Pearce Lecture Raises Water Awareness

How much water do you use each day? Probably much more than you think. Coffee, beer, burgers, cotton clothes—these and so many other products we consume regularly require vast amounts of water to be produced, revealed journalist Fred Pearce at his November 5 lecture.

Students and the public filled Prosser Auditorium to hear Pearce talk about the world's impending water crisis. The author of When the Rivers Run Dry: the Defining Crisis of the 21st Century, gave a slide presentation overview of the condition of many of the world's great rivers. China's Yellow River—like the Indus, Nile, Colorado, Rio Grande, and many others—no longer flows continuously to the sea, he pointed out. Rivers that have been the lifeblood of civilizations now routinely dry up in areas. And that's a problem—a very big problem for a growing world population that requires water not only for drinking, but also for supporting marine life, agriculture, providing energy, and much more.

"We are taking as much as four times the amount of water from the world's rivers as we did 20 or 30 years ago," said Pearce.

Dams are partly to blame. "The great salmon rivers of the U.S. have been dammed, so now we have hydroelectricity but not much salmon," said Pearce. "The Mekong River is the second largest inland fishery in the world. Sixty percent of the protein eaten by humans in Southeast Asia comes from the Mekong ... China is planning huge dams on the Mekong, and it will destroy the fishing there."

Students from "Climate Crises: Past, Present, Future," an interdisciplinary class taught by Diane Husic, professor of biological sciences, and Hilde Binford, associate professor of music, gave lecture attendees Greenhound water bottles. The 350 reusable aluminum bottles are much easier on the environment than single-use plastic bottles, and the savings offset the class's carbon footprint.

More often, rivers are drained simply by human consumption—agriculture in particular. Consider: it takes 600 gallons of water to produce one bag of rice; it takes 3,000 gallons to grow enough livestock feed to make one hamburger; and it takes 1,000 gallons of water for a cow to be able to produce 1 quart of milk. Supplying the world's growing population means raising crops on land unsuited to farming—causing rivers and water tables to be pumped dry.

What can we do? Dams and desalination are not practical options.

Two Things to Do

"First, we need to get better and catching rain where it falls," said Pearce. "Don't wait for it to run into the rivers, then pump it elsewhere." Some villages in India, China, and parts of Africa are building dykes and canals to catch monsoon rain, reducing their need for imported water during the dry season.

Second, understand that water is a precious resource, and live accordingly—individuals and nations should make choices that consider and conserve water, urges Pearce; "And why not recycle water? We recycle everything else."

On November 6, Pearce visited students in "Climate Crises: Past, Present, and Future," a class taught by Diane Husic, professor and chair of biological sciences, and Hilde Binford, associate professor of music. Pearce is the author of several books on climate change, including Confessions of an Eco-Sinner, and is an environmental consultant for New Scientist magazine. The lecture was co-sponsored by Moravian College Arts & Lectures, environmental studies program/Department of Biological Sciences, and the Consortium for Research Opportunities in the Plant Sciences.