Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Thinking about water conservation

I frequently tune into "Talk of the Nation" on NPR and they had a great topic yesterday yesterday that really got me wondering where humanity seems to be headed. You can find the program that I listened to here. As many of you already know, the world hit a population of 7 billion earlier this year. To comprehend these numbers, here are some staggering facts:

1) It takes 1 liter of water to create 1 food calorie.

2) The recommended daily allowance of calories a person is supposed to eat falls between 1500 and 2000 calories a day.  So per person, that's 1500 to 2000 liters of water that goes into the food that sustains each person each day that the sun rises.

3) Multiply that by a little more than 7 billion, and that's how much water is consumed each day around the globe, and it's only getting worse.

And this doesn't even account for other things that need water (for example, animals need water as well).

There are already 12 major river systems in the world that do not reach the sea.

I'm not trying to be negative, but I think we're screwed. That seems unsustainable to me. I try to create as little of a carbon footprint as I can. But I guess when someone like me chooses to do so, there's another person on the other end of the spectrum (the Duggar lady of 20 Kids and Counting fame is just an example) that just keeps popping them out. Do you know how many resources a family with 20 kids consumes? I think it would be just mind-boggling.
A selfish, selfish, selfish family pictured here.
And you know what, despite the fact that she had a miscarriage last week, I don't feel sorry for her. Not one bit. I think she's beyond the point of ridiculous, and that she has only herself to blame.

It really makes me question the ethics of this country that we give celebrity status to a woman that has tons of kids.

What about you guys? Concerned at the population on an overcrowded planet? Or could you care less? Do you think that it's all a "liberal agenda" and that people should have the right to have as big a family as they want? Let me know in your comments.

ANNOUNCEMENTS for the blogosphere:

1) If you get the opportunity, please go visit Stephanie Schmidt's website to see her wonderful "The Twelve Days of Bookmas" that she did. She even decorated a book tree and rewrote the lyrics to 12 Days of Christmas to match the pictures she chose. The originality and time she spent on this was epic. Please go check it out.

2) Please join the Bah Humbug Blahg Fest hosted by author Patrick Dilloway. The rules are simple because Patrick likes simple.  On Thursday, December 15th post on your blog the answer to this brain-teasing question:

What are the 12 things I hate most about the holiday season?

By doing this and copying the badge featured on his website to your blog sidebar, you are entered in a drawing for $25.00. That's the easiest $25 I have ever seen.

Happy Tuesday.


  1. That is certainly a lot of consumed water. Good thing nature recycles our leftovers. Water pollution concerns me more than consumption, particularly oil spills.

    Come to think of it, our country gives celebrity status to just about anything, right? So long as no one's getting hurt, and if it makes them happy, super.

    To be honest, I can't imagine being happy with 20+ kids. Got my hands full with just two. :)

  2. That post of Steph's was truly a thing of beauty and well worth a look.

  3. I never did get why the media gushs over those Duggars. Can't they see she has a hoarding problem?

  4. I've got a similar rant sitting in my drafts folder. My conclusion is that our population is at an unsustainable level and will crash hard in the next 50 years or so.

    Well, I think it's possible to invent our way out of this, but I have my doubts that we will.

    Totally screwed.

  5. I'm not worried about our planet. I believe a higher power is in play. God? No, politics! It's called the Green Scare that uses fluffy science to market fear into us to do, buy, or not buy things. Sure, we should all be stewards of our environment, but ice ages and global warming happened waaaay before humans were here. I always think...hmmm? Who PROFITS when people are scared?

  6. We need World War III to thin out the population a little. But hey, when the global ice caps melt, think how much water there will be!

  7. I have a degree in Natural Resource Management (most depressing course of study ever), and yeah, we're screwed. I think that's why I write post-apocalyptic fiction. We are on an unsustainable trend line, and I'm afraid the planet is in for a serious correction...kind of like what happened to the economy. :(

  8. People are not good about self-imposing conservation, so I'm sure that government will be forced to legislate. Or we'll have some disaster that will take care of it. Well...that was mighty depressing.

  9. This is exactly why it's not a good idea to have your 13 year old do the dishes. Unless I'm constantly on him, he runs the water full blast FOR EVER! Grrr.

