Arizona is very hot; a state dominated by a desert climate. Therefore, water is one of the most prevalent topics of the state. It also has a very strong sustainability department offering a valued undergraduate degree. As of now, it is one of the only schools in the nation to offer this degree. These are good reasons why the 2011 Sustainability Summit was held on the Arizona State University – Tempe campus on August 25th, 2011.
The purpose of this NBC4 sponsored summit was to discuss Earth’s water future. Anne Thompson mediated a panel of four esteemed judges. The judges included Grady Gammage Jr., a lawyer active in issues of sustainability; Dr. Heidi Cullen, a climate scientist; Patricia Mulroy, the manager of the Las Vegas Water District; and Bill Richardson, the former Governor of New Mexico. All relevant information on each panelist can be found at the above hyperlink.
Comments from the four panelists included:
- “The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.” Dr. Heidi explained in regards to water trends and global warming, “Flooding is getting worse, droughts are getting worse.”
- “Water is so precious that in many parts of the world it is militarily controlled,” added Bill.
- “Mississippi gets too much water and Nevada gets too little water,” notes Patricia.
- Anne agrees and adds that rainfall in Africa will decrease 25% over the next 10 years (as if the water problem wasn’t already bad enough).
Essentially, water scarcity is global. Some nations get far too much water, some get far too little, and each extreme is getting more intense with warming temperatures. From the United States, to Bangladesh; from the Middle East, to Africa, a supply of drinkable water is essential, but it is fading. Grady Gammage, Jr. believes that in many ways the problem of water is about allocation and “it’s hard to get the public to realize the situation.”
So, here we are. In a world where only 6/1000 of 1% of water is usable; a statistic Anne Thompson brought to our attention. Meanwhile, the percentage of the world living on less than $1.25 (Purchasing Power Parity)/day hovers around 25%. Purchasing Power Parity is a normalization of cost to relative exchanges rates, thereby creating an equal measure with which to gauge economic factors. In this case, poverty is matched at a rate in US Dollars. The fact is that to get water from the source to the sink costs money. This 25% cannot afford to purchase this service for this scarce, often militarily controlled resource. In Arizona, however, we can afford to have our water shipped long distances to quench the thirst of those living in the desert.
But what do we do? Let ¼ of the world’s population go thirsty? In a population of 7 billion souls, 1.75 billion would perish. This is no small amount. We, designers, need to decide what kind of world we are creating. We should not put the responsibility on the shoulders of others or solely on environmental engineers.
What kind of world do you want to create? To live in? Do we build a world of mass die-off or one that can sustain for the ages? Do we make a world to benefit the rich, or to benefit all? And how do we go about doing this?