Friday, March 31, 2006

May Humans Afford Clean Water?

How many people understand how water touches every living thing? Water is not just life; it connects all living things. Are we aware that only less than one percent of the world’s water is drinkable? How we share this precious resource directly impacts peace and prosperity on this earth.

Most people do not know that one-third of the water used on the East Coast of the United States in the summer goes to watering lawns! Why are we taking the equivalent of bottle water for irrigating our yards? We are rapidly awakening to how water affects all aspects of our life.

Hundreds of millions of women each day in the third world spend their time carrying water long distances. What’s more, they do it in difficult and dangerous circumstances: woman run the risk of being raped when they distance themselves from the group to answer the simple call of nature. There are no sanitation facilities in many parts of the world. Clean water is a critical issue

Half the people of this world live on less than two dollars a day, and one sixth live on less than one dollar a day. Already one-third of our world population or two billion people, live without safe drinking water. With an additional 2 billion people projected to be born by 2030, water scarcity is a fact of life. How Americans address water issues and how that affects the poor has global ramifications. Is it a human right to be provided with safe water? The assured supply for enough water to serve agriculture, sanitation, industry and drinking requirements is essential for a reasonable quality of life.

Conflicts, perils and loss

Our fresh water crisis is causing conflicts not just among political entities, but among wildlife, farmers, industrial entities, and simple citizens. And yes, the poor--who can not afford the simple luxury of clean water--find themselves embroiled in strife over this elemental necessity. The less fortunate usually pays higher than normal prices for their drinking and bathing water. Just a century ago it was common for many to have carry water. Today, a woman in a developing country, on average, must walk 6 kilometers each day to get fresh water. Many in the United States still do not have indoor plumbing and their wells are compromised, if not impaired. In the last century water use per capita increased by six times as our population tripled. Our water use rate doubled the rate of population growth. Presently, we use 54 percent of all available fresh water from streams, rivers, lakes and aquifers. In the next 25 years it is expected that human fresh water use will increase another 16 percent to 70 percent.

This human development comes with a cost. One-fifth of fresh water fish are either extinct or threatened. Over one-thousand bird species are imperiled. Just in the United States, half our wetlands since colonial times are gone. If we allow our natural systems, such as our wetlands, to die, one resource economist estimated that we lose close to $5 trillion dollars per year in flood protection, waste treatment, wildlife habitats, fisheries and recreation use.

Water enables life through more than a simple flush of the toilet or drink of water. So why must we better conserve water? Throughout the world both drought and lack of clean water is alarming. While most Americans take clean water for granted, there are many who lack this essential amenity. This is becoming increasingly true for rural Americans who rely so much on wells and springs. Polluted water is a greater risk to children and the elderly who are more vulnerable. Hundreds of thousands of low-income American households do not have running water in their homes. Here in the United States, and all over the world, recent droughts and water shortages are forcing us to reexamine water use.

We are water, water is us

Increasingly, we are beginning to realize just how much we depend on H20. Just think─ three fourths of our brain consists of this essential compound. One way to understand the value of water is to observe it in our own bodies. One-half to two-thirds of the human body contains water. An average adult contains roughly 40 quarts of water and loses several quarts of water per day through normal elimination, sweating and breathing. Water helps rid the body of wastes, metabolize stored fats, and maintains muscle tone. We must begin to appreciate how our bodies and the earth cycle water if we wish to maintain good health and prosperity. Ironically less then 1% of the world’s water is available to meet our constantly growing human needs.

Increased awareness of water conservation imperatives and quality is critical to preserving our quality of life. We drink less than 1% of our treated water while we use 99% in other ways. Our public water systems produce more than 180 gallons per day per person, more than seven times the per capita average in the rest of the world, and nearly triple the level produced in European countries. By comparison, the World Health Organization says good health requires a total daily supply of about 8 gallons of water per person. We flush an average of 27 gallons per person per day of drinking water down our toilets; 17 gallons per day are lost through laundry and 14 gallons per day in our showers. Another tremendous waste of this valuable resource is watering our lawns. By switching to a landscape dominated by bushes and shrubs, as opposed to grass, you can reduce lawn watering by 80 percent. Simply installing a more efficient showerhead and faucet aerators will save about 7800 gallons of water per year in an average household. Sixty to ninety percent of the world’s consumable water goes to irrigation.

With excessive demands for water, pollution is also on the increase. Polluted runoff from agricultural operations, grazing, animal feeding operations, urbanization and other sources have been blamed for today’s water quality impairment. Such pollutants include siltation, nutrients, bacteria, oxygen-depleting substances, metals, pesticides, herbicides, toxic chemicals and other habitat-altering materials.

