Tag Archives: water depletion

Assembly Bill 376, Shark Fins, and You

This is a bizarre story that connects the dots between three choices: food, behavior, and legislature. And, it begins with the demand for shark fin soup, weaving its way through indifference and lands on the table of a politician who, along with increasing public awareness on this subject, can begin to heal a wound. Although we are not discussing a cuddly animal like the Koala or baby seal, we are talking about another living thing on earth that is in trouble. And we are directly implicated in its demise. Worldwide, 73 million sharks are killed each year, which is causing nearly one third of all shark species to become seriously endangered and on the edge of extinction. How are we able to justify the killing of 73 million sharks or any other species?

The IUCN Red List concludes that 65% of the 181 shark species are threatened.  Most of the 73 million sharks slaughtered each year are due to a growing demand for shark fin soup although an unknown but nearly as high amount are also killed each year as bykill and simply out of hostility against the species by fishermen. The fin itself is of no nutritional value, tasteless, and is considered more of a garnish, a byproduct of cultural influence, which renders the soup as a food of celebration here and abroad. The usual method of killing all these sharks, “shark finning”, is by catching them, slicing their fin and tails off and then throwing the bleeding body overboard, still alive and unable to swim. I am always deeply saddened to learn of just one more of the many thoughtless and barbaric acts that we humans carry out under the guise of food.

Although shark finning is illegal in the U.S. and at least 60 other countries, monitoring and enforcement of the ban is essentially non-existent.
As predators, sharks have a responsibility and a position in the web of sea life.  From the oxygen producing phytoplankton through all other layers and species of life to the top of the chain, all species have unique and vital roles to play in maintaining the health of our planet. There is strong consensus among researchers that they only understand a fraction of the vast nature of sea life and by killing off an entire species, especially sharks, a ‘cascading’ effect will occur, changing forever the balance of ecosystems and production of oxygen.  Sharks have been on Earth for more than 400 million years, at the top of the oceanic food chain and with self-regulatory mechanisms for their own population numbers. For all those millions of years, nature has had a divine way of creating balance in all ecosystems. In the past 100 years, however, we have decided that within each of our own individualized and very brief few decades of life on this earth, all of the planet’s resources are apparently ours to take. This is, of course, irrespective of the effect on all other complex and intertwining ecosystems—or the effect on future generations of life on earth. And this approach, in its entirety, is generated by our inappropriate choice of foods. It may be considered a ‘sport’ or livelihood or even as gruesome entertainment by some, but the act of shark finning and fishing of all types, on all levels, is typically undertaken because of what we decide to eat and it is not a requirement. What a shame, considering there are an infinite amount of healthier and more peaceful alternatives from plant-based foods. There is an obvious need to increase global awareness of this terrible plight of sharks, just one more aspect of Global Depletion. We must spread the word regarding their unnecessary destruction and help Defenders of Wildlife and other organizations with their campaign on behalf of sharks, our oceans, our planet, and ourselves. Get involved, sign the petition below directed at Governor Jerry Brown of California for Assembly Bill 376. If it fails, as did the review process for granting endangered species status for the Blue Fin Tuna, then we need to begin this, or another process all over again, until we get it right. Let’s make a difference. It is our inherent duty.

Let Jerry Brown know you care:

http://www.therainforestsite.com/clickToGive/campaign.faces?siteId=4&campaign=DOW-SharkFinning&ThirdPartyClicks=ETE_061111_DOW-SharkFinning_F

And, become more aware:

http://www.sharkwater.com/education.htm

http://www.seashepherd.org/sharks/

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Water: Escalating Concerns

The most pressing issue that we have today regarding sustaining our life and future life on earth involves water. Are we being stewards for those generations following us?

Since the Second World Water Forum in 2000, a few organizations such as the United Nations Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation have made it quite clear that there is a rapidly expanding gap between the demand for water and our supply. By 2030, worldwide demand is expected to be 40% more than it is today. Although there are regional variations in urgency and stress, water scarcity is already a reality in many parts of the world. And, because of the comprehensive global extent, the demand-supply gap needs to be recognized and measures to solve it undertaken immediately. Yes, there is a problem of how little fresh water there is on earth, but the more urgent concern should be how we currently use and manage it. With air and land, water should be considered our most precious resource. As such, it should be cared for with future generations in mind.

There are, indeed, concerns voiced by many organizations that we are reaching a pivotal point regarding use of resources with our activities on earth. However, contrary to common belief, I feel it will not be overpopulation, an economic disaster, running out of fossil fuels, or climate change—but rather lack of water that will be the turning point. Why? Because we have used and continue to abuse fresh water as if it is a renewable resource and infinite in quantity. It is not.

While there is a gap between water demand and the ability to provide a truly sustainable supply, there is a much larger disparity between what needs to be done to close that gap and what is actually being accomplished.

