So wrote a reader after Monday’s post. It’s a good question, and the first step is to stop addressing today’s issues with yesterday’s attitudes. Take, for example, water, which we are endlessly told is the oil of the 21st century. It’s not. We are addicted to oil. We are dependent on water, which is finite and irreplaceable. Here are some ideas for thinking differently about it:
- Plan in terms of watersheds rather than arbitrary lines on a map, so that water becomes the unifying, rather than the divisive, feature of a community.
- Stop thinking of water as commodity – and of rivers as pipes to deliver that commodity. They are ecosystems that sustain all life.
- Question grandiose plans to transfer water from one basin to another, such as China’s $79 billion project to reverse the Yangtze (based on Mao’s 1952 idea!); decades-old proposals to divert the Great Lakes into the Mississippi and send water to the arid West; Sitka, Alaska’s, aim to ship bulk water worldwide.
- Consider all that rivers provide – drinking water, food, hygiene, transportation, irrigation, hydropower, baptism, recreation, tranquility, beauty – and build diverse coalitions to protect them.
- Reform the tangle of conflicting rules and customs governing water use so that upstream dams – as we have built on the Colorado and Turkey intends to build on the Tigris and Euphrates – don’t deprive downstream states of water, and downstream dams don’t flood upstream communities.
We aren’t going to do all this tomorrow. We need to start today.