Sometimes it is extremely easy to reduce CO2 emissions and one way to do that is to simply drink water, or tap water to be more specific. Surely there will be some of you asking how can drinking water help reduce CO2 emissions? Well that’s easy to explain and I’ll do that in a moment. Others will be thinking that drinking water isn’t very interesting and they’d rather drink something else. It’s in these circumstances that I wonder if the world is ready to reduce pollution and slow the effects of climate change. Until someone has invented a better solution, all we can do right now is reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to buy us some extra time. It’s going to be a bit inconvenient for a while. Following on from COP26, it’s clear we have to do everything we can to reduce emissions and that includes the personal choices of all of us. Everything helps and collectively we need to get emissions of greenhouse gases down very quickly.
How does drinking water reduce CO2 emissions?
Obviously, the direct action of drinking water does not reduce CO2 emissions, it’s the indirect consequence of us not drinking something else that gives the reduction of emissions. By drinking anything else that had to be grown, harvested, modified in a factory, packaged, shipped and purchased, we’re generally creating CO2 emissions and other forms of pollution at every step of the way. If we simply fill a glass with water from the tap and drink that, we’re mostly eliminating these emissions and pollution.
How would this affect us?
Since a lot of the things we drink (other than water) contain sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, caffeine, artificial sweeteners, artificial colourants, alcohol and other chemicals, drinking water from the tap would actually be better for us. Water is all our body needs when it comes to fluids. Anything else we drink is just to satisfy certain urges, to fit in with expected social norms or as a response to effective advertising. Are any of those things really a good reason to reinforce the climate negative effects of our societies pollution habits?
Drinking tap water would also save us, collectively, an enormous amount of money. Some might say this would be bad for the economy. That can’t really be true can it? Let’s examine this a little.
What would happen is the whole world started drinking only water from “now”?
Let’s imagine a crazy world where every single person in the world suddenly started to drink only tap water from now on (I acknowledge that some places don’t have access to clean water – this is terrible, and should be of concern to the whole global human community). Nothing else was consumed. What would happen?
One thing for sure, some very large companies would go broke. For example, Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Red Bull. Coca-Cola’s revenue in 2019 was 37 billion US dollars. The global alcohol market is somewhere between 0.5 and 1.5 trillion US dollars depending on how it’s measured. So, if the world all began to drink only water, these businesses and industries would fail. In the short term, many people would be out of work and the GDP of some countries would be significantly affected.
That appears to be a bad situation, but can drinking water really be bad for the economy? A successful economy is just one where money flows round and round continuously and creates the possibility for people or businesses to attract more customers when superior products and services are offered. If everyone started drinking water, the average consumer would now have more money in their pockets and would start spending this on other things. After a period of adjustment, which might be rough for a while, everything would stabilise.
The bottom line is that a successful economy cannot hinge directly on people drinking any particular beverage.
Other surprising outcomes
If the whole world starting drinking simple water exclusively, then nobody would need to boil a kettle for a cup of tea or coffee. What would that mean? Let’s consider the United Kingdom and do a little math. An average kettle uses about 2000 Watts of power and lets say it is used for only one minute to boil water for one cup.
An article from Wales Online suggests that 56 million Brits drink on average 1.78 cups of tea per day before lockdown. The articles says it’s almost double that during lockdown, but I’ll be conservative here and use the pre-lockdown numbers. I’ll also assume it’s the same average consumption for coffee. So, we have 56 million people drinking on average 3.56 cups of tea or coffee per day.
Assuming one minute of boiling time per cup, that’s the equivalent of having 138,000 kettles running continuously all day long. If a reasonably powerful LED light bulb uses 10 Watts, that’s the equivalent of having 27 million LED bulbs burning continuously. Based on the UK average CO2 emissions from electricity (which is dropping every year), that’s the equivalent of 85 tonnes of CO2 per hour (let me know if I’ve got the math wrong!), or about 750,000 tonnes per year. This is less than a quarter of 1% of the UK’s total CO2 emissions, but it’s only from heating the water to drink tea and coffee, not including the production, packaging and shipping (and milk!) involved as well.
COP26 and Irn Bru
Based on everything I’ve said above, I was shocked to see the representatives at COP26 drinking Irn Bru. Apparently the company behind Irn Bru was allowed to sponsor the soft drinks and water at COP26 because Irn Bru is a “national champion” of Scotland. Is there a disconnect from reality here? The most important meeting in the world to tackle the emergency in front of us and the delegates at the meeting were given Irn Bru as a common drinking option, and the organisers were proud of it! Fact is that such drinks aren’t necessary and they create additional CO2 emissions. Could the organisers of COP26 have considered that?
This would have been a great forum for showcasing how simple personal choices can have an immediate impact on greenhouse gas emissions, but it was missed. If tap water was the only thing available at COP26 and there was a news article on that, could that have had an impact?
Where to from here?
In the spirit of Use 10 Percent Less, this is not an all or nothing issue. We all don’t have to switch to water only right now. The real point of this article is to give you reason to consider choosing simple water more often and avoiding the options that contribute to the climate emergency we’re battling. Can you drink 10 percent less manufactured beverages? That can’t be too hard can it? Then, could you drink 10 percent less again?
If we can do this, we’ll save money, be a bit healthier and reduce greenhouse gas emissions all at the same time.
- ‘An emblem of Scotland’: how Irn-Bru stole the show at Cop26 – from The Guardian
- Emissions from home energy use – from carbonindependent.org
- Record-breaking 2020 becomes greenest year for Britain’s electricity
Lia Mills says
Thanks for this thought-provoking piece, Peter. Your argument for drinking tap water is compelling, but the stats on the amount of power used to boil kettles is staggering, I’d never thought about THAT. Thanks for this.
Sharon Whiting says