Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

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Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby Sableagle » Sat Aug 01, 2015 10:25 pm UTC

I'm presented with a choice. I could get milk. I could also get a milk substitute, almond-, soya- or coconut-based, from Alpro, Koko or Blue Diamond. From a purely environmental point of view, for someone in northern England, which is the best choice?
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Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby PAstrychef » Sun Aug 02, 2015 2:05 am UTC

Milk.
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Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Sun Aug 02, 2015 3:06 am UTC

Source?
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Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby Sableagle » Sun Aug 02, 2015 10:02 am UTC

Producing milk's incredibly inefficient in terms of water and land use but they make it around here and Yorkshire's no desert. We don't grow coconuts, and Blue Diamond is Californian, so if I go for Blue Diamond I'm choosing a product made with almonds grown in a state with a huge water shortage one third of the way round the world. It's not as clear as the choice between locally-grown strawberries and South African strawberries or local veal (by-product of the dairy industry, rather than farmed on purpose) versus New Zealand lamb.
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Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby qetzal » Sun Aug 02, 2015 1:11 pm UTC

Sableagle wrote:Producing milk's incredibly inefficient in terms of water and land use...


Seems like the obvious choice is water.

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Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby Sableagle » Sun Aug 02, 2015 3:49 pm UTC

Heh. Good answer. Around here the tap water's got more calcium than the milk anyway.
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Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby Azrael » Sun Aug 02, 2015 4:48 pm UTC

In an attempt to assuage my doubts about whether this thread really belongs here, let's try to come up with a quantitative answer? In terms of CO2 (not total impact by any stretch, but a starting point):

Image

Milk is listed. I'm figuring that a soy creamer is probably about the same as tofu. Almonds are apt to be on the high side of nuts, plus processing into almond milk (+20% based on nuts -> peanut butter). But shipping? Even given the efficiencies of ocean freight (an assumption on my part is that no one is flying soy or almond milk to the UK), I don't see how either of the alternatives could possibly come out on top unless the shipping was net negative.

Image
Ok, based on this, 1 kg moving 10,000* km by ship from Long Beach to London, the shipping impact would be 100g CO2. Adding 0.1 to the numbers under each food item in the chart above. Not as much as I would have thought, but milk still wins.

* I am super happy to know that there is an ocean shipping route calculator, even if it's results look questionable.

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Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby Sableagle » Sun Aug 02, 2015 5:32 pm UTC

Thanks, Azrael.
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Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Sun Aug 02, 2015 8:13 pm UTC

Az, shouldn't that calculation include water weight? There's a lot less than 110g of almonds in 110g of almond milk.
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Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby BattleMoose » Sun Aug 02, 2015 8:44 pm UTC

Its not the greatest chart, but its something, gives a reasonable idea. I would have preferred it be done by calories instead of mass but there it is. You can also complain about the water weight of milk because, mostly water.

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Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Sun Aug 02, 2015 8:47 pm UTC

My point is that you can't necessarily assume that 110g of almond milk has the same carbon footprint as 110g of almonds. Presumably 110g of milk does have the same footprint as 110g of milk.
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Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby BattleMoose » Sun Aug 02, 2015 8:50 pm UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:My point is that you can't necessarily assume that 110g of almond milk has the same carbon footprint as 110g of almonds. Presumably 110g of milk does have the same footprint as 110g of milk.


And 110g of milk and 110g of almonds aren't comparable either. They have the same mass and that's it.

EDIT: A cup of almond milk has about 60 calories compared to 150 for whole milk. *shrug*

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Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby PAstrychef » Mon Aug 03, 2015 2:25 am UTC

Given the way nut milks are made, they might well use more water than animal milk if you include how water intensive growing nuts is.
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Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Mon Aug 03, 2015 3:08 am UTC

Apparently not. Cows, and their food, also take a lot of water.
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Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby Derek » Mon Aug 03, 2015 5:48 am UTC

If you're concerned about the environmental impact of your food, the water usage is not significant. Water is an extremely renewable resource, and food can easily be grown in areas where water is plentiful and shipped to other areas. Most of the talk about water usage recently has been related to the drought in California, and is only relevant if your food was grown in California.

On a related note, eating locally grown food is not necessarily environmentally friendly. In fact, I would speculate that it usually is not. Locally grown food, especially when it's marketed as such, is likely not being grown in it's ideal environment, which means it's putting more stress on the environment. It's also more vulnerable to local climate issues like droughts, whereas non-local food can be imported from just about anywhere. Transporting food around the world has a much smaller environmental impact than you probably think (see Arael's post).

