Will Water Drown in Climate Change Issues?

Water is happiness, illus.Approximately 71% of the planet is covered with water. Of all the water on earth only 2.5% is fresh water, and only 0.1% is accessible for us humans. Almost 70% of water consumption occurs in agriculture, 23% is used in industry and the rest in domestic consumption. Water means life. Without water we cannot exist. Water scarcity has been long noticed, albeit not in my home country, Norway, and this scarcity has been discussed thoroughly in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). 

Groundwater is declining worldwide and is emptied faster than it can replenish itself.

It has been commonly been agreed upon that 768 million people lack direct access to water but a study from the United Nations in 2013 suggests that the numbers could be far more dramatic, with an entire 2 billion people having no access to clean and safe water. According to another study (Onda et al., 2012 study), the number of people who do not have satisfactory access to water is even greater, probably in the order of 3.5 billion or roughly ½ of the world’s population. And more than 1/3 of the population, 2.5 billion people, do not have access to satisfactory sanitation.

Limited Resource
Fresh water is a limited resource. We do not get more water, even as it completes its cycle. On the contrary, since we pollute fresh water and fail to clean it sufficiently, only about 70% of the water we use for domestic and industrial purposes can be cleaned and reused.

Certainly, we have solutions, techniques and technologies to conserve water, but it goes slowly, very slowly, in large part because of the major economic interests at stake. Everything is not black, however, if we can get a serious grip on the situation. First and foremost, we must get this on the agenda and sensitize everyone from the consumers to the politicians and decision makers. A shift to less water-intensive products and production, including the energy sector, is crucial. The longer we wait, the less water we’ll have for a steadily growing population.

world-hungerScarcity: life and death
Water is a driving force in nature. Without water, there would be and there will be no life as we know it. Although we do not even notice the water issue in Norway, this is a growing global problem. São Paulo, Brazil, with its 20 million inhabitants, is now in danger of water rationing. California, the world’s fifth largest producer of crops is in its fourth year of severe drought and in January of this year topped drought statistics since record keeping began. World population increases as does the personal consumption of water. We do not manage to cleanse as much as we pollute. Our consumption of freshwater has tripled over the last fifty years and the need for water increases by 64 billion cubic meters annually. One cubic meter is equal to 1000 liters.

Access to clean water is also a major cause of illness and death in the developing world where 80% of these figures, including three million deaths each year, is attributed to water shortages.

Agriculture and cattle operation
Property dedicated to agriculture currently covers 11% of the world’s land surface yet it consumes 70% of all fresh water. Here is an area in which much water can be conserved. Meanwhile, it is among the worst in terms of helping to conserve. Not only has it embedded itself into people’s lifestyles and habits, but there are major actors — and of course all of the appurtenant lobbying — who want to keep the status quo because so much money is at stake. No one likes others telling them what to eat, or what they should be dressed in. For it is here that we can retrieve the most when it comes to agriculture. One kilogram of beef consumes 15,500 liters of water before it reaches the consumer. It corresponds to approximately 2,400 liters for a burger. And that becomes a tremendous amount of water during a year. This is referred to as Virtual Water; that is, the total water math for any product, or what it costs in water to produce.

I will not go into too many individual products and their water consumption, but some are really worth looking at, since we need to save water and consequently also change our consumption. 2/3 of Norway’s water consumption, i.e. Virtual Water, is happening abroad, according to the research site forskning.no, so it is safe to say that the world’s water problems also affect us in the highest degree.

I Have a Beef with Beef
Beef is both a climate offender and a water baddie. No other meat comes close in terms of water consumption. One kilogram of pork requires 4,800 liters of water, poultry production “only” 3,900. Meat production has risen by incredible 600% since 1950, when the world’s population was at 2.5 billion people. If there is a positive in this picture it is that poultry, which consumes the lowest amount of Virtual Water, has increased the most. Still, about 300 million cows are slaughtered annually. When one looks at such numbers, it makes sense to try to adhere to a meat-free Monday, an idea which the UN has promoted for several years. Admittedly, it is the greenhouse gas emissions of methane and not water consumption which has been the focus of Meatless Monday but why not help two problems at once?

