Monday, January 9, 2012

Energy Use Sucking Up a Precious Resource

                                                          Illustration: John Shakespeare
If you enjoyed a cup of coffee this morning, it might interest you to know it took 140 liters of water to produce that cup. Such a simple but profound equation.

It is strange, strange, strange that when it comes to the most important subject on the planet, the basis of all life - water - governments, international agencies, economists, scientists and businesses have consistently underestimated the growth in global demand, and the growing stress on supply.

It's the biggest story in the world, yet mostly what we talk about is money: debt, growth, superannuation, savings, stockmarkets, gross national product, housing prices, wages.
Australia's future growth is predicated on the expectation that China and India will continue to emerge as economic behemoths. But the explosion in energy use on which Australia's current boom is based is accelerating the water debt in both China and India.

The link between energy and water is rarely discussed, yet is of huge consequence. The problem was encapsulated in Steven Salomon's book, Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power and Civilization (2010). He later updated the dilemma in the Journal of Energy Security:

''Pumping, conveying, and treating water is extremely energy-intensive. Water is very heavy - 20 per cent more than oil - and massive volumes are required to sustain modern society . . . each day every person living in an industrialized nation personally consumes about [US]1000 gallons [3785 liters] embedded in the food we eat . . . ''

Think of that cup of coffee and its 140 liters. Or a single steak, which requires almost 10,000 liters of water to produce.

Solomon continues: ''While the 13-fold increase in energy use in the 20th century is often heralded as the signature factor in the unprecedented prosperity of a world population that has quadrupled to over 6 billion, it has been accompanied and also leveraged by a nine-fold increase in freshwater use 

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