Surviving 2030: The Compassionate Mormon

Stop Hunger Now has recently opened a Utah location.

Stop Hunger Now has recently opened a Utah location.

On a recent flight out of Salt Lake City, I had the chance to chat with the President of Stop Hunger Now, who had just been in Utah and visited the Church Welfare facilities. We chatted about Church history, hunger, and aquaponics. 1 Various governments, think tanks, and the United Nations are becoming concerned about the likelihood of absolute global food shortages in 2030.

And we thought 2008 was bad.

We have a reason to care particularly about these issues. After all, we believe that mankind is charged with a stewardship of this wonderful world, a fact of which we are reminded (if subtly) each time we attend the temple.

And it came to pass that … Adam began to till the earth, and to have dominion over all the beasts of the field, and to eat his bread by the sweat of his brow, as I the Lord had commanded him. And Eve, also, his wife, did labor with him. 2

Water is the key. The amount of fresh water available cannot increase substantially and is arguably decreasing. Recent weather patterns (droughts in dry regions, weather volatility in previously pleasant climates) further reduce the productivity of the land that is our stewardship.

We have three options:

Make do with less.

Make the resource produce more.

Reduce the population.

Reducing the population has been the approach taken by the secular world. Educated women marry later and produce fewer babies. This is seen as good. I like the education. Not so happy about forced population control, like China’s One Child policy. If I am to believe my anthropologist mother, the zeitgeist to reduce population is potentially fueling a number of behaviors contrary to traditional mores, such as the increasing preference for same-gender relationships.

Making the resource produce more is a great idea. That is part of why I love aquaponics, which can produce food using 90% less water than conventional methods of agriculture. Awesome for preppers, by  the way. Improving productivity and reducing waste are always good things to do.

But I think the most powerful thing we can do, that all of us can do each and every day, is reduce our consumption of foods and agricultural products that require a lot of water. The average American consumes foods that require 33,000 cups of water a day to grow or feed. The global average water available per capita is only 14,000. 3 Ironically, a guide for doing just that was provided in the Word of Wisdom Joseph received in 1833:

And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly.

And again, verily I say unto you, all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man—

Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving.

Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly;

And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine. 4

Drinks

When it comes to drinks, pure water is by far the least “water intensive” beverage available. By contrast, the ingredients in a cup of soda require over 300 cups of water to grow (50% for the vanilla, 30% for the caffeine, 20% for the sugar). Coffee is one of the worst offendors, but hot chocolate isn’t far behind and can even be worse per cup than coffee.

Protein

We need protein. But the water required to grow the grain to feed four-legged animals is crazy water intensive (pasture-fed animals “cost” even more when it comes to water). Beef is the worst, from a water standpoint. Pigs are better, but still require far more water per pound than fish or chicken or rabbit. Eggs and beans (think soy) are more “water efficient” still.

Starches

Grain is the staff of life, but we don’t need as much as we typically eat. This is proven out by the success of the DASH diet, which halves the amount of starch in the diet (reducing weight, hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease along the way). When it comes to water per serving, potatoes require much less water than any grain. And when thinking “starches,” you can look to other root vegetables (water savers, just like potatoes) for the sustaining energy you often look to grains to provide.

Calcium

Just drinking milk is great. Soymilk is even less water-intensive, unless you add a bunch of vanilla and sugar to make it taste better. Processing milk into cheese makes a serving “cost” more water. That said, a study of how Europe could bring its per capita water consumption within global allowances (the 14,000 cups per day per person) indicated that an ovo-lacto vegetarian diet would do the trick.

Fruits and Vegetables

Getting your portions of protein and starches will “cost” thousands of cups of water a day. By comparison, you can get your daily requirements of fruits and veggies for mere hundreds of cups of water per day. Fresh fruits and veggies are best – servings of juice climb back into the 1000s of cups per recommended daily amounts. Hence, I believe, God’s words to Joseph urging consumption of “herbs and fruit in the season thereof.” Why would God have said that? It’s not like the people of Joseph’s day had much other choice. They certainly weren’t flying fresh veggies from the other side of the world. I submit that verse was a little “Easter egg” for our times.