So if you're concerned about your food's environmental impact, I would focus on carbon and other pollution, not water usage, and don't worry much about eating locally grown food.

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Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby BattleMoose » Mon Aug 03, 2015 6:11 am UTC

While its true that there are some locations really don't have to worry about water consumption (NZ) its generally not true. And as populations keep growing the demand on water resources are increasing, everywhere and its going to become more of an issue, everywhere.

In the past droughts were much more survivable largely because the draw on water resources was so much less than it is today. The equivalent droughts today pose much greater risks. And generally is just good for people to understand how much water goes into their food.

This actually happened. Because, limiting how much water people drink is clearly the issue.

http://www.foxnews.com/leisure/2015/03/ ... nless-ask/

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Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby Derek » Mon Aug 03, 2015 7:15 am UTC

BattleMoose wrote:This actually happened. Because, limiting how much water people drink is clearly the issue.

http://www.foxnews.com/leisure/2015/03/ ... nless-ask/

Yes, California's handling of the drought has been ass backwards. Slate Star Codex had a good post on it. This is the money quote (emphasis mine):

it seems to me if we wanted to buy out all alfalfa growers by paying them their usual yearly income to just sit around and not grow any alfalfa, that would cost $860 million per year and free up 5.3 million acre-feet, ie pretty much our entire shortfall of 6 million acre-feet, thus solving the drought. Sure, 860 million dollars sounds like a lot of money, but note that right now California newspapers have headlines like "Billions In Water Spending Not Enough, Officials Say". Well, maybe that’s because you’re spending it on giving people $125 rebates for water-saving toilets, instead of buying out the alfalfa industry. I realize that paying people subsidies to misuse water to grow unprofitable crops, and then offering them countersubsidies to not take your first set of subsidies, is to say the least a very creative way to spend government money – but the point is it is better than what we’re doing now.


That aside, I stand by my statement that on a global scale, that is, recognizing that we can transport food around the globe at extremely low costs, water shortages are not a major issue, and water usage should not be a significant factor in calculating the environmental impact of your diet.

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Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby leady » Mon Aug 03, 2015 8:32 am UTC

Having lived in Northern England for 22 years of my life I can assure you that water is not the immediate limiting factor :)

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Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby BattleMoose » Mon Aug 03, 2015 9:34 am UTC

Derek wrote:That aside, I stand by my statement that on a global scale, that is, recognizing that we can transport food around the globe at extremely low costs, water shortages are not a major issue, and water usage should not be a significant factor in calculating the environmental impact of your diet.


Ummm, on a global scale we have already spent huge amounts of money to secure water resources. Off the top of my head, Lesotho Highlands Water Project and the Snowy Mountain Scheme, both huge engineering works, complexes of dams and tunnels, for the primary purpose of taking water from one place to another. We even do cloud seeding in the Sierra Nevadas and the Snowy Mountains in a desperate attempt to eek out more water into these regions.

From a scholarly perspective, Vorosmarty et al. (2010) argue that nearly 80% of the world’s population is exposed to “high levels” of threat to water security. "Threats to human water security and river biodiversity. "

As for your plan to transport water. Firstly, the largest tanker we have, has a capacity of 305 acre feet (SERIOUSLY, ACRE FEET!) , compared to a water deficit in a California of 6 million acre feet? Also, there are four of these such tankers. And, with the current glut in the oil market they have been super busy moving oil about. There just isn't the logistical capacity to move the amount of water that California needs, it doesn't exist.

And who would you buy the water from? I don't think there are, really, any places that have dams full of water willing to sell it, nothing like the quantities that are needed. As for our friend in England, the largest reservoir in England has a capacity of 160 000 acre feet, don't know if its full and I would be sure as fuck, the UK won't be selling that water.

Then there's the cost of operating these tankers to shift this water... There is no way to make these numbers even remotely make sense.

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Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby Derek » Mon Aug 03, 2015 9:48 am UTC

I said transport food, not water. No one in California is at risk of dehydration. What's at risk are crops, but crops are trivially imported from other places if necessary (or in California's case, simply reduce exports).

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Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby Azrael » Mon Aug 03, 2015 1:15 pm UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:Apparently not. Cows, and their food, also take a lot of water.

Yup.

Based on the links below, 1 lb of milk takes 122 gallons of water. At 8.8lb/gal, a single gallon of milk takes 1073 gallons of water.

