Guest opinion: Water-short world needs plant-based diet

2013-09-23T00:00:00Z Guest opinion: Water-short world needs plant-based dietBy Alison H. Jones Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

There is not enough water. Supplies are decreasing due to drought conditions and demand is increasing.

We must do more with less. Those of us in the desert Southwest read about it every day. But this problem does not affect only desert dwellers. I believe Ismael Serageldin (former vice president for Sustainable Development at the World Bank) was prescient in 1995 when he stated, “Many of the wars this century were about oil, but those of the next century will be over water.”

The solutions proposed by most of today’s experts are expensive. Desalination uses incredible amounts of energy and results in a waste stream that poses disposal problems. Pumping water through a pipeline uses energy, and it may result in a shortage at the supply end. Conservation measures, including water recycling, xeriscaping and rainwater harvesting, are largely “feel good” measures because they don’t address our biggest water user — agriculture.

There is a simple, elegant and inexpensive way to reduce water consumption. It is something we can all do — starting today. Adopt a plant-based diet. The Stockholm Water Institute has gone on record saying that worldwide adoption of a plant-based diet may be the only way to avoid massive food shortages during the next 40 years.

I agree.

Consider the facts and do the math:

About half of the water and one-third of the world’s arable land are used for raising crops to feed livestock.

Animal-protein diets require five to 10 times more water than a plant-based diet.

Demand is increasing. The world population is expected to reach 9 billion by the year 2050.

Consider the benefits of plant-based diets as bonuses: significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from livestock, reductions in groundwater contamination from feedlots, and health benefits that have been well-documented by studies such as “The China Study” by Dr. T. Colin Campbell.

Changing to a plant-based diet is simple, but it won’t be easy. Those who raise livestock will need to change their businesses, and they might need help doing it. But if we can bail out bankers and automobile companies, we can bail out livestock farmers.

We scientists love studying problems. The Colorado River watershed, the Ogallala aquifer and other water resources have been studied to death. At some point, studies become a mechanism to avoid doing something hard: implementing change. In my opinion, any serious water policy expert who does not include plant-based diets in the discussion (and most of them do not) is neglecting the most effective, and possibly the only realistic, solution to the worldwide water shortage.

Alison H. Jones, a registered geologist in Arizona, is a senior hydrogeologist at the Tucson office of Clear Creek Associates. She serves as president of the Arizona Geological Society.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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