Energy

The term “carbon footprint” may or may not make you see red. I have no idea where you, personally, weigh in on the topic of global climate change. But when you think of the amount of water required to produce energy, it comes back into focus. There are simply some ways of getting stuff done that consume way more water than others. For walking or biking, all you need is the water to grow the food to replace the calories you’ll burn. Public transit is pretty cheap from a water standpoint. Driving everywhere in a vehicle that requires carbon-based fuel takes a lot of water when you consider a future where that fuel might not be something we can pump out of the ground from eons past. Air travel – crazy expensive from a water standpoint. Which gets back to the water-cost of eating “herbs and fruits” out of season.

Being Good Stewards

I know this particular blog likes to talk about libertarianism and the constitution and such. At the end of the day, however, I think God wants us to be wise stewards. Whatever mechanism it takes, I’d rather not face judgement day knowing that I profligately wasted earth’s resources while millions of my brothers and sisters died of want. 5

If anyone is interested, I would love to post more information on this. I don’t see the water footprint people making the issue accessible to Americans. 6 And we Mormons have a scriptural mandate to be good stewards, to obey God’s Word of Wisdom in this regard.

However if the majority of folks prefer indulging in current habits without the mental inconvenience of knowing it to be problematic on a moral level, I’ll satisfy myself with posting a link to information in the comments for those who do care.

For this audience, my highest priority is redeeming Joseph from the reputation of being a predator and sex fiend. After all, if you don’t believe Joseph was even a good man, why would you care what the temple ceremony or the Word of Wisdom might say?

Finally, here’s some eye candy in the form of a youtube playlist from the United Nations regarding the issue of water and energy.

Notes:

  1. I am Chairman of the Aquaponics Association. And you thought the only thing I cared about was Joseph Smith’s polygamy…
  2. Moses 5:1
  3. World trade in products, like food, effectively ships “virtual water” around the globe. No need to ship actual water.
  4. D&C 89: 9-13
  5. The United Nations estimates 50 million children die per year currently due to factors associated with lack of adequate clean water.
  6. Turns out most of the world uses metric units. The US stands alone with Liberia and Myanmar in rejecting the metric standard.
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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the LDS church for over four decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation, and is working on a midrashic treatment of the events in Nauvoo associated with early polygamy.

29 thoughts on “Surviving 2030: The Compassionate Mormon

  1. Meg, awesome post. I agree we need to be good stewards. My only point of disagreement (not even a disagreement really) is that I think the free market will eventually move resources more efficiently in a useful direction than government regulation. Now having said that, we must recognize that water management is an area completely controlled by the government, at least in the U.S. Because of many years of corrupt influence-buying, you get cotton, a water-intensive crop, being grown in very dry areas of California and Texas. I agree this is a huge problem. I don’t know what all the solutions are, but I have no problem suggesting that people voluntarily decrease their water consumption. I agree the issue of access to water will be a key source of conflict and discussion in the coming decades.

  2. Hi Geoff,

    You crack me up, somehow reading into my post that I’m looking to the government or even the “them” part of the free market for anything at all.

    I’m talking about individual choices that we make as consumers. I’ve talked with all kinds of people who seemed willing to be green and compassionate – until they saw that water-savvy choices might mean giving up coffee or vanilla or beef. Suddenly they’re no longer interested.

    We Mormons are lucky – we already don’t drink coffee for the most part. So we do not contribute to the #1 consumer product responsible for virtual water transfers between nations. But are we willing to wean ourselves off the rest, as consumers and providers?

    As to your cotton example, a C&A study posted on the water footprint document site indicates that the grey water footprint (water required if you were to actually dilute all the contaminants back to clean water standards) for a single pound of conventional cotton is huge.

