Water is essential to all life. We’re primarily made of water. The planet is mostly made of water. Anything we do in our lives has an impact on our water, positive and negative. Most of the water systems are interconnected, like the veins in our body carrying blood, the water systems of the earth sustain life. What happens in one place will ultimately travel downstream, or through ground-water systems and the results will be seen elsewhere. Think of the impact of a clogged artery, it can be devastating. Humans have essentially created clogs in our water systems by rerouting waterways, building dams, etc. to control the water for what may seem necessary reasons or good intentions, but what if those dams aren’t maintained and they give way unleashing an overwhelming wall of flood water leaving devastation in its wake? This has happened right here in the Driftless Region. Man-made dams have not been maintained and entire valleys have either been destroyed by too much water running through them or in the case of Jersey Valley, water dammed into a lake has now run away down the valley taking valuable topsoil with it and leaving a wasteland behind. Water should be of critical concern to us all. We need to respect water and nature and work with these systems, not try to control them.
But how can water be a resource that we regulate and protect? The moral side of things would mean that everyone and every living thing would have access to clean water. But what about climate change, when there are droughts and people suddenly need more water in a particular area? What about Flint, Michigan where their water is essentially poisonous? Our civic duties should be guided by our morals and our respect for water, for life and for the planet. However, there are many special interests and political agendas at play when it comes to the issue of controlling and maintaining our water resources. As humans living on this planet, we seem to only pay attention to things that are right in front of us or that affect us personally. We are highly distracted. The media can bring light to the larger issue or keep it hidden from us depending on the politics involved. We seem to only pay attention when something has reached a critical or catastrophic level and then we react and do something about it. As soon as we think things are getting better, we stop paying attention and maintaining what it took to get us on that path in order to keep us on that better path. I think of Standing Rock and the pipeline. We were all very focused on what was happening there for a time and now it makes me wonder, what is currently happening? Is the media just feeding us other crises to pay attention to?
Ultimately, our problems with water, and really any natural resource, comes down to two main issues: greed and apathy. Of the two, greed is the worst problem, since it most often involves a conscious choice. The corporation knows that its product hurts wildlife. A farmer knows that his cattle should not be in the stream. A city knows that a new water treatment plant will improve water quality in their river. In all of these cases, they choose not to do the right thing simply because it will cost them money. Maybe they rationalize these choices. It is easy to think that I am just one person, or it’s just one product, or it’s just a little pollution, or that the current solution is good enough. The problem is that literally millions of others are making the same rationalizations. Humans are very good at convincing themselves they are not the bad guy in any situation, and it really comes down to greed. Accepting less, or paying more hurts economically. Pushing off that cost to someone or something else is pretty easy. Just look at Flint, Michigan. They are still without clean water. The taxpayers don’t want to help, the politicians don’t want to pay, and the corporations left Flint high and dry long ago.
Until we place as high a value on water as we do on our own material possessions greed will continue to degrade our water resources.
Apathy, while not as bad as greed, is still a top moral failing of the human race. Essentially, if it doesn’t directly affect us, we don’t really care. Oh, we might shed a tear for the starving penguin colony we see on tv, but we won’t actually make any real changes to our daily lives.
Whether by choice or by obligation (jobs, school, debt) we choose to ignore the obvious damage to our ecosystems and our water resources. Issues that affect our water quality and our ecosystems are complicated and require some basic educational understanding and some critical thinking skills. Sadly, not enough of us take the time to get educated and really think about what we can do.
As I previously mentioned, there are forces out there that actively try to keep people confused and apathetic. Billions of dollars are spent every year to convince people that what is true actually isn’t. The media is owned by those who benefit from the blind eye of the public. “We can’t feed the world without modern farming practices,” they say, even though modern farming practices are a significant cause of groundwater and surface water contamination. “Climate change is not really happening,” even though nearly all climate scientists are warning us that it is. These enormous amounts of money are spent to prevent us from realizing the truth, and the truth is that we are now reaching a critical point in our history.
How can we respect water and the natural systems and still ensure everyone has what they need? How can we influence human behavior before things reach a critical level? The time for higher, all-encompassing, global thinking is now. We must act as citizens of the world. The idea of climate change is turning to climate crisis. Our water systems are in jeopardy and, therefore, our lives and that of all living things on this planet.