    The thing is, if everyone just did a little to conserve, it would make a big difference. But people are either too lazy or too apathetic, they think one person can't make a difference, so in the end, nothing happens.

  10. I'm sorry, but I think that this is utter bull crap, right along with the people who predicted massive food shortages due to overpopulation in the 10s and 20s and the proponents of eugenics who believed that the weak and sickly (as well as the Jews) were watering down the human race and pushing us closer to extinction.

    In evaluating these problems, we always tend to underestimate the power of human ingenuity. Case in point: after the predictions of massive famine in the 10s and 20s, we invented refrigeration; now, for the first time really in history, obesity is a major problem among the poor in the developed world. None of these problems you mention are fundamentally unsolvable; water is not a finite resource, but a cycle, and the surface of our world is +70% covered with the stuff.

    As for the ridiculous notion that people who have large families are somehow more "selfish" than those who don't, I would ask which path requires you to think more about other people and less about yourself: devoting your life to the care and raising of children, or living singly with no one to care for but yourself? And even if you take the macro view to justify your position, you're conveniently overlooking recent data on population and reproduction rates, which clearly show that the US population overall is shrinking. That trend has been true in other developed countries for quite some time, and as other countries become developed, it will probably become true for them as well.

    Point is, these problems are not as intractable as you make them out to be, and while pointing fingers at other people might give you some smug sense of moral superiority, it does nothing to bring us closer to a solution.

  11. I'm glad that the world is getting more "green." I think it is essential, but also important for people to jump more fully on the bandwagon. We need to be careful. Everyone is too worried about ease and comfort to think about what they're abusing and taking for granted.

  12. The world is most definitely headed for a crash. Look at any natural resource and we've used a large percentage of existing reserves in the last century.

    Water shouldn't be an issue because it is a renewable resource but unfortunately population growth is outstripping supply all over the globe. That's not the only issue. If you want to be depressed google "Ogallala Aquifer". If trends continue, the Great Plains may be headed for another dustbowl and America's breadbasket will be importing food in the next 50 years.

  13. @Joe: I'm not talking about U.S. population. I'm talking about world population. Where in my post did I say U.S. population? I'm well aware of population demographics. Not sure where the anger comes from Joe, but I think you should check it at the door.

  14. Years ago I started seriously conserving water when I saw a poster showing a photograph of Earth from space along with the caption: All the water we're ever going to have is already here. It really made me think. Thanks for your post.

  15. Water is going to be our most important resource in 50, 100, 10 years? I don't know when but I'm certain it will happen.

    As for children, they're a resource too. Without them we die out, too many of them and they die because their aren't enough resources. Like all things, it's about fimding balance.

  16. I do think the number of children is a very personal decision, that nobody should be able to legislate or restrict. But I also think this is a serious thing we're facing, and if there was a way we could regulate the water in an effective way even with the huge population, that would be the ideal.

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

  17. Have you seen Tapped? Yep, we're fucked.

  18. No kids here! We're doing our best to counter those people.

  19. I agree with Cindy. The Duggers have a serious hoarding problem. Time for Mr. Duggers to do the ol' snip snip!

  20. Don't even get me started on how LA is the cankersoar California (because while the rest of us are on water rationing, they steal more water and build more fountains and pools that waste water we don't have!) *ahem* David has the right idea with water polution vs consumption. China's floating garbage island in the Pacific springs to mind. As for that family, in this day and age it is selfish. Worse, it's wrong to hide behind the banner of religion as an excuse for not practicing what most religious authority figures suggest (family planning-don't have sex if you don't want another kid).

    Historically yes, her having that many kids would be seen as normal. But only because majority would not survive to reach age 5, even fewer age 10. And realistically? Only farmers had that many kids because you needed the free labor. Watching the older siblings have to look after the younger ones bothers me because they don't get to enjoy being adolescence which is a first-world luxury.

  21. I just want to speak up for Joe for a second. I believe he brought up U.S. population because of your caption under Mr. and Mrs. Duggar. I don't think he was exhibiting anger, but I do believe he is passionate about his take on the matter.

    And to be honest, I agree with his points.

