water annually.
However, not all this water is used efficiently. More than 50% of commercial and residential irrigation water is wasted through evaporation, run off, and useless over-watering. An inefficient irrigation system can waste an immense amount of water and money every month. There are certain ways to reduce the water wasted through landscaping needs. For example, a family could use a weather-based irrigation scheduler/controller. On a moderate sized yard, this can reduce a household’s outdoor water use by about 15 percent, saving up to 37 gallons of water every day because it would provide the right amount of water to your plants automatically. Another way to save water through landscaping is creating a rain garden. A rain garden transforms your yard to collect and drain rainwater in a way where it keeps the ground wet during hot weather. Families can also invest in a rain barrel to keep plants watered. Additionally, using the drip irrigation system is a way to ensure that water used on plants/crops goes directly to the rooms of the plants and nothing is lost to evaporation or run off.
As you can see there are easy ways families can preserve their beautiful landscape while conserving water and helping the environment.
The article I chose is from the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, and it discusses how we use water in our every day lives. However, the most striking piece of information I received from the article comes in the first line when it mentions that less than 1% of the water on Earth is available for human consumption. The other 99% is found in salt water oceans, freshwater polar ice caps, or just too inaccessible for human use. Water plays an enormous role in our everyday lives whether it be for human consumption, for livestock, or crops such as corn. The article also mentions that the average American family uses more than 300 gallons of water per day with about 70% of it used indoors.
I believe that we can make a significant difference in water usage indoors by limiting how much water we use in the showers. We could use a timer to minimize water usage in the shower so it’s not running idly which could save almost fifty gallons per day alone. Water is also used to manufacture our goods and even grow our food while maintaining livestock. Nearly half of the water used is for thermoelectric power and irrigation also requires a significant chunk of water power.
Management of water has also become a growing concern over the past decade, and forty states have told the Government Accountability Office in a 2014 report that they expect to have water shortages over the next ten years that are unrelated to drought. These strains on water could resort in higher water prices, expensive water treatments, and increased summer watering restrictions. I believe that because of these water restrictions, water bottles are so popular since they are easily accessible. On average I can see the Union College community consuming over 5,000 bottles every day.
The crops that are grown globally, and sustain close to 4.5 billion people worldwide, are wheat, maize, rice, and soybeans. With these crops sustaining more than half of the world’s population, how are they not apart of the bigger conversation surrounding the rising levels of carbon dioxide?
In an article by Samson Reiny, published on NASA’s website, he discusses the fact that rising levels of carbon dioxide could both, simultaneously, help and harm the four crops listed above. He makes the argument that, so far, climate prediction models have only taken into account the effect that carbon dioxide will have on yields and not the effect they have on water efficiency, and even then are only measuring temperate climates. He reports on a simulation conducted by a Delphine Deryng in which the yields and evapotranspiration were manipulated to “to estimate crop water productivity” by using a measurement of yield that was produced per unit of water. In total, there were 30 simulations, six of which were using data from “five different global climate models” which assumed the carbon dioxide levels that were reported in 2000 had doubled by 2080. Another simulation models used assumed that the carbon dioxide levels had remained stagnant since 2000.
The simulation crops that operated at the 2000 carbon dioxide levels the yields suffered dramatically. However, with the doubled carbon dioxide levels predicted at 2080 both yields and water efficiency had a dramatic increase. These increases, however, depend upon regions and whether the crops were irrigated or rain fed. For example, Reiny discusses maize in terms of losses with the doubled carbon dioxide, due to the crop’s already efficiency of photosynthesis, maize would yield 15% less in areas using irrigation and 8% in rain fed areas. However, these losses would close to double without the doubling of carbon dioxide in the simulation, and the assumed doubling of carbon dioxide since 2000 would reveal that wheat would show crop yield increases “across the board”. These yields would be 8% increased with a 50% increase in water efficiency in rain fed areas.
Essentially, there needs to be far more research done about carbon dioxide and its effects, but the four most globally powerful crops need to be apart of that conversation. Through these simulations there has been discovered that a lot more research has yet to be done on the effect of carbon dioxide on these crops, but more so in developing countries that tend to have drier and more arid climates instead of the temperate climates of the west. Our climate models, and models for how we plan to feed future generations, need to include the countries that are not apart of the western hemisphere. How would any climate or environmental model be accurate if we exclude them?