Cotton, hemp and bamboo
Let stick with farming a little more. The garment industry scores high on the list of the ten most water-intensive industries. Cotton takes up between 2.5 and 5% of arable land, but has a huge consumption of pesticides, around 16% of all that are used worldwide. In addition to pesticides are all the chemicals used in the processing. Organic cotton production represents only a small fraction of the total, around 1%. But we are talking about water, and this is where it gets really interesting. It takes 11,000 liters of water to produce one kilogram of cotton (on average a pair of jeans weighs about 800 grams). 80% of the cotton grown is used for clothing. How can we change this picture? The answer is as simple as it is difficult: We have alternatives to cotton! The problem is that the cotton industry is is an immensely powerful lobby. The good alternative is not polyester (which already has a large market share in the garment industry) or other energy-intensive artifical fibers which are based on oil, but something as simple as hemp and bamboo. For one kilogram of finished processed hemp, it only takes 2150 liters of water, mostly in the form of rainwater, not irrigation. These numbers are about the same for bamboo. Unfortunately there has been no appreciable development in production methods for hemp during the last fifty years or so, much of this due to the ban which many countries have had. Hemp can grow almost everywhere, from the Arctic to the equator. The fibers are also significantly stronger than cotton, which is good for consumers, but not for profit, since hemp-products are more durable and do not need to be replaced as often. Hemp requires no pesticides, but it does need some fertilizer.

Bamboo is another good alternative to cotton and features some absolutely unrivaled qualities in garment production. There are more than 1400 different bamboo species, but it is the Moso Bamboo (Phyllostachys Edullis) that is used in garments. Thankfully, this is not a species that is popular among the endangered pandas. Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants in the world and can grow up to one meter per day. In addition, it requires no fertilizer or pesticides. Bamboo grows without irrigation is a very hardy plant. It can grow in most parts of the world.

Bamboo plants develop an antibacterial agent, Bamboo Kun, which makes it almost 100% resistant to fungus as well as repellent to insects — it simply works as a pesticide in itself. Not only that, it acts as an antibacterial agent in clothings too.

Bamboo clothings are soft and can be compared to the feel of silk on the skin. The first time I bought some bamboo socks, the saleswoman boasted that I could wear them 5 days on a row without them smelling. I must admit that it was not an appealing thought to wear the same socks for five days, even knowing that it would be saving water, but in connection with this article, I had to test it out. It was difficult dealing with the mental barrier, but her claim was true. After five days there was no more odor than normal, i.e., it was the equivalent of wearing cotton socks for one day.

In Costa Rica, a small country in Central America — one with the largest acreage of nature reserves by percentage, they have figured out that the use of bamboo for housing construction will reduce the use of arable land with about 12% compared to the construction by ordinary wood and just takes 1/8 of energy consumption compared to cement and 1/50 of that consumption when compared to steel. In many contexts bamboo is as strong as steel, which was proved by the earthquake of 7.5 on the Richter scale in 1991. The houses built with bamboo —built for a large-scale social housing project which raised the amount of affordable housing for the poor, located in the epicenter of the earthquake, were undamaged, while other nearby buildings lay in ruins. Bamboo can also be used for reinforcement of concrete and hemp can be used to make “hempcrete”; old natural materials and techniques that can have a renaissance and save both water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Bamboo and hemp have an incredible number of useful characteristics, I have mentioned only a very few. They are also incredibly helpful plants in the larger perspective of climate change, including sucking up CO2, but there is too much to mention here and now.

Paper and steel
Both hemp and bamboo can be used to produce paper, another one of the top ten water-intensive industries. Here there will be much to gain from a larger perspective of climate change, not least of which would be shrinking the CO2 footprint. Both, but mostly hemp, have been used in paper production for over two thousand years, long before paper from cellulose of wood took the lead role.

Steel production comes just after the paper and textile industry on the list of water-intensive industries.

