Math 33, fall 2017
Write and Respond Assignment 1
I am a carnivore. I consume a large amount of meat on a daily basis, most of it beef. I also consider myself to be an environmentally conscious individual, and I am aware that cows are a particularly egregious environmental burden; they produce methane gas and take up enormous amounts of land and water in comparison to other food animals. With that considered, I felt it necessary to at the very least ascertain how much of an impact my own personal beef-eating was having on the environment. I also wondered what the average water footprint was for American citizens, and if my assumed otherwise very sparse water usage (comparatively) was sufficient to offset my meat consumption.
Despite my awareness of the high water usage that goes into meat production, I assumed my (and, presumably, nearly everyone else’s) primary water expenditures happened domestically. According to an executive report from the Water Resarch Foundation , the average American’s domestic indoor water consumption is dominated primarily by hygiene, with 24%, 20%, and 19% going to toilet flushes, showers, and faucets, respectively. Those quantities add up to a total of 63% of domestic water use. Without getting too far into my own personal hygiene habits, I can say that I I take quick showers, only flush solids, and wash my dishes almost exclusively in a highly efficient dishwasher (dishwashers, on average, only make up 1% of average American indoor use), using my faucets pretty much only to wash my hands. These factors led me to believe that my personal indoor water usage is significantly below the average. It was now time to test that.
Conveniently, there are a number of readily available resources that helped me find out the extent, both comparatively and absolutely, of my water footprint. The website waterfootprint.org, set up by The Water Footprint Network in 2008, includes a great deal of relevant information, including a personal water footprint calculator that I found quite useful. Taking into account various details of food consumption, indoor and outdoor domestic water usage, and consumption of industrial goods (as estimated based on a person’s gross yearly income), this calculator produces a total personal water footprint (as measured in cubic meters per year). It also breaks down said total footprint into three categories: Food, Domestic Usage, and Industrial Usage. The Food category is then further broken down into subcategories for cereals, meats, vegetables, fruits, dairy products, stimulants (coffee and tea), fat, sugar, eggs, and “other”. Based on a number of factors (including active and passive water conservation measures I execute in my home and school life and my humorously low gross yearly income), I expected my footprint to be quite small. Instead, I found that my personal footprint is a whopping 1,825 cubic meters per year, or 482,114 ( \(4.8 \times\ 10^5\) ) US gallons. Furthermore, an astonishing 1,722 cubic meters (more than 94% of my total) of my water footprint was made up by my personal food consumption, with 1,384 cubic meters of that coming exclusively from my meat consumption. That means that almost 76% of my total water footprint is a result of my carnivorous diet.
There is a bit of a silver lining for me, however. The Water Footprint Network calculates that the average water footprint of an United States citizen is 2,840 cubic meters per year, or about 750,249 ( \(7.5 \times\ 10^5\) ) US gallons. This means that my footprint is actually comparatively low in comparison to the average American. In fact, I consume just about 64% of the national average: \(1825 \div\ 2840 = 0.642\)
In conclusion: I take frequent measures to conserve water, so I hoped that that would offset my above average meat consumption. According to the Personal Water Footprint Calculator, however, the impact of consuming meats far outweighs the nickel-and-dime savings I scrape out of my everyday life. Despite my comparatively low rate of water consumption in regards to non-food items, my meat-eating habit results in an overall water footprint that is significantly closer than I had hoped to the needlessly-high average footprint for this country. Furthermore, I learned that an astonishing 76% of my own footprint comes from the meat that I eat. It has become painfully obvious to me that my carnivorous diet is disproportionately destructive to the environment in comparison to the rest of my lifestyle. I will sadly be compelled to make some significant changes to what I eat.
1): A Global Assessment of the Water Footprint of Farm Animal Products, Mesfin M. Meonnen and Arjen Y. Hoekstra https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10021-011-9517-8
2): Residential End Uses of Water (Version 2) http://www.waterrf.org/PublicReportLibrary/4309A.pdf
3): Personal Water Footprint Calculator: http://waterfootprint.org/en/resources/interactive-tools/personal-water-footprint-calculator/personal-calculator-extended/