    Think for a moment what you believe huge could be.

    This was a study of several hundred cotton farms in India. They evaluated both organic cotton farms and conventional cotton farms. This was their second study, because the water footprint people told them organic doesn’t have “zero” grey water footprint – even without pesticides and broad-leaf herbicides, organic fertilization methods leach nitrate and phosphorus into local waterways.

    The grey water footprint of a single pound of conventionally grown cotton is 33,000 gallons – the volume of a large railroad tanker car. You can go check my math – their numbers were all in metric, so I had to do some conversions. The grey water footprint of the organic cotton was something like 20% of the footprint of the conventional stuff.

    Something to think about the next time you are tempted to buy a pair of jeans or a T-shirt you don’t really need.

  3. Thanks, Meg. I agree that we have a responsibility towards the earth.

    When it comes to Zero Population, those fools are doing it backwards. Old people cannot care for themselves as can younger people. To reduce the next generation, while creating methods to extend life, means we will have a bunch of octogenarians around, with no young people to produce the necessities of life. It would be better to give an age limit (70?) on providing healthcare/etc to older people on treating them for medical issues/diseases, and then allow them to gracefully die by withholding any life preserving treatments. This would make room for vital and strong people of the next generation.

    We’ve heard warnings of the world running out of food/water/energy in the past. We should have all been dead decades ago, according to those warnings. The thing that prevents massive starvation and death is technology. Aquaponics is one method where technology can help us provide more for less. Today’s grains can produce more per stalk than in the past. We are even learning to grow beef in the lab, which may one day mean we do not need to raise cattle as we now do.

    The key is to find the most effective things, and use them. Our return on investment into new technologies can make a difference. IOW, get the best bang for our dollar.

  4. Hi Wargaseagle,

    It depends on what you mean by affordable. As far as I’m aware, the book with the most information on actually creating a small system is The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Aquaponic Gardening. You might recognize the name of the author. But since that author doesn’t get royalties (long story – turns out the author is happy about that fact), feel free to just check it out from a library. There’s also a free guide produced by folks in Australia, the IBCs of Aquaponics. An authoritative pub on the subject is the Southern Regional Aquaculture Center (SRAC) Pub 454, which shows the University of the Virgin Islands system that sits on only 1/8 acre and produces huge amounts of stuff (fish, plants).

    I like to think Brigham Young and John Taylor would have been really excited about this technology, if it had been available in their times.

  5. ” It would be better to give an age limit (70?) on providing healthcare/etc to older people on treating them for medical issues/diseases, and then allow them to gracefully die by withholding any life preserving treatments. This would make room for vital and strong people of the next generation.”

    Huh? Sounds like fascist government centralized planning to me. I must be misunderstanding something.

  6. My mother used to opine that there wasn’t really a compelling need to use extraordinary measures to keep people alive past age 60.

    She exercises, eats healthy, and we’re happy to have her in our circle of living loved ones (she’s now a bit older than 70). On the other hand, she absolutely rejects the idea of allowing the medical establishment to artificially maintain her life at any significant cost, monetary or otherwise.

    However, she’s speaking for herself, not wandering into hospitals and turning off life support for others.

    Again, I suggest we come back to the consumer. I think there’s something rather noble about an individual taking steps to ensure their life is not artificially prolonged once they achieve a certain age. For those who watched the recent Hunger Games movie, the character Mags exemplified that kind of self-sacrifice for the good of the group.

    However having society or the government mandate that old folks aren’t worth keeping alive is another kettle of fish entirely. Not nice, not laudable. Ethically and morally repugnant.

  7. Meg, have you seen this cool graphic of the volume of all water on earth compared to the size of the earth?
    http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap120515.html

    That “drop” is all water, fresh and other.

    I haven’t read all the comments, but this issue of water conservation has concerned me since I found out years ago that the main aquifer in the US (Ogalala?) is shrinking at an alarming rate. Cites are having to go deeper and deeper to get well water.