Climate Smart Agriculture
As mentioned above, agriculture consumes a huge amount of water. Cattle farming is mentioned as particularly water intensive — and water polluting, but what about agriculture? This is an area of great savings potential but it is one that requires restructuring. Today, small-scale farmers feed 70% of the world’s population. Although irrigation systems have improved, we should look at new methods and techniques to reduce water consumption further. The future is in developing methods that are substantially less water demanding than traditional agriculture. 

omegagarden

The Omega Garden system rotates the plants around a bulb. They claim that it yields three to five times the weight of plant per watt of electricity used, compared to conventional flat systems. Their commercial carousel system produces as much as a 1500 square foot greenhouse in only 150 square feet, and their LED system just sips electricity. (Inhabitat – Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building)

Hydroponics
Hydroponic cultivation is amazingly – almost unbelievably– water conservative. It is not unusual to have a 70-90% reduction in water, while at the same time yielding an increase at a corresponding rate. Hydroponic yields have been ten times as large as the conventional farming of certain plants including tomatoes in the US and Canada. With this technique herbicides and pesticides are avoided and therefore end products are cleaner and safer for the consumer. The plants also grow substantially faster. The disadvantage is that it is more labor intensive than modern mechanized large-scale cultivation and the initial investments are significant, which disqualifies such enterprises for many producers in poorer countries.

Back to the roots
Organic and ecological farming are both water-stingy and far less water pollutant. Unfortunately, due to widespread and partly inconclusive data, the belief that such farming can supply us all with enough food has been destroyed. In the rich, industrialized world organic practices produce an admittedly a lower yield based on land use – only 80% compared to conventional agriculture. But when looking at the rest of the world, the developing countries (which after all make up the majority of the worlds landmass) show quite a different picture. A seven-year study done among 100 Indian farmers showed that such enterprises actually gave 20% higher yields than conventionally run agriculture!

Root Intensification
System of Root Intensification (SRI) is a composite system of different techniques. It can be used in conventional farming, though it functions best and is used most commonly with organic and ecological farming. Though it is slightly more laborious in the pre-process, there is an enormous impact of increased production and reduced water use.

Climate change adaptation: SRI using less water has larger root system. From Andhra Pradesh, India.

Climate change adaptation: SRI using less water has larger root system. From Andhra Pradesh, India.

The basic principles of SRI are:

  • – Carefully managed cultivation of sprouts
  • – Early transplantation of 8- to 15-day-old seedlings
  • – Simple planting with large distance
  • – Early and regular weeding
  • – Carefully controlled water management
  • – Use of natural compost as much as possible

Separately, these methods have been used for a long time. Together they constitute an extremely powerful method. The biggest advantage is that increasing returns are achieved by using less water. The amount of seed is also greatly reduced — by up to 80-90% savings. Neither fertilizers nor pesticides are required. About 250 scientific papers on SRI have been published in the last ten years. It is estimated that somewhere between four and five million farmers are using SRI today, with good support from authorities in countries like China, India, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam and Sri Lanka.

In height
Vertical farming means cultivating in tiers, in structures like stories in a building. It goes without saying that it is very space efficient. Combined with hydroponics, one can produce huge amounts of vegetables almost anywhere and with low water consumption. This can be a good complement to traditional farming where certain plants such as rice and wheat, require large land areas and do not fit into future greenhouses. The food can be locally grown where people live and becomes homegrown; not even short-traveled. Since it takes place indoors such cultivation can be carried out everywhere but it requires some investment; artificial lighting and a certain degree of automation, preferably a lot. LED-lights are commonly used. Vertical farming is a modern and somewhat sterile culture method which might fit best into an urban environment, but it is one that may come to play a major role in the future, at least if migration to cities increases.

Power needs water
Virtually everything we do uses water and industry is of course no exception. The energy industry is high on the list of water consuming sectors with its 15% of the total, surpassed only by agriculture. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the need for water in energy production will double by 2035. More precisely: Water extraction will increase by 20%, while water consumption that does not go back to nature will increase by more than 85%. It is important to see where the energy is produced. Often it is created in clear competition with human needs for water in areas that are already water-stressed. On top of it all, it is an industry that contaminates water. Norway is in no way lagging behind. The Norwegian state owned Statoil is engaged both in tar sands and fracking (hydraulic fracturing), or shale gas extraction, as it’s so nicely referred to in Norway. Both are incredibly dirty businesses placing a heavy burden on water resources as well as having a tremendous effect by contaminating groundwater.

