The often-sensible Paul Sheehan has fallen for the old “virtual water” canard:
If you enjoyed a cup of coffee this morning, it might interest you to know it took 140 litres of water to produce that cup. Such a simple but profound equation…a single steak…requires almost 10,000 litres of water to produce…
Not so fast:
A few days ago people were aghast and outraged when they saw a number stating that 34 gallons of ‘virtual water’ went into a cup of coffee. I understand their panic. That means we only have about 9,588,235,294,117,647 cups of coffee left before all the water is gone.(1)
Except water doesn’t actually disappear. There is the same amount of water on earth now as millions of years ago. That’s right, you’re drinking water a Neanderthal peed in. Water recycles. I understand that only 2.5% of all water is available ‘fresh’ water but that is why the outrage over coffee and hamburgers is unjustified.
Real water is what people care about, not pretend water. ‘Virtual water’ can be used for shock effect but it’s basically an intangible.