Freshwater resources are scarce—just 2.5 percent of all water on earth, and 70 percent of that is locked in glaciers, snow, and the atmosphere. This leaves accessible fresh water at less than 1 percent. While some water is replenished through the natural evaporation/precipitation cycle, much is gathered from underground aquifers or surface water, such as rivers and streams.  Many aquifers are being drawn down at rates as high as 250 times their ability to recharge. With surface water sources, there are already heated debates and arguments between those areas and countries using upstream water systems and the effects on those reliant on the very same waterways downstream. Diversion, use for industries and energy, and pollution all affect surface water sources globally. At 93% of total global water consumption, the largest sector using our freshwater, however, is agriculture—with nearly 50% of all water use being taken up by livestock. Once again—50% of all the water used on earth is given to the animals raised and then killed for you to eat. How much do we use for our own drinking purposes? Less than 1% of all water consumed annually.

There are 70 billion animals raised and killed each year on earth. They all require water. A few billion of these animals need up to 30 gallons per day—that’s over 100 times what we, as individuals, need to consume daily. Many sources have calculated that it requires, on average, 2,500 gallons to produce just one pound of beef, with the average American consuming 250 to 300 pounds of meat each year. It needs to be kept in mind that while irrigation is responsible for the majority of global water use, it is the irrigation of crops and drinking water that are both given directly to livestock that is the problem. If, for example, the food we all chose to eat on earth were plant-based, livestock would be taken out of the equation and only a fraction of the water normally used for producing meat would than be needed (1/200 on average, if irrigation was needed at all). Choosing to eat only plant-based foods would essentially omit the middle step in our current inefficient system that uses the vast majority of our fresh water on earth to provide sustenance for animals that we then turn around and eat. Doesn’t make much sense. Timely correction of this vastly archaic agricultural system obviously needs to be at the very center of any global water management strategy.

To be sure, globally we face many varied challenges with water management, and not all related to food choice. For instance China has, and will continue to have, a significant water quality issue with their rapid growth of its use in industry. Still, China also has the largest rate of increase in beef consumption, which will continue to implicate them, as well as all other developed countries such as the U.S., in water waste. India and many African countries, with 90% water usage going to a less industrialized agriculture, can close the water demand-supply gap significantly simply by implementing water saving measures with improved irrigation, soil preservation and fertility techniques, and reduction of inefficient use of water if it is given to livestock or feedcrops. However, similar to our greenhouse gas emission issues with livestock contributing 20%, the very best method for management of our water scarcity problem is to simply eliminate the largest and most unnecessary contributor—livestock.

I believe that there should be economic policies established immediately based on water use. Previous and current mentality has been business as usual and it is demand based—meaning, where there is any increase in ‘need’ or demand for water, it is met with problem solving to provide more (i.e. desalinization, deeper wells, diversion or “borrow” from nearby surface water). A prime example is where there is now recognition of a serious potential water shortage in the Great Plain States due to the massive depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer. The proposed solution is to engineer a pipeline to ‘borrow’ water from the Great Lakes, hundreds of miles away. This, then, would be the “solution”, knowing that the vast majority (trillions of gallons) of irreplaceable water is being pumped from this Ice Age water source each year to give to livestock rather than to simply not use it for this purpose.

We need to reduce demand by recognizing those sectors using the most water and establish parameters and economic incentives to minimize consumption. This could be accomplished with water being one of the components of an “eco-tax” that I propose in my book “Comfortably Unaware”. If the vast amounts of water used for raising and slaughtering livestock were taxed appropriately (proportionate to total global use and value based on ability to renew the resource) and had to be paid for by producers and consumers, we would be well on our way to solving the water scarcity problem.

Now, a final note about grass-fed or pastured livestock.

Remember, the water currently used to support our livestock industry is not sustainable—why would that change with animals raised on pasture? It really wouldn’t. There is still the enormous drain on our water supply by the slaughtering and transfer processes requiring as much as another 400 to 500 gallons per cow. And the proponents of this must think that the animals, if free ranging, will mysteriously not need to drink the same outrageous thousands of gallons of water per animal per year. If anything, the amount would most likely be increased because of the higher activity level of each cow or pig, and they need to live longer to achieve the appropriate weight gain prior to slaughter. All of this water will need to come from somewhere—aquifers or surface water (lakes, ponds, rivers, streams). Whether the animals are grass-fed or not, this is water that could be used directly for human consumption or to produce foods more efficiently such as plant based foods. We know that it requires on average 2,500 but up to 5,000 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef (650–1000 gallons per burger). If this figure is adjusted to reflect pasture only that is being fed to the livestock, it will still require 21,000–22,000 gallons over a 24-month period to raise just one cow. That amount of water is the equivalent of a person taking a five-minute shower each and every day for 6.7 years.

Fifty years ago, who would have thought we would ever run out of fresh water on earth? No one. In fact, very few today give water a thought, especially to the trillions of gallons irreversibly given to animals we raise each year to then slaughter and eat—and, that is precisely why we have a problem.

More perspectives on how our choice of foods effect global water depletion can be found in Chapter VI of “Comfortably Unaware.”