When a country wants television more than they want clean water, they’ve lost their grip.—Lewis Black
Ah, coffee. While I can imagine a morning without it, such a tragedy does occasionally happen, I don’t want to even think about such a horrible state. That hot water and a crushed bean could bring so much life and happiness to people is simply amazing. While I’ll admit to being a coffee fanatic, I’m by no means as obsessive about it as some I’ve seen. I like mine black, moderately strong, but not to the point that the acidity upsets my stomach. No sugar. No cream. No foam. Just pure, simple coffee. Those of you who get all upset about half-this, whipped-that are just crazy.
Now, imagine a world without coffee. As horrible a condition as that sounds, it could happen, and it may happen much sooner than anyone would like. Even without any external events involved, the sheer number of people on the planet, well over seven billion now, is beyond the level of sustainability. We’re going to run out of clean water. We’re going to run out of coffee.
The country has been relatively transfixed on the water crisis in Flint, Michigan this past week. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has, justifiably, been on the hot seat and universal condemnation of the city’s poisoned water supply has been laid on his doorstep. And while there is plenty of blame to be spread not only among the Governor’s office but other agencies as well, finding a solution to the problem is much more challenging than first thought. People of Flint are having to deal with the reality of not having a ready supply of clean drinking water, and that reality is quite frightening.
As much as I am sympathetic toward the plight of those stuck living in Flint, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the crisis there might, possibly, be a good thing for the rest of the country. Why? Because the whole reason this issue has gotten national attention is that every city in the country is just as vulnerable as Flint was. What happened there could happen here and the odds of such tragedy are increasing on a daily basis. The situation is not new. We’ve been on the precipice of disaster for several years. The tragedy in Flint, though, has awakened our senses to the issue of clean water like nothing else could.
We’ve had water disasters before. Just this past year, an oil spill into the Yellowstone River threatened drinking water. We, as a nation, yawned. The Environmental Protection Agency, the very people who are supposed to help us keep water clean, took responsibility for a giant waste water dump at Gold King Mine, near Silverton, Colorado. An oil spill along the coastline at Santa Barbara, California affected cities and beaches and even roadways all along the coast. Manure spills put the Green Bay water supply at risk. An ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico continues to pollute waters there will little being done to remedy the problem. All of those things happened, received attention from the press, and the US population, as a whole ignored them.
Those are just the most recent tragedies in an ongoing global crisis that is just now beginning to impact our privileged society. We’ve known about the water crisis in sub-Saharan Africa for decades, but because it’s not right here in our back door we’ve turned a blind eye to the millions of people who lack proper sanitation and clean drinking water. Some might occasionally cut a check to NGOs such as The Water Project, but once the check is in the mail we don’t give the matter a second thought. We think we’ve done our part. We don’t realize the extent to which it is our own overuse, our own over-industrialization, our own lack of careful water use that has contributed to the larger global crisis.
Just how bad is the situation? Consider these facts:
- 663 million people – 1 in 10 – lack access to safe water
- 2.4 billion people – 1 in 3 – lack access to a toilet
- A review of rural water system sustainability in eight countries in Africa, South Asia, and Central America found an average water project failure rate of 20 – 40 percent
- Globally, 1/3 of all schools lack access to safe water and adequate sanitation
- In low and middle-income countries, 1/3 of all healthcare facilities lack a safe water source
We haven’t given much thought to the water crisis until now because it has always been “somewhere else.” We’ve been more than content with letting other countries deal with their own problems. The crisis is coming home to roost, though. Last April, California Governor Jerry Brown placed restrictions on water consumption across the entire state. Many complained that the restrictions were too severe, but as the state faces a continuing drought conservationists are concerned that current restrictions may not be enough.
Here’s the thing: our very lifestyles contribute to the severity of the water shortage. Americans waste more clean water every time we flush a toilet than many people see in a month. Our national lack of industrial oversight pollutes our water supply on an ongoing basis and we get extremely upset with any effort to curb such industrial use. States such as Indiana have even fought back against restrictions in the Clean Water Act because “they would prove too expensive to implement.”
Maybe, just maybe, the water crisis in Flint is a good thing. Maybe seeing people there struggle will be the wake-up call we need to realize that our current water habits are killing our water supply.
Imagine life without coffee. If we don’t push for dramatic change, and quickly, that is exactly what is going to happen. Flint is just the beginning.