Back to almond milk: Turns out it's mostly a scam. There's at most 3 oz of almonds in a gallon of almond milk, based on nutrition content. At 1,929 gallons/lb, a gallon of almond milk would consume 362 gallons of water (plus another gallon that's in the bottle). What I don't know is the efficiency of the almond milk manufacturing process. It might consume a pound of almonds to get 3 oz worth of nutrition into the brew (like coffee) and produce a bunch of cattle feed out the other end. Without that multiplication factor, or an understanding of the value of the tailings, we're shooting blind.


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Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Mon Aug 03, 2015 1:21 pm UTC

Which part is the scam?
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Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby Sizik » Mon Aug 03, 2015 3:06 pm UTC

Presumably that a gallon of almond milk costs far more than the equivalent amount of almonds.
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Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby Zamfir » Mon Aug 03, 2015 3:09 pm UTC

What do they mean when it 'takes' 122 gallons for a pound of milk? I understand how it can take, for example, so-and-so much gasoline for a pound of milk. But water is not consumed in the process, it cycles through. How do people assign objective values to that?

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Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby Chen » Mon Aug 03, 2015 3:19 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:What do they mean when it 'takes' 122 gallons for a pound of milk? I understand how it can take, for example, so-and-so much gasoline for a pound of milk. But water is not consumed in the process, it cycles through. How do people assign objective values to that?


Presumably how much water the cows need for both drinking and for the food they consume compared to the amount of milk they produce.

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Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby cphite » Mon Aug 03, 2015 3:36 pm UTC

Sizik wrote:Presumably that a gallon of almond milk costs far more than the equivalent amount of almonds.


Why wouldn't it?

You're not just paying for a jug of water with some almonds thrown into it. The almonds have to be cleaned, ground up and pressed, flavored, mixed with water. The resulting mess is then strained, further flavored, bottled up, and shipped.

It's not particularly difficult to make yourself... but basically you're paying for the convenience of not having to do that.

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Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon Aug 03, 2015 3:50 pm UTC

The issue being though that the equivalent weight of almond milk does not carry the same nutritional value as the equivalent weight of almonds, and, perhaps more importantly, requires even more water be used on an already water intensive product.

It's taking a product (almonds) which took a large amount of water to produce in the first place, and adding more water to them to reduce the overall nutritional content, all in an effort to make vague claims of healthfulness. Ecologically, it's way worse than just milk.
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Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby Zamfir » Mon Aug 03, 2015 5:07 pm UTC

Chen wrote:
Zamfir wrote:What do they mean when it 'takes' 122 gallons for a pound of milk? I understand how it can take, for example, so-and-so much gasoline for a pound of milk. But water is not consumed in the process, it cycles through. How do people assign objective values to that?


Presumably how much water the cows need for both drinking and for the food they consume compared to the amount of milk they produce.

But does that lead to a meaningful number? When cows drink, the water doesn't disappear - it is literally pissed out, often adding to the water 'consumed' by the grass. And grass doesn't consume the water either. Even when it ends up in the grass itself end the grass fresh in the cow, it reduces the water needs of the cow. Or it evaporates, or drains off. And the drainage water might or might not be used again for other purposes. Etc. And the water might come from rain, or ground water, or open water, each with their own effect on the overall balance.

We want to know if and how much some agricultural product contributes to water shortages. Would a raw count of water-in really tell us much about that? Especially when comparing different products with different water cycles and different location with their own specifics.

I would think that those raw water figures are mostly useful to compare different products in the same place, if that place relies heavily on irrigation water pumped in from elsewhere. Which might be the case for Californian almonds, I don't know anything about growing almonds. But does it make sense to attribute a water consumption number to cows in rainy england? Let alone compare that number one-on-one to the almond number?

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Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby Sableagle » Mon Aug 03, 2015 5:15 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:What do they mean when it 'takes' 122 gallons for a pound of milk? I understand how it can take, for example, so-and-so much gasoline for a pound of milk. But water is not consumed in the process, it cycles through. How do people assign objective values to that?


I think it's because the water cycle is operating on a global scale and dairy farming is local.

