It’s a long drive. I made it once when moving from Miami to Tucson. It was the part that seemed to never end. While the drive is all on one road, Interstate 10, when making the trip across Texas, it seems like Texas goes forever! Indeed, driving from Houston to El Paso is a twelve hour stretch.
Imagine, if you can, that Texas was twice its size. A 24-hour drive: that’s the distance between Houston and San Diego. That’s also the size of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pacific_Garbage_Patch) Perhaps you’ve heard of it.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, estimated to be twice the size of the state of Texas, is a dense collection of rubbish carried on the currents on the North Pacific. Moving with the currents, the Patch carries a huge variety of debris: assorted plastics, chemical waste, and all kinds of other items dumped into the ocean for disposal. Similar patches of waste also occur in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, but the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is largest among them. Of course, the contents of the patch also can be found in the stomachs of a wide variety of fish and other sea creatures, with chemical infecting sea animals, plants, and birds that feed in the oceans. The floating garbage patches are the result of careless dumping by human beings.
In 1992, I moved to South Florida. Having lived in the Northeast all of my life, the sub-tropical climate introduced me to a wide range of flora and fauna of which I knew little. Having an office in the city of Coral Gables, I routinely passed gateways, markers, and even homes made from coral. Seeing it on land, I became more interested in coral. Because I first encountered coral as a building material in the neighborhood around my office, I thought coral was a kind of rock from the ocean. I learned that it was a living organism and that what I saw in Coral Gables was something like the skeleton of a dead creature. Coral, a living organism, is critical in its role in keeping the oceans clean by eating algae that can cloud the oceans, thus preventing sun light from reaching plants and animals in the water. Since 1992, I’ve been fortunate enough to visit coral reefs not only in Florida but also Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The beauty and vibrancy of coral can only be truly appreciated when swimming in the water and observing it in close range.
The human impact on coral has been devastating. It’s common knowledge that coral reefs are endangered. The dangers are not just from people taking coral or damaging it with direct contact. More pernicious is the impact of human debris on coral. While chemical waste in the oceans have a dire impact on coral, perhaps more significant is sewage pumped into oceans by many coastal nations. Bacteria from human feces infects and kills coral at alarming rates. (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44181933/ns/us_news-environment/)
Approximately 71% of Earth’s surface is water. While it may seem that there’s plenty of water for anything we could possibly need, only 2.7% of the water on Earth is fresh water – potable for human use.
In the United States, water compacts are important political agreements in both the Southeast and the Southwest because the available fresh water is not sufficient for the needs of the populations in those areas. The political concerns over water is significant in many parts of the world. While it’s not discussed in the media, a critical underlying issue in Somalia’s political crisis is the lack of water. Scarcity of water has fueled other political crises and civil wars on the African continent over the last twenty five years. The introduction of cattle to Africa during the European colonial era led to the desertification of Africa. Climate change in Africa has been rapid, causing shortages of water and farmable land. These climatic issues have exacerbated other historic tensions leading to war and genocide.
As I reflect on the religions of the world, a common element is the sacred place given to water. For Christians, water is a symbol of rebirth; among Hindus and Jews, it is a symbol of cleansing; Buddhists include the pouring of water at funerals. (http://www.africanwater.org/religion.htm) While professing it to be sacred and holy, humans use water without thought or consequence.
Before all else, spirituality is the way in which we live. While water is necessary for life on Earth, the way we live suggests that water has no value at all. Given that the human body is approximately 60% water, it’s clear that the way we live is not only out of balance with the importance of water on Earth but also with the vitality of water that makes us who we are.
In this third millennium, the way we live must be based on values of sustainability of Earth and all creatures, including ourselves. Living from values of sustainability evokes the challenge of understanding spirituality as the foundation for sustainability. Based in a sustainable spirituality, water moves from being the dumping ground of waste to being understood as a gift that is pure, life-sustaining and nothing less than holy.
Water: it is the element for life.
© 2011, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.