Wednesday, September 23, 2009
A famous man once quipped, "When the well's dry, we know the worth of water." That man was Benjamin Franklin, writing in his 1746 edition of Poor Richard's Almanack. For a guy who lived 260-odd years years ago, Franklin sure sounds like he knew a lot about the year 2009. That's because the state of the world's clean water supply today is so dire, it's becoming inevitable that an all-out water war is likely to come to pass very soon. You think running out of oil is going to be a crisis? Oh, it will be. But it'll be nothing compared to the very real—and already growing—problem that a lack of clean freshwater will present to the human population.
Let me make this clear: People are already dying from a lack of clean water. Roughly one-sixth of the world's population currently does not have access to safe drinking water; that's over 1 billion people today! If we don't act now, you, too, are going to be affected. Yes, you, in your luxury condo in that big American city. Yes, you, in your rural wooded town with a seemingly endless supply of nearby rivers and streams. And yes, especially you, in your 2.5-acre lot in sprawling suburbia in the middle of the desert. And I promise you, it's not going to be a matter of if, it'll simply be a matter of when.
So what is the problem, exactly? The Earth is covered with 326 million trillion gallons of water; you'd think that'd be enough to keep us all hydrated. The reality is, although dihydrogen oxide is present on our planet in copious amounts, less and less of it is available for us to drink, while more and more of it is being polluted by fat cat companies who don't give a damn about anything but the bottom line. And sadly, the governments of some the biggest polluters—China, the United States, and India come to mind—are doing precious little to combat the disastrous effects that a lack of clean water is already having on their citizens.
From all I've been learning over the past few weeks on this topic, I could literally write a book about what's wrong with our water today—and why you should care. Instead, I'm going to make three simple recommendations for how you can do your part. I strongly suggest you comply with at least one of these; otherwise, I just might have to get all Erin Brokovitch on your ass!
1. Get Smart, Part 1: Watch a Movie! If you don't see another film for the rest of the year, do yourself and the world a favor and rent 2008's Flow, directed by Irena Salina. By doing so, you'll get to see with your own two eyes what the major threats to the world's clean water supply are. Most jaw-dropping to me was discovering how companies that want to treat water as a commodity are, in collusion with the World Bank, screwing people the world over by taking over previously communal freshwater supplies and selling that water back—often polluted, no less!—at exorbitant markups. And they do it with a smile, too. It's disgusting.
2. Stop buying bottled water. Sounds simple, and really, it is. It's not just a matter of saving all that wasted plastic—not to mention the thousands of tons of fossil fuels spent trucking and shipping very heavy water from far reaches of the globe (ahem, Fiji Water) to your nearest supermarket or corner bodega. You should also keep in mind that the companies that package and sell water are making gobs of money off of something you can get for free just by turning on the tap or using a water fountain. What's more, most of the water you get in bottled water is simply tap water anyway—it's not any safer or tastier! Do you really want to help giants like Coke (Dasani), Pepsi (Aquafina), and Nestle (Poland Spring, Deer Park, San Pellegrino, and Perrier, among others) line their pockets with more of your money at the expense of the environment? I didn't think so. Instead, just buy a safe (BPA-free) washable, reusable water bottle and bring it with you to the gym or wherever you need portable water. See? Easy. It'll save you a few bucks in the process, too.
3. Get Smart, Part 2: Read! I won't bother mentioning some of the great books on water consumption, pollution, and misuse that are already out there. If you've read down this far, I'm simply going to reward you with a much quicker tip: Pick up the Summer 2009 issue of Good magazine and read it cover to cover. In this issue you'll find an excellent explanation of why dams are so bad for us; a look ahead at how drinking pee may be in our future; an illustrated listing of all major models of water gun ever produced (yes, I'm talking Super Soakers); a step-by-step guide to reducing your water impact; a moving plea from legendary oceanographer Sylvia Earle on why we need to take care of our oceans; and much more. Alternately, pay a visit to The New York Times, which just published an important series on water pollution called Toxic Waters. Among other things, you'll read how good people are getting cancer from carcinogens in their tap water and how an unregulated farming industry has been dumping tons of pollutants into our water supply for years with nary a slap on the wrist.
