California’s Drought Teaches Valuable Lessons about Water Use

Dining out in an Italian restaurant in California, you can probably expect to have a basket of fresh bread brought to your table within 15 minutes of being seated, as in most of the United States. If you’re waiting for a glass of water, though, you’re out of luck. In light of the state’s ongoing water shortage, California has passed a new series of water conservation measures which include a rule that prohibits restaurants from automatically serving drinking water. Patrons must now order a glass of water just as they would any other beverage, although they still get to enjoy the fact that it is free of charge.

Serve chilled.

Frankly, I find this directive a lot more sensible than the custom of immediately bringing water to people who might not even want it. I’ve long been frustrated by the way water gets treated as dispensable in dining establishments (as much as anywhere else). Just in January, I was at brunch with a friend in a restaurant that leaves water pitchers on the table to allow diners to refill their glasses at their leisure. When the waiter came to take our check after our meal, however, he instinctively grabbed my glass and filled it to the brim! I was shocked by the absurdity of it. Did he think I wanted to gulp down another 8 ounces just as I was preparing to leave? I doubt so. Rather, he just wanted to do his job: providing me with food and drink.

Restaurants train waiters to constantly refill glasses that have barely been sipped so as to impress their customers. Providing patrons with something before they even ask for it is supposed to demonstrate that the staff care about their clientele, know what it wants, and have means to supply it. However, there are plenty of eateries that don’t instantly offer water, and that’s probably because most of the appreciation on the customer’s part is subconscious. No rational person would criticize a restaurant for not providing water upon arrival. In other words, the practice is wholly unwarranted. It is a prime example of instant gratification at the hand of abundance – well, perceived abundance, considering that less than 1% of the Earth’s freshwater is actually available.

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While most Americans don’t pay much attention to their freshwater use, severe water shortages have forced states like California and Colorado to face the finiteness of their water supplies. California’s other water-conservation measures include limiting outdoor watering to twice a week and requiring hotel guests to ask to have their linens and towels washed, and farmers are even expecting to have to leave up to a million acres unplanted this year. My hope is that learning about these extremes will make Americans a little more mindful about their daily water use.

Next time a waiter tries to top off your glass, feel free to decline!

Eva

No Honey. No Money.

honeybee.saynotofoodwaste.sustainable.agriculture.food.foodsecurity.hunger.happy.share.donate.giveThe state of California is facing blows from all imaginable sides. It’s experiencing a historic drought. It even created a new ‘water police’ force to fine residents up to $500 for excessively washing lawns or washing cars without a shut off nozzle. The increased need for water conservation caught the eye of Lady Gaga. She recently filmed a public service announcement (PSA) to promote the Save Our Water campaign, which informs locals of the state’s emergency situation.

Unfortunately, declining water leads to declining crops. In fact, the Wall Street Journal estimates that this year’s drought will lead to a $2.2 billion profit loss in California’s agriculture industry and cut 3.8% of its farm jobs. Since farming requires a lot of water, the supplies of which are drying up, farmers are planting less crops. This means they also need fewer honeybees to pollinate their fields.

beesHoneybees are the heart of agriculture. They pollinate 30% of the world’s crops and help 90% of wild plants thrive. But 1/3 of the USA honeybee population vanished due to increased use of pesticides, habitat loss, climate change and parasites. The terrible news is that decreased pollination leads to decreased food production. Bees pollinate 70 of the top 100 most consumed food crops, which provides nutrition to about 90% of the globe. And as bee populations decline, so does the production of honey, leaving many bee keepers without much money.

The troubles in California serve as an example of what awaits other states as fresh water reserves decline and food production costs rise.

Written by
Hokuma

IceBucket Fun or Insanity?

ice water challenge.als.bucket.icewaterbucketchallenge.saynotofoodwaste.foodwaste.sustainable.water.ice.nature.preserve.conserve.IceBucket, one word and you know what I mean. Big names, small names, almost all of us know someone who has done it or been nominated. Maybe you yourself just completed the challenge, plan to do it soon or are waiting eagerly to be called on. Either way, today’s blog is worth a read.

If you’re still not familiar with what’s going on then let me explain. The internet is buzzing with the word ALS, and the hashtag #icebucketchallenge is popping up everywhere. If you get nominated to do this challenge you have two choices: either get a bucket of ice water dumped on your head or donate $100 (more if you wish) to the ALS fund.

inafrica.als.icewaterbucketchallenge.icewater.saynotofoodwaste.sustainable.environment.health.helpALS is a motor neuron disease that affects your ability to control your muscles and eventually leaves you paralyzed. The most famous individual with this disease is most likely Stephen Hawking, a genius who explored and explained the existence of black holes in the universe.

