The Water Crisis: A Quest to Conserve Our Planet's Most Precious Resource
1: Overview of the Human Footprint
We are at war. Yes, I said it. We are at war. We are at war, with ourselves, against ourselves, and by that, I mean we are damaging the very planet that we subsist on. Where will we be without this planet? We are destroying ourselves, bit by bit, hour by hour, minute by minute. Critics say that I am exaggerating, well I invite them to come with me on an eye-opening global journey to witness for themselves what we are doing to our precious planet Earth, and to discover with me ways that we can protect it.
What are our threats? Where do we stand at our current pace of waste and misuse of our precious resources? What are ways in which we can sustain our planet? Although I will focus on the global water crisis, you will soon see how all of the current threats against our planet are intimately intertwined. We’ve heard the old saying, “keeping your head above water,” which could mean just doing the minimum or barely surviving, but what if there is no water, literally, to keep your head above. Join me, form your own opinion, and keep an open mind. Our chances are dwindling if we are to sustain this planet for ourselves and future generations. I am not fearful, but hopeful that we may still have time to make an impact on lessening the threats against this planet by spreading the word, changing behaviors, and acting swiftly to interrupt the damage that has already been done, and to halt further destruction to this valued planet that we inhabit.
In the introduction of State of the Planet the authors convey that their reason for publishing was that as they approached the republishing of The Tragedy of the Commons, first published in 1968, they realized that they must first bring their readers up-to-date on the current state of our planet. The author sums up Garrett Hardin’s the Tragedy of the Commons, saying, “the rate of human population increase was leading to an overuse of various resources that could not be sustained” (Kennedy 2). The authors felt that it was their responsibility to state their assessment of the global situation, which prompted them to publish this compilation of articles.
Every main resource on earth is linked together. According to State of the Planet, “every resource on this planet is subject in some way to the condition of its environment” (2). Our water is linked to the forests, ecosystems, climate, and ultimately to human behavior. Our wasteful habits have a tremendous impact on the environment and the atmosphere.
The water crisis has affected millions globally. Rural villages and underdeveloped nations are especially susceptible to these shortages since they do not have the systems in place to guard them from disease, and often there is not enough water to supply populated areas. Many areas are contaminated with waste due to bathing, washing clothes, and since there are no toilets, they become havens for waste. Animals also contribute to this factor. Disease is a major factor with the water contamination. This is referred to as “water-related deaths” (60), which includes deaths caused by consumption of unsanitary drinking water. Many of these rural villages do not have enough safe water. According to the article by Peter Gleick, “…more than one billion people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water...and adequate sanitation” (60).
The population has a great effect on water in a village. As a village or town builds more, the groundwater continues to slowly dwindle. This is demonstrated in Planet in Peril, “By 2020, 27 of the world’s 33 largest cities will be located in the South.” (Gresh 13). Recently, Atlanta, s Georgia has experienced a water shortage. There were areas where water was rationed. The problem arose because the water was on a border and not wholly owned and controlled by the State of Georgia. It became a greater crisis over the summer when there was an increased demand for water. Municipalities had to limit usage in certain areas so that the water would not be completely exhausted. Nevada has also experienced a crisis over the last year, which I will discuss in section 3. Government controls will need to be put in place to resolve some of these issues. Many of these cases will end up in the courts to figure out who actually owns the affected waterways and reservoirs.
Water is a major factor in global warming. Global warming increased the temperature of the earth which increases the volume of water and in turn the rising of sea-levels, which affects the climate. Although it would seem that the melting of Artic ice would contribute to rising sea levels, according to Planets in Peril, “…ice in itself does nothing to raise the level of the oceans, ice is already floating on the sea” (Gresh 8). The problem with melting ice caps is that they are widespread across the globe, which increases the overall rise in water levels. It is predicted that there will be “15 million climate refugees by 2050” (Gresh 11). Through humans’ existence and the detriment that we do to our planet, “human beings have already caused the six largest wave of biological extinction the Earth has ever known…on account of the destruction and pollution we habitually wreak” (11). Now that is profound. So even if there was no global warming, we have already done major damage to the planet. Global warming just tips us over even further. Not to mention, our population is continually growing and ravaging even more resources.
As our population grows and grows, it has an intense effect on our water supply. Underdeveloped countries are the hardest hit. This affects the water quality of those nations. It is stated that in developing countries, “…90% of waste water and 70% of industrial waste runs straight into the surface water without any form of treatment” (12). This is a direct hit to the people. There is nothing to filter the water, or any other place where they can go because they are limited by living in these areas. The UN estimates that in 20 years 1.8 billion people will be affected by constant water shortages and another five billion will live in places where they will be unable to satisfy their needs (12). Urbanization of populations affects how our water supply is affected when an area is overpopulated and there are not enough resources to support the population.
Much of the problem comes from urbanization and development of less populated areas. Planet in Peril depicts through a drawing, how a village becomes a town and eventually is turned into a big city. (13) The groundwater is affected due to digging into and disrupting precious underground aquifers. Waste water begins to contaminate and penetrate those water systems which are unable to be used.
Not only do we contaminate our water due to urbanization, we also waste a tremendous amount of it. The simple act of letting the water run while we are brushing our teeth lets precious water go wasted down the drain. Or letting the water run while washing dishes . There are so many little ways that we can change our daily habits to conserve more water. We can use our appliances more effectively by not running the dishwasher until it is full, washing clothes when you have a full load, and reusing water for watering plants that you would normally pour out without even thinking. Some of the things that we try to do may cancel each other out. For instance, if you buy disposable paper products to wash fewer dishes, which in turn will use less water, will you just be creating more trash? Or should you instead try and conserve water, and not use those paper plates to contribute to more waste, hmmm? Many municipalities do not recycle. Detroit does not have a curbside recycling program. The only way to recycle is to take your recyclable items to one of four areas across the city. Every one of us has a stake in saving this planet. Each day we must make a conscious effort to make little changes so that it becomes second nature.
While we waste water, developing countries barely have enough to survive. A great example of this is, “…the average person in Sydney, Australia, uses more than 1,000 liters of drinking water a day compared to 300 to 400 liters for an American, while some developing countries barely exceed a few liters a day.” (13) It is reported that only 55% of all water produced is actually used. (13) Think about that? More than half of our water is wasted, drained away, or evaporated. The agriculture industry is the main consumer of water. It accounts for 70% of all water produced, and it is projected that the agriculture industry’s usage will increase over the next 20 years. (13) Where will it come from? Global warming is affecting our weather. It is raining in places that don’t normally get rain and drought conditions where there should be rain; so just where it will come from? I will be researching further solutions such as the desalination of water in later sections.
The focus on the water problem must be taken seriously and will require technology, and financial resources to protect it. “We must improve the efficiency of our water usage through various ways: irrigation, drinking water production, water distribution, protection of reserves, and elimination of water pollution, which contributes to diseases” (13). Not only do we have the right to a plentiful water supply, but a clean supply as well. We must ensure that underdeveloped countries have the right to this same resource. Water is also being researched as a source of energy from the movement of the waves (15). Research in this area is in the early stages. The sea is abundant with another one of our resources, salt. It provides 80% of the world’s needs. Desalination removes salt from the water which then converts it to fresh water. (15)Continued on Next Page »