The good thing to keep in mind, of course, is that all is not lost. One word of hope I've gotten from almost everything I've read and watched about our current water crisis is that with a lot of hard work, some concentrated brainpower, and some political will, we can easily solve all of our water issues before they become truly catastrophic. But you have to understand the problem before you can fix it. So get educated and spread the word, and we might not have to bear out old Ben Franklin's prediction about finding the true worth of water. &infin
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Living in a big city, in a neighborhood with seriously annoying parking, I really don't need a car. I've been using mass transit for over a decade now, and aside from the occasional late-night (read: early-morning) never-ending wait, you really can't complain too much about the New York City commuter system. I mean, my carbon footprint is a fraction of pretty much anyone who uses a motor vehicle, and counting traffic, the train often gets me where I want to go faster than a car anyway. So I'm good.
But you know what? Screw all that.
Starting today, I'm buying a lottery ticket every day until I win the big one. What irrational craziness has invaded my brain, you ask? Simple: I want to be one of the first people to own this pimped out green machine, the new L1 diesel bullet car from your favorite German car maker and mine, the almighty Volkswagen.
The L1 was designed with the goal of consuming as little energy as possible. And wow, they've made a few seriously funky adjustments to do just that. The most obvious are that the car seats only two people—one in front of the other, like in a fighter jet; and that the rear wheels are all but invisible, shielded to improve the car's aerodynamics. It reminds me of something out of Tron, which I have a strange itch to go watch again right this second. Oh, and the result of all this new engineering and design? The L1 can go 100 kilometers on 1 liter of diesel. That's 170 mpg, people!!
Now for the messy details: Volkswagen says the L1 will be available next year in limited numbers. What that means in plain English is that only multibillionaires will be able to afford one. If the run is successful, consumers will have to wait until at least 2013 for the L1 to go into regular production. I'll be waiting, alright, but I'm gonna add nylottery.org to my bookmarks in the meantime. &infin
Wednesday, September 09, 2009
Dear Mr. President,
I have never felt compelled to write to someone in your office before, but after hearing you speak to Congress on health care this evening, I simply had to put pen to paper (well, fingers to keyboard, anyway).
I am 32 years old, in overall good health. My brother, J, however, is very ill. Just 30 years old, he suffers from a rare and serious form of multiple sclerosis. Every day is a struggle; there are times when he literally cannot move his limbs, and when the most basic of tasks are impossible. For the last four years, J has endured a cocktail of drugs, from daily injections to monthly infusions of steroids and other chemicals that have helped with the MS but ravaged his body in other ways.
For the moment, my brother enjoys a good job that accommodates his physical ailments and provides private health insurance. But even so, his medical bills are extremely high. He has been denied various treatments despite his desperate state, and he is often forced to go to the emergency room, where out-of-pocket costs are exorbitant. But perhaps scariest of all, Mr. President, is that my brother lives in Massachusetts, the one state in the Union that assures health insurance for all. What of all the other Americans, suffering day in and day out as he does, who can’t get any coverage at all based on their condition, which will never go away and will therefore be “pre-existing” for the rest of their lives?
To be sure, I didn’t write to burden you with another sob story. What I am writing with is my message that you must pass this health care bill. This may be the fight of our time, but it is one that simply cannot fail. I urge you to continue to reach out to our young people, to educate them about how government works for them. One of the biggest problems I see with American politics today is that the right aims to keep its followers down. They want to keep information out of the hands of those who most need it. You and I both know that it’s the poor and uneducated who have most at stake with this bill—and who least understand it. It’s an unfortunate state of affairs when fear is the driving factor holding up as important a bill as this one. And so I urge you to keep fighting the good fight.
Thank you for all the hope you inspire in so many of us.