This blogpost was written by our intern Anna (16 years) while she was working with us due to a school internship. Anna was focused on learning about sustainability in general and how to responsibly handle our most important resources.
Probably a grey and rainy day won't annoy you anymore if you know that it's damn sure important. In recent years, we are clearly feeling climate change more and more in Germany as well. Summers are very hot and dry. In summer of 2019, in Leipzig, my hometown, it rained only about half of the average! A noticeable sign of climate change.
Climate change is referred to as a change occurring worldwide, caused primarily by humanity. More and more greenhouse gases, CO2 and methane (mainly from conventional farming, agriculture and industry) are warming the atmosphere.
The dramatic consequences are:
glaciers are melting
climate zones are shifting
sea level rises
precipitation changes, becomes stronger, more frequent or less
increase of extreme weather, such as floods, storms and droughts
spread of parasites and tropical diseases
increase in environmental refugees
All in all, these consequences are also called climate catastrophe!
The global water cycle has also changed significantly. Climate change is causing global warming, so the oceans are evaporating more water. This leads to more and stronger storms and precipitation over land. This will accelerate the water cycle: Rivers will swell and carry more water into the oceans.
What does “water cycle” actually mean?
The global water cycle is understood to be the transport and storage of water across the whole globe. But what exactly does that mean?
First, water evaporates from oceans, lakes and other water surfaces due to solar radiation and rises into the atmosphere as water vapor. Small water droplets are collected and form into clouds. The clouds are carried away by the wind. With the next precipitation, the water falls back down to earth, whether as rain, snow or hail. The engine of the water cycle is the sun and no water is lost in the whole cycle.
And that's how it goes every day. It's an ever-repeating process and that's pretty important too. The ocean is the largest water reservoir on earth. The water cycle has always existed, but it has also always changed through time. The water cycle and the associated water availability is particularly important for all of nature, including humans.
Global warming intensifies the water cycle and its outcomes
In general, global warming will intensify the hydrological cycle, meaning that more precipitation will fall globally, and more water will evaporate. However, the regional and partly also the seasonal differences are significant.
Actually, it should rain more due to the climate warming, because the higher temperature also causes more water to rise as vapor into the atmosphere. However, precipitation is not evenly distributed around the world, but is concentrated in areas that are already wet, such as the upper northern hemisphere and lower southern hemisphere, as well as around the equator. In regions that are already dry, such as the Mediterranean and North Africa, on the other hand, there is less rain. The consequences are crop failures, forest fires and climate refugees, due to extreme droughts in some regions and floods in others. We will probably have more precipitation in the winters and less in the summers. In some regions there will be no water at all for life and agriculture, while in others everything will be flooded.
Tab water is pure luxury
It is already hard to imagine, that many people walk only three steps for fresh drinking water and others need to walk miles and miles for many hours. In many countries there is no drinking water supply at home because there are no distribution systems like pipes. There is no water supply from the state or municipalities, no wells and clean streams or rivers nearby. Climate change is making this even worse.
Water shortage due to fruit & vegetable exports
What I never thought about is how water is shifting due to our eating habits. Many of our daily consumed fruits and vegetables are not grown in Germany, but abroad. Strawberries, for example, one third of them is coming from Spain. Just like many other vegetables: cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes and many more. Because we eat all these fruit and vegetables in Germany, we excrete the water they contain into our sewage system, and the water is then with us – carried away from its origin. In the growing regions, there has been a lack of rain in recent years and the groundwater is sinking drastically. The lack of water threatens the ecosystem and this is mainly due to excessive conventional agriculture.
31,000 hectares with plastic head
In the Almeria region of southern Spain, 31,000 hectares of land are covered in plastic sheeting and greenhouses. You can easily see these “landscapes” from space on google maps. Almeria supplies many countries in Europe with vegetables, but water is scarce in the region. It is considered the driest region in Europe. Despite this, fruit and vegetables are grown en masse and the workers, mostly immigrants from Africa, are exploited, poorly paid and housed in tent cities.
What can you do?
There is a very simple tip how you can counteract the lack of water in the dry countries: buy only regional and seasonal fruits and vegetables and none from exporting countries that have little water anyway, like Morocco or Israel. This also means that you should no longer buy strawberries or tomatoes in December. These are fruits from very warm countries that don't grow here at this time of year. It's best to get a seasonal calendar and place it in your kitchen. Meat also needs vast amounts of water, because the animals have to drink and their feed has to be grown and irrigated. For 1 kilo of beef you need about 15,000 l of water, for 1 kilo of potatoes only 106 l. So as a vegan or vegetarian you already save a big amount of water. If you don't want to give up meat completely, then reduce your consumption and reflect on the way it is produced. In doing so, you're also making a big contribution to wasting water unnecessarily.
Another tip from me: With composting toilets you can also save a lot of valuable drinking water. When you use dry separation toilets, you don't need any water at all! Before I started my internship at Kildwick, I never thought about how much water is unnecessarily flushed down a toilet and has to be treated at great expense.