Between 1900 and 1995, the population of the world has grown from 1.6 billion to six billion people. During that period of great population growth, the per capita demand for water has increased sevenfold! (The World's Water, Peter H. Gleick). In almost all nations, including the U.S., ground water aquifers are dropping, springs and creeks have dried up, and in many nations great rivers never reach the sea in particularly dry years.
The World Bank estimates that at least eighty nations have water shortages severe enough to greatly retard agricultural production; 9,500 children a day die because of lack of water, or polluted water. As former Democratic Senator Paul Simon writes in his book, Tapped Out, if a plane filled with children were to crash, the story would fill newspapers and dominate TV news for weeks, and multiple lawsuits would no doubt follow. Yet, right now, 16 times more children than a planeload die each day from water-related reasons and their stories rarely reach our living room TV sets.
There are many different approaches to mitigate current and future water problems and prepare for a sustainable future, but they require informed leadership.And Simon says very few political leaders understand or even discuss water and soil issues (outside of litigation). Indeed, water litigation consumed most of the time at the Arizona Town Hall meeting on water that I attended in 1997.
Are we concerned about the future of water supplies and quality? The relationship of healthy soil to an efficient water cycle? Are we willing to learn about the big picture and encourage our leaders to demonstrate leadership in something important?
Paul Harvey's announcement that the federal government is the nation's largest employer, confirmed another issue of sustainability that has long been of concern to me. In our county of Gila and who knows how many other counties nationwide, government is the largest employer. The growth in government is not sustainable indefinitely because it can only be supported by production and a healthy, growing middle class private sector.
We are currently living off debt and the capital of post-war production. Even our national and state productivity and household income figures give a skewed picture of the true economy as they include government incomes, which, realistically, can be defined as consumption.
As a public, we need to grow up to thoughtful maturity and grow away from our obsession with current junk culture. As Simon said, "It would be conservative to estimate that 10,000 times more media attention has been devoted to the O.J. Simpson trial than to the approaching water crisis."
Are we as a people up to demanding dialogue on and solutions to real issues, since we don't seem to be blessed with statesmanship or an enlightened major media?