How Far Would You Go for Water?

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This is the second installment of Michele Wucker’s new LinkedIn weekly series, “Around My Mind” – a regular walk through the ideas, events, people, and places that kick my synapses into action, sparking sometimes surprising or counter-intuitive connections. 

Running in the New York Marathon, my friend Mina Guli began a new quest to draw attention to water scarcity: it was the first of 100 marathons in 100 days circling the globe.

By 2030, the world is expected to face a shortfall of 40% less water supply than demand. This affects the food we eat, the water we drink, the clothes we wear, energy and manufacturing, and even migration and national security.

Mina wants the world to take notice and do something about it, starting with being conscious about the water each of us consumes.

I wrote about Mina in THE GRAY RHINO as she was planning to run seven marathons on seven continents in seven weeks, which she completed in 2016. In 2017, Mina ran marathons along six rivers on six continents in six weeks: six corresponding to the water’s number among the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, as well as the average number of miles women must walk to find water in parts of the world.

Doctors once told Mina she might lose her ability to walk, but she proved them wrong. When I saw hear a little over a year ago at the Annual Meeting of the New Champions in Dalian, China, she was already thinking seriously about increasing her goal to 100 marathons.

Like many of Mina’s friends, I was in awe of her determination and more than a bit worried about her health. I felt a little better about her well-being when I read that Larry Macon holds the Guinness World Record for the most marathons in a year, 239 in 2013. But still, she’s taken on a huge task.

Mina lives what she believes, and shows us that a single person can have power that goes way beyond what we think we are capable of doing. But she also helps to remind us that we need lots of small efforts by many, many people to change the world for the better.

Water touches every part of our lives –not just drinking, showering, and toilet flushing, but also food, clothing, energy, and transport. Many of the connections between water and our lives, however, can be unexpected.

Each of us “eats” 3496 liters of water every day, or 92% of typical daily consumption, which to most of us is invisible. For a breakdown of the water we eat and use, take a look at The Water We Eat. For example, 15,400 liters, or an 8 by 40 meter water-wall, goes into a kilo of beef. To my great dismay, it takes about ten bathtubs worth of water to make a typical bar of chocolate. By changing our diets, we can dramatically reduce our water footprint.

How often do you think about the energy it takes to get water to your home and the amount of water it takes to generate energy? Quite a lot; by some estimates about a third of water usage is linked to energy. How much water depends on the kind of energy, with coal (15,514 gallons per megawatt-hour) and nuclear (14,732 gallons per megawatt-hour) taking the most. Solar energy uses much less, but it depends on the kind: solar photovoltaic uses somewhere between 2/3 of a cup and two cups per megawatt/hour, mainly from washing. Solar thermal, which uses solar energy to heat water into steam to drive turbines, can use close to as much as nuclear power.

The water-energy nexus is complicated, as this infographic shows –illustrating the importance of thinking in systems instead of silos.

Most of us think about water as a local issue, but it is very much a global one. When you love almonds and avocadoes and there’s a drought in California, it’s your issue when prices go up. When water-scarce countries turn to other parts of the world to supply their food needs, that impacts local prices and global markets.

Similarly, where your clothes are made and what materials they use are part of a global supply chain with global impacts. A cotton T-shirt, for example, takes 2,700 liters of water to make -and vastly more to wash, dry, and iron.

Many Chicagoans with whom I have discussed water dismiss water scarcity, pointing to Lake Michigan. After all, we live on one of the Great Lakes, which together hold 20% of the world’s freshwater. But the vast amount of water in the lakes masks the fact that water scarcity affects us, too.

For one thing, you don’t have to travel too far from the lakeshore to find water-strapped communities. The US states and Canadian provinces around the lakes have agreed among themselves on ways to responsibly use the water, but municipalities just outside the watershed have persistently tried to tap into the bountiful waters of the great lakes. Other areas near lakes and rivers have had similar struggles.

In the Middle East and other regions, water scarcity has led to conflict, particularly when crops dry up and force people to pick up and move to places where they are better able to feed themselves.

Mina is now off to Europe (UK, France, Italy), Uzbekistan, India, China, Hong Kong, Dubai, the Middle East (Jordan, Palestine, Israel) and Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya and South Africa). Mina then heads to Australia and South America (Chile, Bolivia, Peru) before returning to North America, running in Mexico and the USA before finishing her 100-day run back in New York on February 11, 2019.

You can read more about Mina’s journey at minaguli.com and follow her progress on twitter @minaguli with hashtags #everydropcounts and #runningdry.

#water #systemsthinking #energy #sustainability

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Michele Wucker
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Michele Wucker

Founder & CEO at Gray Rhino & Company
Michele Wucker is a global thought leader and the author, most recently, of THE GRAY RHINO: How to Recognize and Act on the Obvious Dangers We Ignore (St Martin's Press, 2016). Learn more about her at http://thegrayrhino.com/about/michelewucker
Michele Wucker
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Michele Wucker is a global thought leader and the author, most recently, of THE GRAY RHINO: How to Recognize and Act on the Obvious Dangers We Ignore (St Martin's Press, 2016). Learn more about her at http://thegrayrhino.com/about/michelewucker

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