    A couple points:

    The building of levees along the Mississippi river has saved many cities and farms from being flooded. Now, all but the worst floods are essentially prevented. But the downside is that all that fresh water is now sent to the Gulf of Mexico, instead of being allowed to recharge the aquifers by seeping back down.

    I wonder if anyone has done a feasibility study to find out if there are ways that we can harness any flood-water (or any excess water, above normal levels) from multiple critical points along the course of the Mississippi and pump via pipeline or somehow safely divert it hundreds of miles away from the river where it can either be used, or allowed to seep back into the earth in a non-destructive manner.

    Every time a city “upstream” increases the height of their levees, they send that much more water downstream during a flood, in the amount that would have exceeded their old levees. Water that would have flooded City A, now goes downstream and floods City B, until City B raises their levees, and then City C gets both City A’s and City B’s flood-water. Unless flood water is “bled off” in a safe manner, fixing a flood problem upstream just creates more flood problems downstream. And eventually, water that would have recharged aquifers (via flooding) just gets shunted to the Gulf of Mexico.

    On a postive note, I’ve read that efforts are being made to figure out how to access fresh water aquifers that are just under the continental shelf off shore the US west coast.

    I’m a big fan of seaweed! A Korean client turned me on to Ito Wakame (string seaweed). I make soup or stew with it on a semi-regular basis. It’s even part of my food storage. Not much nutrition other than some vitamin A, but it’s a great fiber.

  8. Hi Bookslinger,

    The drop in that APOD picture is all water. Available fresh water is only about 1% of that total.

    A good read on this subject, albeit at a rather erudite level and written by someone whose first language isn’t English, is Professor Arjen Hoekstra’s The Water Footprint of Modern Consumer Society. When I bought the book it was not available electronically, much less available for "loan." My review of the book is on the Amazon site the link will take you to.

    The Water Footprint Network has a lot of information, but it’s mostly expressed as the number of liters required to produce a kilogram of product.

    A little over a year ago I started dabbling in this stuff and came up with a chart showing how many cups of water it takes to produce a daily recommended amount of common foods. At least one of the numbers is wrong – it turns out soy milk is actually less water intensive than cow milk, but the table I was using didn’t specify that the weight was for powdered soy milk…

    Since few of us are actually farmers and mathematicians, not many of us have a visceral feel for the huge amount of fresh water required to produce the food we eat.

  9. Meg,
    I have enjoyed your Joseph Smith series – but especially appreciated this. I’ve long suspected that ‘the weakest of saints’ refers to those who are without political or economic power in addition to those that are weak physically.

    Thanks for highlighting the water issue so nicely.

  10. Pingback: The Most Likely Cause of Global Food Shortages? | Out of the Best Blogs

  11. Meg, I’m delighted to have met you on the flight from Salt Lake City and to have discovered your blog.

    The need you express to be concerned about water consumption is right on target, and I agree that this often boils down to the personal decisions we all make as citizens of the earth and consumers.

    Hopefully to add to the dialogue, allow me to make one observation about population growth. Often in developing countries there are no structured “retirement” plans providing income for the elderly, so children are needed to work and sustain the family. In these same countries, infant mortality rates are often very high. As a result, adults often choose to have many children knowing that there is a high likelihood the children they have will not survive to care for them in their old age. (Understanding your beliefs and your audience, this is obviously only one reason why an adult would choose to have many children.)

    Providing sufficient nutrition to mothers and their children reduces infant mortality rates. In turn, as infant mortality rates decline, people tend to have fewer children, which has proven to be the case in developed countries. Yet another reason to end hunger in our lifetime!

  12. Off topic a little, but I have always interpreted “the weakest of Saints” to refer to those who are otherwise not as spiritually advanced. In other words, its physical actions that even sinners who haven’t progressed can follow. So long as you eat or drink, you can be selective and smart with how you do those. I have long suspected the Word of Wisdom was and is similar to the Law of Moses; a way to practice self-control on the path to more important commandments.

