Sunday, September 20, 2015

Why Water Matters: A Multidimensional Issue and a Student-Driven Response

By Angela Hessenius, ‘17

            Water is a hot, trending topic right now—you could say it’s a watershed issue right now (I know, bad pun, I’m sorry). Here in California, we are currently in the fourth year of a drought, the most severe drought we have experienced on record. On a global scale, water has been and continues to be a hugely important issue. Water is essential for human life and flourishing everywhere, no matter who you are. Accordingly, there are many layers and subtopics within this broad focus. Many of these issues were discussed in the Water Matters panel that occurred last Wednesday, including the drought, wastewater treatment, desalination, water rights, bottled water, agriculture, and much more. This panel was the kickoff event for the Changemaker theme for the next two years, which is “Water: Tap Into Your Ideas.” Clearly, water is an issue that will be discussed quite a bit in the near future, with many dimensions that occur on multiple scales and in multiple disciplines.

            Students are already starting to make waves of change (also an intended pun, I have no shame). In order to take advantage of the spotlight on water due to the drought and the Changemaker theme, me, Hailey Gordon, Sterling Fearing, and Spencer Dunlap created What’s Your 20?, a student-led campaign to educate and inspire the campus community to conserve water. Our challenge is for all students and community members to reduce their water consumption by 20%, taking inspiration from Governor Brown’s mandate for all Californians to reach this target.  

            This initiative grew out of the interdisciplinary Sustainability class that all of us were students in last spring. Each of us were involved in a different group project in which we were tasked with creating a proposal for how USD could be more sustainable. We wanted to build on the momentum that was generated by coming up with these proposals, and also start a campaign so that we could outreach to and educate our peers, and create opportunities for students who care about sustainability to become more active and engaged in sustainability efforts on our campus.

In these classes, we also learned about the multiple dimensions of sustainability. While most people think of protecting the environment when they think of sustainability, this is actually only one piece of sustainability—there are also economic, social, and cultural aspects. In creating a solution, one must come up with a comprehensive plan that considers all the various elements. A solution cannot only serve the good of the environment. It has to be beneficial for people economically, it has to consider social justice issues, such as whether people have equal access and opportunities to participate and be a part of your solution, as well as consider cultural factors, from people’s traditions and beliefs, to their perceptions and status quos, to appealing to their ethics and values.

            I see many parallels between sustainability and changemaking. Both are very broad concepts (so broad that some individuals express uncertainty and doubt about what they actually mean). In changemaking as in sustainability, it is imperative to consider all different dimensions of a social issue when you want to create innovative strategies and turn your ideas into real solutions. There are also so many different dimensions within both topics, which gives you the freedom to focus on a narrow topic that you are particularly passionate about, and there is no limit but your imagination. Take water, as an example.

Water policy and conservation during the drought are certainly issues that we need to deal with in California. Perhaps there are technological or behavior changes we can make to utilize water more effectively, whether on farms or in our homes, or maybe we can find better ways to manage our water by thinking about it as a holistic system and cycle, reusing and recapturing water rather than constantly importing and discharging water. Maybe you are more captivated by thinking about solutions to the global water crisis. Maybe you are particularly interested in global health, poverty, hunger, education, or gender equality—all interconnected and interrelated with water. Polluted water is the world’s biggest health risk: in developing countries, lack of access to clean water and sanitation are responsible for 80% of diseases. Water is also imperative for crop production and growing enough food for communities to have sufficient nutrition. In addition, when people have to spend a significant portion of their day finding and transporting water or are sick from water-related diseases; they cannot attend work or school. By limiting attendance in schools and preventing able-bodied community members from working, lacking access to clean water makes it more difficult to break out the cycle of poverty and pursue economic development. These issues are also related to gender equality girls and women often carry the burden of fetching water, which further limits their opportunities.

            The main point I want to get across is that change starts with you. Whether it’s water, changemaking, or sustainability, we need students to find what specifically they are passionate about, get inspired and take action. How does your area of study connect to issues related to water? What are steps you can take in your dorm or apartment to change your habits and make water conservation a part of your daily life? At USD, we need inspired individuals and changemakers to reframe and expand our understanding of water, and create a change in our day-to-day habits and campus culture, making a transformation from a culture of consumption to a culture of conservation. One small action may seem insignificant, but don’t forget that a single drop of water creates a ripple effect.



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