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Water: a necessity we all tap differently

By Hailey Rile, ’12

How did civilizations come to be?  Irrigation systems. How have civilizations survived? Water. These are the questions that were discussed by Terje Tvedt, this year’s Wang Symposium’s second keynote speaker. Tvedt addressed the history of water and its relationship to the development of human civilization.

Humans have done one of two things throughout history, Tvedt said. Either they have moved themselves toward the water or have made the water come to them. He spoke of a current project in Egypt, where a new Nile valley is being built. The old Nile valley is overpopulated, so people have decided to pump water from the Nile River over to their newly-created habitat.

“The biggest engineering project in the history of mankind is happening there,” Tvedt said.

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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?

Our Thirsty Planet Liveblog: Extracting Microplastics in the Puget Sound

By Josh Kinne ’13

Event liveblog featuring Julie Masura, faculty and research scientist, environmental science, Center for Urban Water, University of Washington Tacoma.

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Will the last person on the planet please turn off the tap?

By Ted Charles, ’12

“Water loss is imminent.”

Maude Barlow’s opening statements stunned me. Barlow, water rights activist and Chairperson for the Council of Canadians opened this year’s Wang Symposium with a harrowing message: our abuse of fresh water is incalculable and possibly irreversible. Barlow revealed that catastrophes have seemingly passed unnoticed through the media. A torrent of tragedies including the drying up of Lake Chad and the sinking of Mexico City have always been attributed to environmental degradation, but the pieces of the puzzle refused to fit together. Our use of fresh water, to irrigate fields grown in the most inhospitable climates and water the lawns of the most privileged, is irresponsible. Ideas of global warming and the greenhouse effect hint at that water crisis, but we have somehow avoided addressing it until now.

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PLU feminists slosh buckets in Red Square

By Alex Domine, ’12

Junior Audrey Lewis of the Feminist Student Union carries a bucket of water around Red Square to experience the difficulty women go through in order to fetch water in other countries. The Feminist Student Union opened this opportunity up to anyone willing to sign a pledge that raises awareness for sustainability and women's rights.

If you walked across Pacific Lutheran University’s windy Red Square around noon, you would see a sheet of paper reading “I stand for women’s rights and the environment” flying through the air. The flyer belonged to the Feminist Student Union, a student group hosting a pre-symposium rallying in Red Squareto raise awareness for how far women have to walk to fetch water in some countries.

It didn’t start out as much of a rally. There were five students gathered around a table surrounded with butcher paper signs and merchandise on front of the steps of Eastvold Auditorium. It was a beautiful day, but the breeze made the five feminists struggle to keep their stand together–the flyers and butcher paper stubbornly tried to fly away with the chilly wind. The rally didn’t really pick up until some unsuspecting students passing Red Square were verbally ambushed by the FSU.

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Dripping with content

Stay up-to-date with Pacific Lutheran University Wang Center’s symposium on water, “Our Thirsty Planet,” by watching this blog. Student journalists will be posting numerous blogs, photos, audio and video stories daily, capturing the international symposium in the voice of students.