Among renewable energy sources, wind power is the most water efficient.

The car
When it comes to contaminating groundwater, motor oil is among the worst offenders, particularly in the US where it is considered to be one of the two biggest water polluters. One liter of motor-oil can contaminate 1 million liters (about 250,000 gallons) of water. The safest way to remedy this, aside from avoiding spills, is to change to plant-based motor-oils. 

Leaks
When it comes to our small domestic consumption, much water used simply runs into the ground. Old and bad pipes and infrastructures are the main reasons, especially in poorer countries. This is obvious even in Europe with vast differences between the very countries that make up the EU. The richest countries have basically least amount of these losses, while the poorest have the greater. Globally, bad water pipes contribute to an incredible loss of improbable 35%.

boy-drinking-water_creative-commonsDesalination
There are over 21,000 desalination plants in more than 120 countries around the world. Since the turn of the millennium, the output of water from desalination plants has tripled. Yet this represents only a fraction of the total freshwater available and the price of production is high. The desalination process takes enormous amounts of energy. The energy consumption for one cubic meter of water is around 0.37kWh per from rivers and lakes and about 0.47kWh for groundwater, while a desalination plant uses between 2.58 and staggering 8.5kWt to ​​conjure as much water. In fact it is far less energy intensive to clean up wastewater — which has been done on a large scale in Australia and Singapore — than to desalinate water.

A huge effort is underway to research and explore new techniques to create fresh water. One of the most exciting pilot projects is in Chile where the goal is to transform fog into clean water, but so far desalinization is showing more significant promise. Nevertheless, small treatment plants or even water purifying “gadgets”, can be of great benefit where lack of clean water is greatest and where every drop counts.

While water has received less attention than climate change in general, water shortages will become more noticeable in the very near future. Restructuring our consumption patterns may be crucial for continued access to clean water. An average consumer in developed countries uses about 5,000 liters of water daily, while a vegetarian consumes approximately 2700 liters. Perhaps it is time to promote more than just one meat-free day a week?


— Ole A. Seifert

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Recommended reading, especially for those who wants to know more detailed about different products, especially the water consumption of food and beverages:

Tony Allan (professor): Virtual Water – Tackling the Threat to Our Planet’s Most Precious Resource
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This story was on print in the Norwegian weekly paper Ny Tid (Modern Times) March 18 2015.

Thanx to Sean Mazzetti for editing!


Read more about System of Root Intensification:

In with root intensification — out with gmo

https://futopiapress.wordpress.com/2014/04/03/%EF%BB%BFin-with-root-intensification-out-with-gmo-2/

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Weather forecast for the next 20 years: SUN, SUN, SUN AND STEADY WIND

by Ole A. Seifert

Only 15% of the gasoline is used to drive a car. The remaining 85% goes away in heat and idling. The same applies to energy use in general. And water consumption. Much disappears on other than what it is supposed to. Only by introducing energy saving technology, according to experts we can save nearly one trillion U.S. dollars every year. This is a huge amount of gas and electricity that can be saved. And water. If only we are aware of this and follow it up in practice, we can save a lot, both for ourselves and the environment.  Washing your Volvo by hand is not really a big job and water savings are enormous There are many small changes we all can do and by that also send positive signals to the outside world. An outside toilet is not exactly the thing in already existing cities, but the recycling of sewage, also to energy, could have been far better. Sweden has two municipalities where it is required to have alternative sewage solutions in new buildings. Unfortunately, this has not been fully implemented in practice.

 

The roof of Chicago City Hall. Chicago is one of the pioneer cities in terms of green roofs.

 The roof of Chicago City Hall. Chicago is one of the pioneer cities in terms of green roofs.

 

 

SMALL CHANGES

We can already reduce our consumption. Less meat production / consumption and cultivation of hemp is also easy available methods to create a better and cleaner future, beside the focus on renewable energy. Livestock, especially cattle raising, accounts for 10% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, and agriculture accounts for 80% of the world’s water consumption. World Watch Institute states that a drastic cut in meat consumption is the only thing that can be secure enough food for a growing population. We can also work to get through greener solutions, whether it is better at handling of sewage, better insulation, green roofs, use of bamboo and hemp etc. etc.