    To be honest, I am skeptical hunger is because the water table is in serious jeopardy. Never have we had so many regulations that protect water sources from contamination. At the same time, never in the history of mankind have we had the abundance of food that exists. I don’t believe hunger is an environmental problem, but a political and economic one. Famine and drought on a large scale are not new to history. We might just be arriving at an historical cycle (and therefore be prepared for the difficulties that has brought). Bookslinger does make a good argument that I can consider.

  13. Jettboy: Thanks. If you get time and are so inclinded, do some research on “aquifers”, “Ogalala” (not sure of spelling), and “mississippi levees”.

    One of the problems is that environmentalists tend to overstate (and outright distort and falsify) and sensationalize facts and trends.

    These days, it seems that to an environmentalist, any human modification of the land is an evil act, in and of itself. I don’t agree with that. I do agree that we should be _wise stewards_ of the land and water, but at the same time, I do see a need for there to be -prudent- construction of dams and levees.

    The long term lowering (reduction) of the aquifers in the US, and the need to keep digging deeper wells, seems to be undisputed and well-documented…. so far. You can actually go talk to water-well-drilling companies and municipal water companies if you wish. You can probably even get in touch with a hydrologist from the US Army Corps of Engineers to find out if I’m correct about the Mississippi dumping more water annually into the Gulf than it was 70 or 80 years ago, and how much of that is due to the construction of levees.

    As far as man-made dams and man-made reservoirs, there is and has been a lot of political BS and outright lies being told. “Conservationists” and “environmentalists” actually want to deconstruct a lot of dams and turn reservoirs back into dry valleys, and thereby let more fresh water flow into the ocean. This is a big controversy in California, and I think in Nevada, too.

    There’s one dam/reservoir in California (the Hetch-Hetchy, I think), that supplies San Francisco with a lot of water, that they want to destroy and revert back to “nature”. But doing so will reduce the amount of water going to SF.

    There’s another dam that could supply California with more water, which is desperately needed in the current drought, (I forget the name), but they are bleeding off the water downstream (and out to the ocean) to enable salmon migration instead. So they (the people who have authority over that dam/reservoir) are literally denying water to farmers and municipalities to save some salmon.

    There was a movie in the 70′s or 80′s, Chinatown, starring Jack Nicholson, about political corruption behind the control of water in California in the early to mid 1900′s. That was partly based on historical fact. The control of water is _very_ political, and always has been, with lots of corruption and “secret combinations”.

  14. Hi Rod,

    How fun that you found my post!

    It’s interesting that when I search “hunger 2030″ I found both articles claiming there is dire concern and articles claiming that hunger will be eradicated by 2030.

    My research into the water footprint concerns persuade me that dire concern is the more likely possibility, with a large percentage of the earth expected to experience water scarcity by 2030. In Hillary Clinton’s 2010 speech on World Water Day, she indicated that by 2025 about 2/3rds of the world would experience water stress and 2.4 billion people were predicted to experience absolute water scarcity.

    For some of my US-centric commenters (Bookslinger, Jettboy) the global dialogue on this issue includes the United States, but the way the US treats water is only significant from the standpoint of the profligate consumption patterns resulting in an unusually high food-related water footprint. This becomes a concern because the US pattern of consumption is an ideal much of the developing world aspires to, due to the export of US ideas about food exported in Hollywood’s successful media machine. If middle income individuals in China and India decide to celebrate their new social status by adopting the meat-heavy “middle income” standard of food consumption shown in US movies, the world has huge problems ahead.

    With respect to fertility rates, what Rod says is still very true in Africa, based on Hans Rosling’s excellent 2006 TED talk. If you haven’t watched Rosling’s talk, I highly recommend it. The question is whether our understanding of the world is based on data and “truth,” or an outdated political ideology.