    While I think it benefits everyone to make wise choices regarding the environment, etc., I also think it's a highly dangerous slope that ultimately benefits no one when we start targeting people and legislating "environmental morality." And I say this without any anger whatsoever, but in the spirit of giving you an honest response to the point you've brought up: in my eyes, your selfishness in looking down on those who bring life into the world is just as bad as their selfishness is to your eyes. You are passionate about this, and I respect you for it, but how can you justify your argument for wanting lives to be saved (present and future, human, animal, and plant) by, in the same breath, saying you are not sad that someone died? And as someone who's had two miscarriages, I can confidently tell you a human being died.

    And finally, I actually agree with you, too! :) I think it's sad we haven't been better stewards. We consume without restraint for our own pleasure. But I don't think legislation of any form will take away anyone's greed. Something serious has to happen for mindsets to change.

    Ah, sigh. I tend to get very long-winded. I'm sorry for that. I hope I didn't bore you too much. :)

  22. I don't really believe it's a population issue, either. I think with careful management and sustainabilty programs, we have the resources. More than enough resources. For instance, we have the abilty, now, to build up instead of out, thus increasing our usable land area, but we don't do that. Why don't we do that? No other reason than that people don't like it.

    But the real concern is developing nations like China and India with huge populations and the same sort of ideas we had about resources 100 years ago, that they were inexhaustible. They seem to think that it's "their turn now," and they can do whatever they want and use whatever they want. Of course, that's not really a fair view, because, as in the US, it's not really the average person that produces the most waste, it's the wealthiest individuals driving the production of waste.

    Well, I could go on... I just probably shouldn't.

    As a race, we need to decide to protect the environment. I think that's the real issue between the 1% and the 99%...

  23. Water issues. I could go on all day.

    Steph-in So. Cal. we are rationing water, too. I know that LA is taking water, but that's due to the population. I'm not saying it's right, but we all know that we have a water problem.

    As for the Duggars, I'm reminded of an argument that we once had in my critical writing class in college. It was a debate, and the girl's paper was about how we should all limit the number of children we have.

    Most of the class agreed with the girl, but there was one man (who was older than the rest of us) who argued the opposite view. Why couldn't he have as many children as he wanted? None of us got his argument then, but now I see. People want what they want, and no amount of reason will dissuade them from it.

  24. I'm not angry at all, but I disagree pretty strongly with your arguments here. Like others have mentioned, the problem is not necessarily overpopulation, but resource management, and to call anyone "selfish" for bringing children into this world is akin to saying that we need to forcibly sterilize the mentally handicapped in order to avoid "diluting" the human race.

    Eugenics was perhaps as widespread 100 years ago as these overpopulation and environmental concerns are today, yet we look back on eugenics with absolute horror today. It's not a one for one analogy, of course, but I wonder what people will think of how we face our crises today--both the real ones and the created ones--and whether they won't view us with equal abhorrence?

    To be sure, we need better resource management and a more environmentally conscious public policy, acknowledging the needs and rights of the developing world, but that hardly means that we should adopt a moral worldview that makes procreation a sin, or sterility a sacrament.

  25. You know who I feel bad for in that 20-kid family? The older kids. It's not humanly possible for the parents to raise that many children, so the teens & pre-teens get stuck with way more responsibility than I think is fair to dump on a kid.

    I don't think we should ever let the government regulate the creation of life, but I do think its disgusting for that family to exploit their children for TV money.

  26. @Joe: Thanks for clarifying. It is difficult to tell when someone is angry or not from text. It just "sounded" like you might be so I apologize that I misunderstood.

    You and I are obviously on different poles when it comes to opinion regarding politics, religion, and everything in-between. I respect that you disagree with my opinions. I find your viewpoint refreshing in the sense that it makes me think about what I've said. However it doesn't change my opinion.

    I come from the camp that having enormous families is selfish(looking at the world here and not the U.S. although I did single out Ms. Duggar-to be fair, she makes an easy target).

    That's my opinion. And calling someone selfish for continuously birthing out kids is in no way the same as advocating the sterilization of the mentally handicap just because you say that it is.

    My "disgust" which is again "opinion" at Ms. Duggar for the immense family she wants to have is more an argument of "Just because you can, doesn't mean that you always should." To elaborate, I think it is less like arguments for the sterilization of the mentally challenged and more like "if you could depopulate the ocean...just because you can...doesn't mean that you should."

