Category Archives: Water

Blog Action Day 2010: Water

Today is Blog Action Day 2010. This annual event, organized by change.org, is held every October 15 to unite the world’s bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day with the aim of sparking a global discussion and driving collective action. This year’s topic is water. Today thousands of bloggers from over 125 different countries will come together to write about water issues in their communities and around the world.

Why Water?

In industrialized countries, we don’t tend to worry much about water, but while we carelessly pollute and squander water in the US, others around the world struggle to find water that is safe to drink.

The problem of scarce clean water
Nearly 1 billion people lack access to clean water, which causes a litany of struggles, diseases, and death.

  • – 40 Billion Hours: African women walk over 40 billion hours each year carrying cisterns weighing up to 40 pounds to gather water, which is usually still not safe to drink. More Info
  • – 38,000 Children a Week: Every week, nearly 38,000 children under the age of 5 die from unsafe drinking water and unhygienic living conditions. More Info
  • – Wars Over Water: Many scholars attribute the conflict in Darfur at least in part to lack of access to water. A report commissioned by the UN found that in the 21st century, water scarcity will become one of the leading causes of conflict in Africa. More Info
  • – A Human Right: In July, to address the water crisis, the United Nations declared access to clean water and sanitation a human right over. But we are far from implementing solutions to secure basic access to safe drinking water. More Info

Water over-consumption in industrialized countries
While the developing world faces a water crisis, those in industrialized countries consume far more than their fair share.

  • – Food Footprint: It takes over 6 gallons of water to produce just one hamburger. That means it would take about 2 billion gallons of water to make just one hamburger for every person in the US. More Info
  • – Technology Footprint: The shiny new iPhone in your pocket requires 2 cups of water to charge. That may not seem like much, but with over 80 million active iPhones in the world, that’s 10.5 million gallons to charge those alone. More Info
  • – Fashion Footprint: That cotton t-shirt you’re wearing right now took 400 gallons of water to produce, and your jeans required an extra 1,797 gallons. More Info
  • – Bottled Water Footprint: The US, Mexico and China lead the world in bottled water consumption, with people in the US drinking an average of 200 bottles of water per person each year. Over 17 million barrels of oil are needed to manufacture those water bottles, 86% of which will never be recycled. More Info

Water and the environment
The disregard for water resources in industrialized countries impacts more than humans – it causes environmental devastation.

  • – Waste Overflow: Every day, 2 million tons of human waste are disposed of in water sources. This not only negatively impacts the environment but also harms the health of surrounding communities. More Info
  • – Polluted Oceans: Death and disease caused by polluted coastal waters costs the global economy $12.8 billion a year. More Info
  • – Uninhabitable Rivers: Today, 40% of America’s rivers and 46% of America’s lakes are too polluted for fishing, swimming, or aquatic life. More Info

Animal agriculture and water
Nearly half of the water used in the US is squandered on animal agriculture. Between watering the crops grown to feed farm animals, providing drinking water for billions of animals each year, and cleaning the filthy factory farms, transport trucks, and slaughterhouses, the farmed animal industry places a serious strain on our water supply.

  • 4,000 Gallons: According to a special report in Newsweek, “The water that goes into a 1,000-pound steer would float a destroyer.” It takes more than 4,000 gallons of water per day to produce a meat-based diet, but only 300 gallons of water a day are needed to produce a vegetarian diet. More Info
  • Pollution: Besides just wasting water, factory farms also pollute it. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, animal factories pollute our waterways more than all other industrial sources combined. The major sources of pollution are from antibiotics and hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and pesticides used for feedcrops, sediments from eroded pastures, and animal wastes. More Info
  • Poop: Cows, pigs, chickens, and other animals raised for food produce approximately 130 times as much excrement as the entire human population, except there are no sewage systems to dispose of the waste from factory farms. Much of the millions of pounds of excrement and other bodily waste produced by farmed animals every day in the US is stored in sprawling brown lagoons. These lagoons often spill over into surrounding waterways and cause massive destruction. In 1995, 25 million gallons of putrid hog urine and feces spilled into a North Carolina river, killing 10-14 million fish. This spill was twice as large in volume as the Exxon-Valdez oil disaster. In West Virginia and Maryland, scientists have discovered that male fish are growing ovaries, and they suspect that this freakish deformity is the result of factory-farm run-off from drug-laden chicken feces. More Info

