A fool is thirsty in the midst of water.
– Ethiopian Proverb
A current TV commercial shows a young woman sitting at the shore of Lake Ontario. With her back to the view, she scrolls through options on a cell phone, choosing Joke of the Day. Suddenly the camera swings around, catching the smoggy blue Toronto skyline in the background as she rolls back roaring in laughter. As I’m watching, I think: Don’t fall in the lake!
One day, not too long from now, this kind of advertising will be seen differently. Our society has spent billions on technology we don’t need while we neglect the basics, such as clean drinking water.
This week, CBC TV put its finger on this issue. Science correspondent Bob MacDonald brought a glass of water on the Newsworld breakfast show. He held it up to the camera and appealed to us to think: “If this is all the water on Earth,” he said, “I’ll show you how much is drinkable – how much is for all 6 billion of us.” He dumped out most of the water from the glass to represent the salty oceans, then more for the inaccessible water in the air, in deep estuaries, in plants and in the ice caps. After all this, there was one drop left in the glass.
“Of all the water on Earth”, he declared, “0.1 of one per cent is drinkable. One tenth of one percent! And we pee in it!” Some day soon the definition of obscene may very well be “a 16 litre flush.”
“There is no new water being made,” he continued.
Every drop of water available today was here when the planet was formed. Scientists think that much of Earth’s water came from comets that hit the Earth in its turbulent early pre-TV days. The next time you drink water, consider that what’s passing your lips may have also passed through a dinosaur, or at least through your neighbour’s pesticide-soaked lawn. Bob MacDonald made another interesting point. Canada is fortunate enough to hold the largest proportion of drinkable water of any country (20-25%), and yet we are increasingly turning to bottled water. Why?
Last year, Canadians consumed 642 million litres of bottled water, a rate that is rising exponentially each year, especially after the Walkerton, Ontario water tragedy. Keep in mind that the average retail price of a litre of bottled water is one dollar (while gasoline offends us as it nears 75 cents per litre). The fact that Canadians are spending over half a billion dollars of after-tax money on bottled water shows we are losing faith in public water systems. Meanwhile, as private water companies rake in huge profits from our unease, our governments continue to tell us that there is no new money to clean up the Great Lakes, the world’s largest single source of drinkable water, or to modernize our outdated public water systems.
This is just lunacy. We should demand action on water. Will it take another crisis to make us aware of this? Raising the issue could be as simple as a clever TV commercial. And if our “leaders” ignore us or tell us that providing clean public water is not possible, we should tell them to go jump in a lake.
>> Visit the CBC site for more information about Water.