    I think that the human race is on this world as a whole. Someday beyond my lifetime, I fear that people are going to come face-to-face with an ugly reality that there are simply too many people. I can see that you believe that this point will never be reached. That our planet can support maybe a population of 100 billion. From what I understand of the way things work, I think that this line of thinking is wrong. However, even though the United States' population is not even a factor, there are third world countries whose population is just out of control. I guess the NPR broadcast just kind of jerked me out of my world where I'm oblivious to thinking about these kinds of things and made me wonder where the human race is headed.

    The NPR broadcast was quick to point out that for the third world countries (Africa has many of these), there are enormous challenges and wide-spread starvation. Yes, science may help alleviate this issue by allowing water to count more per liter in producing food calories. But the world's population is a huge concern, and I fear that there will come a time when people will no longer be able to be oblivious to it. I'm just choosing to look at it now and be horrified by what I see. I'm sure that by this time tomorrow I will be thinking about something else.

    Thanks for stopping by. :)

  27. Eh. I don't care if people want to have a ton of kids, as long as they can manage to help them all feel well loved and cared for. Some people can do it well, and some people can't. I just know there isn't one of my kids I'd be willing to send back! BUT, I might try to not spend so long in the shower. :)

    And that was an amazingly perfect picture for this post!

  28. I've got three boys and can barely manage. I don't know how anyone manages more. There are a lot of programs in place here to conserve energy, especially water. We've been hit hard and there has been talk about closing our lake to surrounding states. It's tough.

  29. November's National Geographic has a depressing article on the magnificent Albertine Rift in Africa and how it's being destroyed by human overpopulation, since women there have an average of six children. As for that TV couple with the 20 kids - they remind me of what nurses I've known said about such couples: that God did not design us to have litters.

  30. I read recently about a country in Africa that does not have enough farming land for its people. The people want them to open up the game reserve parks for them to live on. I think their government should do that and also limit having children to two. They have an average of 6 children a family.

    Water will become a crisis and I think desalination is the answer. I know it is very expensive, but Saudi Arabia does it so why can't the U.S.? Maybe they can't, I don't know enough about it.

    As for having 20 children, I think it is very strange to keep wanting kids after you have 4 or 5. Some women only feel happy when they have a little baby in their arms. I've watched the show a few times and the family seems very happy, loving and well-adjusted, which in our culture is a bit rare. We could use more of these kinds of families.

  31. My point in comparing your statements with 20th century eugenics was to show that similar histeria to what was perceived to be a major world problem produced a solution that we now view as absolutely abhorrent. One hundred years from now, what will people think of our response to our current environmental crisis? Will we seem just as quaint and naive--and our misguided thinking equally abhorrent?

    Your reaction to the water problem reminds me of the peak oil / peak gas / peak _____ movement. Just google "collapse" or "Michael Ruppert" to learn more. Basically, from the way they've crunched the numbers, they've come to the conclusion that civilization is so dependent on non-renewable energy sources, and those sources are becoming so scarce, that human civilization is on the verge of an apocalyptic collapse, which will occur within at least the next ten years.

    Are they right? Call back in ten years, and I'll tell you. :) The numbers seem pretty sound, and perhaps they are. But when I started listening to their short term predictions--stuff that should have happened by now, especially their predictions related to the Deepwater Horizon spill--I realized that they were off base.

    It's the same thing with the people predicting massive famine after the worldwide population surpassed one billion, or the environmentalists in the 70s who predicted that the air would be unbreathable by now. These people are very good at projecting numbers and identifying problems, but they are very bad at foreseeing the eventual solutions to these problems.

    Every time we've faced a crisis of this kind, we've managed to come up with a technological solution that seemed impossible at that time, but which we now take for granted. The developing countries currently lack the infrastructure to implement many of these solutions, which is why they're mired in so many more problems than we are here in the developed world, but when they've managed to catch up, I'm sure most of these problems will be solved. And by then, the demographic transition model predicts that their populations will more or less level off; if and when that happens, our current fears of overpopulation will probably seem as quaint as the doomsday fears of 100+ years ago.

    I sincerely believe that there is enough and to spare. To the extent that resource depletion is a problem, it is a human problem, and as such has a human solution. It may mean altering our consumption patterns to be less wasteful, but I don't think for one moment that it requires the kind of moral shift against large families that you seem to advocate.