  • Causing Illness: Besides the environmental problems caused by farmed animal waste, the dangerous fecal bacteria from farm sewage (including E. coli) can also cause serious illness in humans. Scripps Howard synopsis of a Senate Agricultural Committee report on farm pollution issued this warning about animal waste: “…it’s untreated and unsanitary, bubbling with chemicals and diseased… It goes onto the soil and into the water that many people will, ultimately, bathe in and wash their clothes with, and drink. It is poisoning rivers and killing fish and making people sick…Catastrophic cases of pollution, sickness, and death are occurring in areas where livestock operations are concentrated… Every place where the animal factories have located, neighbors have complained of falling sick.” More Info
  • Using Rivers As Sewers: The EPA reports that chicken, hog, and cattle excrement have polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states and contaminated groundwater in 17 states yet, amazingly, the federal government continues to allow factory farms to use our rivers as sewers. More Info

Solutions

There are some very simple things that we can all do to make a difference, like eating less meat and drinking from reusable bottles (like Nalgenes) instead of disposable ones. And while these things are fantastic, we need to do more than this to change the course of our destiny.  Money is a good start. Donate to Charity: water. Just $20 can give one person clean water for 20 years. Americans spend more that $15 billion a year on bottled water (that’s more than on ipods or movie tickets). Why don’t we put that money toward changing the world and saving lives instead?

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Breakfast: Smoothie with banana, pineapple, strawberry, and almond milk
Lunch: Bean salad (kidneys, green beans, chickpeas, navy beans, vinegar & oil) and fresh artisan bread
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Dinner: Amazing vegan pizza from Whole Foods (with roasted red pepper hummus, spinach, olives, artichoke hearts, red and yellow bell peppers)
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Happy Earth Day!

“If we treated others as we wish to be treated ourselves, then decency and stability would have to prevail. I suggest that we execute such a pact with our planet.”

Stephen Jay Gould

According to polls, three-quarters of us define ourselves as environmentalists. We recycle our garbage, switch our lightbulbs to CFLs, take our reusable bags to the grocery store, and maybe even hang our wash on the line to dry. But, in reality, most of us are “environmentalists” until we sit down to eat.

To truly cure Mother Earth’s ills, we can’t do it on a diet of chicken, fish, pork, and beef. Try as you might, you simply aren’t an environmentalist until you start eating green.

Environmental Groups (including the National Audubon Society and theUnion of Concerned Scientists) declare that raising animals for food has a worse effect on the planet than just about anything else we can do.

America’s meat addiction is steadily poisoning and depleting our clean water, arable land, and fresh air.

Pollution
The livestock industry is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, a bigger share than the entire transportation industry.  It also causes more water pollution in the US than all other industries combined because the animals raised for food in the US produce 130 times more excrement than the human population. Every year, factory farms dump 220 billion gallons of animal waste onto farmland and into our waterways.

Land
Animal agriculture is responsible for 85 percent of US soil erosion.  Grazing occupies 26% of the Earth’s terrestrial surface, while feed crop production requires about one-third of all arable land. About 70% of all grazing land in dry areas is considered degraded, mostly because of overgrazing, compaction and erosion attributable to livestock activity. Twenty times more land is required to feed a meat-eater than to feed a pure vegetarian.

