Friday, August 23, 2013

Blue Revolution

Today I started reading Cynthia Barnett's Blue Revolution: Unmaking America's Water Crisis. I'm part of what may be a new book group associated with my church about issues of sustainability. As usual, I'm developing a growing sense that I do should do less reading and more doing, but it's/I'm a work in progress.

So far, the book is quite easy to read. The first chapter talks (almost too gently for my taste) about water usage and its growing scarcity in the United States. Barnett talks about specific problems in specific communities, uses good numbers and statistics, and alludes to possible solutions that she will cover in future chapters.

She does an excellent job not just giving the facts but distilling (no pun intended) the problem to a problem of ethics. Our understanding of water in Western civilization has changed from "essence of life to emblem of luxury" (1). It has become a symbol of power and even control, and so many of us flaunt it, showing how we subdue nature (21).

How did this happen? Well, we've lost our water ethic. What does that mean? It means we don't respect it (or much of anything) as a finite resource. Barnett hasn't talked yet about how of course water isn't created or destroyed but it is permuted into something that takes a lot more energy (from other not-quickly-enough-renewable sources) to make potable or transport from places where it is more abundant to places that "need" it for manufacturing, irrigation, sanitation, and ingestion. But I think she will as the book progresses. In the meantime, it's evident that water scarcity - through waste and mismanagement - is a problem.

The average person in the United States uses 150 gallons of water per day. That's 3 times more than in many European nations. We do it, I think (and Barnett thinks), because we're entirely disconnected from the understanding of where safe water comes from and we're divorced from the consequences of our actions. We're not like little Laura Ingalls who had to go fetch her own water from the well. We don't know about water usage because we don't pay attention, whether out of willful ignorance or a cultural numbing and increased urbanization, suburbanization, and specialization.

How do we fix it? Barnett is much bolder in this statement than she seems in some of her platitudes in the first chapter, and I hope the book will push this harsher, more radical [meaning to the root] idea:

"At its most basic, the blue revolution means no one uses more [water] than they really need" (19). 

What this means is wide open to interpretation. What is this pesky "need"? But even that statement represents a paradigm shift from the last 50-100 years of industrial civilization. And it's a beautiful start.

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