Running low: time to conserve water is now

By Leah Traxel ’14

Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians and chair of the Washington-based Food and Water Watch, delivers her keynote speech at this year's Wang Symposium, Feb. 23 on the PLU campus. Photo by Igor Strupinskiy, '14.

Walking into the keynote address of the PLU Wang Symposium on water, I never expected to be so scared or inspired.  At PLU, a school that prides itself on its attention to social justice issues, we surround ourselves with the ugly truths regarding oppression and injustice.  However, no one ever really talks about water, and why would they?  Even people who were born and raised in western Washington complain about how much rain there is.  Water is everywhere, right?

Barlow presented the expected staggering statistics about the dire situation the world is in and how awful humans are to the planet, but the statistics were more than disturbing.  Barlow said the world’s consumption of water is analogous to blindfolded people with straws drinking from a bathtub.  We won’t realize how much we’re consuming until it’s all gone, and then what?  According to one of her statistics, scientists estimate that the demand for water will exceed supply by 40 percent by the year 2030.  In a short 18 years, there might not be enough water to go around.

Along with her statistics, her colorful anecdotes about being arrested, and a quote from J.R.R. Tolkien, Barlow argued for three fundamental changes to the mindset and policies of the world: water has rights beyond being useful to people, nature is a common heritage and public trust, and water is a fundamental human right.  That definitely got me thinking.  If we don’t start talking about water and the need to preserve it and allocate it more efficiently, we WILL run out.  There’s no question about it.

However, on top of this, the scariest part is that no one is talking about it.  EVERYONE needs water to survive, but has the topic of water conservation and policy changes to protect it come up in this year’s presidential candidate platforms?  The answer is no. The funny thing is that water has become so commoditized and commercialized, that it’s worth LOTS of money to big businesses and investors, but when the water’s gone, how do they plan to spend all their money?

So what are we supposed to do? I guess what humans do best: talk.  Talk to your family, friends, neighbors, classmates, co-workers, teachers, bus drivers, significant others, people you meet on the elevator; talk to anyone who will listen because we are all affected by water and we will all pay the price for wasting it.  You don’t have to be an expert to be concerned about the future, and you don’t have to have a handful of crazy statistics to turn off the tap when you brush your teeth or take shorter showers, and tell your family to do the same.

Maude Barlow’s accolades and accomplishments have proven what one driven person can do, but to make a lasting difference, we must all become what Barlow calls “water warriors,” because this is a fight in which we all have heavy stakes.  So what’s the bottom line? Save our water. Save our world. Who doesn’t want to be part of saving the world?


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