Your Water Footprint, by Author (Hardcover, 2014)|
(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you
want a hardcopy)
Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.
This book will help you think about your stewardship of water. Not just how
you use what comes out of the faucet, but also what gets used to make the
products you buy. For that reason, I think it's important to read this book.
Though the text runs 120 pages, this book is a quick read because it's very
graphics-heavy. A typical page has about 100 words on it, so except for the
introduction and the conclusion the actual text length is less than that of a
normal-sized magazine article.
The subtitle promises shocking facts, but it's unclear from the text or
the graphics where the author gets these from. I think it is best to use his
"facts" as starting points and conduct your own additional research.
In some cases, his facts are technically false but mostly right. For
example, he claims that the earth has no more water than when the dinosaurs
roamed, as if the planet were a closed system. The reality is the earth is
not a closed system, and it has taken on additional water since the
dinosaurs roamed. Astronomers have proven this beyond all doubt, and anyone
who has watched a "falling star" has probably seen a water-bearing comet
plunging to earth. Granted, this much water is not going to replenish our
drying aquifers or other sources of fresh water, but the fact remains we do
not have exactly the same amount of water on this planet as we did 30
million years ago.
In other cases, he presents "secret recipe" numbers that we are to accept
by faith. For example, he claims that producing one cotton shirt requires
2500 liters of water but producing one polyester shirt requires only 350
liters. How does he arrive at this figure? He does say in the introduction
that these calculations might not be spot on, but in no case does he reveal
his mysterious methodology. Since polyester is made from oil, and acquiring
oil is very water-intensive, these figures cannot possibly be correct.
Factor in something as water-costly as shale oil production or fracking
(which the author covers), and the relationship is profoundly reversed. That
polyester shirt is a water hog, compared to the cotton one.
And it's worth noting that the cotton versus polyester thing is a false
comparison in the first place. Polyester clothing stinks, which means people
who wear it are likely to try to cover up the smell with water-consuming
perfumes that are also toxic (promoting water-costly treatments for the
illnesses resulting from taxing the liver with removing these toxins). I
won't wear polyester, but not just because of the smell. In the electrical
industry, it's a forbidden fabric because it melts so fast and when it melts
it melts into the skin not just on it; the burns are horrific.
It's also worth noting that he does not factor in the total (water) cost
of ownership. If you properly care for a cotton shirt, it should last for
decades. That is, use a non-abrasive detergent, use a fraction of the amount
of detergent the bottle says to use (this not only prolongs the life of the
fabric, it gets it cleaner), and don't completely dry it in a clothes dryer.
This holds true for all natural fabrics, but cotton is a prime example. I've
got cotton sheets that are over thirty years old and I have T-shirts that
show no visible wear after twenty. Polyester, by contrast, starts pilling
almost right away. And it looks tacky. I consider "polyester clothing" to be
an oxymoron. But if you choose polyester, you are going to buy many
replacements that would not be required if you chose cotton. So the water
cost of polyester far outstrips that of cotton; this is exactly the opposite
of the false conclusion the author reaches.
Based on what I just said plus some other reasons, you have to take this
book's "facts" and figures with a few grains of salt. In some cases, they
give a totally misleading picture, as in the example just cited. In other
cases, there is so much statistical deviation permitted by or inherent in
the calculations that it doesn't matter which of two choices you make. For
example, whether you eat an orange or a grapefruit will hardly matter in
terms of water cost.
But in other cases, it matters greatly. These cases are easy to discern.
For example, eating meat. I have no idea why anyone in the United States
continues to do this, considering how contaminated the meat supply is. I
don't eat meat, wheat, corn, or soy, because these formerly safe foods are
now very health-averse junk unfit for human consumption. Still, there are
people who engage in this unhealthy behavior. It's not just unhealthy for
the individual, it is also very water-costly.
Another example is the stupidity of running water while grooming. I have
never understood why some people cannot figure out how to operate a faucet
more than twice in a given period of standing in front of a sink. What is so
challenging about turning it off after wetting your beard, then turning it
back on (then off) only to rinse the razor a few times and then turning it
on (then off) to rinse your face? The amount of waste is staggering. This
book contains many such examples, and regardless of the water use
calculation methodology, these examples point the way to significantly less
As a side note, I'm all over this already. My latest water bill showed
usage that is 1/3 that of a "moderate user." One glaring way I "waste" water
is I do organic gardening; else I'd be farther below that "moderate" line.
Kansas summers are notoriously hot and dry. We actually get hotter than
southern Florida, and many days the humidity runs about 15%. Plus there's a
desiccating wind. I'm particular about how I water, to get the most benefit
for my garden from the least water. I also wash my car, but again I use a
methodology that minimizes water waste. In addition, I use a four-step
sealing method to protect the paint and enhance the shine. Even years after
it rolled off the dealer lot, the car outshines a brand new one. The author
doesn't discuss how much water is consumed repainting or replacing a car
whose exterior has not been properly maintained.
Still, his core points are valid. We use far too much water, we could
easily reduce the waste with some knowledge (which he provides) and some
self-discipline. We won't solve the water shortage as long as many humans
confuse themselves with rabbits and thus continue to overbreed and
overpopulate the planet. But making smart choices can extend the water we do
have, forestalling the day when we are simply out of potable water.
One big step is to advocate to others that they boycott bottled water.
Not only is this product extremely wasteful (as the author points out),
buying it (nearly always) defies common sense for a list of reasons. Worse,
companies like Nestle basically steal the water that they bottle and sell.
Read up on the not so famous case in Wisconsin, which involved buying a
superior court judge to overturn the legally correct and morally imperative
decision of a lower court judge. When you buy bottled water, you support
The author provides a handy guide to other steps, most of which are very
easy to take, in his eight-page water-saving tips section. He arranged the
tips by bathroom, kitchen and laundry, outdoors, and lifestyle.
While this book lacks the kind of academic rigor that would make it a
solid work, it addresses one of the most important issues of our day. It
provides keen insights and it provides helpful suggestions that all of us
can follow to help save this very precious resource.