Reflecting upon the last few weeks of my writing, I have found that all of my pieces revolve around one point. This point also happens to be the center of the environmental movement and shift in cultural ideology: values. What do you value? What is the Earth worth? What are you willing to give back in order to sustain the Earth? What are you willing to do to ensure the future existence of humankind? While questioning can lead to painful realizations, it is essential for one to reflect and consider our actions today.
What would you do to ensure a clean water supply? While there continue to be economic fluctuations and constant changes in government and policy, our fresh water supply dwindles. In New Delhi, about 78 percent of the India’s water supply is overexploited, and women are forced to quit their jobs to wait for access to clean water, usually only a few gallons. Across the country, more than 700 million Indians do not have sufficient sanitation, mainly due to the scarcity of water, according to a 2006 New York Times article. But even closer to home, in the western United States, governments are scrambling to buy water rights to aquifers – underground reservoirs of water in a permeable layer of rock – from other states to ensure that their residents are receiving clean water. There is such a demand placed upon the aquifers, that it is only a matter of time before they are utilized beyond their capacity.
So where do we come into play? First of all, think of all the little ways in which we use water: showers, dishwashers, toilets, lawn watering, or your cup of coffee, for example. Then it is necessary to think of all the products that we own that use water in some way. For example, coffee plants need water to grow, and when they are harvested, coffee beans need to be sorted and cleaned. Water is used when packaging is created, as well as when the machines are cleaned and the coffee beans are shipped. When the beans arrive at a nearby coffee shop, water is generally running all day in side sinks. Coffee is just one simple example, but nearly all manufactured goods deal with water before they are sold. OK, so does this mean that we all need to stop drinking coffee? No, but maybe we should focus on all the other little actions we partake in to reduce our water consumption.
Why does this matter? It is easy to see a problem and easy to see solutions on an individual level, but it is hard to commit to a drastically different lifestyle, putting the future and the needs of the Earth before the luxuries we take for granted. It sounds a bit silly, but it is true. If people are honestly looking to make an environmental difference, the first step is to be aware of their own lifestyle and habits. To make a change, things will have to be given up. Are people willing to do this? Do people value the Earth more than a 30-minute shower? Could you give into a slightly less green lawn for the sake of saving water? Essentially, it comes down to personal objectives and experiences in your life and what they mean to you, and how those affect you in the future.
Gretchen Wilbrandt is a junior environmental science major from Woodstock, Ill.