Water We Thinking?

Sorry for the bad pun – my excuse is that today is World Water Day!

Consider all the ways you used water today. If you live in North America, by now  you will have probably flushed a toilet a few times, had a shower, run a tap, and drunk one or more glasses of it.  In my part of the world, I’ve walked on a frozen form of water, snow, as I brought my garbage to the road, and when I go to town later on I might walk on the frozen lake.

It’s easy for those of us who just need to turn on a tap to get water to take it for granted, yet water is an amazing substance.  It is the only substance on earth that is found naturally in three different forms – liquid, gas (water vapour), and solid (ice and snow).  All living things depend on water to support life.  And yet, almost all of the water on earth is not useable because it’s salty ocean water.

Earth has been called the “blue planet” because so much of it is covered with water.  But almost all of the water on this “blue planet” isn’t drinkable because it’s too salty.  To give you an idea of how much water on earth there is that humans and other living beings can use, try this demo at home.  Fill up a one liter container with water.  Then, take 30 milliliters (about 2 tablespoons) out of that one liter container and put it in a small bowl.  This represents how much fresh water there is on earth.  Pour salt into the water left in the one liter container – this is now like most of the water on earth, too salty for humans to use.  Next, take a teaspoon out of the bowl of “fresh water” and place it in another small container.  That teaspoon represents the amount of the world’s fresh water that is not frozen – about 0.6% of the total water on earth.  But not even all of this water is on the surface – take an eyedropper, and take out one drop of water from the teaspoon.  This one drop represents the clean, fresh water on earth that is not polluted, frozen, or underground!

As you can see, if all beings depend on water for life, and only a very small percentage of water on earth is available to use, then it is important that the precious “drop” of water is used wisely so all 6.6 billion people on earth, as well as all the other living creatures, have water to drink and use!

My family and I are lucky to live on a lake in northern Ontario, and our community is surrounded by  lots of lakes and rivers.  Yet, in northern Canada there are over 100 First Nations communities that lack access to clean potable water and adequate sanitation.  And in Alberta, the tar sands are consuming fresh water from the Athabasca River at an alarming rate;  it takes 3 – 5 barrels of fresh water to produce one barrel of tar sands oil. The toxic tailing ponds that result are so large they can be seen from outer space, and First Nation communities downstream of tar sands operation have been experiencing unprecedented rates of bile and colon cancer, lupus and other diseased that they believe are attributable to tar sands.  What are we thinking when we use up this precious resource like there’s no tomorrow?


More links:

We All Live On The Water

Water Matters: Speak Up For Clean Water and Air In Alberta’s Oil Sands Region

Boiling Point: Profiles 6 Canadian First Nation Communities facing a water crisis.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Part of what climate change is showing us is that human beings have to change their relationship with the world around them.  Rather than buying, using, and discarding without giving any thought to the real cost of what we are doing, we need to live in a sustainable way that recognizes that we are part of a larger eco-system and we live on a planet with finite resources.  Just in dollar terms, the real cost of a gallon of gas to Americans  – in terms of subsidies to oil companies, military presence in unstable oil-rich regions of the world, and damage to the environment, increases the price from cents to thousands of dollars per gallon – and this isn’t even counting the loss of both American and Iraqi lives.

FISH FOOD: One researcher holds up a tray of debris pulled from the garbage patch, pointing out tiny pieces of plastic that fish can swallow. (Photo: ZUMA Press)

Another symbol of the way we need to change our lives to live more in balance with our planet is what has become known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”.  This floating island of garbage stretches for hundreds of miles and has doubled in size in the last decade. It is one of five “giant gyres” in the world’s oceans where humanity’s plastic pollution collects.  Because plastic doesn’t biodegrade, the stuff just sticks around and around, causing problems for the animals and plants that call the ocean home.

It’s the poster child for a worldwide problem: plastic that begins in human hands yet ends up in the ocean, often inside animals’ stomachs or around their necks.” (Mother Nature Network)

It was interesting for me to note that following the article on Roz Savage that “reality checker” provided recently some of the negative comments implied Savage’s work to highlight the garbage patch, and the garbage patch itself,  is a “scam”:

But somehow, envirowackos will have you think that the moment something turns into garbage, it is suddenly immune to the laws of thermodynamics and entropy and remains an eternal corruption upon mother Gaia.” (comment section of CNET article “Roz Savage Rows the Ocean Blue for a Green Cause”)

The implication seems to be that the scientists who are starting to study the patch and other eyewitnesses are wrong just on principle – it can’t be happening, the writer implies, because it’s his/her opinion!  Unfortunately, this kind of non-scientific nonsensical way of thinking that substitutes opinion for critical thinking (“if I don’t like it, it must not be true”) is pervasive in the anti-science mindset that dismisses climate change, too. But sooner or later, humanity will find, the earth will run out of patience with our thoughtless disregard for natural limits.  That is the challenge that we are facing in the next 10 years – to find a different way of being on the earth, or to face the dire consequences.

For more on the Pacific Garbage Patch, check out these links:

What Is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

An Intimate Look at the Monstrous Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Pictures: Rubbish on the Oceans. NYTimes