Even though water scarcity is probably among the top of our list of 21st century worries, few people stress about it unless directly lacking a safe source of ample water.
World Water Day — this year landing on Sunday, March 22 — aims to raise awareness, especially among those who do not try to do enough to decrease their everyday usage. Here is a good example: The average American, taking a 5-minute shower, uses more water than an average person in the slums of a developing country in a whole day; and a 5-minute shower is on the short end for most people.
More dramatically, the U.S. uses more water in a day than oil in a year. A tragic statistic: Every 20 seconds a child dies from a water-related illness. Many more stats and sources of information can be found here.
The water we have here on Earth came mostly from outer space as our planet was forming. It is the legacy of countless collisions with comets and asteroids, something that, fortunately, slowed down dramatically about 4 billion years ago. This means that what we have here is what we get, at least until we start mining celestial objects for water and minerals, a project far in the future.
Since desalination is extremely costly, using ocean water is not a short-term solution, even as costs are dropping.
The short-term solution is more awareness and a mindset open to change at the individual, as well as the industrial and agricultural level.
It takes more than 2,400 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of meat, while a pound of wheat uses 25 gallons. These numbers, coming from PETA, are staggering; a competing source has much lower numbers, but still suggests that it takes about 110 gallons of water to make a 1/4-lb. hamburger.
Leaving the politics of interest groups aside, it is clear that water usage and waste are central issues of our times. We may all do well by finding ways to cut down, irrespective of politics.
Marcelo Gleiser is a theoretical physicist and cosmologist — and professor of natural philosophy, physics and astronomy at Dartmouth College. He is the co-founder of 13.7, a prolific author of papers and essays, and active promoter of science to the general public. His latest book is The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning. You can keep up with Marcelo on Facebook and Twitter: @mgleiser.