 

BAMBOO AND HEMP

Both bamboo and hemp has a lots of usages and is growing incredibly fast, as “weeds” like to do, and can save many trees and deforestation and also reduce the water-and energy-intensive, not to mention far less pollution compared to for instance cotton production. Hemp cultivation can be done almost anywhere and with a limited use of fertilizer. Bamboo does not require much, other than the right climate, so it is unlikely to be profitable in our (norwegian) latitudes in the overall environmental accounts.

 

GREEN ROOF

The vegan Apu in the Simpsons had a living, green roof already in ’90’s. A haven for Paul and Linda McCartney where everything was grown biodynamic. Green Roofs for Healthy Cities (GRHC) is an organization that had its first conference in 2003 in Chicago, a city where even the massive City Hall roof is a green oasis. This year’s conference will be 30 November to 3 December in Vancouver, Canada [2010]. But long before GRHC saw the light green roofs was already a major industry in Europe. In 1994 this industry had a turnover of 500 million DM in Germany, which increased to 700 DM in 1997. France, Switzerland and Austria have also been involved in this trend. In Basel in Switzerland, all new, flat roofs are required to be green. Support and stimulation schemes in these aforementioned countries, has made it both acceptable, attractive and not least efficient. Besides simply creating green spaces, especially in urban areas, they have many other positive aspects. They are used to collect rain water and has fabulous properties to prevent a lot of water falling into the streets when it is really pouring down.

 

When the Japanese government needed a new building in Fukuoka, was the only available space in the city's only green area. The area is still green.

When the Japanese government needed a new building in Fukuoka, was the only available space in the city’s only green area. The area is still green.

 

The roofs are also more viable, as they both provide for diversity and that the roof’s life expectancy increases by almost the double, besides of the cleaning and improving the air quality. Although China does not have the same professional approach to its green roof, these are in expansive growth. The Chinese are generally good with green spaces almost everywhere it is possible in large cities, in addition to using the roofs. Although admittedly not all green roofs are completely legitimate, they are common in cities, not least for nouveau riche who have their party book in order. China has also generous subsidies that make it to attractive to install solar panels or solar hot water systems. Many places in the countryside, they make this very simple. They have flat roofs with edges, as a small water pool. The sun does the rest. If green roof would spread globally, there is also potential for cultivation of cannabis for recreational use when it becomes legal.

 

By focusing more on cleaner energy sources, it can slow down on oil and coal production and of course on the use of nuclear power. Oil production stands for even one quarter of the Norwegian greenhouse gas emissions and emissions are increasing and almost doubled in less than 20 years. Emissions from the oil industry was about 90 percent higher in 2008 than they were in 1990. We must also prevent Statoil from engaging in oil sands extraction in Canada, preferably in stopping the whole thing. The norwegian state owns 67% of Statoil and the state, that´s us. The oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has intensified the fight against offshore drilling, especially in the United States. Organization repower america, has had several direct mail campaigns against prominent politicians.

 

GOOD OPTIONS

Donghai Bridge offshore wind farm, China.

Donghai Bridge offshore wind farm, China.

Wind and sun are there, waves and tides equally and other sources continue to emerge, such as the Statskrafts osmotic power plant at Hurum, Norway. 

 

 

In all these areas are developing is growing fast. Wind power plants got new and better, gearless turbines and one can safely say they have the wind in the sails with big projects both inland as well as offshore. China’s investment in offshore wind farms are formidable. Their first offshore wind farm to consist of 34 units that will provide 3MW each when they are put into full operation later this year. United States recently announced its first offshore project, but has many land-based and also the world’s largest inland facility in Texas. They are still the world’s  leading on wind power, ahead of Germany and China. Just last year alone, the U.S. installed wind turbines that produce over 10MW. Together they produce 35.000 MW of wind power, enough to supply 9.7 million families on this also led to a saving of 57 billion gallons of water, which would be used if the power would come from power plants that use fossil fuel and water for cooling. China is still the greatest in terms of total investment in facilities with renewable energy sources, mainly wind, solar and biomass to account for 8% of their total consumption in 2020.

