World Water Day: connecting us to nature and outlining the changes we need today

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The world’s waters are in peril and I wrote this post to share my experiences of today in celebration of World Water Day. Today I had the amazing opportunity to attend World Water Day at my university. I even got a fancy name tag and everything. Overall, it was a great day of learning about the amazing water research my colleagues are doing and to share new innovative ideas on how to deal with the world’s water crisis.

The day began with The Water Song interpreted by UW’s Indigenous Students’ Society. This song represents the cultural importance of water to Indigenous communities in Canada. For Indigenous peoples, water is seen as a living thing, a spiritual entity that emits “life-giving” forces. With this, comes the duty and responsibility of its protection and respect by all. This song resonated with the crowd throughout the day, to remind everyone that water scarcity and pollution are not solely ecological and health issues but are merely small parts of the broader holistic perspective recognizing that everyone and everything on Earth are deeply and fundamentally connected and interrelated.

The Water Song fit extremely well into the theme of the day, The Answer is in Nature, A2_POSTER_WWD2018_EN-01which is all about utilizing natural solutions to help solve the world’s water crises. The Keynote speakers,  Tyler and Alex MifflinThey are the stars of their own TV show The Water Brothers, which looks at various environmental issues through the lens of water, aiming to increase the accessibility and understanding of these issues.

With 60 percent of the world’s lakes and 20 percent of the world’s surface freshwater, Canada is among the most water-abundant countries in the world. Such a fortune, comes immense responsibility that should be followed by examples of protection, preservation, conservation and care. However, Canada is one of the world’s biggest water wasters, consumers and polluters. This was described by Mifflin as The Myth of Abundance which is the idea that we have so much water, we do not need to worry about its quantity or quality, when actually the opposite is true.

In Canada, we may seem very far removed from the current water crisis in Cape Town, however the reality is that it could happen anywhere. Many human activities have disrupted the stability of the Earth’s water cycle to the point of creating a “preferred” water economy, wherein water use and consumption has little to do with natural cycles, but actually has a lot to do with the way humans have modified local ecosystems to meet demand for their desired activities. Water management in Capetown was based on the  more stable climatic conditions of the past, however, human induced climate change has fundamentally altered the water cycle to the point where Capetown’s water management systems simply do not work anymore.

This brings me to my main point, why should we, as Canadians, in the country with such abundant freshwater sources, focus on water issues?

Water is in everything we eat, drink, wear and consume. Our eating and consumption habits connect us to the water challenges all around the world. The water on Earth today has been on Earth for hundreds of millions of years. We share the the water on Earth with all other life forms on the planet now and in those in past and future generations. We are not “running out of water,” per se. With so many people and other living things on the planet, we are running out of ways to provide everyone with the water that they need to live and thrive.

“No water, no life. No blue, no green.” – Sylvia Earle

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California is facing many issues with water scarcity due to periodic droughts related to climate change and the destabilized water cycle. Canadians have high dependence on California for winter produce, therefore, much of what goes on down there, affects us up here. To mitigate the water crisis, Californians were told that the best course of action was to take individual actions such as taking shorter showers and watering their grass less etc. These are all good things, that definitely have a positive impact on water conservation, however, the agricultural industry is actually responsible for 70 percent of freshwater consumption. It was those agricultural lobbyists that were encouraging other people to use less water so that they don’t have to.

The truth is that the water crisis is global issue that implicates everybody. To ensure availability and sustainable water management and sanitation for everyone on the planet, we have to think bigger than just taking a shorter shower. For instance, think about your own food choices, eating 10 hamburgers consumes the same amount of water as taking 365 showers. By eating less meat you are inherently are saving more water. We must take these individual actions, but we also must put pressure on governments to put adaptive and sustainable water conservation policies in place. These have capacity to make even bigger differences on even larger scales. When people raise their voices, that’s when changes are made. This is why the Mifflins are so passionate about using use their TV show and media presence to engage and educate people who care and have potential to work toward making the changes that are needed in the world.

 

Zero Waste Week at McGill

This week at McGill, ECOLE is hosting a series of events for The Zero Waste Challenge that will last all week. I’m excited to say that I’m joining in on this challenge, however I won’t be able to attend any events, with my crazy busy life. Today, they are screening The Clean Bin Project, which is a documentary about living in the city with the goal of producing no waste and not buying anything new. Throughout the week there are many events such as field trips to buy bulk groceries, used clothing and a trip to a recycling centre. At the end of the challenge, there is a little party and weigh-in of the waste produced by everyone who participated that I will make great efforts to try to attend.

This is my personal challenge for the week, and I invite you all to join in! I realize this is not easy, but it’s also not impossible. I’m very aware of the amount of waste I produce and I always make efforts to reduce it, but this week I’m going to be a little more extreme and careful, aiming to produce no waste at all.

Where to begin? How does one go about eliminating all waste? What are we considering as waste? Defining your own scope of what “zero waste” really means is key to this challenge. I tried to start a discussion about this at work to get some opinions and insightful perspectives, but was unsuccessful. This reinforces the fact that a lot of people don’t think about this the way I do and really have no idea of the impact of their consumption habits.

When defining your scope of zero waste, you need to consider what is feasible to you. Of course, there will rightfully be some inconvenience and compromise, but the important part is doing what you can to live more sustainably.

This week, I will consider waste to be anything that is a non-organic by-product of something I am consuming that cannot be re-used. For example, a compostable coffee cup and a recycled disposable water bottle are considered waste, but an apple core is not (as long as it is composted and not thrown in the trash). I believe this a reasonable scope of waste, although some may disagree and take it a step further.

The other week I was sitting on an extremely long bus ride and decided to pick up the Metro newspaper on the seat next me. I found a great article about a girl named Julie Gagné (she also has a wordpress blog!) who lives her everyday life, producing little to no waste and blogs all about it! If you can read and understand French I suggest you check her out on the link above. Some people would consider this to be a really extreme lifestyle, but I think she is inspirational, and she’s doing this-planet-saving-thing right! I don’t think there is such a thing as “too extreme” in terms of reducing waste and consumption because this is what our planet needs. If you take a look at the link to the trailer of the Clean Bin Project above, you’ll get the shocking facts of the waste problem that the western world is facing due to over consumption.

This is why I feel this Zero Waste Challenge is important. Even though it’s just one week, it will teach students and participants about more eco-friendly and sustainable ways of doing day-to-day tasks (such as grocery and clothing shopping) that are equally as feasible as their more wasteful counter-methods. Once you get into different habits, you’ll be likely to continue them after the challenge. It requires effort and compromise, but it is definitely worth it. It needs to be done to save our planet, the very thing that allows us to be what we are. We need to protect it and treat it right.