Water shortages and dust storms are issues I am all too familiar with. I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, and actually have a very clear memory of April 18, 2001 when the gargantuan dust storm mentioned by Lester Brown in Plan B occurred. I was 12 years old at the time, and remember feeling completely dumbfounded and awestruck by the enormous wall of dust and sand that was making its way toward my home. It was a very frightening sight, even more frightening when it finally reached my house. I remember staring out the window, there was absolutely no visibility. It was like a white out, but brown. The sound of billions of dust particles bombarding my house lasted for about twenty minutes before the storm finally moved past us. The aftermath wasn’t much better….a thick layer of grit covering everything the eye could see, vehicles scratched, people caught outside in the mess were hospitalized with breathing issues; it was something I will never forget. I was amazed, but not surprised recently when I read in Plan B that the dust wall stretched from Arizona all the way to Canada. As a kid, I had no idea what forces could generate such storm. To be honest, at the time I just assumed it was because I lived in a desert and it was a windy day. I would have never guessed that it came all the way from parts of Mongolia and Northern China. It wasn’t until my early adult years that I became aware of how the irresponsible practices of overgrazing and deforestation in some parts of the world can affect others by creating such storms. It makes me wonder what percentage of the population is actually informed about issues like this. Until I started studying environmental science, I certainly wasn’t!
Another issue I became very familiar with during my time out west was water shortages. I remember my parents making us wait until after 9:00pm to do our laundry and take showers because it was substantially cheaper to use water during that time of day. However, twenty miles outside of where I grew up, the town of Fountain Hills, was known for its glorious fountains in the center of town. This always baffled me; how could a state with severe water shortage issues allow such wasteful uses of water for the sake of aesthetics? Especially during a time prior to the most recent recession, when (in Arizona), houses were barely being built fast enough to keep up with the demand of people moving into them. If water shortage was already an issue, and the population was spiking rapidly, why didn’t city and state officials step in and enforce more strict water budget policies? In that context, waiting until late at night to run water seems like a very meager attempt to fix the problem. It has been 8 years now since I left Arizona, but in that time, things haven’t gotten much better. In fact, with drought conditions, they seem to be getting worse. According to meteorologist, Eric Holthaus, in the year 2015, Lake Powell was down to only 45% capacity. It is only a matter of time before the lake dries up, and a place where I made so many teenage-summer memories will be a thing of the past.
The issues out west definitely hit me close to home, but they are only a small part of the overall global issue of water shortage. In class this week, we discussed how to get to the root cause of environmental problems. I think the problems such as massive dust storms and water shortages stem from a demand to provide food and water for a population that exceeds the earth’s capacity to provide. This also includes the staggering populations of livestock around the world that destroy grasslands, contaminate water sources, and simply live to feed a growing need to consume. Despite the excessive abundance of livestock on the planet, there are still more people starving than there are people who are well-nourished. There are countless examples around the world of places that are so overpopulated, people are forced into situations of starvation, poverty, and war. So why do people keep having babies? There are several reasons such as family values, cultural beliefs, necessity for labor/income, lack of education about birth control, rape, and many more that I won’t fully dive into. The question I want to focus on regarding population control (since it seems to be the root issue of most global problems) is: Who on earth has the right to tell someone else, “You are not allowed to have children (or any more children).” Sure, some countries like China have tried to enforce such laws, but is it ethical to do so? Many, including myself, would say no. But then again, is it ethical to overpopulate the earth and doom future generations?
Brown, L. R. (2009). Plan B 4.0: Mobilizign to Save Civilizations. New York & London: W.W. Norton and Company.
Holthaus, E. (2016, February 1). Science. Retrieved from Slate: http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2015/05/arizona_water_shortages_loom_the_state_prepares_for_rationing_as_lake_mead.html