Tag Archives: Water

Seeking the Spiritual: The Century of Common People (Part 1)

I watched a fantastic documentary tonight, for the third time. It’s called FLOW (standing for For Love of Water). The documentary discusses the privatization and pollution of the world’s water, and highlights the growing problem of water shortage, and what we must do to prevent it. I wrote a brief post about this a few months ago, and it’s certainly something I’ll explore more in the future.

But what really caught my attention this time around was a very short quote, from an elderly Indian Gandhian. The venerable man said, shortly and simply, “Twenty-first century is the century of common people.”┬áNow, I apologize if this doesn’t strike you in the same way as it struck me, but this really made me start thinking.

A little interjection here: As far as I can tell, the phrase “century of the common people” is based on a speech given by Henry A. Wallace, FDR’s vice-president, in 1943 on the goal of the Allies in the Second World War. In the speech (which you can find here), Wallace says that the 20th century can and must be the century of the common man, not the century of America. I assume that this is what the Gandhian based his idea for the 21st century on.

I tend to think of the future in pretty optimistic terms, and I think that the world is generally getting better, albeit slowly. But a number of events over the past few years have really called my view into question. As I’ve grown up in the US, I’ve seen a terrible economic crash, horrific terrorist attacks, natural disasters compounded by human error, a plethora of wars, arguably one of the worst presidents this nation has ever had, and a whole host of other terrible things. So it’s been hard over the past few years to convince myself that things are getting better on the whole.

But! There are still many things that make me think positively about the future! And this is one of them.

Now, I can’t claim to know exactly what the gentleman in this film was referring to when he said “the century of common people.” But I can certainly tell you how I interpreted it! This phrase has helped give form to an idea I’ve been having for quite some time now, about the ways in which the world is improving, and that idea is this: Even though there is still great suffering and division in the world today, people are becoming much more willing and able to understand each other, help each other, and grow closer to each other, even with oceans of water, difference, or disagreement between them.

I see much greater understanding between people of different faiths, cultures, beliefs (political, philosophical, religious, or otherwise), and lifestyles looking past their differences in an effort to understand each other more, and this is what the Century of Common People looks like. We’re moving into a time when we can live with and even love the differences in other people, and regard them in a deep and loving way, no matter how dissimilar we may be.

I’ve decided to break up this post into multiple parts, as it’s already becoming fairly lengthy and will keep growing. Check back soon for the sequel!

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Filed under People & Society, Seeking the Spiritual

Why We Should All Read News

Get reading!

This post’s title is, I’ll admit, a bit on the direct side, and doesn’t leave much of the content of it up to the imagination. So I’m going to be cutting to the chase much faster with this post than I often do, because it’s an issue that I think is a very important one.

As the doors to discovery in our world begin to open wider and wider, we have more and more opportunities to stay informed and up-to-date on what’s happening in the world. Through incredible advances in technology, we’re able to stay informed about events almost as soon as they happen, and even watch events as they happen.

So there’s a lot of opportunity and availability out there! But why should we take advantage of it?

First, at least in my opinion, the news is both very interesting and very informative. Incredible and important things happen every day, and many of them will have an impact on our lives, whether that’s in a direct or a more tangential way. This is especially true in a financial sense, as events on the other side of the world, such as the tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan or the conflict in Libya, can have a hefty impact on our lives and livelihoods.

But keeping up to date on current events and news goes far beyond simple self-interest! Every person on this planet is a human being, which means that each and every one of us 6.7 billion homo sapiens has experienced or will likely experience the emotions, joys, and sufferings of life. Of course, few want to endure great suffering or hardship in their lives, but the fact remains that none of us are really able to avoid this. Indeed, these experiences are an integral part of our humanity. But as human beings, we also have the opportunity, if I can use that word, to share our human stories of great joy and great suffering and grow more connected, not only to those immediately around us, but to all people all across the world.

I think of the news as a way to do this, to connect with people around the world, even thought they may not know about it. By keeping up on current events, we can make a part of someone else’s life a part of our own, and by doing that we can become more passionate about the world we live in and the people who live in it! Some of the world issues that are the most important to me, such as water shortage, were revealed to me by some news source, and that helped me to become more engaged with the world.

