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Drought Is Nuts (Nuts = Drought) [Apr. 3rd, 2015|03:46 pm]
You guys, it pains me, but I think I'm taking almonds off the menu. If you can bear it, you probably should, too.

You've probably heard that there's a drought in California. A severe, mandatory watering-bans, no seriously they might run out of water type drought. Which is not particularly expected to end anytime soon. This sucks and is also kind of alarming when you consider that the majority of the produced consumed in the U.S. is grown in California, but we can't control the weather, and if you don't live there, there's not much you can do about it, right?


I was fact-checking some stuff for a comment I wanted to make, and I discovered: 75-80% of California's water goes to agriculture. And a big chunk of that (fully 10% of the water use in CA) goes to growing almonds. 80% of the entire world supply of almonds comes from California. So if you're eating an almond, it almost certainly came from California.

And almonds are horrifically water-intensive. Pound-for-pound, almonds take more water to produce than pretty much any other food crop grown in the U.S.. They're worse than beef, which is usually the thing that people bring up when they talk about food and drought. They are so bad that I can present you with the complete (as far as I can tell) list of foods that take more water to grow than almonds, right here: sesame oil, cocoa, coffee (roasted), nutmeg, cloves, and vanilla beans. Note that most of them spices, consumed in much smaller quantities than nuts, and almost all of them are grown in the tropics, where there's more rain.

So why do California farmers use so much water growing almonds? Because they're really profitable. And why are they profitable? Because people pay money to buy them.

And "people" means us. You and me and others like us, we buy almonds. If we stop buying them (or at least buy a lot less of them), demand goes down, profits drop, and it stops making economic sense for farmers to use so much water growing almonds. If California stopped growing almonds entirely, 10% of the state's water use -- an amount equal to 2/3 of the total residential use -- would just go away.

That won't happen, but that's still a pretty big policy lever, and adding one more person's worth of collective push on it is probably the single biggest contribution that any one of us could possibly expect to make towards solving the problem. (I mean, unless you're an almond farmer or a state legislator. Which I'm not.)

And it's not a significant hardship for me. I like almonds, but I don't depend on them. It's not going to dramatically worsen my life to try to avoid them. So yeah, I kinda feel like I gotta do it.

Goodbye, almonds, I will miss you. But you are too thirsty.

[User Picture]From: thedragonweaver
2015-04-04 02:29 am (UTC)

Water-intensive crops

I was shocked to find that out too. You know what's not water-intensive? Grapes. So buy some wine instead of almonds, and you're probably good.

Incidentally, this is what's called a "Mediterranean climate." Which means that any plants that thrive in the Mediterranean also do well here. Which means olives are also on the menu. Buy California olive oil—it's going to be the real stuff anyway.
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[User Picture]From: allanh
2015-04-04 04:27 am (UTC)
Did I mention that the California Almond Board is one of my company's long-term clients? Not one of mine, however, so I'm off the hook. :)

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[User Picture]From: huxbear
2015-04-04 07:09 pm (UTC)
What an awesomely succinct way of getting that info across -- thanks! :-)
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[User Picture]From: bluebear2
2015-04-05 03:41 am (UTC)
So are there any people in California who still think that global warming is a myth?
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[User Picture]From: dendren
2015-04-08 03:16 pm (UTC)
I got in to a discussion about this with a friend in Chicago a day or so ago. I don't know that you stopping eating almonds is the answer here. Honestly, killing the almond industry (and/or so many of the other industries here in California that are water dependent/intensive) will be just as devastating to the state as the drought, if not more. Almonds bring in a shit load of money to the state tax-wise. Plus the number of people employed by the industry. There was also some discussion about Nestle bottles water here and sells it, and that is a little iffy in my head, but again, industry, taxes, jobs... we lose those it won't matter whether there is water or not.

I truly don't know what the answer is here but my instincts say this isn't it. I think you should keep eating almonds in any case. you are keeping a lot of people employed!
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2015-04-08 05:13 pm (UTC)
The thing is, I think the almond industry is already screwed because it's massively over-developed.

If the drought isn't just a quick little blip that's over six months from now -- and let's be honest, every indicator is that it's not -- then the amount of water going to growing almonds is just flat-out unsustainable. Things will have to change. And if change takes too long to come and people start to get thirsty, it'll still happen, but it could get nasty. If people turn on the faucets and nothing comes out but they still see almond trees getting watered when they drive by, how long before somebody starts setting fires?

Lost tax income is bad, but I think serious water shortages would be way, way worse. California's economy is diverse and robust; agriculture only accounts for two percent of the state's economy, and almonds are about a quarter of that. If comes down to a choice between taxes on half a percent of the state economy or or large-scale rioting (which it will, eventually), I feel pretty confident the state will be okay with imposing some restrictions on the farmers.

So in my estimation, it's not a question of if the almond industry shrinks, but when and how. If we can push on the consumer demand side, it'll be sooner and easier than if not, and I think that's the better future to aim for.

(As for the Nestle thing, I think it's just flat-out evil. I already boycott bottled water in general, but I'd welcome anyone who wants to join me...)
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[User Picture]From: dendren
2015-04-09 02:47 pm (UTC)
I do agree, the almond industry may be a goner when it comes to long term feasibility in California. I'm still not sure that our friends and allies stopping eating almonds right here right now is the right or needed thing to do but I do appreciate the thought. I honestly don't know what to think about the disaster potential at this point. Do we struggle through this cycle, finally get inundated and flooded out by a couple of El Nino winters, and then face the next dry cycle when it comes. Or is this the time that we don't see a wet cycle start and we become the great dust bowl exodus of the early 21st century. It's going to be very interesting to see what this state (well and the whole world) looks like in 10 years and what kind of changes the current problem will actually put in to place.
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[User Picture]From: christopher575
2015-04-08 04:29 pm (UTC)
It's pretty shocking to find out how much water all kinds of things take. 2500 gallons for a pound of beef and 1000 for a gallon of milk. Oy.
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