Friday, August 22, 2014

We are all responsible for the drought in California?

Cogito, ergo sum is one that has been a wonderful guiding philosophy for me ever since I came across that.  (No, it was not in a Latin class, my friend!)  I often remark to students that education is all about thinking.  Thinking almost always challenges out gut instincts, which will not only make us a tad uncomfortable but force us to view the world in completely different ways.

But then thinking is hard work.  When students parrot statements condemning GMO food, or WalMart, or even the virtues of locavore as helping the local economy, it worries me very little.  They are, after all, in the process of figuring out how to think through.  I then prompt them with questions.  It is like the typical response we all received from our mothers throughout most of our childhood: "what were you thinking?" but without the judgmental tone.  Hmmm..., and then I wonder why enrollment in my classes has been on a decline! ;)

When I came across a Facebook comment, made perhaps in a lighter vein, that the ice-bucket-challenge was a waste of water, I was tempted to point out that the ice-bucket-challenge was a mere, ahem, drop in the ocean of wastage.  But, I did not, because Facebook is not really about serious discussions.  I have my blog for that! ;) provides a logical way to think through how we use water, and compares it with the gallon used in the ice-bucket-challenge:


The Slate piece that the chart is based on is not about the ice-bucket itself but a related water story--on how so much bottled water is exported out of California, which has been experiencing a terrible drought.
On Monday, Mother Jones produced this set of viral maps showing that most of the country’s bottled water comes from California, which just so happens to be in the midst of an epic, soul-crushing drought.
Barring a tropical storm or other variety of apocalypse, there is really no reason to ever buy bottled water. Bottled water is expensive, and it’s wasteful. But truthfully, exporting bottled water across state lines contributes an incredibly tiny amount to California’s annual water loss. You should never buy bottled water, but it’s because of the plastic, not because it’s making California’s drought worse.
Our gut instincts might tell us that exporting water from a state that has a serious water shortage is the worst thing Californians can do.  Which is where our gut instincts are wrong.  Not because exporting bottled water is wrong--it is wrong because of the plastic, as the article notes, and not because of the water itself.  What is the reality that challenges our gut instincts?
According to the bottled water industry, Americans consume about 30 gallons of bottled water per capita, each year. That may sound like a lot, but you’d do more to stem California’s drought by forgoing a single glass of Napa Valley wine or a single slice of Central Valley cheese. Skipping a single car wash would save more water than two people buy in bottles each year. But here’s the kicker: A single steak dinner uses as much water as almost a lifetime (61½ years’ worth, to be exact) of drinking bottled water. Animal products use so much water mostly because of the inherent inefficiencies of growing hay or grain first, and then feeding it to the animals. Animals raised industrially (not on pasture) are even worse: It takes a lot of water to wash away all the poop that would otherwise just recharge the soil.
Imagine a scene in California: a lovely middle-aged couple having a steak dinner with two glasses of wine and a tomato salad.  And their table also has bottled water.  A typical environmentalist will point only to that bottled water as a crime against nature, when the reality is far from that.

As long as you are checking your "gut" regarding thinking, you might also want to check your real gut:
Since California’s agriculture uses 80 percent of the state’s water anyway, small changes in your diet can go a long way. And since a good chunk of the entire country’s food comes from California, that means you don’t have to be a local to make a difference.
Even if you are a vegetarian--good for your health and for the global environment--and are eating almonds and cheese from California, you have contributed to worsening the state's drought way more than a schmuck does drinking water that was bottled in the Golden State ;)


Ramesh said...

Wow. I would have never guessed that. That a single steak dinner actually consumes so much of water. You couldn't have picked a better example to illustrate the value of thinking and not to accept based on gut feel. Bravo.

The ice bucket challenge is really very silly. Ask your class - what medical problem was it trying to fund.

What on earth is a locavore. OK, I'll go and google it. Can I arouse the dormant grammar Nazi to object to using Google as a verb.

Sriram Khé said...

I agree with you that the ice-bucket thing is one of the silliest fundraising and awareness things ever because it seems to have done nothing to educate people about the awful disease. It is summer time fun activity, it seems to most people :( :(

As the ice-bucket news and photos started coming out, I had too google for it (the grammar Nazi approves that usage!) and then had that mental note of, "oh yeah, the Lou Gehrig Disease" ... Of course, most Americans would then go, "who is Lou Gehrig?" We humans display our stupidity and sheep mentality day in and day out :(

Meanwhile, a couple of days ago, I read that one of the co-founders of this ice-bucket fundraising idea drowned in a diving accident. He was not even 30. But, very little in the social media about that ... :(

nothing ever makes sense to me ... am getting too darn old!!! ;)

And my gut (paunch) is getting bigger :(

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