    Of course, we will probably have to agree to disagree, which is fine. I could frankly care less what you think of the size of my future family, and I'm sure you don't care at all what I think of your lifestyle. If we can agree that that's our own business, then I'm sure we can continue to have an interesting discussion in the meantime.

    Also, this might be of interest:

    The Sagan Series (part 7) -- The Long Astronomical Perspective

    Take care.

  32. Egad, we're in trouble!!!!!! I am super concerned, Michael. These women who just keep having kids are just a little crazy. I can think of a few in particular who do it just for the celebrity status, as you stated. The reality TV stuff. It's preposterous.

    We're sunk. You know that?

    I'll go over to Stephanie's place now.

  33. Whether or not I get upset about it or scream and shout, write my congressman, worry until I die about it, the world will continue revolving and people will continue mating and making babies. Food and rice are available to even the hungriest children but getting it to their mouth is another story. Besides prayer there is the extremely radical idea of education and since sex and birth control are part of the curriculum, it all becomes a very heated issue. I think it is great that you reflect on these things in your post, but are people who have 20 kids your followers?

  34. I'm funny about my personal conservation efforts. I'm pretty aware of my personal footprint. My husband makes fun of me. I don't like buying plastic and I recycle practically everything. I need to take a closer look at my water usage though. Thanks for the reminder.

    I think I want to do the blogfest I have to check it out. Thanks for sharing.

  35. Wow. That's pretty harsh. You don't feel any sympathy at all for that Duggar lady that miscarried? I think that's a very cold and inhumane way of thinking.

    Life is precious. Just because you disagree with someone's decision to have a HUGE family doesn't mean each life is less important.

    Whether a woman miscarries child #1 or child #20-something doesn't lessen the tragedy in that.

    Now me personally, I could NOT imagine having such a gigantic family. But they are not dependent on the government to feed their kids. They are completely independent and provide for their platoon just fine, apparently.

    Even if a woman was popping out babies just to stay on welfare...I would still feel bad if she had a miscarriage. Life is life, man.

    I think if you had your own child, you might change your tune about such things. If not, then maybe it's a good thing if you decide not to have kids.

  36. for the most part, i agree, mike... just your figures on consumption by the 7 B+ bipeds on this planet is painfully flawed... half of that 7 do NOT eat daily meals, and half of the remaining half, literally, are starving... :(

    sad, like lennon said in his song: and so this is christmas...

  37. I can't imagine why anyone would want that many kids. I feel bad for their kids because they aren't going to get the attention kids need. But I'm also not a fan of putting limits on how many children people have either.

  38. @Jay: I'm willing to bet you didn't even know about Duggar lady before I brought it up. Your "noble" sympathies are worth squat. Did you send her a letter? Did you go to the Learning Channel and express your condolences? Did you send her money?

    My guess is you did none of the above. That's called not giving a shit. The difference between me and you is that I have the guts to come here and say I have no sympathy and don't care.

    Go sell your crazy someplace else. We're all stocked up here.

  39. Wow. Sometimes I can't wrap my brain around the idea that Americans really don't believe in global warming (even though I work with someone who doesn't believe in it and would have written the same kind of comments that are here). And then I read this stuff... Global warming is a hoax, Water shortages are just about careful management? You might be able to make that argument here in the States because we do have certain cities who hoard the water (Denver is pretty bad about taking the water that should be going to farmers on the plains) but in many parts of the world there are water and food shortages that are caused because of the weather... ahem! global chaos (also known as Global warming- but that is too trite a word for it). And there won't be more drinking water just because the ice caps are melting. That would be ocean water- undrinkable unless you spend a lot of money purifying it. And most of the world population who need the water can't afford it. Meanwhile, we drink bottled water because the water from the tap is not good enough. And the poverty stricken in the rest of the world drink contaminated water because they can't afford to pay for the water that the wealthy in their community gets. (Rayna posts on the water problems in India over at Coffee Rings Everywhere) Ugh.

    We are so screwed. (Those kind of comments are the most sensible on the thread.)

    And I do not feel sorry for that horrible couple. The one they lost is the fortunate one while the others are... media freaks... talk show fodder. It's sickening. The parents should be flogged.