Climate Change and Your Hidden Water Footprint

By Monsanto

We splash in it, use it to cleanse our bodies, grow and cook our food and quench our thirsts. More importantly, we rely on it to sustain life itself. Water: it's among the most abundant substances on earth, covering more than 70 percent of our planet's surface.

So if water is seemingly everywhere, why have we heard so much about a global water crisis in recent years?

The simple answer is that only about 1 percent of the world's water supply is fresh water that's readily accessible for our direct use. Add the demands of a rapidly growing global population and the effects of climate change to that and it's easier to understand.

In fact, climate change and freshwater scarcity are more interrelated than you may think:

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As the earth's average temperature rises, evaporation increases, which contributes to droughts.

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Snow and ice caps on mountaintops provide a steady stream as they melt. But in warming temperatures, they may never re-form.

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Small increases in temperature can result in more precipitation occurring as rain instead of snow, which can tax the capacity of reservoirs and result in water shortages in the dry season.

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Moving and treating water for household use, irrigation, industry, bottling, sanitation and other uses takes a lot of energy and most energy sources today emit greenhouse gases, a major contributor to climate change.

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Glaciers, an important source of freshwater, are melting at an unprecedented rate.

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In other words, climate change results in water shortages and excess water use can contribute to climate change. It can be a vicious cycle.

The good news is there's a lot we can do to reduce our water footprint and at the same time fight climate change. First however, we must fully understand how big our footprint may be.

Did you know we actually have two water footprints?
A Direct One:
the water we use each day to shower, use the bathroom and wash clothes
and Hidden One:
the water it takes to grow the food we eat, manufacture products and produce energy.

By some estimates it takes more than 2,000 gallons of water per day per person to support the American lifestyle, when taking into consideration both types of footprints.

Here are some ways to reduce your water footprint, and in many cases, also help combat climate change by using less energy:
  • Check for, and repair, leaking pipes, fixtures and seals.
  • Take shorter showers and avoid leaving the water running while shaving or brushing your teeth.
  • Wash only full loads of laundry and dishes.
  • Wash your car using a bucket, rather than a hose.
  • Drive an energy efficient vehicle (it takes nearly 13 gallons of water to produce one gallon of gasoline).
  • Avoid wasting food (it takes approximately 1,000 gallons of water, per person per day, to produce the average American diet).
  • Recycle (it takes 24 gallons to make one pound of plastic).

As an agriculture company, Monsanto is sensitive to the fact that about 70 percent of the world's fresh water is used in agriculture. We've committed to increase the irrigation water application efficiency across our global seed production operation by 25 percent by 2020, compared to our 2010 baseline. But some of the most important work we're doing centers around our site of climate action initiatives. Remember, climate change is one of the major causes of freshwater scarcity.

In December 2015, we announced a commitment to make our entire operation carbon neutral by 2021 through operational changes in combination with farmer programs and incentives. Carbon is a powerful greenhouse gas. This commitment includes a first-of-its-kind program to advance a model for carbon neutral crop production to help reduce the carbon footprint of crop production. Widespread adoption of this model could result in carbon neutral crop production on millions of acres of farmland.

We've also committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our crop protection operations by 22 percent (per pound of active ingredient) by 2020, compared to our baseline in 2010.

And in Brazil and Indonesia, we're working to preserve and restore forests, which absorb and store carbon, helping mitigate climate change.

Learn more about Monsanto's efforts to both reduce water use and mitigate climate change.

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