Summary: Water


Water is the most precious natural resource on Earth, but isn’t valued as such in many regions of the world. Accessible freshwater accounts for just 1.2% of all water on Earth, which isn’t enough to support life on Earth – with our current water management systems that is. There’s a pressing need to change the way we interact with freshwater to reduce consumption, waste, and pollution. Doing so would allow freshwater to become a renewable resource again and would reduce water demand worldwide – that will otherwise increase by around 55% from 2000-2050.

Agriculture accounts for 70% of freshwater withdrawals, but more than half of it is wasted away. Foreign crops, increasing food production, and intensive agriculture are the main drivers of increasing irrigation needs, and will ensure agriculture remains a dominant scarcity-weighted freshwater user. To improve agricultural freshwater consumption at a global scale, large farming companies will have to lead by example and change their ways. Better government policies and subsidies can make sure that this happens as soon as possible.

Industries account for 19% of global freshwater withdrawals, while the residential sector makes up the remaining 11%. Individuals can reduce consumption by avoiding waste during everyday tasks, checking for leaks, and replacing wasteful appliances with efficient ones. In addition, we can learn from intensive agriculture’s mistakes and stop striving for golf-green lawns that require irrigation. Different regions of the world have different biodiversity requirements, so growing the exact same crop everywhere just doesn’t make sense. Of course, these types of individualized solutions won’t help much on their own. Large-scale solutions will be essential to reduce freshwater withdrawals swiftly.

Unfortunately, desalination isn’t a reasonable solution to the global freshwater crisis, especially when simpler alternatives such as reducing waste and increasing sharing exist.

Oceans absorb around 25% of the CO2 we emit every year and have absorbed 91% of the heat gained by the planet in the past 50 years. Alas, CO2 adsorption has driven ocean acidification, while high levels of pollution near shores has caused significant eutrophication.

If we change the way we value freshwater, then we have a chance at making it a renewable resource again. If we fail to regulate its consumption, pollution, and waste, then we risk increasing biodiversity loss, water scarcity, and conflicts around the world.