We humans like to own, buy, and consume a lot of things. They could be pretty and shiny things that we just want to hold on to and keep to ourselves. They could be hot commodities that we want to obtain before someone else. Or they could be valuable resources we wish to monopolize for the purpose of creating, generating, or selling. Regardless of the reason, we like to take ownership of and over-consume things even if it leads to conflict. Even to our own detriment.
Take water, for example. Seventy-one percent of the world’s surface is covered by water, and about 97% of that amount is salt water we cannot ingest for our survival. Another 2% of the water on Earth is stuck in ice caps, and the remaining 1% is fresh water we can drink. Even though the human body is about 60% water, and though a person can go up to 4 weeks without food and still survive, they will die if they go more than 3 days without drinking water.
Water is essential to our survival in the most basic sense, but also in the sense that we need it to grow our food. Our agricultural systems use about 92% of all global fresh water; our grains (wheat, rice, etc.) use up to 27%, our meat production uses up about 22%, and so on. That’s not all, though—38% of that 1% we are able to use for consumption is being used up by only 3 countries annually. Want to take a guess what those countries are? The U.S., China, and India. That’s 38% of all our fresh water for 3 out 195 (recognized) countries. Tell me that isn’t insane.
Let’s leave those three countries alone for a second and focus on South Africa instead, for the purpose of putting things into perspective. In mid-2017, South Africa was facing a severe water crisis due to various reasons, one of which, of course, is climate change. Their largest city, Cape Town, was facing the very real prospect of having their water supply turned off by the government on a specific day dubbed “Day Zero”. Why was this talked about? Because water levels in the city’s dam went from 72% in 2014 to almost being below 34.2% in 2017—they were running out of water quickly and needed to start rationing the little bit they still had. But as soon as the South African government generated a date for “Day Zero,” the city’s people reduced their daily water usage by more than half of what they were used to using. They banded together and conserved their water supply so much that the government never implemented “Day Zero,” and they were able to hold off until their drought ended a year later. Cape Town, South Africa almost became the world’s first major city to potentially run out of water in 2017 if it weren’t for people’s collective decision to cut down on their excessive daily usages of the resource.
Why does all this matter to us? Well, water is an invaluable resource for all life on Earth and we are essentially wasting it. We have large corporations trying to monetize it any way they can and systems set in place that basically waste it away. Like very many other resources, we treat it as something we need to own, and a lot of us believe that it will never run out.
This point brings me to our next never-ending commodity: the air we breathe. You may have been told that trees generate all the oxygen we breathe. However, although there are about 3 trillion trees on Earth—yes, someone counted them—I bet you didn’t know that 50%-85% of our oxygen doesn’t come from conventional trees. In fact, most of our oxygen comes from microalgae in the ocean called phytoplankton. Yes, most of our air is created on water. The water where we constantly dump out millions of waste and plastic. Isn’t that funny? But wait, that’s not to say that trees don’t generate oxygen, too. The Amazon Rainforest has about 309 billion trees and it generates about 6% of the Earth’s oxygen. You know, the place that is going through a large scale of deforestation due to cattle ranching and forest fires? Yeah, that one.
We are depleting our most valuable resources in so many ways. Wasting them away, killing them, and impeding them from growing. Our need for consumption and ownership of things has brought us to a place where we are seriously hurting our home to our own detriment. If the oceans cannot generate phytoplankton because of our waste, we will die. If we run out of all our fresh water, we will die. If we cut down all our trees, we will die. This isn’t a game. And it’s not something that will potentially happen several decades down the line. We could run out of our most invaluable resources within our own lifetimes. You know that saying “water is life”? It is the literal truth. It’s about time we start recognizing its true value.
So, if you’re like me and you want to know what you can do to help conserve our most valuable resources, here are a few tips:
1. Use a water filter or a filtered pitcher for drinking water instead of buying plastic bottles. It will save you money in the long run and you can cut down on your daily use of plastic significantly.
2. Do not let the faucet run when you’re washing the dishes, brushing your teeth, washing your car, etc. Only turn on the faucet when you need to rinse.
3. Use your washer and dishwasher for FULL loads only. The less we use, the more we conserve.
4. Take shorter showers. Every minute you spend in the shower with the water running uses up to 17 liters of water. Also, if you switch to a more efficient showerhead, you will conserve more water and save more money on your bills in the long run.
5. Steam your vegetables and reduce your food waste. It takes so much water to produce all of our foods every year (including things like cereal and the like), but a large percentage of our food ends up in trash cans all over the world.
6. Catch rainwater; rainwater tanks save up to 5,000 liters of water a year.
7. Fix all leaks in your pipes.
8. Plant drought resistant trees and plants that require less water or put a layer of mulch around your plants and trees.
Not everyone can make all these changes at once, and realistically, making changes in your daily habits or routine that last is up to the individuals’ drive and motivation. However, I encourage you to make small changes you think you can manage and share what you’ve learned with others. Studies show that most people are willing to make changes to their lives that they see their friends, family, neighbors make because we are creatures that like to be included. So, I ask that you please lead by example and start a new trend with your inner circles that could affect the earth in a positive manner. Climate change is real—even the government agrees—and as shown by the people in Cape Town, our choices can make a difference.