Water
Raising animals for food requires more water than all other uses of water combined.  It literally consumes more than half of all the water used in the United States. (It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce a pound of meat, but only 25 gallons to produce a pound of wheat.) Plus, animal agriculture causes more water pollution than any other industry due to runoff and dumping of animal wastes, antibiotics, hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and pesticides used for feed crops, and sediments from eroded pastures. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, hog, chicken, and cattle waste has polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states and contaminated groundwater in 17 states. The sector also generates almost two-thirds of anthropogenic ammonia, which contributes significantly to acid rain and acidification of ecosystems.

Deforestation
The primary cause for deforestation in America is not urban development. For each acre of American forest that is cleared to make room for parking lots, roads, houses, and shopping malls, 7 acres of forest are converted into land for grazing livestock and/or growing livestock feed. Two-thirds of the rain forests of Central America have been cleared, in part to raise cattle whose meat is exported to profit the US food industry. Some 70% of previously forested land in the Amazon is used as pasture, and feed crops cover a large part of the reminder.

Energy
Raising animals for food requires more than one-third of all raw materials and fossil fuels used in the US (with the air pollution that entails).

Animals
You can’t be concerned about our environment without caring about our fellow inhabitants.  Animals are made of flesh and blood, have complex social and psychological lives, and feel pain just as humans do. More than 25 billion are killed by the meat industry each year, and they’re killed in ways that would horrify any compassionate person.

The good news is that you can make a big difference, starting today! The Live Earth Global Warming Survival Handbook states that “refusing meat” is “the single most effective thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint.” Researchers at the University of Chicago found that going vegan is more effective in countering climate change than switching from a standard American car to a Toyota Prius.

If every American ate meatless for just one day per week, the effect would be the equivalent of taking 8 million cars off the road.  If every American removed just one serving of meat from their diet each week, it would be the equivalent of taking 5 million cars off the road. Go green. Eat meatless.

“The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.”

-Gaylord Nelson, former governor of Wisconsin, founder of Earth Day

Post About Poop, Number 2 (pun intended)

This post isn’t actually related to the first Post About Poop, except that they both do happen to be about, well, poop.

In the past 40 years, the US has effectively reduced the manmade pollutants that left our waterways dead, discolored, and occasionally flammable. But sadly, we’ve managed to smother the same waters with the most natural stuff in the world: manure. 

According to scientists and environmentalists, animal manure, a byproduct as old as agriculture, has become a modern pollution problem. The country simply has more dung than it can handle.

Since the first Earth Day in 1970, air pollutants that cause acid rain have been cut by 56 percent. The outputs from sewage plants have gotten 45 percent cleaner.  But, according to Cornell University researchers, the amount of one key pollutant – nitrogen – entering the environment in manure has increased by at least 60 percent since the 1970s.

The reason for manure’s rise as a pollutant is the shift in agriculture. In recent decades, livestock raising has shifted to a small number of large farms. At these places, with thousands of hogs, or hundreds of thousands of chickens, the traditional, self-contained cycle of farming (manure feeds the crops, then the crops feed the animals) is completely broken.  The result is too much manure and too little to do with it.

Crowded together in megafarms, livestock produce three times as much waste as people, more than can be recycled as fertilizer for nearby fields. That excess manure gives off air pollutants, and it is the country’s fastest-growing large source of methane, a greenhouse gas.  It washes down with the rain, helping to cause the 230 oxygen-deprived “dead zones” that have proliferated along the U.S. coast. In the Chesapeake Bay, about 1/4th of the pollution that leads to dead zones can be traced back to the rear ends of cows, pigs, chickens and turkeys.

Air
In the air, that extra manure can dry into dust, forming a “brown fog.” It can emit substances that contribute to climate change (methane and nitrogen). And it can give off a smell like a punch to the stomach (ever been to Lubbock, TX?).

“You have to cover your face just to go from the house to the car,” said Lynn Henning, a farmer in rural Clayton, MI, who said she became an environmental activist after fumes from huge new dairies gave her family headaches and burning sinuses. The way that modern megafarms produce it, Henning said, “Manure is no longer manure. Manure is a toxic waste now.”

