You know the water crisis has got really serious when The Courier-Mail runs a piece which starts with the suggestion that “we must ban beer and Coke and stop eating beef.”The author of the article, Des Houghton, isn’t really being serious, but he does go on to point out just how water intensive meat production is, taking 55 000 litres to produce a kilogram of beef. Indeed, according to CSIRO water expert, Professor Wayne Meyer, this figure can go as high as 100 000 litres in places where evaporation is highest.
Given how water conscious we have supposedly become, it’s amazing how little awareness there is of them. Maybe it’s because pointing out facts like these about any meat product runs the risk of receiving a pounding from Sam Kekovich’s political correctness police.
As the water crisis has got worse, cotton and rice growing have tended to draw more and more criticism as water-greedy forms of agriculture. This is understandable to some extent, as they both consume large amounts of water. However, it’s puzzled me that while cotton and rice have come under public pressure, meat and dairy production, which can be even more water intensive, seem to largely escape this type of public censure.
Mind you, I tend to think that just picking on a specific crop as the ‘bad guy’ is not really the best way to solve the problem of reducing the environmental impact of agricultural production. If we could get water for agricultural and industry purposes priced closer to its real value, water extraction and allocation licences limited to environmentally sustainable levels and also have greenhouse impacts costed in (none of which occurs at the moment and is much easier said than done), then the market would probably do a reasonable job at ensuring the most efficient produce prospered.
Oh, and if you were wondering about the beer and Coke, apparently it takes four litres of water to produce one litre of XXXX, and even one litre of Coke takes one and a half litres of water to produce. According to The Courier-Mail, the Coca-Cola factory at Richlands is one of Brisbane’s top 10 water users. I’m not sure market forces would work with Coke somehow, as you could raise the price of water one hundredfold and they’d probably still make a profit selling it for the same price they are now, although they might have to reduce their advertising budget by 0.1% to cover the extra cost.