My Water Creed:
Drink Your Water, Count Your Blessings
Growing up only one mile from Lake Michigan, I rarely considered the reality of how scarce fresh water is in the world. I can only actually recall one time in my childhood where I couldn’t have as much water as I wanted. One hot summer day when I was about seven years old, I plugged my flower-shaped sprinkler into the hose expecting it to spin around and splash me with cold water. To my surprise, the plastic flower flopped down producing only a trickle of water. I was really annoyed so I ran to my dad and asked him why my toy wouldn’t work. He explained that the water pressure was too low to make the flower spin because so many people were using the city’s water due to the immense heat. At that point I probably trudged back into my air-conditioned house, but what I do remember is feeling kind of angry. Looking back on this, it was selfish to be angry even though I did not know any better at the time. How could I be mad that I could not play in water when there are more than one billion people in the world without access to safe drinking water? Growing up I lived in a culture where could have anything I wanted, whenever I wanted it, and I’ll admit I still do.
Now I know resources, especially water, are extremely limited and not distributed equally among the human population, and therefore I should never take a glass of water or warm shower for granted. Although my worldview is far from completely developed at the age of nineteen, I can confidently say it has mostly heavily been influenced by my values regarding the environment and my wish for no one to suffer. I think sustainability should be incorporated into every aspect of life. I feel disheartened knowing in the near future the earth may be stripped of its natural beauty and the sustenance our planet provides us with. Before this class I never thought of water conservation as a top environmental concern. My biggest environmental woe has always been plastics, but now I’m starting to think I should place more importance on issues such as water conservation. This issue not only affects people, but the entire earth as a functioning system.
The great disparity in the distribution of fresh water on our planet causes the issue of water scarcity to affect vast amounts of people. Safe drinking water available on the earth is spread out just as unevenly as wealth is in society. The world is not a fair place, unfortunately. When I was younger I was naïve enough to think that the solution to a problem such as this, was as easy as filling up jugs of water from my own sink and then sending them to Sub-Saharan Africa. I’ve learned that life’s solutions are never that simple, and providing the water that one billion people just do not have, can be quite complicated. Water issues have great depths and can be approached at from many different angles. But before I address these issues, a question I have for myself is: why do I care? It would be so easy to say, “I have never had to struggle for water or other resources in my life before, so I don’t really care if other people do have to struggle. Their issues aren’t my issue” It is hard to determine where your own values have come from when they have been developing since you were a child. When I was younger I always wanted to help other people, and then when I learned about environmental issues, I wanted to help the environment as well. Is this drive to help other living things something you are born with, or do these values develop over time? I supposed it’s a little of both, and I find that that the values I’ve developed over my life make it so I cannot help but care.
I care deeply about the earth as a whole. This includes every living creature ranging from mammals, to the microscopic nematodes hidden beneath the soil. It took thirteen billion years from the initial creation of the universe for the life on our earth to evolve to its current state. It has yet to be proven that life has existed, or does currently exist outside of our planet. What if we are the only intelligent form of life in this entire universe? If so, humans would be the only
form of life capable of intense emotions, higher learning and the creation of art. The earth itself is in a delicate balance, and up to about a thousand years ago, the human race did not tip the scales, but were adapted to living with the earth. Human intelligence allowed for innovations such as agriculture to support a population with a high growth rate. We have evolved to be too smart for our own good. Water, our most vital resource of all, is under great strain as populations grow and water sources aren’t replenished fast enough. If the entire water system is at jeopardy, all life on earth is as well. It saddens me to think that our incredible earth and advanced selves, which took about 13 billion years to create, might not exist a single century from now.
There is a theory which states “that the life expectancy of Industrial Civilization is less than or equal to 100 years” (Duncan). This quote has helped shaped my worldview because I can see this happening, and that scares me. Although we have been industrialized for a hundred years and have yet to see our demise, I believe there is a strong possibility that society will collapse in on itself. My vision of this collapse is a slow one filled with suffering and death. Of course the earth has rebounded from five mass extinctions before, but who wants to be a part of the currently developing sixth mass extinction? I sure don’t. Maybe technology will be so developed at this point that people will be able to continue living on earth even after its resources have been depleted and most species diversity is lost, but I definitely do not want to be a part of that earth either. Once we have lost the majority of species on earth, who knows what species will radiate and take over. Giant people-eating dragonflies?
Probably not, but let’s not find out. While people won’t be running away from giant dragonflies in the next 50 years, people in water scarce regions will be racing against each other for the last drops of fresh water.
Currently over one billion people on earth do not have adequate amounts of food or water, and this number is expected to increase greatly in the future. Not only do these people suffer from thirst and hunger, but without clean water, diseases spread rampant and cause even more suffering. It pains me to know that there are people in such great discomfort in the world, even though I cannot actually feel their pain. At times I feel guilty that I can have anything I need, whenever I want, when there are children in the world starving and drinking contaminated water. What is even more disconcerting is that I can, and do, consume even more resources than I would ever need. Why is it that I can simply turn on a faucet and take as much water from it as I want while other people, specifically women, must walk miles each day to collect only as much water as they are capable of carrying?
Ethically, I think it is completely unacceptable that a person cannot have access to a water source just because they cannot pay for it. This situation arises often when water is privatized because the poor end up not being able to afford the water they so desperately need. This degrades their quality of life to a great extent. I strongly believe that water is a fundamental human right, and knowing there are people who are denied water because they are too poor, fuels this belief. The idea of charging people up to thirty percent of their daily wages for access to water is as ridiculous to me as the idea of making a person pay for the amount of air they breathe. Oxygen and water are the two most precious resources a person has. Not only do I feel connected to water as it is essential to my survival, but it amazes me to think I am made up of 66% water. Without water nothing could live, but ironically water has the ability to steal a person’s breath forever. I feel incredibly aware of this after having spent the entire summer life-guarding children and my co-staff.