Water
In the water, the chemicals in manure don’t poison life, like pesticides or spilled oil. Instead, they create too much life, but the wrong kind. The chemicals in manure serve as fertilizer for unnatural algae blooms that drain away oxygen as they decompose.

Scientists say the number of suffocating dead zones (oxygen-depleted areas where even worms and clams climb out of the mud, desperate to breathe) has grown from 16 in the 1950s to at least 230 today. The Chesapeake’s is usually the country’s third largest, after the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Erie.

Laws
Despite its impact, manure has not been as strictly regulated as other pollution problems have, like human sewage, acid rain, or industrial waste.

The Obama administration has made moves to try to change this but has already found itself facing off with farm interests, entangled in the politics of poop. Around the country, agricultural interests have fought back against moves like these, saying that new rules on manure could mean crushing new costs for farmers.

The Environmental Proection Agency (EPA) does not set strict rules, but instead issues “guidelines” that apply only to the largest operations. The guidelines might limit how much manure farmers can spread on individual fields, or order them to plant grassy strips along riverbanks to filter manure-laden runoff, but do not set a hard cap on how much manure can wash off of farms. These guidelines have only been in place since the 1990s.

Last fall, the US Department of Agriculture considered a change to its guidelines, to limit the amount of manure farmers could apply to their fields, but they scrapped the idea, saying the issue needed “more study.”

This month, the EPA announced that reducing manure-laden runoff was one of its six national enforcement initiatives. We can only hope that this will result in stricter regulations.

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Breakfast: Oatmeal
Lunch: Large spinach salad and hummus with pretzels
Dinner: A steamed artichoke (my favorite food EVER) with a side of red potato, chopped and cooked with onion and garlic
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It’s Personal (or is it?)

From the Washington Post, by James E. McWilliams

I gave a talk in South Texas recently on the environmental virtues of a vegetarian diet. As you might imagine, the reception was chilly. In fact, the only applause came during the Q&A period when a member of the audience said that my lecture made him want to go out and eat even more meat. “Plus,” he added, “what I eat is my business — it’s personal.”

I’ve been writing about food and agriculture for more than a decade. Until that evening, however, I’d never actively thought about this most basic culinary question: Is eating personal?

We know more than we’ve ever known about the innards of the global food system. We understand that food can both nourish and kill. We know that its production can both destroy and enhance our environment. We know that farming touches every aspect of our lives — the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the soil we need.

So it’s hard to avoid concluding that eating cannot be personal. What I eat influences you. What you eat influences me. Our diets are deeply, intimately and necessarily political.

This realization changes everything for those who avoid meat. As a vegetarian I’ve always felt the perverse need to apologize for my dietary choice. It inconveniences people. It smacks of self-righteousness. It makes us pariahs at dinner parties. But the more I learn about the negative impact of meat production, the more I feel that it’s the consumers of meat who should be making apologies.

Here’s why: The livestock industry as a result of its reliance on corn and soy-based feed accounts for over half the synthetic fertilizer used in the United States, contributing more than any other sector to marine dead zones. It consumes 70 percent of the water in the American West — water so heavily subsidized that if irrigation supports were removed, ground beef would cost $35 a pound. Livestock accounts for at least 21 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions globally — more than all forms of transportation combined. Domestic animals — most of them healthy — consume about 70 percent of all the antibiotics produced. Undigested antibiotics leach from manure into freshwater systems and impair the sex organs of fish.

It takes a gallon of gasoline to produce a pound of conventional beef. If all the grain fed to animals went to people, you could feed China and India. That’s just a start.

Meat that’s raised according to “alternative” standards (about 1 percent of meat in the United States) might be a better choice but not nearly as much so as its privileged consumers would have us believe. “Free-range chickens” theoretically have access to the outdoors. But many “free-range” chickens never see the light of day because they cannot make it through the crowded shed to the aperture leading to a patch of cement.