    This week’s process goals:

    - Eat foods that require little water to produce (vegetarian, raw, drink water)

    - Find a Stop Hunger Now location and volunteer to package meals

  15. I don’t say that we can’t slide through the tight spaces with style. Just that it might take a bit of ingenuity. And folks need to be more educated and sophisticated about their consumption patterns than they currently are.

    Wickedness can include disproportionate and excess consumption, ignoring the needs of those around us. Wickedness can also involve being wasteful of the amazing resources we do have. Burying, as it were, our talent in the ground.

    I would argue that the Mormon Pioneers encountered plenty of real limits. That’s why hundreds of them lie moldering after a premature death near Winter Quarters or Devil’s Gate. That’s why my ancestor, John Taylor, fed his family members ground up cricket meal to keep them alive the first winter in Salt Lake Valley.

    Brigham challenged them to go out in the face of those limits and build a civilization in the wilderness. I think our pioneer forebears would have a visceral understanding of the limitations water poses to human health and welfare.

    So I love your certainty that there exist many options for improving life. I would love to hear you enumerate ones that you’ve implemented in your own life, and the benefit they have provided.

  16. As long as there are golf courses in the desert, do you really think that stressing myself out trying to figure out which foods are low-water usage is really going to make the slightest dent?

    It’s like when they want is to stop driving on inversion days.

    Most vanilla flavoring is artificial these days anyways. Not to be a downer, but I agree with Geoff. Saving water is great, but to truly make a difference, changing governments and businesses is the only thing that will have any real affect on water supply. Even personal choices are only as free as the products available to us.

    And before you accuse me of self-interest, I already live with a relatively small footprint.

  17. Hi SilverRain,

    It’s a matter of the pareto principle. 93% of the anthropogenic use of the world’s fresh water resources goes to growing food. In the United States the percentage apparently gets reduced to 70% (lawns, golf courses, pools, and industry make up components of the 30%).

    If you’ve stayed at a hotel, you’ve no doubt seen the nice little cards asking you to conserve resources and let them not wash your sheets and towels. Washing one room’s linens consumes 23 gallons. On the other hand, the water required to produce a $1 hamburger is 365 gallons (largely due to the beef and grain in the bread).

    So, yes, I do think that it is worth figuring out which foods “conserve water.”

  18. Perhaps it is for some. For me, I’m just glad to find the time to get to the grocery store. My energy is consumed in other, more immediate concerns. Stressing over how much water use is in every bite I eat is certainly not on my list of top 1000 concerns.

  19. I guess I would put this in the “I will try to do better” category but not the “I have to urgently change the way things are done” category. I am simply skeptical how much individuals can do when access is controlled by governments that promote a lot of very strange priorities. I have used the cotton growing example (which is the result of the ag business buying off politicians), but there are literally hundreds of other examples. I am not convinced the environmentalists have their hearts in the right place when it comes to water policy. In northern Colorado, where I live, there is a proposal to create a small dam that would do almost no environmental damage but would provide water for hundreds of thousands of people, and of course the environmentalists oppose it.

    Now having said that, I also believe that new technology (including things like aquaponics) will evolve to help the situation considerably. If we really do believe that the ice caps will melt (so far, the melting has been minimal), then projects to make sea water more useful in agriculture and for human and animal consumption will be helpful.

    I appreciate that Meg has started this discussion — I believe it is a useful topic to consider.

    One other thing worth mentioning: many people I respect point out that future wars will be fought over water access. We already see this as a factor in the Middle East, where Lebanon and Syria control water access to Israel. With water sources potentially diminishing, this is a very serious issue.

    Now, on the other hand, I would like to point out a bit of good news: the Sahara desert is getting more green, at least partly because of the worldwide increase in CO2. Is it possible that this great Earth that Jehovah and Michael created has self-correcting mechanisms? It is worth considering.

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/07/08/deserts-greening-from-rising-co2/

  20. Meg, I apprecite the approach you use here of encouraging good stewardship without overt sounding alarms through doom and gloom scenarios.

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