Water is essential for life, but humans are placing a growing burden on this natural resource … risking our own future well-being. More and more news comes out every day about the dangerous game we’re playing with our water supplies, and a growing number of people are warning water could become just as volatile an issue as oil in years to come.
Consider some of these water facts, and the implications they have for humanity:
Just this week, Sandia National Laboratories warned more than half the countries in the world could face “freshwater stress or shortages” by 2025. By 2050, that percentage could rise to 75 percent.
Producing meat isn’t only an energy-intensive process, but a water-intensive one. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s “Six Arguments for a Greener Diet,” the U.S. uses 17 trillion — that’s trillion — gallons of irrigation water to grow food for livestock alone. Put another way, it takes about 4,500 gallons of water to produce just a quarter-pound of raw beef. The water cost of meat, in fact, is one reason many people are choosing to become vegetarians.
While water is in theory renewable — thanks to the water cycle — in many parts of the world, we’re consuming water faster than nature can replenish it. In the U.S. alone, according to some estimates, 36 states could face water shortages over the next five years. One of the West’s primary water sources, Lake Mead, has a 50-50 chance of going dry by 2021, one study warns.
Growing demands for declining water resources could spark increased conflict in various places around the globe. Even the U.S. isn’t immune, as evidenced by Georgia’s recent efforts to move its northern border to gain access to water from the Tennessee River.
Energy and water are more closely linked than you might think. Our various ways of generating electricity, for example, requires about 140 billion gallons of water per day, according to Sandia National Laboratories. As our power demands keep growing — they’re expected to rise by 30 percent by 2025 — our water demands will too.
Pharmaceuticals might not be the only things contaminating our drinking water supplies. All the plastic humans have ever used and discarded still exists in one form or another, and much of it is floating in a “gyre” in the Pacific Ocean, an area of trash that’s twice as large as the continental U.S. Researchers studying the “garbage soup” worry microscopic bits of plastic are entering the food chain, meaning we might be eating plastic along with our fish.
Water is big business, generating global revenues of $400 billion a year, according to one source. That’s behind only electricity and oil. Water’s also becoming an increasingly politicized issue, with environmentalists taking on bottled water companies, and social justice activists confronting water privatization efforts.
Corporate consumption of water is growing so much, it might eventually require businesses to pay a new fee for water much like a carbon tax on polluters that emit carbon dioxide.
Sadly, the United Nations recently declined to identify water as a human right. That decision is particularly ironic as the U.N. established World Water Day (March 22) in 1993, and has called 2005-2015 the Water for Life Decade.