World Environment Day and Us
Today marks World Environment Day, and in honor of this important date, I chose to share with you the tight connection between water found on Earth and environmental protection.
Where There is Water, There is Life
Earth is the third planet in the solar system that sustains a complete life system.
The ancient Greeks believed that the world consisted of four elements: Earth, Water, Air and Fire. These elements were the cornerstone of philosophy, science and medicine two thousand years ago. We now know the elements that make up the world are atoms that consist of electrons, protons and neutrons. Basic elements of these foundations connect into larger particles – molecules that make up the world.
One of the most unique, yet simplest, molecules consists of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom – the water molecule. This molecule encapsulates the secrets of life, that element which constitutes 70% of our planet.
The Water Conservation Challenge
The first creatures on Earth appeared in water, and for millions of years, life existed in an aquatic environment. The first creatures to rise above water level onto the ground came from water, faced with the challenge of water conservation. This resulted in the evolvement of mechanisms “for prevention of water loss” and the management of a water-system within their bodies in order to facilitate existence in a dry environment. This challenge still prevails today, and despite all modern-life transformations it is even harsher than ever.
As you can understand, water is a precious resource for us, without which life wouldn’t have been made possible in any form, and today, unfortunately, water is a resource at risk. Humans play a part in that.
How is Shortage Caused?
As mentioned in my previous post, the amount of water on our planet has never changed. Yet we are in a constant state of “acute shortage of water” – a situation that will only become worse in the future.
You are probably wondering about the reasons and root-causes of this, and, most importantly, how we can we make a difference.
The underlying cause of this situation is the amazing human evolvement and far-reaching demographic changes involving the human factor over the last century. This development led to over-exploitation of this essential resource – water, which resulted, consequently, in an unbalanced ecosystem in a world that all living creatures share. Every system aims to achieve a state of “equilibrium”, and as humans became more immersed in the universe, we broke some of these balance rules.
The world has experienced a huge increase in populations. In 2010, world population stood at 6.8 billion people, whereas in 1960 it was estimated at only three billion people. Surging scientific, technological and medical developments led to doubled world population within 50 years. Every year, more than 83 million people come into the world. This blessing demands more resources to support population growth, namely better utilization of existing resources. But, as I mentioned, when it comes to fixed resources such as water, we are compelled to deal with a scarce resource.
It has been recently established that we utilize 50% use more than our planet is able to give, and that by 2030 even two planets will not be enough to provide us with the required resources. This includes the water resource as well.
Drinkable Water Sources are Becoming Unfit for Consumption
To meet the rising demand and make products accessible, cheaper and more desirable, different materials came into use, which, at the end of the process, entered into our drinking water sources. In order to provide agricultural products at high capacity, pesticides were used for richer crops. In order to encourage and grow more desirable produce, “growth-enhancers” and hormones were used. Residues of these substances penetrate water sources used for consumption, and in many cases, contaminate them.
Human Interference for Purposes of Agricultural Growths
Customer-converted agriculture is another example of the problematic situation. While in the past, agriculture was based on natural regional traits of various growths, nowadays, the blessing of modern agriculture enables us to cultivate growths away from their natural “habitat”. Growths that require water are cultivated in areas that lack water thanks to various water technologies that facilitate that. Clearly, humans have ecologically interfered with various plants and their growth areas, often causing ecological changes that affect water management.
Modern Lifestyle as an Influencing Factor
Changing habits that characterize the modern age cause increased utilization of water resources as well. Examples of daily use, such as bathing and washing, illustrate this well. In the past, laundry was washed in the river, and only when necessary, whereas today, washing is done limitlessly. The shower, which years ago was considered a luxury, is today a part of a welcome daily routine. In fact, 90-97% of the water streaming into our house are used mainly for washing, bathing and flushing toilets.
Massive use of medication, personal hygiene materials and cleaning products go back to the water source we consume as they reach the ground. A comprehensive study conducted in the U.S. in 2008 showed clear traces of these substances in drinking water.
With this huge population growth and economic development, significant demographic changes started to affect utilization of water. The world became more “urban” as urbanization processes became increasingly evident over the past decades. Many populations left their place of residence and migrated to large cities which provided jobs, thus creating “clusters of cities “.
Industry is also a notable factor in the utilization of water resources. Industry, with all its manufactured products – clothing, footwear, consumer goods and more – uses various materials in production processes, including huge amounts of water.
By-products of the industry as well as industrial waste are washed into the ground and on to water reservoirs, released into the air, and sometimes streamed directly into reservoirs that are a source of drinking water.
Such interference in the composition and conditions of water sources and over-utilization of them violate the ecological balance of water sources. This, in turn, creates a change in biological components, plants, microorganisms and animals, with some species disappearing and others unable to thrive. All this affects the quality of water sources and our ability to designate them to human use.
Global Warming and Water Management
We are all aware of all the global warming phenomenon caused primarily by the environmental pollution that I described, in part, above. Global warming also affects the global water reservoir with precipitation of rain, floods in unexpected areas and lack of rainfall decline in other regions. This change does not allow “harvesting” of rainfall and utilizing it effectively. An area which is not used to heavy rainfall, is poorly prepared for collecting and utilizing them, while other areas may suffer from a drought.
Our Responsibility for Protecting the Planet
While we can list more and more factors, the message is clear: We are responsible for our planet and its quality, and must do everything in our power to leave it in the best condition for future generations.
World Environment Day is the day in which our awareness of the environment is raised. However, it is important to remember that awareness is only the beginning of our journey – a journey at the end of which we are obliged to leave a cleaner, higher-quality world for our children.
In my next post I will share with you the ways in which each and every one of us can contribute to conserving this precious water resource.
First published at Strauss’ Blog: Food For Thought