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One Chart Showing Why the Global Drought Is Only Going to Get Worse

Illustration for article titled One Chart Showing Why the Global Drought Is Only Going to Get Worse

The world is dry and getting drier. So when should we expect relief to finally land? Possibly not at all, according to this chart.

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The Food and Agriculture Organization’s stats department recently took a look at how the world’s water use has changed over the last century—and found that we’re using seven times as much water as we did a century ago. Every segment of water usage has grown, from industrial uses to the amount of water evaporating out of reservoirs. This is not a surprise. We have bigger populations than we did a century ago and those populations are using more. By far, though, the biggest area of growth and usage both is due to agriculture, whose water use quintupled over the last century.

There are things that we can do— and certainly will, as water restrictions grow tighter—to decrease the amount of water we’re using on farms, but changing how people farm has always been a slow, sluggish process that can take generations to filter through. It’s a problem of a scale, a problem of the apprenticeship model of farming, a problem of equipment and outfitting, a problem of the kind of crops we grow. And with a population that’s continuing to grow, the demand is only going to keep increasing.

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Illustration for article titled One Chart Showing Why the Global Drought Is Only Going to Get Worse

Top image: CSIRO, Chart: FAO.

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DISCUSSION

And over this time period, how much did the world population increase? Something like 4.5 times (yeah, I know I’m rounding a little). If you don’t want agricultural water use to increase, you could, y’know, quit having babies or something. Also - overall daily consumption of meat has gone up and meat production implicitly requires more water (totes worth it in my opinion - I could never be a vegetarian).

What I would want to see here is a comparison of agricultural yield increase per water usage increase (which would probably be kinda difficult to do for the whole world across the whole time frame). I don’t have the info in front of me, but anecdotally I can totally assure you that farmers are doing more with less and will continue to do so. Looking at this and saying “oh man, we need to find ways to use less water on farms. Those farmers are totally stuck in their ways!” is kind of disingenuous.