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The animal agriculture industry is renowned for being one of the most resource-intensive industries on the planet. It occupies approximately 45 percent of the Earth’s total land area, and estimates of how heavily it contributes to the world’s greenhouse gas emissions problem range from at least 14 percent to a maximum of 51 percent. Earlier this month, it was revealed that just one meat company – Tyson Foods, Inc. – was a heavier polluter of U.S. waterways than oil and gas giant ExxonMobil!

The meat and dairy industries’ intensive use of freshwater resources has also been linked to prolonged drought in the state of California. Official efforts to alleviate the situation have tended to focus on encouraging residents to take shorter showers, turn off the faucet when brushing their teeth, and only wash clothes when they have a full machine load ready to go. However, these actions are unlikely to make a huge impact, because only four percent of the state’s water use footprint is derived from individual household use, while 93 percent of it comes from agricultural activities. The Worldwatch Institute estimates that it takes approximately 4,200 gallons of water per day to produce the average meat- and dairy-consumer’s diet, compared to around 300 gallons for a plant-based eater’s diet, it’s not so hard to figure out where all the water is going.

And now, a new report published in the Science Advances journal has revealed that the world’s water scarcity problem is even worse than previously realized. It was previously thought that between 1.7 to 3.1 billion people suffered from drought at least occasionally, but Mesfin M. Mekonnen and Arjen Y. Hoekstra – the authors of this new report – have now stated that previous studies of the planet’s drought problem “assessed global water scarcity in physical terms at a high spatial resolution on a yearly time scale … (but) hide the variability within the year and underestimate the extent of water scarcity.” Measuring global water usage on a month-by-month basis instead, they found that “high water scarcity levels appear to prevail in areas with either high population density or the presence of much irrigated agriculture.” Areas that were highlighted as being especially prone to high levels of water scarcity were northern Mexico, central Asia, large parts of northern and southern Africa, the Middle East, Australia, and parts of the western United States – particularly Texas and California.

Mekonnen and Hoekstra, both of whom led the study at the Netherlands’ University of Twente, warned that in all, four billion people, or two-thirds of the global population, “live under conditions of severe water scarcity at least one month of the year.” Shockingly, they found half of these people live in India and China and half a billion people in the world face severe water scarcity all year round.

While this might seem incredibly daunting, they do posit that putting caps on water consumption by river basin, increasing water-use efficiencies, and better sharing of the limited freshwater resources could help to reduce the severity of drought issues. We all can play a role here and one way to ensure that limited freshwater supplies are used as efficiently as possible starts on your plate.

By simply leaving meat off the menu, you can save 162,486 gallons of water a year. If you break it down and consider that the average human needs to drink approximately one gallon of clean water per day to survive, just one person’s decision to cut out meat could free up the water needed for 445 people! If that’s the impact one person can have – imagine what it would look like if the three billion people in the U.S. did the same? Or at the very least, made an effort to reduce their consumption of meat and dairy … it would be huge!

As the leading organization at the forefront of the conscious consumerism movement, it is One Green Planet’s view that our food choices have the power to heal our broken food system and pave the way for a truly sustainable future. By choosing to eat more plant-based foods, you can  save precious water supplies and give billions of people around the world a fighting chance.

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