Water Wars

21st November 2011 by

Item number one on the Science Museum’s snazzy website* says “New Exhibition. Water Wars: fight the food crisis”. It takes a huge amount of fresh water to grow food. Supplies are dwindling because of poor water management, increasing demand and our changing climate. As the world’s population explodes, we have to ask… do we fight for fresh water now or wait for a global food crisis?”

This sounds pretty interesting, no?  My first attempt to visit the exhibition was thwarted when the trip was vetoed in favour of the the Natural History Museum, fair play.  Take two, I was more successful (vetoing a trip to the V&A).

We wandered in with high hopes.  We asked where the water exhibition was and were motioned towards the back of a seemingly never-ending hall. Having walked past countless types of transport machinery (from the lovely bicycle, to the snowmobile,  to the spaceship) we finally reached the back of the hall. I looked around bewildered, there must be more, the exhibition can’t just be 10m long? Oh no, I’d lured my friends away from dressing up at the V&A under false pretences of scientific interest.

The exhibition apparently wanted to tackle a really important issue, but besides a brief video beginning to explore the problem at hand, the entire (albeit very small) display was limited to technological innovations to desalinise water that currently only work on an incredibly minute scale.

The video does make mention of virtual/embedded water in the context of food production. (This is a good website if you want to know more about water footprints.)  But the video essentially makes an argument along these lines: it rains loads in the UK, so lots of people can’t see the problem with water issues — other countries have droughts — lots of our food comes from other countries — oh no! they might keep all the food they grow for themselves and what will we eat?

There are so many issues with the argument itself, but one thing I find particularly damaging is what they leave out.  The video only talks about the water usage in food, it doesn’t consider the vast quantities of water that go into producing some raw materials like cotton, and certainly doesn’t look at any manufactured products.  Taking just the outlook on food, there is no exploration of the injustice involved – take a look at this little map of the UK’s external agricultural water footprint to see why questions of justice in resource use should be addressed.

A few little projects about desalinisation might grow and be useful in the future – but right now there are a million things we could all do to have a positive impact.  The issue is global, but the water companies are already predicting droughts in the UK for next year, so there’s plenty of local action we can take too: from thinking about re-using grey water in the home (this link’s good too!), to consuming less new stuff, to choosing less water-intensive foods that are more locally grown.

*It’s no longer item 1…it’s slipped down to about number 4!

The butt of the matter

28th March 2011 by

Bring on the April showers! The sun has only just emerged so it may seem a bit early to be calling for rain already, butt…

This month we challenge you to collect the drips from your downpipe, the water from your washing up and the rain from your roof. Get a grasp of your greywater and beat the inevitable hosepipe ban.

Chances are that your local water operator will sell you a subsidised water butt. Or do it yourself.

Other ways to water it down in the garden:

  • use a watering can instead of a hose
  • water early morning or in the evening (less water will be lost to evaporation)
  • leave the grass to grow longer (it help keep moisture in the soil)
  • go for infrequent soaks rather than frequent sprinkling (they will encourage roots to search for water deeper in the ground)
  • use your greywater (the washing up water) on non edible plants

Let it rain, then we will make gardens when the sun shines.


25th August 2010 by

Environmentally speaking, August has been an especially turbulent month. Just as BP’s Gulf of Mexico fiasco moves slowly out of the headlines, hundreds of Muscovites died from the heat as wildfires swept across Russia, China experienced its worst landslide in decades, and an estimated 20million people have been affected by the floods in Pakistan. Meanwhile, a 100 square mile of ice departed Greenland, and we are told by scientists at the Met Office that the first 6 months in 2010 indicate that we are facing the hottest year on global record.

Wowzer! What a bleak apocalyptic picture to brighten up your day! As always though, Otesha is full of innovative ideas for you to confront this doom and gloom. This month’s challenge exposes the bottled water industry’s perfect con: bottled water (watch the story of bottled water for more info). Whilst the ‘Bottled Water Information’ website informs us that ‘bottled waters offer the ultimate in traceability, health, convenience and choice, as well as providing reassurance that they come from fully sustainable sources,’ the site’s run by the British Soft Drinks Association (a lobbying group representing the soft drinks industry) suggesting that your health, convenience and the apparent sustainability of bottled water isn’t exactly their main priority.

Despite the fact that access to clean drinking water constitutes a basic human right, over 1 million deaths are caused by waterborne diseases every year. 1.1 billion people are without access to clean drinking water, and yet the bottled water industry represents an estimated market of US $22 billion: enough to supply the world with clean drinking water.

When we waste our money on this unnecessary commodity (marked up by a whopping 2000%), we not only create the demand for the production of plastic bottles in an energy and oil intensive process, but for them to then be transported to our shops. Your challenge this month is to drink tap water.

The best green TED talks

21st June 2010 by

Planet Green published a list of the best green TED talks. It’s such a great list that I’m re-sharing it here, along with the vids:

Pete Stamets: Six ways mushrooms can change the world

Paul Stamets is a mycologist and an entrepreneur.  After listening to him explain how mushrooms can clean soil, make antibiotics and invented the internet first, I am a complete fan. Mushrooms aren’t just delicious – they’re soil magicians! They hold together soil over 30,000 times their weight, transfer nutrients from one tree to another and have been around for 1.3 billion years.  Also, did you know that people are more closely related  to fungi than any other kingdom? And that the world’s largest organism (22,000 acres!) is a fungi? Watch and be amazed:

Read the rest of this entry »

Waste not water not

1st March 2010 by
Without water we ain’t got nothing and although this planet is full of it, only a tiny proportion is fresh water. Then bear in mind that every drop of the wet stuff that passed through our pipes, taps, drains and cisterns has been cleaned to drinking standard, using more than a bucketful of energy in the process.

This month we challenge you not to waste a drop of it:

But whatever you do, let us know (email jo@otesha.org.uk). We’ll put your drops of good advice up here and our favourite answer will receive a Fairtrade chocolate bar.

Our favourite water-saving stories

We have it on good authority that the hard-working hosts over at the Hub Islington have fixed their leaky tap. Way to go!

On top of this, we learned through twitter that the Adnam’s brewery harvests their rainwater & uses it to flush their loos and wash their lorries.  This is great news – we love an ethical pint.

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