An Ode to Water on a Climate Changing Planet: 10 ways to honor and protect the source of life
We humans exist because of water, as does the rest of life on this blue planet. Take a moment to think of your last interaction with fresh water. Was it this morning when you took a shower or drank a glass of water or made a cup of tea or coffee? What did you have to do to get the water? How did you feel during and after drinking it or letting it wash over you? Even if you weren’t aware then, take a moment now to recognize its life-giving nature, how it refreshed and enlivened you.
Now remember the last time you were near a body of water (a river, lake, ocean). How did you interact with it? Did you dip your toes in? Or float in it? Or maybe you rode in a boat of some kind? How did it feel to be near, in, or on the water? Were you aware of the role it plays on the planet?
Take a moment now to acknowledge that water connects you and every living thing to the flow of life, as you read David Whyte’s poem, Where Many Rivers Meet, from River Flow: New & Selected Poems: Revised Edition.
All the water below me came from above.
All the clouds living in the mountains
gave it to the rivers,
who gave it to the sea, which was their dying.
And so I float on cloud become water,
central sea surrounded by white mountains,
the water salt, once fresh,
cloud fall and stream rush, tree roots and tide bank,
leading to the rivers’ mouths
and the mouths of the rivers sing into the sea,
the stories buried in the mountains
give out into the sea
and the sea remembers
and sings back,
from the depths,
where nothing is forgotten.
Scientifically, water makes up more than two thirds of our body weight. It also makes up 80–95% of the weight of the plants we eat and connects the world via the oceans, which cover “almost 71% of Earth’s surface and contain more than 97% of the planet’s total amount of water. It is also the largest ecosystem on Earth: it represents 99% of all the planet’s biosphere. It is from the ocean that 50–80% of the oxygen we breathe” comes. And as Graeme D. Buchan writes in his Ode to H2O, “Thanks to earth’s special mix of temperature and air pressure, it is also the only substance found in all three phases in the biosphere. Its importance extends beyond the bio-world into the physical world: it weathers rocks into soils (the substrate of land life), and then transports nutrients into plants and hence animals. As a CO2 solvent, it captures carbon into nature’s basic food stocks, i.e., land plants and ocean or lake algae.”
You might think, when the summer rains won’t stop, that there is an overabundance of water, or when the well dries up, that there isn’t enough water. That might be the case in your specific location. However, as Lusk explains, “the amount of water on Earth has remained relatively constant for centuries. There is not a constant flow of new water being created, nor does water disappear after it enters a body or plant. The water you drink today could be the same water that rushed up the roots of an ancient tree or that a stegosaurus drank centuries ago. This means that not only is water actively flowing through … all living things right now, but it has also been flowing through all of life for as long as life has been on Earth.”
As water continually moves across our Blue Planet, it is intimately connected to the climate. According to NOAA, “in its three phases (solid, liquid, and gas), water ties together the major parts of the Earth’s climate system — air, clouds, the ocean, lakes, vegetation, snowpack, and glaciers.” The oceans in particular “regulate the global climate by moving warm and cold masses of sea waters around the planet. Warm currents move to the Poles along the surface, and as they reach the Poles they cool down, and sink, circling back from the depths towards the equator; this regulates the global climate and maintains the balance of marine and land ecosystems.”
However, as the climate warms, this process is directly impacted, changing where, when, and how much water is available in different places. Water for People estimates that about 90% of climate disasters are water related. We see this taking place all over the world as increased floods and droughts, rivers and lakes running dry, ground water depletion, ocean acidification, rising sea levels, and slowing ocean currents happen more and more frequently.
Given its importance to our very existence you would think that humanity would have done a better job protecting the water cycle, both for human and planetary health, instead of taking it for granted and misusing it to our detriment. As Ralph Waldo Emerson writes in his poem Water:
“Well used, it decketh joy,
Adorneth, doubleth joy:
Ill used, it will destroy,
In perfect time and measure
With a face of golden pleasure
It’s time we paid more attention to the connection between water and climate action before we are destroyed by the very thing that we need to keep us alive. It is time we acknowledge that fresh water sources, which comprise only 0.5% of water on Earth, are already at risk in many places. But it’s not too late to start being more responsible about how we use fresh water. Everyone can become water smart and get engaged with water management, both for the sake of life on this planet and as a climate solution.
According to the UN Water and Climate Change site, “Sustainable water management is central to building the resilience of societies and ecosystems and to reducing carbon emissions.” They recommend that climate policymakers put water at the core of their action plans and reduce carbon emissions from water and sanitation transportation and treatment. They also entreat politicians to “cooperate across national borders to balance the water needs of communities, industry, agriculture and ecosystems,” including sustainably using groundwater.
And there are vital actions we can take individually to conserve water and provide it for those who live where water is depleted.
Ways to Conserve Water
For those of us lucky enough to have water available simply by opening a tap, chances are we are using more of this finite resource than necessary. We can become more responsible consumers by learning to conserve water in a variety of ways.
Learn more about water and its importance. Watch the 2 minute I Am Water video.
Learn more about your water footprint here.
Reduce your use of water at home. There are at least 100 ways you can do this, including taking shorter showers, installing low flow water fixtures, reducing your lawn, using a dishwasher instead of handwashing, and capturing rainwater for your yard. For more ideas, read this article, and this one, and this one.
Eat more of a plant rich diet and fewer fast food French Fries. It takes thousands of gallons of water to produce a pound of beef and flawless fries gulp water. Learn more about the water footprint of your food choices here.
Ways to Help Provide Water
Billions of people around the world live without clean water and/or don’t have easy access to it or sanitation. If you have running water, count your blessings and take one or more of the following steps suggested by groups like Regeneration Nexus, Waterkeeper Alliance, and Water For People.
Learn about the small water cycle and why it’s important to restore it. Then learn about your local watershed. You can use this map to explore watersheds worldwide and this 10-step guide to how you can protect and restore your local watershed.
Be the change you wish to see. Check out what different countries are doing at the UN Water site, then make and share a list of personal commitments to solve the water and sanitation crisis. And/or join a local chapter of Waterkeeper Alliance.
Restore the small water cycle where you live or somewhere else. Take an online ecosystem restoration design course or sign up to participate in one of the Ecosystems Restoration Communities’ activities taking place around the world.
How will you honor this source of life? May you always have access to enough water and remember it is a gift of life to be shared by all living things.