Locally, the water is coming from a fairly clean part of the river upstream of the farm, being used to wash the equipment and the buildings and the cows and water the cows and water the crops and so on and then leaving by evaporation or by running into the more polluted river downstream of the farm. We don't have a practical means of getting water from the Humber back to the reservoir and leaving the crud in the Humber. If you take Nidderdale as an example, it's an area with plenty of water falling out of the sky in most years, but what falls east of Pateley Bridge never goes into a reservoir. They could catch more by building a dam in the Nidd Gorge at Knaresborough, but that'd flood the dairy farms and a few towns. Water can be pumped up out of a river for irrigation, sure, but that takes power. Elsewhere, with less rainfall, you have people reliant on aquifer water. As long as they draw up water at a rate less than rainfall replaces it, that works, but if they take too much out the sea comes in, and then the aquifer's a write-off for the next 1,000 years. Take a look at Syria. Years ago, they nearly went to war with Turkey because Turkey was building a dam across the Euphrates to take out more water and that river was Syria's main source of water. The amount of water Turkey uses doesn't affect how much water there is on Earth much, and has only a small effect on how much rain falls into the catchment areas of the Euphrates and Tigris, but it does have a huge effect on how much water Syria gets. Take a look at the Golan. Israelite archers have longer range downhill than up and can get off more volleys at Damascene spearmen who are attacking uphill than at those attacking on level ground, and the Damascenes will be more tired when they close to melee range if they've had to attack uphill, so high ground's very useful strategically ... and it also generates rain.

Sharing the water sounds like a great idea. Give me some godlike powers for a few weeks here, and I'll sort something out for you. A new group of islands in the Atlantic, for a start. We can have that Refugee Nation right there without treading on anybody's (except maybe some Cthonic monstrosity's) toes. With lots of islands in the 5-8 x 10-15 mile size range, some with and some without cats, we can see how different songbird populations are in cat-free areas. If I make a hundred identikit islands, we can have different cannabis regimes on them and, in 150 years or so, get some proper scientific evidence about how harmful cannabis is ... when people are compelled to take it, rather than taking it voluntarily ... :? For the rainfall thing, we can have a large land mass that's shaped to catch the prevailing winds and create a lot of rain (apologies to anyone in the USA who misses out on being flooded next September as a result), which we can then catch with a huge dam (I can make those with my Rod Of Wall Building from Angband). With a ship the size of an aircraft carrier rigged like an old Clipper but carrying solar panels instead of sails, we could catch enough sunlight to power ... the in-harbour manoeuvring thrusters of an aircraft carrier. Oh. Bum. Well, that's alright. I'm being a god here. Let's have a thousand of them, all robotic, automatically droning back and forth between these islands and a new harbour near Baniyas where they can offload water.

Okay, that's almost as far-fetched as the Bible, but it's an illustration of the problem with the idea of sharing water. To put it far more simply: "How?" You can't pipe water from New Zealand directly to Nevada through a series of floating, solar-powered pumping stations and several thousand miles of rubber hose, or use the portal gun to divert floodwater from upstream of York, England, to upstream of Esfahan, Iran, can you?
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Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby Sableagle » Mon Aug 03, 2015 5:25 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:But does it make sense to attribute a water consumption number to cows in rainy england?
http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/mar/08/how-water-shortages-lead-food-crises-conflicts
http://catchments.nerc.ac.uk/issues/cri ... eConsent=A
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17600062
https://geolocation.ws/v/P/29741267/thr ... servoir/en


Rainy, yes, but with a population of 53,000,000 people, England uses quite a lot of water. Nearly 17M of them are in London and the SE, which isn't a particularly rainy area and, being populated and polluted, isn't a good place for a reservoir. There's a huge pipe from Yorkshire down to the SE so that the rich folks can keep washing their 4x4s every Sunday.
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Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby Azrael » Mon Aug 03, 2015 5:39 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:What do they mean when it 'takes' 122 gallons for a pound of milk?

Methodology can be found in links from:

http://waterfootprint.org/en/standard/global-water-footprint-standard/

Provided it is consistently applied, the raw numbers aren't particularly important in the comparison, but rather the scale between any two foodstuffs.

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Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Mon Aug 03, 2015 7:02 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:It's taking a product (almonds) which took a large amount of water to produce in the first place, and adding more water to them to reduce the overall nutritional content, all in an effort to make vague claims of healthfulness.

Uhh, I would think the more important reason is "in an effort to make a milk-like beverage." I don't think I've ever had anyone try to convince me that almond milk is healthier than just almonds, nor have I ever been under the impression that that was the case. I have been under the impression that almond milk makes a lot better of a drink than a handful of almonds, and so far my experience has borne that impression out.

Izawwlgood wrote:Ecologically, it's way worse than just milk.

Wait, where was this established?
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Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby Tyndmyr » Mon Aug 03, 2015 7:22 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:
Chen wrote:
Zamfir wrote:What do they mean when it 'takes' 122 gallons for a pound of milk? I understand how it can take, for example, so-and-so much gasoline for a pound of milk. But water is not consumed in the process, it cycles through. How do people assign objective values to that?


Presumably how much water the cows need for both drinking and for the food they consume compared to the amount of milk they produce.

