Davos Discovers Water

Global Warming, Energy and Water are on a Collision Course.

If you’re looking for a multi-national CEO this week, they’re hard to find. That is unless you’re in Davos, Switzerland.  At the World Economic Forum, which meets in the village each year, there’s lots of heat — about the world economy, the collapsing U.S. market, global needs and global chaos. But the topic stealing a lot of thunder is water — or rather the lack of it and it’s potential to generate higher prices, declining productivity and more conflict.

This year the leaders of Coca-Cola,Nestle, PepsiCo, Dow and others have joined hands to promote water as part of their Corporate Responsibility Platforms. It’s been known for some time that water shortages are increasing. By 2025 The International Water Mangement Institute predicts 30 countries will be short of water. If you look at worldwide consumption, 70% of water goes to agriculture, 23% to industry, and 7% to residential use. In all three domains, demand is on the rise as global populations grow in numbers, urbanize, and develop their economies.

Progress in many areas means problems with water. Advanced diets with increased protein cost more water to produce. If one unit of grain required 1.5 units of water to produce, one unit of beef would consume 15 units of water. And while the average American may only drink three liters of liquid a day, his or her average American daily diet consumed 3,000 liters of water in production and distribution. Making matters worse, our need to address energy independence and global warming are at times at cross-purposes with water. For example, biofuels mostly come from crops that have to be cultivated. It takes 2.5 liters of water to produce one liter of gasoline, albeit with release of carbon into our atmosphere. The biofuels in part address the later issue. However, one liter of biofuel consumes 1,000 liters of water. Coal-fired energy electric plants are a menace for the atmosphere, but consume considerably less water then do nuclear plants or clean coal technologies. And as developing nations have become developed, as in India and China, dietary changes, population growth and urbanization have already tripped the water alarm.

Dow Chemical’s Andrew N. Liveris had this to say at the UN: “Some people call water the oil of the 21st Century. Whether you like that description or not, one thing is clear, availability of water will be a clear driver in the development of the world’s economy and government policies in the next decade.”  For more on water, check out www.healthy-waters.org.