“Grass-fed” beef produces four times the methane — a greenhouse gas 21 times as powerful as carbon dioxide — of grain-fed cows, and many grass-fed cows are raised on heavily fertilized and irrigated grass. Pastured pigs are still typically mutilated, fed commercial feed and prevented from rooting — their most basic instinct besides sex.

Issues of animal welfare are equally implicated in all forms of meat production. Domestic animals suffer immensely, feel pain and may even be cognizant of the fate that awaits them. In an egg factory, male chicks (economically worthless) are summarily run through a grinder. Pigs are castrated without anesthesia, crated, tail-docked and nose-ringed. Milk cows are repeatedly impregnated through artificial insemination, confined to milking stalls and milked to yield 15 times the amount of milk they would produce under normal conditions. When calves are removed from their mothers at birth, the mothers mourn their loss with heart-rending moans.

Then comes the slaughterhouse, an operation that’s left with millions of pounds of carcasses — deadstock — that are incinerated or dumped in landfills. (Rendering plants have taken a nose dive since mad cow disease.)

Now, if someone told you that a particular corporation was trashing the air, water and soil; causing more global warming than the transportation industry; consuming massive amounts of fossil fuel; unleashing the cruelest sort of suffering on innocent and sentient beings; failing to recycle its waste; and clogging our arteries in the process, how would you react? Would you say, “Hey, that’s personal?” Probably not. It’s more likely that you’d frame the matter as a dire political issue in need of a dire political response.

Vegetarianism is not only the most powerful political response we can make to industrialized food. It’s a necessary prerequisite to reforming it. To quit eating meat is to dismantle the global food apparatus at its foundation.

Agribusiness has been vilified of late by muckraking journalists, activist filmmakers and sustainable-food advocates. We know that something has to be done to save our food from corporate interests. But I wonder — are we ready to do what must be done? Sure, we’ve been inundated with ideas: eat local, vote with your fork, buy organic, support fair trade, etc. But these proposals all lack something that every successful environmental movement has always placed at its core: genuine sacrifice.

Until we make that leap, until we create a culinary culture in which the meat-eaters must do the apologizing, the current proposals will be nothing more than gestures that turn the fork into an empty symbol rather than a real tool for environmental change.
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Breakfast: Pancakes and pineapple
Lunch: A big salad
Dinner: Black bean enchiladas at the Salvadorian restaurant around the corner

Meat's Not Green: Water

Nearly half of the water used in the U.S. is squandered on animal agriculture. Between watering the crops grown to feed farm animals, providing drinking water for billions of animals each year, and cleaning the filthy factory farms, transport trucks, and slaughterhouses, the farmed animal industry places a serious strain on our water supply. According to a special report in Newsweek, “The water that goes into a 1,000-pound steer would float a destroyer.” It takes more than 4,000 gallons of water per day to produce a meat-based diet, but only 300 gallons of water a day are needed to produce a vegetarian diet.

Besides just wasting water, factory farms also pollute it. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, animal factories pollute our waterways more than all other industrial sources combined. The major sources of pollution are from antibiotics and hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and pesticides used for feedcrops, sediments from eroded pastures, and animal wastes.

Cows, pigs, chickens, and other animals raised for food produce approximately 130 times as much excrement as the entire human population, except there are no sewage systems to dispose of the waste from factory farms. Much of the millions of pounds of excrement and other bodily waste produced by farmed animals every day in the U.S. is stored in sprawling brown lagoons.


These lagoons often spill over into surrounding waterways and cause massive destruction. In 1995, 25 million gallons of putrid hog urine and feces spilled into a North Carolina river, killing 10-14 million fish. This spill was twice as large in volume as the Exxon-Valdez oil disaster. But, it doesn’t take a spill of this magnitude to wreak havoc on the ecosystem. In West Virginia and Maryland, for example, scientists have recently discovered that male fish are growing ovaries, and they suspect that this freakish deformity is the result of factory-farm run-off from drug-laden chicken feces.

