Water is amazing. It hit me today. Every morning I walk my dog, and after we get home, I wash her off so I can let her into the house again. Today, I also had picked up a trash can lid out of the gutter, which was covered with mud. I used my garden hose to spray off the dog and then the lid, all the while wondering at how water at high pressure can clean things. Water can be soft and gentle, or hard and unrelenting. It can fortify or destroy. It is necessary for life, but can also be an agent of death and destruction. But the most important thing about water is, it is finite. There is only so much of it. And once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Only 1% of the water on earth is fresh water. We have polluted much of it and continue to do so with our pursuit of dirty energy. Think of all the ways in which we use water. We drink it, of course. We cook with it, bathe in it, swim in it. We use it for cleaning, for art (painting), to water the plants. We use it for enjoyment (think fountains). We wonder at what it can do to landscapes over time. It comes from the sky and falls to earth, stored in large bodies called ponds or lakes, then evaporates again, traveling around the globe. It freezes into crystals and collects into dew drops. It is truly a blessing, and life as we know it would not exist without it.
Why, then, do we squander it so? We are so cavalier with it. We use too much of it. We dump trash and chemicals into it. We chlorinate and fluoridate it. We use it for industrial applications, especially dirty energy uses (coal, oil, and gas) and render it into poison. Why would we do this with such a limited, precious substance? Have we gone mad?
I believe we have. We in this country have become so used to our stance as the top-dog that we are loathe to let go of it. To most of us, that means consumption. We don’t feel right unless we have enough to throw away. But are we really at the top? If you look at things that matter, like education, food security, economic stability, and even freedom, it is clear to anyone with a brain that we can do better. And we have. But something has weakened us. We did so well economically in the 1950s, perhaps our hubris soared to such heights then that we can’t imagine any other way.
I propose a more humble approach. I know this won’t be popular, but it will be what saves us, if anything can. My mother was a Depression baby. She taught me to conserve, be frugal, not spend money on things I don’t need. She taught me to reduce, reuse, recycle before it became fashionable (sadly, out of necessity). It used to be a principle of living, that went beyond material things, but now it’s all just propaganda. Have we really reduced our consumption? I don’t see it.
If you haven’t heard of the Pacific Garbage Patch, you should look it up. It is an island of plastic and junk floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, three times the size of Texas. Every one of the seven oceans has one. Lately here in WV, since the coal chemical spill that tainted the drinking water for 300,000 people, there has been a stark increase in the number of plastic bottles consumed, because the people no longer trust their water supply, and can you blame them? Many in the Charleston, WV area will not drink the water, preferring to spend money they shouldn’t have to on bottled water, but do they recycle? Some estimates say we only recycle 1% of the plastic that we buy. This means the rest is going into the trash, and into landfills, where it will leach BPAs into the soil and water table, but some of it will escape and find its way into the waterways and eventually into the oceans, moving into the vortexes, where it will be pulverized into tiny fragments that are eaten by fish (thus, eventually, by us in many cases) or float in the water where the BPAs and other compounds will leach into the ocean and poison the organisms there, eventually finding their way up the food chain.
Why are we so blind, or stubborn, or ignorant as to allow this to happen? I know the earth is really big, but there are over 7 billion people on the earth and it will only increase exponentially. As our numbers increase, our footprint is only going to get bigger. If we don’t stop it, or slow it down markedly, we are going to kill the earth’s ability to sustain life. I believe it’s going to happen soon.
But, as always, those with money will probably be OK. They will be the ones that can buy their own aquifers (*cough* Bush Family *cough*), or pay to move out to a space station. Maybe they will pay for the research to create water, but they will own the patent for it and only a few select individuals will be privy to it. And after a few generations, the human race will start again, but the genetic makeup will be different. The variety will be gone. We will spawn from a race of rich people. What kind of people will these be, people who buy up aquifers for themselves instead of safeguarding what we already have, for the good of all?
I imagine the world like something out of a Star Trek episode then. Their children will look out the window at the planet that was once so wondrous, now as desolate as the moon. Maybe they will remember that is was us who destroyed it, or maybe they will be taught a mythical version of history. What, then, will become of ethics? Will they teach right and wrong to their children, or will the memory of what we could have done but did not be so painful that all they will know is lies?
It is sad to think that we could destroy something as beautiful and majestic, something as amazing and perfect as the very planet we live on. We have such intelligence, such power, we could stop it now. Right now. Before it’s too late. It seems that isn’t going to happen, though. The people who understand how catastrophic this is aren’t being listened to. Greed and consumption are winning. We must have dirty energy, so that large companies can profit, and the people can continue to consume and live at the high standards we have become accustomed to, instead of scaling it down so that we can live here for a few more generations.
It seems that beauty is always worth preserving. Perfection is hard to come by, but this planet with all of its perfectly attuned processes and amazing life forms is pretty close. I have a friend who always reminds me, when things are tough, to be the water. It is very Zen, this statement. Be the flow, the quiet, the life. I am trying, honestly I am. When I look at the greed and destruction around me, I want to be a hurricane, a tsunami, a water fall, or a flood. I want to rush through, tearing up the bad things and starting all over. And afterward, the calm.
I hope we still have water by the time my grandchildren are born. Then I can show them the water and they can touch it and feel it and learn to be it. I want them to be able to learn the Zen lessons that it carries within its fluidity. I want it to still mean something when I say, “Be the water.”