I have to hand it to the editors and publisher (Conde Nast) of the New Yorker. While print journalism is increasingly going “walled garden,” allowing only paid subscribers to access their content, the New Yorker continues to publish its often superb pieces online. I’m a long-time New Yorker subscriber, even here in Winnipeg, and though it’s expensive ($90 per year!), it would take a lot for me to give it up.
In last week’s issue, Michael Specter wrote a frightening article called “The Last Drop: Confronting the possibility of a global catastrophe.” It’s worth in its entirety and reviewing it in detail will not do it justice. But, essentially, Specter makes a provocative yet realistic assessment of the world’s coming shortage of water. We’re in trouble. Here are just a few quotes from the first half of the piece:
There is no standard for how much water a person needs each day, but experts usually put the minimum at fifty litres. The government of India promises (but rarely provides) forty. Most people drink two or three litres—less than it takes to flush a toilet. The rest is typically used for cooking, bathing, and sanitation. Americans consume between four hundred and six hundred litres of water each day, more than any other people on earth. Most Europeans use less than half that.
China has less water than Canada and forty times as many people. With wells draining aquifers far faster than they can be replenished by rain, the water table beneath Beijing has fallen nearly two hundred feet in the past twenty years.
If a large bucket were to represent all the seawater on the planet, and a coffee cup the amount of freshwater frozen in glaciers, only a teaspoon would remain for us to drink.
As people migrate to cities, they invariably start to eat more meat, adding to the pressure on water resources. The amount of water required to feed cattle and to process beef is enormous: it takes a thousand tons of water to grow a ton of grain and fifteen thousand to grow a ton of cow. Thirteen hundred gallons of water go into the production of a single hamburger; a steak requires double that amount.