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Virtual Water Trade and Water Footprints
Alex Steffen, 22 Sep 06

When we manufacture goods, we embed energy in them: that is, their existance means we have already spent a certain amount of energy, no matter what we then do with them.

In a similar way, when we grow crops we are in a sense embedding water within them. If a kilo of wheat takes a thousand liters of water to grow from sowing to harvest, we can, seen from a certain light, think of that kilo of wheat as containing 1,000 liters of water.

When we consider how much water is embedded in the food we transport around the planet, it turns out that there is a massive trade in virtual water. The wetter regions of the world every year ship vast amounts of embedded water to the drier parts of the planet. This has gigantic ecological and geopolitical consequences, and as climate change intensifies, could be a trend which produces great friction.

One helpful concept? Thinking of our water footprints, which, like ecological footprints or carbon footprints, allow us to measure the ways in which our actions echo in the world -- in this case, how what we buy, use and eat influences the amount of water (both immediate and virtual) we consume.

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Amen. The huge water footprint of eating livestock is one of the many good environmental reasons to become a vegetarian. Thanks for pointing out the website - it's full of good talking points!

Posted by: Heidi Guenin on 21 Sep 06

I like that way of thinking. When I first learned the basics of ecology, I started thinking of every living thing as a translated package of sunlight. It really changed how I viewed the world.

This also reminds me of a recent incident: I was sitting in my bedroom doing nothing, and suddenly I thought, "Right now I'm doing nothing to harm any person or the environment." But then I thought of all the objects in my room, and their complex histories of production came alive in my mind.

Buying a product now involves participating in a complex web of production and consumption. The product is usually more well-traveled than the consumer. But this is all hidden: it's so easy to buy.

Posted by: Jess on 22 Sep 06

good idea
this virtual water

nice links
and thought provoking comments

does anyone know where i can get recordings of these kinds of ideas?
where can i request them?

i find the written word a little too solid
and visual representations filll up to much space...
i would rather have something more liquid
like verbal...

i would find it interesting to listen to a though experiment
not someone just telling me facts
but allowing me to reach my own conclusions

and the manner of the contributors here seems to embody that


Posted by: david on 23 Sep 06



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