Saturday, May 31, 2008

OPAWTY? - Virtual Water

Saving the world one cup of coffee at a time.
The June issue of Discover Magazine had an article about virtual water (Better Planet: Virtual Water..., by Thomas M. Kostigen). Virtual water is the amount of water it took to provide a service or item for you - from start to finish. For example, it is estimated that it takes about 1,900 gallons of water to put that one pound steak on your grill and about 53 gallons to put a single egg in your refrigerator.

I'm not sure why these are virtual gallons of water. I am pretty sure I've never consumed a glass of virtual water, but then again who really knows what is in all those bottles we consume. Maybe it is virtual water and that is why we have to pay so much for it.

From the article I learned that like your carbon footprint, you have a virtual water footprint. The average person on earth has a virtual water footprint of about 328,000 gallons of water a year. That is the number of physical gallons of water a person uses directly in a year plus the number of virtual gallons used in a year to produce the food and goods a person consumes and uses. In the United States the virtual water footprint of the average person is about 656,000 gallons a year while in China the average is only about 185,000 gallons - which is good since there are so many more Chinese. If their footprint were as large as ours, they would be very thirsty.

Why are we talking about virtual water? Because we, who live on a water based, water rich world are running out of fresh water. The virtual water concept is supposed to allow us to make better choices. The author, Thomas Kostigen, makes the point that if each of us avoided wasting just one cup of coffee a day we could save enough virtual water to give two gallons of water a day for a year to each of the 1.1 billion people who currently don't have access to clean water. Remember, it is not just the physical water in the cup, it is also the virtual water used to grow the coffee bean, roast it, ship it, etc. Luckily I don't drink coffee so I don't have to carry the guilt of ignoring a billion thirsty people. It took me years to get over the trauma I caused the starving Chinese people when I didn't eat my vegetables as a child.

If the concept of virtual water catches on you can bet it will be added to the content list of packaged food. 180 calories, 0 grams of trans fat and 319 gallons of virtual water.

Let's get real. Are dwindling supplies of fresh water a problem? Yes! But not because we are wasting water on unconsumed coffee. And not because we eat too much meat and not enough grain. The problem is there are too many of us. As the Chinese become more prosperous their virtual water usage will go up. If their virtual water usage even rises to the current world average they are going to be in serious trouble. Likewise, we could cut our virtual water footprint in half, but if our population doubles in 100 years, as might happen, we have put off our problem, but not solved it.

When we are talking about a global water shortage on a water rich planet, people should take note. The problem is not too little water, it is too many people.

Over Populated - Are We There Yet?

You can check your virtual water footprint at

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ignorance and Stupidity Are Not Free

Anyone who was an adult during the 1970's knows that $4.00 a gallon gasoline or even $10.00 a gallon gasoline prices are not the worst that can happen. The worst is when you can't buy gasoline at any price.

Anyone who was an adult during the 1970's should not be surprised at the current price of gas. If back then you thought about the issues even a little, you should have known that this day was coming. You couldn't know when and you couldn't know exactly what would cause it, but you should have known it was coming and you should have known that if we didn't plan ahead, the situation could be even worse.

There was a short period in the 70's when people lined up for hours to get gas to fill up their cars. Fights broke out in gas lines as frustration soared and tempers flared. Imagine how your life would change today if you couldn't buy enough gasoline to get to work or drive to the grocery store or if you had to spend hours in line to buy it.

Given the events of the 70's, it is hard to understand why we aren't better prepared today. Not!

Al Gore was accused of proposing a 50 cent a gallon gas tax back in 2000. The rational was that higher gas prices would make alternative energy sources more viable and provide incentives to use this finite resource wisely. I don't know whether or not he really made the proposal, but I don't remember many people thinking it was a good idea. Long term thinking is not a strength that comes naturally to people. It is also not a strength of most businesses (SUVs and large pickup trucks are really cheap right now). It should be a strength of government, but not when people vote their short term self-interests and politicians don't have the character to educate people with the painful truth.

Actually, the current high price of gasoline is one of the best things that could happen to us. The painfully high prices may provide motivation to address the problem before there are severe shortages that would turn a problem into a disastrous. Let me put it another way - a return to $2 a gallon gasoline would be bad for the country.

I do wonder if $4 a gallon gasoline is painful enough. It may take even higher prices. It will also take some time for people to realize that $2 a gallon gas is a thing of the past and accept that difficult changes must be made. I know that many people are struggling with these high gas prices, but there is a valuable lesson to be learned. Ignorance and stupidity may be natural and easy, but they are not free. The high price of gas is an indication that we failed to acknowledge the obvious; oil is a precious and finite resource.

So here is the question of the day - what other important issues are we ignoring because the problem is not obvious or the peril is not immediate or the issues are complicated or the solutions are painful?

Ignorance and stupidity are not free.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Clinton For Vice-President

It is long past the time that Senator Clinton should have thrown in the towel. She has waged a magnificent campaign and we all know the best candidate doesn't always win. She needs to graciously concede after the final primary on June 3rd.

Senator Obama should offer Senator Clinton the vice-presidency, if they can come to a few agreements.

They each must be able to forget the rancor and anger of the primary campaign. Senator Clinton must agree to work whole heartedly for Obama's election, success as president and reelection and he must promise to support her presidential ambitions when his terms are complete.

Finally, Bill Clinton must never publicly offer political or policy advice during an Obama administration. He can work with his foundation and he might be called upon for special projects, but he is to stay out of the political limelight and preferably well away from the White House.

I'd have a prenuptial drawn up for everyone to sign. That includes President Clinton.

OPAWTY?-What is a Pest?

A can of pesticide sprays the Earth.  Has human overpopulation made us a pest?If overpopulation by any other species caused as much environmental damage as human overpopulation does, we would have long ago created an industrial strength pesticide to control their numbers.

Over Populated -
Are We There Yet?