Besides the environmental problems caused by farmed animal waste, the dangerous fecal bacteria from farm sewage (including E. coli) can also cause serious illness in humans.

A Scripps Howard synopsis of a Senate Agricultural Committee report on farm pollution issued this warning about animal waste: “…it’s untreated and unsanitary, bubbling with chemicals and diseased… It goes onto the soil and into the water that many people will, ultimately, bathe in and wash their clothes with, and drink. It is poisoning rivers and killing fish and making people sick…Catastrophic cases of pollution, sickness, and death are occurring in areas where livestock operations are concentrated… Every place where the animal factories have located, neighbors have complained of falling sick.”

The EPA reports that chicken, hog, and cattle excrement have polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states and contaminated groundwater in 17 states yet, amazingly, the federal government continues to allow factory farms to use our rivers as sewers.
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Breakfast: Whole wheat bagel
Lunch: Mango “chicken” (soy chicken subsitute) from Chinese/Thai fusion restaurant
Dinner: Veggie burger

High Quality H2O

In 2003, Americans alone spent more than $7 billion on bottled water at an average cost of more than $1 a bottle. Is the price of bottled water really worth it?

In 2004, it was discovered that Coca Cola’s Dasani water (labeled “pure, still water”) was actually just tap water. This uncovered a common practice amongst the bottled water industry. A four year study performed by the National Resources Defense Council, in which researchers tested more than 1,000 samples of 103 brands of bottled water, found that, “an estimated 25 percent or more of bottled water is really just tap water in a bottle—sometimes further treated, sometimes not.”

In one case, a brand of bottled water advertised as “pure, glacier water,” was found to be taken from a municipal water supply while another brand, flaunted as “spring water,” was pumped from a water source next to a hazardous waste dumping site.

While “purified tap water” is arguably safer and purer than untreated tap water (depending upon the purification methods), a consumer should expect to receive something more than reconstituted tap water for the exceptional prices of bottled water.

Bottled water is regulated by the FDA, while tap water is regulated by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), which operates under much stricter regulations. The EPA mandates that municipal water systems must test for harmful microbiological content in water several times a day, while bottled water companies are required to test for these microbes only once a week. Similarly, public water systems are required to test for chemical water contaminants four times as often as bottled water companies. And, due to loopholes in the FDA’s testing policy, a significant number of bottles have undergone almost no regulation or testing.

The National Resources Defense Council found that 18 of 103 bottled water brands tested, contained, “more bacteria than allowed under microbiological-purity guidelines.” Also, about one fifth of the brands tested positive for the presence of synthetic chemicals, such as industrial chemicals and chemicals used in manufacturing plastic like phthalate, a harmful chemical that leaches into bottled water from its plastic container. In addition, bottled water companies are not required to test for cryptosporidium, the chlorine-resistant protozoan that infected more than 400,000 Milwaukee residents in 1993.

Bottled water companies, because they are not under the same accountability standards as municipal water systems, may provide a significantly lower quality of water than the water one typically receives from the tap.

Well, at least bottled water tastes better than tap water, right? Wrong. Obviously, taste is subjective, but in a blind taste test conducted by Showtime, they found that 75% of tested New York City residents actually preferred tap water over bottled water.

And let’s not forget the effect of bottled water on the environment. According to a 2001 report of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), roughly 1.5 million tons of plastic are expended each year due to bottled water. And the less obvious effect on the environment is the energy required to manufacture and transport these bottles to market, which uses a significant amount of fossil fuels.

Because tap water is not completely free from contaminants, filtered tap water provides the healthiest & most economical option. Try using a Britta or Pur filter and a Nalgene bottle, for your health, pocketbook, and the environment.

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Breakfast: Bean & soy cheese taco
Lunch: Spinach burrito from California Tortilla
Dinner: Spaghetti