 

The new generation of wind turbines are scheduled for release in 2014.

The new generation of wind turbines are scheduled for release in 2014.

 

China is now equal the United States, with 4% of renewable energy. Still, it will be coal, nuclear and hydropower making up the majority of China’s power generation. But China is already the world’s largest producer of solar panels. Norway by Fred. Olsen Windcarrier, is out with windmill ships that serve as platform, which will withstand heavy sea. They have 70 meters long legs that can be lowered into the sea. The first two ships, with an option for more, being built in Dubai (probably by migrant workers from Bangladesh, Pakistan and India on slave contracts, deprived of their passports). Otherwise, it is Spain, Denmark and Germany which are leading wind turbines nations of Europe. Amazingly enough, it is Germany who is in the lead  in terms of solar power and accounted for nearly half the world’s solar power in 2007. This has lowered prices dramatically, by half from 1997 to 2007 in Germany.

 

Yet we must also have an eye for an unwanted use, particularly in the industry, and be a driving force to  improve conditions. More and more we can read reports of natural phenomenas that are out of control. The Greenland ice is melting faster than anyone had imagined, and only now in the summer [2010], two giant floe broke off and is drifting with the risk of ship traffic, oil and land impacts. The first floe that was fell off and is drifting, is  more than four times larger than Manhattan and the largest in the Northern Hemisphere since 1962. Maybe someone should tow it to a fresh water poor area?

 

Shocking satellite images were made public in late May and shows that the landscape rises. In an increasing pace. This could have unforeseen consequences for a rising sea as well.

 

Lake Taganyaka in East Africa, Africa's deepest and the world's second largest lake by volume, had the highest temperature of 150 years. With water temperature of 26° C, it is disastrous for both fish and fishermen.

Lake Taganyaka in East Africa, Africa’s deepest and the world’s second largest lake by volume, had the highest temperature of 150 years. With water temperature of 26° C, it is disastrous for both fish and fishermen.

 

The oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico was totally out of control. Even after “successful” sealing, there are enormous quantities of oil under water. It was recently discovered an undersea oil slick consisting of tiny oil droplets in the Gulf region, invisible to the naked eye. This slick is 35 km long. If it moves with the Gulf Stream northeast and out in the open sea, it may have undesirable effects in Europe. Since the discharge is in deep water, it mixes the oil into the sea and kill large areas of underwater fauna, not just the birds that we see in the pictures, but far down the food chain. The damage will be long lasting.

 

However, it is now discovered a new type of oil-eating microbe that thrives in cold water down to 5 ° C. One assumes that this microbe has evolved such because of repeated oil spills in the Gulf. The advantageous of this newly discovered microbe is that it absorbs less oxygen than other oil-eating microbes, which in itself can damage water quality. Maybe something for Norway to have in stock, so just in case?

 

SMALL KEYSTROKES

The global community is you and me, even as we may seem insignificant among the 6 billion others. In many of life’s mysterious ways, it is more useful to search for solutions than focusing on the problems alone. With today’s access to information, we have the opportunity to be updated, while also adding pressure on authorities. At all time a number of petitions takes place, supporting campaigns and direct inquiries to the politicians the world over every day. It is important not only to scamp away with a few Facebook groups, which of course also counts, though not as much, but use a minute or two during the week and support directly via e-mail campaigns and petitions. Avaaz.org is one of the better to keep updated through, but there are a number of other small and large, local and global web-based action groups who do a good job.

 

 

 

Small keystrokes, perhaps even on a bamboo-pc.

Small keystrokes, perhaps even on a bamboo-pc.

Δ In the period 1973 – 1982 there were 1500 worldwide natural disasters.

 

 

Δ In the period 1983 – 1992 there were 3500 worldwide natural disasters.

 

Δ In the period 1993 – 2002 there were 6000 worldwide natural disasters.

 

Δ In the period 2002 – 2012 … … …

 

 

 

 

(Published in the paper issue of Gateavisa # 189, 2010 and http://www.gateavisa.no/2011/04/02/værutsiktene-for-de-neste-20-ar-sol-sol-og-jevn-vind/)