If you ask whether the challenge has been successful you might receive two responses: yes and no. Those who answer YES will tell you that the challenge has increased awareness and helped donate $31.5 million to the fund. Those who say NO sight the psychological phenomenon (moral licensing) which explains why after donating money to one charity individuals are less likely to donate to another. Also, they say that while the challenge looks fun, it really wastes a lot of water! One image that usually accompanies this can be found above.

The fact of the matter is, without accurately calculating the amount of water used by each individual in this challenge, we are not able to give the exact amount of water wasted. Yet, one person on reddit.com estimates that it’s about 15 million liters of water.

Screen shot 2014-08-20 at 10.16.09 AMMy point is, whether you consider a bucket of ice water dumped on someone’s head as a waste or not, the truth of the matter is that we use water on a daily basis. Whether washing our teeth, taking a shower, eating breakfast, or even wearing clothes, we need water. Heck, even our bodies are made of 70% water! So, water is technically us, and wasting it means wasting a part of us.

Since you can’t manage what you can’t measure, then I suggest you download this awesome new app that allows you to calculate how much water you use on a daily basis. The idea is brilliant and completely innovative! There are no other apps on the market that let you calculate your daily water footprint! And since only 1% (or less) of fresh drinking water is available for our consumption, maybe this precious resource should be left alone? What do you think?

Look forward to hearing from you!
Hokuma

The Onion Craze

Try cutting an onion without shedding a tear and you will do something that is almost impossible. In the recent weeks Indians have been trying to hold back their tears while looking at rising onion prices.

Because of bad weather conditions for cultivation onion production declined and caused a spike in market values. The regular market price of a kilogram of onions has been 100 Rs/kg. So when Groupon in India unveiled an unimaginable deal, only 9 Rs/kg for onions, the Internet went crazy. 17,065 users flocked to the website and bought over 8,000 kilograms of onions. About 3,000 kilograms were bought in just 44 minutes.

Screen Shot 2013-09-12 at 11.05.48 AMThe chief executive of Groupon in India, Aknur Warikoo, said that he wanted to sell onions at a price most people have forgotten about and he achieved his goal. The last time this treasured vegetable in Indian cuisine sold for this price was in 1999. The ‘too good to be true’ deal created so much frenzy that it crashed the website for about 10 minutes. Those who managed to buy the deal before it sold out were definitely happy customers. They could finally use onions in quantities their traditional recipes called for and serve the dishes on their family tables.

Although this might be the first time that onions have been sold on the company website, it definitely won’t be the last. Considering changing weather patterns, rising food prices and demand on good deals Groupon might have found a new niche for selling discounted produce to their customers.

And while such deals can help alleviate certain problem temporarily they can’t help build a strong agriculture for the future. This is why we need to rely on the swift and intelligent actions of the government to create laws that take into consideration rising temperatures, droughts, depleting resources and a stronger focus on local food production. This will help strengthen small neighborhoods, create jobs and ensure that good food isn’t wasted due to long transport hours and conditions. If the government fails to address our agricultural future then maybe one day Groupon will become our number online supermarket.

Written by Hokuma Karimova

Preparing for the Drought

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Did you know that droughts are the leading cause of human death and displacement? Droughts are the worst natural hazard beingfaced by humans as they cause more damage than cyclones, floods and earthquakes combined. Want to know how many countries have a formal national drought policy to address this problem? Answer, just one.

Yes, Australia is the only country in the world that has a policy to help the country plan for a future with drought. The importance of having a policy stems from the fact that while political parties change, a policy is something all members in power must abide by. Without a policy most political parties create plans that change depending on who is in office.

This boils down to one thing, most countries are currently operating on a reactive basis, meaning they wait for a drought to take hold before addressing its side effects. This reaction-based strategy will not be sufficient enough to help prevent or slow down future disasters caused by drought. Especially in our volatile world where thanks to globalisation all countries feel the shock of a neighbour or political ally.

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To address this little glitch, the UN helped organise the High-Level Meeting on National Drought Policy in Geneva from March 11-15th. The outcome of this meeting was a lot of idea sharing, urging for action and emphasising the need for  emergency relief plans. In summary, a lot of talk but nothing specific. To view this 3 page Final Declaration click here.

While it is great to see that steps are being taken to address drought and nations are starting to think of drought relief road maps, more proactive steps are necessary. Especially since UN predicts that dry areas will get drier and wet areas will get wetter in our near future, which should cause lots of negative impacts on our global food system. To see all the global areas currently being affected by drought check out the UCL Global Drought Monitor.