One day I took my nature class to collect wild, edible greens from a patch of plants right outside the fence of the swimming area, when suddenly the blasts of the emergency whistle pierced my ears and immediately my body filled with adrenalin. I sprinted into the swimming area and formed a dive line with 7 other staff that had already been inside the fenced area. We searched and rescued a 20 foot deep section of the lake knowing that there might be a child drowning in the water. After 10 minutes the search was called off because, thankfully, the child had crawled under the fence to use the bathroom, and had not gotten lost under the lake’s dark blue surface. Once my dive line returned to the shore, we embraced each other sobbing uncontrollably. It was a sobering moment, and looking back, I’ve realized just how much power water has over our lives. Actually having to search in water for a human body, dead or alive, in the lake’s murky depths was one of the rawest, emotional experiences I’ve ever had in my life, and it revolved completely around the incredible forces of water.
I would not exist without water, and at this point in my thought process I want to take a moment to think about how complex and special water is. I find it symbolically beautiful that nobody can own a body of water or the air. The only water a person truly owns is the water within their own body. The reason why I think no one person or thing can own water, is that it belongs to us no more than it does to salmon or trees. Water exists in large bodies, in the ground, in the air and in plants and trees. You cannot claim to own the water in a tree because without water the tree will wither away. That same water which is in a tree will eventually become part of the atmosphere, and then fall back down onto the earth’s surface. A water molecule goes through so many different mediums of nature in a given amount of time, that it would be impossible to claim ownership over say, a lake. The water molecules in a lake probably once belonged to a plant or tree and will eventually seep into the ground to repeat its cycle. How can you own something that is moving throughout all of earth’s systems and could potentially be anywhere at any given time? And since water flows through the earth as a system, we need to hop on our own little lifeboats and go along for the ride instead of working against the water cycle. Water started flowing and cycling itself, as it does now, millions of years before any plant, fungus or human came to life on this blue planet.
Brack Dolman’s simple mantra, “retain it, not drain it”, has really stuck with me. It makes no sense to drain water down a pipe. Once rain goes down a drain, it is considered “waste”. If this water isn’t even being used by us, why should we take it away from plant life, and also prevent it from infiltrating the water table? If a plant could talk, it would never call the gift of water a waste product. If I could have it my way, society would shift from using monoculture to permaculture, as this method of producing food is elegantly sustainable. Looking at lemon trees on a mountain in Northern Europe inspired me, and even gave me a vision of a sustainable Utopian society on our very earth. I am tired of being a consumer. A waster. A hypocrite at times. I think mass consumption of resources is an illness similar (metaphorically) to the actual disease “consumption”. All the stuff we have will eventually consume us, as mass production leaves the world barren, and we no longer have goods of any sort. Besides joining an alternative society and pretending the rest of the world’s issues don’t exist, what can I do? Coming out of high school I figured the next step was going to Ithaca to study environmental issues from a scientific and cultural perspective, while harnessing the tools I’ll need to advocate for the environmental issues I believe must be addressed. On a more personal level, this enriches my life because I am able to combine my life-long interest for science, with my slightly more recent passion for protecting the earth’s environment. Advocating for, or coming up with, solutions to world water issues will not only keep people’s watersheds healthy, but provide a better standard of life for our fellow man, and this just makes sense to me.
One of the best ways to ensure everything, not just everyone, in the world receives adequate amounts of clean, safe water is to work through policy. Laws determine who has control over resources and how such resources are used, and the government controls these laws. When large groups of people band together with the goal of having a law changed or passed, it can often be done. In places where poor are charged large amounts of money for water, the people should organize themselves and make their voices heard through rallies, demonstrations, protests, and etc. Getting outside media involved is a great way to bring attention to an issue. The larger the number of people who want a change, the more the government will have to listen. Almost no central power wants to deal with a “peasant revolt”, especially when it is over something as basic as water. If you have ever seen the movie Antz, it is a great example of the little guys getting together and forming a loud voice. Even students can have the power to change the way resources are managed at their own school. When I heard that the students of University of Washington had enough sway to convince the administration to ban plastic water bottles, I thought to myself, “Now why can’t we do something like that here?” This approach can be used on the global and local scale, and as more individuals care about and join to fight for an issue, the more resources there are to alleviate it.
Sadly, we might never live in a world where everyone has access to safe, clean drinking-water. That is just reality. But it is also a reality that the individual, and especially groups of people, can work towards their own Utopia of sustainability; and the further the world shifts away from my own idea of a sustainable Utopia, the harder I’ll fight to keep earth’s systems functioning healthfully. But one last question I have for myself involves how I plan to move forward now that I’ve stated my values. The thing is stating is different from doing. For starters, I’m never going to stop developing my worldview and values regarding water. This involves a lot of questioning. We need to question ourselves, our peers, the practices that have been in place for years, new technologies, and especially the way in which we communicate our answers to those who are either voluntarily listening, or who can’t help but hear us because we can’t be ignored. If I did use only as much water as I actually needed, would that translate to an evening in the disparity of water resources in the world? No. No matter how little water I use, there is still going to be a serious lack of water elsewhere. Despite this, I would never consider wasting water because it is as precious as the rarest of stones. I believe water is even more precious because a diamond can never nourish your body. When I’m thirsty and the cold water I drink makes its way through my body, I feel thankful. My own water creed mantra from now on will be; drink your water, count your blessings.