March 22, 2010
Posted: 02:54 PM ET
Thomas M. Kostigen is the author of "The Green Blue Book: The Simple Water-Savings Guide to Everything in Your Life." His commentary is an LKL Web Exclusive.
I was standing by a dry riverbed in Ethiopia not far from where the refugee camps were set up with funds from the ‘We Are The World’ campaign. A young girl, maybe 10, maybe 12, wearing a purple dress came up to me—western white man—and asked for a pencil. She wanted it, she said, so she could do her homework, go to school, become a doctor and help people in her village.
That connection changed my life. I’ve even dedicated my latest book, "The Green Blue Book: The Simple Water-Savings Guide to Everything in Your Life," to her. She showed me how we are all connected, or can be, and how we can affect people in the most amazing ways, in ways perhaps we never even imagined.
For example, every one in the world shares the same source of freshwater. Actually, almost to the drop the exact same amount of freshwater has existed on the planet since the time of dinosaurs. When we use more “here” it affects people, places, and things over “there.” Water is made up of molecules, two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, which get broken apart and put back together, broken apart and put back together through the water cycle. It means that snow on the Himalayas may once have been rain on your roof, or a splash in the Great Lakes. Water molecules move about.
But we seldom think of this when we water our lawns, flush the toilet, or turn on the tap. The average American uses 656,000 gallons of water per year. Much of this is water we can’t even see.
Virtual water, or embedded water, is what we use most. Virtual water is the water it takes to make something, anything. It takes about 123 gallons of water to grow a pound of oats. So the virtual water count of this pound of oats is 123 gallons. Now, extend this to a slice of beef. Since cattle have to feed on oats or some other grain and obviously need to drink water themselves, their virtual water count is higher than that of what they chew. It also takes water to process their meat. The virtual water footprint of a pound of beef, therefore, is 1,500 gallons. When you understand that there’s a virtual water count to producing everything—a beer (20 gallons), a glass of wine (30 gallons), a cup of coffee (37 gallons), a cup of tea (5 gallons), a car (39,000 gallons), a bicycle (480 gallons)—you can make water-smart choices. This is why I dedicated The Green Blue Book to that young girl in the purple dress. By understanding the virtual water content of the things we consume, we can save not only water—also lives; and they may be half a world away.
The riverbed I was standing next to when I met that young girl doesn’t have to be forever dry. We can save the water we see as well as the water we don’t see to shore up the world’s supply. We’re all connected to it. Today is World Water Day, a day dedicated to remembering that connection.
To find out more and to calculate your water footprint go to www.thegreenbluebook.com.
Filed under: LKL Web Exclusive
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