As we deplete our water, it becomes increasingly unlikely that we can stabilize water tables. It takes hundreds and hundreds of years for water to cycle back into new drinking water. Fresh water systems around the world are being degraded by urbanization, runoff, wetland loss, dams, diversions, and overuse, threatening our ability to support human, animal, and plant life.

Ground Water in the USA

Millions of Americans are unaware that water also comes out of the ground-- the fundamental and foremost water purification system. Forty-seven percent of the U.S. population depends on ground water for its drinking water. Ground water is an important source of surface water. Its contribution to the overall flow of rivers and streams in the U.S. may be as large as 50 percent. It is also a major source of water for lakes and wetlands. Ground water is tapped through wells placed in water-bearing rocks and materials beneath earth’s surface. Precipitation and other sources replenish the ground water supply, but there are increasingly more frequent drought conditions where the rate of pumping exceeds the rate of replenishment.

There are nearly 15.9 million water wells serving U.S. households, cities, business, and agriculture every day. Forty-two million Americans rely on this private drinking water supply. Homeowners who have well water or springs should schedule an annual maintenance check for their well, including testing the water for bacteria and any other potential water quality concerns. Water should also be tested any time there is a change in taste, odor or appearance, or any time a water supply system is serviced.

So much depends on it…

As time passes we will have to answer a very tough question, “Is a basic human right to have clean water?” Water use in our life time will greatly change. Certainly farms will have to conserve water.. Sixty-nine percent of all our fresh water withdrawal use is from agriculture. Industry accounts for 23 percent, while 8 percent is used for such municipal activities as drinking, bathing, cleaning, and watering plants. In the last 300 years, water use in agriculture has increased 35-fold and worldwide it accounts for 70 percent of the use of this resource. How can we provide enough while maintaining human decency to assist the poor?

We must protect the hydrologic balance of our blue earth. At the same time we must help those less fortunate to survive as we dwindle our limited water supplies. Demand will certainly exceed our finite resource of water. By observing and respecting how the intricate web of life really works, we can discover how to better protect and conserve this vital and self-sustaining process. Without such examination we will not prosper as people or a planet.

Less Gas: Let’s Pray to Become Cool!

Do you think global warming is another example of Chicken Little freaking out? International expert and NASA climate scientist Jim Hansen is outspoken against the editing done by the White House saying that Climate Change is 'real', and that human activity is the most likely cause. Hansen speaks out stating, "the natural changes, the speed of the natural changes are now dwarfed by the changes that humans are making to the atmosphere and to the surface.” What James Hansen cites is that global warming is accelerating. New data reveal massive losses of ice to the sea melting in the arctic and Antarctica. There is widespread consensus from the scientific community that carbon dioxide and methane, and chlorofluorocarbons and other greenhouse gases, are collectively increasing due to human activities. White House political censorship of this life threatening development has been recently documented in two 60 Minutes features.[1]

Can we ignore not just the facts but how many of us deeply feel. Major ecological, economic and social consequences may result in such things as increased storms, flooding, droughts and decreased food production according to both Pentagon and insurance companies. We are finding that we met the enemy and it is us! Americans can reduce global warming by three-quarters by taking steps such as establishing strict energy and fuel efficient standards.

Can we deny that our collective yearly contribution upwards of 7 billion tons of carbon does not harm our earth? An American revolution has to show that our 5% world’s population share producing 22% of the climate altering CO2 added to the atmosphere must change. EPA recently estimated that greenhouse gases increased 1.7 percent in 2004.[2] Can we get real about global warming? Words without action are a more dangerous form of gaseous waste. Life can be a gas only if we show reverence with it.

We are at a crossroads today in the emergence of the human spirit; a rebirth in consciousness. All beings close to this earth are apart of this interconnected ritual. One person’s waste is another’s food. We are all just future compost. When facing tremendous forms of destruction human unconsciousness can awaken. Such soul searching forces us to listen to both past and future voices. Those aware may question if our future is ecologically more endangered each day. Given the exponential growth of our human footprints our world’s survival depends upon sustaining life. As we become more sensitive to how delicate the carrying capacity of our eco-systems we can see a direct connection to our very soul. This is reflected by diverse spiritual and religious leaders appeal to one common universal concern- the fate of our beloved planet earth.

Simply we depend on our environment to live. Everyday you see increased evidence of how people of all walks are sensitive whether our distant generations are left a legacy. Without investing in our future a pandemic of despair may erupt among the young and cause unprecedented societal problems.

Do we belong to the land or does the land belong to us? Already our neglect of the earth is making this planet unlivable for many beings. We are running quickly out of time due to man’s delusion that we are “Masters of the Universe.” What action must we take for us to further survive? We have a sacred instruction form the 60,000 years of shared wisdom that our wise native ancestors left for us to care for our earth. Indigenous people have always believed that we belong to the land not the land belongs to people.