People have countless justifications for not being informed about the world and what’s happening in it. Maybe they’re too busy, they can’t afford to subscribe to a newspaper, magazine, or online source, or they just feel they have better things to do. But, as I mentioned before, it’s incredibly easy to stay up-to-date nowadays. It literally takes seconds to visit CNN’s website or drop by the NYT site for the latest headlines.

I’m not just writing this as a plug for news sources. I really do think that staying informed about world events, to the best of your abilities, is a very important way of showing care and empathy for other people. It’s one thing to say that you’re praying for the people of Japan; it’s another thing entirely to show that care by involving yourself in their pain and understanding what you might be able to do to help. It may hurt to bring yourself so close to such tragedies that you could just as easily avoid, but I firmly believe that all people should do everything they can to sympathize with and understand each other. Reading the news is a great way to do that.

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Using Our Water Responsibly

What could be more crucial?

Water. It’s one of the most basic compounds known to humanity, and also one of the most necessary for the survival of nearly every form of life. It powers not only our individual bodies, but provides insulation for the planet, energy for our civilizations, and food for people, both indirectly and directly. Simply put, no other substance could be more basic, universal, or important for our survival than water.

So why is it used so irresponsibly? Many people have yet to realize it, but our societies, especially those of very developed or developing countries, use or pollute colossal amounts of water, even in the simplest day-to-day activities. The real problem I want to focus on though is the area of life in which the modern world uses water most freely (and oftentimes, irresponsibly): agriculture.

Now, I’m not going to try and argue that the world as a whole needs to cut back on agricultural development. Of course this is good and necessary, especially in our modern technological society. But there are many practices in this crucial field that can help reduce the titanic amounts of water we pour into it.

But first, how much are we really using for these things? Here are a few examples: A pound of corn requires about 108 gallons of water to grow. The same amount of cotton uses 713 gallons, cheese uses 600, and a pound of beef takes 1,799 gallons of water. Now, there is the argument that all these figures exist in a vacuum (that is, they seem like significant numbers, but there’s little to compare them to in order to put them in perspective), and this is somewhat true. Perhaps comparing this to the amount of freshwater remaining for us will help.

The main source for American agriculture (which is centered in the Midwest) is a huge underground “sponge” of rock called the Ogallala aquifer. This aquifer supplies around a third of America’s farming, with around 14 billion gallons of water withdrawn yearly for farming and another 330 gallons or so taken out for other purposes. At this rate, it’s estimated that we’ll have drained this aquifer down to nothing with 190 years or less. Some estimates even hold that the US will face severe water shortage issues with 50 years. The Ogallala aquifer isn’t refilling either. It’s filled with what is sometimes called “fossil water,” meaning that the water was deposited there millions and millions of years ago and is hardly being replenished at all.

So what to do? The biggest problem facing modern agriculture is that it has become tied to a hugely outdated system of ideas that were established in the 19th century Industrial Revolution. Many good things came of this development, and the economic strength and stability of agriculture was vastly improved, but all of this came at a high cost to the environment in the form of ecological destruction and use of huge quantities of natural resources. While we may have had an excuse during the Revolution for the new pollution and contamination, we’re no longer blameless. It’s crucial that agriculture, especially in the developed and developing worlds, is responsible and efficient. We can do this by watching how much water is used in irrigation, what kind of irrigation we use, restriction of pesticide use, and so many other innovations. The time to seize the future of our water supply is now. Time is short.

Note: A great resource to use if you’re hoping to understand the water crisis better and get a better grasp on how much water we use is the National Geographic Freshwater webpage, which is where these statistics came from. Also, if you can get your hands on the April 2010 issue of that same magazine, it’s a special edition on the water crisis and a fantastic set of articles. Some books I would recommend are Blue Planet Run and Water Consciousness, both of which offer a lot of insight into this subject (and BPR has a lot of fantastic pictures too!).

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Filed under Environment & Nature