Stephen Leahy

Rebel Journalism and the Rights of Water

Date:May 2015

Stephen Leahy, independent international environmental journalist, and author of Your Water Footprint: The Shocking Facts About How Much Water we Use to Make Everyday Products.

Stephen Leahy discusses his latest book on our water footprint and on how he’s made Community Supported Environmental Journalism work for him. After two decades writing about environmental issues in the public interest Leahy has also employed crowd sourcing as a way to finance his work. In 2014 he published his first book titled Your Water Footprint: The Shocking Facts about How Much Water we Use to Make Everyday Products. 

Community Supported Environmental Journalism

Stephen Leahy pioneered Community Supported Environmental Journalism as a way to finance his work while ensuring important environmental issues continue to be covered. Through Leahy’s Web site, people supplement his income though donations and support him in other ways including by providing accommodations when he travels. Leahy tells Cameron that the mainstream media in Canada have essentially abandoned the environmental beat and that “Canadians are actually fairly poorly informed compared to Europeans who still have very strong environmental coverage.”

Water Footprint

In his 2014 book Your Water Footprint: The Shocking Facts about How Much Water we Use to Make Everyday Products, Leahy presents the reader with a combination of riveting facts and infographics to illustrate how much water is used to support everyday activities. Much like the Ecological Footprint, which measures consumption against how much land is required to support the resource use/ waste, a “water footprint” is the amount of fresh water used to produce the goods and services we consume, including growing, harvesting, packaging, and shipping. The concept of “virtual water” is about the water it takes to make everyday things: 5,000 litres to make a cotton t-shirt; 140 litres for one cup of coffee; 7,500 litres to produce a pound of butter. According to Leahy, the average person in North America’s water footprint is about 8,000 litres per day per person. Of that, 300 to 400 litres is the direct use—toilets, showers, cooking, washing—while the rest of it is the virtual water. This is an issue because only about 3 percent of the world’s water is drinkable and we’re using more and more of it every year. Leahy discusses how the resulting shortages are causing drought, food shortages, economic contraction, and mass migration.

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