Photos of the Week (December 26th)

Tropique Nord 2017 (Montréal).

I am sorry for the late post! I wish you all a very happy holiday.

Some Interesting Perspectives on Water Usage

In class this week, we had a long discussion about daily water usage. My profs, both being hydrologists, had quite a bit to say about the topic, and brought many interesting facts and questions to the table.

The main one being, how much water do you use per day? This website is a great way of seeing how much water your household uses. It is customizable by area and all the appliances that are used in the house, as well as their specific frequency/intensity of use. It also give great insight about which places your household can save water.

I was astonished to find out that one toilet flush uses between 5 and 20 L of water. It made me seriously consider trying to save some flushes here and there. Next, showering can take anywhere between 20 and 80 L, how crazy is that! This fact got me thinking about something I saw on Facebook the other week: The Smart Showerhead. It monitors how many liters of water you use in the shower and it notifies you with different colored lights. For instance, it turns green once you have used 10L, then purple after you’ve used 50L. It even connects to your smartphone, to keep track of all the water you use in all your showers.

Dishwashers only use about 4L per day (per person) whereas cooking and hand-washing dishes uses 25L per day per person. All that and other daily water uses, comes out to an average of 162L per day per person, and this is only direct water use. This means that all the water that went into growing, transporting and processing all the plants and animals that compose your daily diet is not included. Once this is included, daily water usage shoots up to 2000L per day.

       To add to this, the clothes you wear and leisure items that you use also use water. For instance, a pair of jeans takes 8000L of water to produce, 1L of beer takes 7L of water and 1 kg of paper takes 320L of water. There is literally water going into just about everything, which makes a lot of sense considering it is basically the universal solvent and the only substance found in liquid form on Earth other than Mercury. It is also the major constituent of living things and is composed of the most common element in the universe (hydrogen). It makes a ton of sense why this stuff is in everything. Which leads us to the question of how much of this should we concern ourselves with?

            To start off, if we are going to use things like clothing, computers and books were going to have use some water. The question here is how much is too much? I’ve looked around and there seems to be no clear indication of what is an “OK” amount to use, but the main idea in the literature is that whatever we are using, it needs to be reduced.

How do we reduce our water consumption? Of course it is impossible and unrealistic to consume no water other than drinking water, this is not the point I am trying to make. I’m getting more at the low-impact lifestyle. How to live a desirable life while making the lowest environmental impact possible. To start off, from this list,

hidden water use

eating meat appear to be the worst thing you can do when it comes to wasting water. Secondly, buying used clothes (or used-anything) will also lower your water footprint, as it eliminates some demand for new products, thus saving some water in manufacturing there. Thirdly, take shorter showers. No one really needs more than 5 minutes in there. As I mentioned last week, we must be willing to trade some element of convenience for the sake of leading more sustainable lifestyles. Lastly, have a beer and not a book (I hope you caught my sarcasm)!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trading Convenience for Sustainability

I don’t tend to boycott a lot of things, but one thing that I never allow myself to buy or use is plastic (non-reusable) water bottles. I sometimes feel the inconvenience of having to take up space in my school bag with my empty water bottle, or not having water then I’m really thirsty and not being able to buy one (because I won’t allow myself). This is just a small price to pay for saving water and landfill space, which is all promoting sustainability.

Disposable water bottles may be super convenient in our culture but are an enormous source of waste many ways. First of all, the production of one water bottle will use 3 times more water than it can actually hold. As if that isn’t wasteful enough, 30 million bottles end up in landfills or in the ocean every day. Yes you read that correctly, 30 MILLION EVERY DAY. On top of all that, the plastic in those bottles take 700 years before they even start to decompose in the landfill and the ones that end up in the ocean can seriously harm marine life. If you are still going to consume bottled water, the least you can do at that point is to recycle the bottle.

