As I sat down to write today’s blog post, I was faced with a truly odd dilemma. As many of you may recall from that life-changing movie The Matrix, sometimes, one is required to make a decision about whether to live in blissful ignorance of reality, pretending that everything is going to be O.K., or to face the cold, harsh truth about what is going on in the world. Having been accused in the past of focusing too much on alarmist scenarios, I found myself hesitant to write this post, afraid that I would simply be hopping to the other side of the fence: instead of being blissfully ignorant, jumping on the bandwagon of the latest apocalyptic scenario, proposing that reality is in fact a much, much harsher place than we like to think it is. What to do? To blog, or not to blog? Red pull or blue pill?
Yet, it’s hard to ignore a low buzz that’s been reeling through the media lately about water issues. And, if you watched the movie, you should know that the only way to deal with such situations is to do it wearing sunglasses.
We’re a bit behind the power curve on this, because the U.N.’s World Water Day has passed us by (it was March 22nd, if you’re curious). But, a flurry of reports since then have been making headlines about a growing concern over global water supplies. To kick it off, we’ll start with the research: new uses and analyses of satellite data by the University of California Irvine’s Center for Hydrologic Modeling suggest that groundwater resources are being depleted at an alarming rate. The effects of climate change coupled with growing demand are straining groundwater around the world to the point that recharge is no longer replenishing resources – an alarming reality given the vast world population dependent on these resources. Already, death from starvation in the wake of drought and/or water-borne illnesses due to lack of access to clean water are far more common than we in the western world like to admit. One billion people currently live without access to clean water. Poor sanitation and drinking dirty water is responsible for 1.7 million deaths worldwide on an annual basis. That’s 3.2 deaths per minute. If it takes you ten minutes to read this post, 32ish people will have died, somewhere in the world. And no, I don’t mean to sound like one of those overly dramatic television advertisements asking you to sponsor a child somewhere (although being a good person is always awesome.) I just want to drive home the point: water is already a problem, and it’s a problem that is getting worse. And much of the problem is preventable. (Anybody feeling guilty for their last trip to the water park yet? Or for having a hot tub? Sorry.)
Unfortunately, without action, it could get worse. Recent U.S. intelligence agency reports focus on water as a potential cause for violent conflict in the decades to come. The concept of “water security” is increasingly discussed as one of the many secondary impacts of climate change. The WHO predicts that by the year 2025, two out of every three people in the world will be living in severely water stressed conditions. And, in addition to the fact that water shortages and access to clean drinking water are a major public health concern, water shortages impact on agriculture and world food supply. Without water for irrigation, especially with warmer and dryer conditions expected to come as a result of climate destabilization, many regions of the world would face widespread famine.
With 2.8 billion people currently facing water shortages already, water is becoming a bigger deal every day. Which means there has to be a documentary about it….right? Coming in May, Last Call at the Oasis is the latest from the team that produced An Inconvenient Truth and Food, Inc. and takes on not only the issue of groundwater depletion, but the fact that continued pollution from industrial waste, agricultural runoff, chemicals, household byproducts, and basically everything else is simultaneously threatening our surface water resources, as well. Don’t think you care about water? I dare you to watch this trailer and then tell me that you’re not a tiny, tiny bit worried.
The good news is that it’s not all doom and gloom where water is concerned. Unlike climate change, where most scientists would argue that we’re committed to some degree of warming already, water is something we can actively manage. Both small and large scale technologies exist and are readily available – from low-flow shower heads for the average homeowner to recycled water technology that reduces the consumption of potable water by large agricultural facilities – changes can be made to conserve and effectively use this most precious resource. Homes have been built that are water-neutral, relying on rainwater and onsite water treatment to meet their own demands. Countries in arid regions have already explored options such as advanced desalination techniques, to meet their growing needs. But, like any other change, it’s going to require action. We have to do something, not just wring our hands the way that we so often do about other issues. And we probably don’t want to wait until we’re really, really thirsty.
Of course, if water just makes you want to go swimming, then at least be enough of a good person to check out EcoSalon’s list of 7 sustainably-made bikinis for your summer wardrobe. Just….not you, Dan.