But does that lead to a meaningful number? When cows drink, the water doesn't disappear - it is literally pissed out, often adding to the water 'consumed' by the grass. And grass doesn't consume the water either. Even when it ends up in the grass itself end the grass fresh in the cow, it reduces the water needs of the cow. Or it evaporates, or drains off. And the drainage water might or might not be used again for other purposes. Etc. And the water might come from rain, or ground water, or open water, each with their own effect on the overall balance.

We want to know if and how much some agricultural product contributes to water shortages. Would a raw count of water-in really tell us much about that? Especially when comparing different products with different water cycles and different location with their own specifics.

I would think that those raw water figures are mostly useful to compare different products in the same place, if that place relies heavily on irrigation water pumped in from elsewhere. Which might be the case for Californian almonds, I don't know anything about growing almonds. But does it make sense to attribute a water consumption number to cows in rainy england? Let alone compare that number one-on-one to the almond number?


I have this issue with a ton of this, yes. The raw numbers do not necessarily accurately describe reality. Or at least, it doesn't accurately convey what's happening. In the US, it's pretty normal to feed corn to our animals. Which sure, takes a bunch of water. Which is...mostly grown in the midwest, not california. Hell, a lot of cows are in the midwest, too. If water isn't in short supply there, it's not really a problem. And for most of the midwest, it's generally not.

In a practical sense, consuming vegetables grown in California might be contributing to water shortages far more than consuming beef grown elsewhere, even though the number of gallons is significantly larger. So, using just the numbers to determine what action to take would not necessarily be a good idea.

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Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby BattleMoose » Mon Aug 03, 2015 7:38 pm UTC

Well I think its established that context really does matter. I think its generally a good idea for people to have an idea, comparatively, of the water content of their foods. I have generally lived in arid countries, South Africa and now Australia, water resources are just an issue.

There is some land that cannot be used much than for raising animals, in that context its a no brainer, raise animals.

Then there is better land that can be used to raise crops or animals and the limiting factor is often water. Ultimate control is with the consumer who ultimately sets prices and drives what the farmers do. On a national level, should we be growing rice in Australia? We grow rice in Australia. Again, context matters, if that land/water couldn't be used for anything but rice, then grow rice.

For more context, Australia, particularly south and south east Australia had an epic drought, 1990-2010ish. Sheep populations declined from 170 million to 70 million. A decline of 100 million sheep...

morriswalters
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Joined: Thu Jun 03, 2010 12:21 am UTC

Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby morriswalters » Mon Aug 03, 2015 7:48 pm UTC

someone wrote:What do they mean when it 'takes' 122 gallons for a pound of milk? I understand how it can take, for example, so-and-so much gasoline for a pound of milk. But water is not consumed in the process, it cycles through. How do people assign objective values to that?
I assume, what they say. If you get plenty of rain then you can afford those gallons. If you don't then you can't. Ask the California Dairy Council. Once that cow drinks those gallons then they are gone so far as the locals are concerned, someone downstream will get that water.

billy joule
Posts: 54
Joined: Tue Jun 11, 2013 7:14 am UTC

Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby billy joule » Mon Aug 03, 2015 11:20 pm UTC

BattleMoose wrote:While its true that there are some locations really don't have to worry about water consumption (NZ) its generally not true.

We still worry, I was under water use restrictions summer before last.

We worry about water quality too..
60% of NZs waterways were not safe to swim in in 2013, mainly due to effluent run off from dairy farms.
50% of our total GHG emissions are from agriculture, most of which is from dairy farming.
The environmental effects of dairy farming have been a hot topic here for years, I find Azraels infographic conflicts with what I've lapped up from the green agenda over the past few years :o

BattleMoose
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Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby BattleMoose » Tue Aug 04, 2015 4:55 am UTC

billy joule wrote:
BattleMoose wrote:While its true that there are some locations really don't have to worry about water consumption (NZ) its generally not true.

We still worry, I was under water use restrictions summer before last.


You get over 6 metres of rainfall in a substantial section of the country! Even on the north island you are getting about a metre or a metre and a half. Sounds like you have some management problems but a shortage of precipitation just ain't it.

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Zamfir
I built a novelty castle, the irony was lost on some.
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Re: Dairy or dairy-free alternative?

Postby Zamfir » Tue Aug 04, 2015 7:57 am UTC

Methodology can be found in links from:

http://waterfootprint.org/en/standard/g ... -standard/

Thanks! That's exactly what I was looking for. It does seem complicated, but that's only to be expected. I'll read up.


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