The concept of an edible water bottle is certainly interesting and could, in theory, be the next greatest innovation, but I don’t think world is ready for it just yet. From what I see in this video, I think we should stick to reusable water bottles for a little while longer. Don’t get me wrong, the concept has potential, I just think it needs some improvement before I would actually buy it. 

To start off, it’s really tiny! It appears to only be able to hold a few sips of water. You’d have to pack many of them to be able to hold as much as a regular sized reusable water bottle. Secondly, it looks pretty flimsy… I wouldn’t want to be carrying that around in my bag, I’d be too afraid it would just burst if it gets tossed around too much or accidentally squished. That would defeat the entire purpose. Lastly, it doesn’t seem all that practical. The girl in the video that drank from it spilled it everywhere. I’m all for trading in convenience for sustainability, but this just makes no sense. I think we should stick to normal reusable water bottles for now!

Back of the Envelope

I started this semester with what I would consider to be a very interesting class, but I couldn’t seem to make the connection between the goals of the course and the theme of this class.  It was three agonizing hours of “back of the envelope calculations”, which are rough calculations using common knowledge that can be done on the back of an envelope. I mean, sure, it’s interesting, but I don’t see how the rough calculation of how many dentists are in the Greater Montreal Area is relevant to Earth system modelling. 

There were some questions in our assignment that were quite striking. They addressed real-life environmental topics. The first was “how many pairs of shoes can be made with one cow?” My first instinct was to write “None. Make your shoes with something else” because I’m a strong believer in animal rights and veganism. But my classmates and I went ahead and somehow came up with answers ranging from 6 to 40 pairs. Regardless of what the real number is, just think about this: picture a cow and a class of 40 people. If they all had one pair of leather shoes, that’s (potentially more than) one cow. This means that to give everyone in Canada one pair of leather shoes, we would need at least 900 000 cows. I’m not trying to push my views on anyone, but just keep that image in your mind, and take into consideration that these shoes don’t last very long. 

The next question would have been incredibly interesting if I was allowed to do some research first, but we were only allowed to use our brains. It asked what area of watershed is required to meet the water needs of Montrealers. From what I know, the area of the island seems to be large enough. This assumes a yearly consumption of 300L of water and 40 cm of runoff, which in my opinion is on the low-end of consumption and the high-end of precipitation. Don’t be fooled by these numbers, because most of this water is not even usable because a lot of it is snow, or doesn’t fall in useful places. We are fortunate enough in Montreal that we have other water sources, but this does not mean that we should be careless with our water consumption. Here is a link to a list of over 100 ways that you can reduce your household’s water consumption. I cannot stress enough the extreme importance of depleting freshwater sources on Earth today. We should almost treat water as if it were gold or platinum; not expensive, but very precious.

This last question left me in a state of panic for a moment. It asked how long it would take for the livable surface of Earth to be covered in two metres thick of garbage. Just the thought of that actually happening was terrifying enough, but then I had to go ahead and attempt to estimate it. I started by looking at my own garbage production, imagining my daily waste sprawled out on the floor, and worked from there. I used a vague estimate of how many Canadas could fit into all the land on Earth since that’s the only country I roughly knew the area of. It came out to be 56 000 years. Although that may sound like a lot of time, that’s also an insane amount of garbage, meaning that that’s actually a very short amount of time. The rate at which we, in the developed world, produce waste is incredibly quick, hence why the term “overconsumption” is often used to describe our way of life.

I’m just about ready to go on a full-blown rant about overconsumption and deprivation on Earth, but I think I’ll save that for another post.

These back of the envelope calculations are simply fascinating, but after doing them, I really wish I could know the real answer! They really got me thinking about my own water consumption and waste production. Although I might think that it’s really not all that much, I now know that I should really consider the population as a whole having the same or similar impact. Just a small reduction from each person can have exponential results. I don’t live alone here on Earth, and neither do any of you. I’ll leave you with that, and all the above striking numbers up there in hopes that it will also get you thinking and consider your own consumption.