Developing more sustainable ways of living are becoming critical. For example European agricultural subsidies now are economically encouraging farmers to become better land stewards. In other parts of the world two-thirds of water goes to irrigation sparking an enormous debate on what make the best overall sense. Quickly, we are finding how important our environment is with everything we do instead of isolating this as just another societal concern. The canary in the coal mine is beginning to look for air.

Increased attention by all religious organizations is awakening humans to the divinity of our ecological interrelationships. This is a powerful force to shape new lifestyle and attitudes regarding the ills of over consumption of natural resources. Spiritual leadership also is supported by increased scientific findings that the earth is requiring not just increased care but such mending is essential to preventing global destruction.

The real question is can interfaith alliances work together to converge people to unified efforts toward conservation and preservation. Many misperceptions and divergent worldviews require not only dialogue but religious involvement to overcome the barriers for the human species to act. Also there are numerous success stories such as the Sri Lanka- Sarvodaya movement to moderate consumption.

One striking fact is that in religious institutions are responsible for 34 percent of the United States volunteerism.[3] This human capital is focused on how they can best serve to better society. What better way to show our ecological gratitude. One potential showcase is the almost 300,000 American houses of worship ( 5 percent of the commercial building floor space) shifting to more energy efficient upgrades reducing 6 million tons of CO2 saving these sacred locations roughly a half a billion dollars.[4]

However, there has not been a rocky marriage between conservation/ environmental groups and religious organizations in speaking a common language to develop such partnerships.[5] Even though similar values may be shared these two groups in many instances are not singing to the same sheet of music.

Is it because we have not addressed global warming because of fear? Ironically, our cowardice is creating more warming so we must think and be cool since getting heat-up mentally is not going to do anything. Just the simple act of caring has a tremendous cooling effect. Let’s see our journey as delicate and best make our visit enjoyable

This is a critical time to foster a clear insight of how we as a people will walk on this dangerous razor edge ¾our future. Every moment provides us with the opportunity to act with grace. Even seeing our heavens at night is being threatened by this global pollution according to astronomers.

The late Harvard Scientist and world expert, Stephen Jay Gould remarked that this battle to save the environment requires… forging an emotional/spiritual bond between nature and ourselves”[6] David Orr cites that what is missing is love to engage the many polarized organizations to champion a relationship emulating the compassion of Greek God of nature, Pan. Our ultimate question is when and how will religious and spiritual groups going to awaken a significant amount of humans toward collective action. Can we as human invest in making our tomorrow more promising? Finally we will need to pray together not on each other and ask for divine forgiveness since we may have trespassed upon something more grave then our final resting place.



[3] Ibid page 20

[4] USEPA , “Energy Star for Congregations,”

[5] Ibid page 25

[6] David Orr, “For Love of Life,” Conservation Biology. December 1992, pg 486

Compost to Save Our Bay

Our nation’s largest estuary, the Chesapeake Bay, is threatened due to nutrient over-enrichment. How we better manage our home lawn and yard waste provides us with an opportunity to “Save the Bay”. Composting is one simple way we can help improve our water quality and allow aquatic life to flourish. Compost can directly lessen the loss of sediment. Both nutrient management and storm water runoff controls can be achieved by a well managed and placed compost pile.

If we wish to reduce nutrients by 40 percent yard owners can preserve our Bay for future generations. Million of sources of contamination or non point pollution jeopardizes our quality of life. Just leaving your clippings on your home lawns makes a big difference and provides your yard nutrients and moisture. Citizens who compost their yard and food not only recycle new earth not lessens the need to use more fertilizer. Test your soil out. Also we lessen more airborne nitrogen by not having to truck this valuable organic material to be disposed. Composting can easily save our region in millions of dollars of environmental costs. Everyone who has a yard can make a difference preserving our Chesapeake Bay by wise nutrient and storm water runoff management.

We are all interconnected when it comes to saving our earth. Composting helps also lessen soil loss. Erosion is the leading pollution source to our waterways. An average of nearly 17 tons of soil lost per acre of cropland per year. Just 2 billion tons of topsoil lost through erosion every year

Just a few hundred of years ago our land had hundreds of inches of topsoil. Today we barely have a few inches.

We must promote is both home, local, and regional composting that can lessen erosion and amend our soil. With accelerated building, construction and road development, we must stimulate the market for recycled humus and "buy compost". Not only will composting keep our area more beautiful it can transform our waste into new resources. Let’s lead the way as did George Washington who was our nation’s first composter. Celebrate compost week and make yourself some new humus!