By Georgia Carter
Water forms the basis for all life. Every single living organism requires it to exist. But it’s not just to replenish and nourish ourselves. Water performs myriad other benefits that are necessary for our existence today.
Caption: Water is essential to all life on Earth.
However, we’re wrecking our water. Currently, we have less than 1% of our fresh water reserves available, and our resource is fast becoming finite. Pollution, agricultural run-offs, wastewater, and an increase in infrastructure is ruining our precious, vital liquid material.
Source: The Conversation
But to be able to first mitigate the harm caused to our waters and the beings who both use it and inhabit it, we need to understand how our water systems actually work.
How global water systems work
Water networks have been around for millenia, with the earliest known form of controlling water flow dating back to 2500 BC in China. But the most famous water systems in the world are still those constructed and utilised in 312 BE by the Roman Empire, some of which are still in use today.
Caption: One of the aqueducts constructed in the Ancient Roman era.
Today, there are four stages to our waterways: Collection; Treatment; Storage; Distribution.
Collection: We receive most of our drinking and amenity water from groundwater, water entombed just below the Earth’s surface. To retrieve this water, specialised pumps charged by fossil fuels are needed which causes multiple harms on the environment.
Another form of water we use is surface water, such as rivers and lakes. While these are seemingly everflowing, we cannot solely rely on them. Humans have therefore created their own versions in the form of man made dams, reservoirs, and artificial lakes.
However, these human-made facilities can be destructive to the surrounding ecosystems due to deforestation to make space, reverting the flow of water which was once a home to a diversity of life, and pollution from humans who work in the area.
We still need to seek out sustainable solutions for collecting water.
Treatment: Natural water often contains materials that can be harmful for human consumption. These include dust and soil particles, microbes, and decaying matter. While there are various different forms of treatment, two are the most prominent.
Distribution: It’s a silent miracle that humans have crafted a way to deliver water all across the world. Each city, town, and living space has a network of waterways locked beneath the ground.
Pipelines snake through the depths of our homes, providing us with seemingly endless liquid to use as we please. Water travels through these pipelines with the help of pumps to power movement, transferring water from storage tanks to home taps.
Caption: Our water is pumped to our homes via a network of pipelines entombed below the ground.
Credit: Denny Muller, Unsplash
But this method, while remaining efficient and effective, can be damaging to the environment. The materials required to produce the piping rely on fossil fuels for their creation, the pumps needed to forcefully move the water depend on electricity and heavy machinery, and space is necessary to install the pipes themselves.
While there may not be viable sustainable solutions to tackle these problems at the moment, it’s important for us to appreciate the water we receive in our homes every single day, and even more vital to protect the source.
How do humans pollute water?
An estimated 80% of our waste water, water polluted with chemicals, toxins, and human waste, is dumped back into the environment. Unclean and unsafe water is killing us all - wild and marine, plant, and human life. In fact, in 2015, it’s believed that around 1.8 million people passed away due to contaminated water consumption.
Not only are we destroying our health and the wellbeing of other living organisms, but also entire ecosystems. Today, nearly half of the United States of America’s rivers and streams have been harvested, and one third of all lakes have rapidly decreased in size and water quantity as well as being too polluted for humans to even swim in.
Below are a few ways we pollute our invaluable water:
Caption: Agricultural practices are one of the leading water pollutants.
Credit: Ibadah Mimpi, Unsplash
There is a chain effect that occurs in the natural world, and by harming one of the significant cogs in the wheel of life harms them all.
For example, if new materials such as microplastics are introduced into an ecosystem, suffocation occurs. This is when algae consumes the new material and grows exponentially. Algae stores require large amounts of oxygen and receive their quantities from the water, lessening the total oxygen in the water for other species, who can then drown. This leads to the loss of food for more predator species, who also perish due to starvation. Soon, the entire body of water will hold little to no life.
Sustainable ways to meet the growing demand of water
We pollute our waterways at almost every stage of the system. While we can all do our part at home to protect and keep our water clean for its return to the Earth, we need to start thinking about sustainable solutions for the root of the process.
Rainwater collection is among the most eco-friendly ways to collect water. It’s both inexpensive and accessible, and helps communities manage their own water and therefore livelihoods. However, collecting rainwater can take an extended amount of time and is not always available.
Another method is to divert surface water, leading it rather into the ground to prevent evaporation. This also improves the overall quality of the water.
Finally, desalination is fast becoming a sustainable method. The process of transforming salty sea water into clean, drinking water is useful as it supplies an abundance of water, but still relies on fossil fuels to power. Hopefully in the future, we will be able to utilise this process in a more sustainable way.
Water is the very essence of life, and it powers most of what we do on a daily basis. We need to protect this precious life giving force - and we need to begin today.
Caption: A cascading oasis in South Africa. Less than 1% of the globe's water sources are fresh and fit for human consumption.
Credit: Georgia Carter, Mindful Meanderer
By Georgia Carter
The concrete jungle is where most of us dwell. In the confines of cities, between the margins of towering buildings and congested streets, many of us find ourselves exploring the man-made and inorganic realms of life.
Over half of the world’s human population lives in cities. While society deems this a normality, it’s almost against our natural ways to be so disconnected from the natural environments that surround us.
Caption: Over half of the entire globe’s human population inhabits cities.
Connecting, immersing, and simply being around nature has myriad benefits. From physical and health aspects to mental and spiritual impacts, nature not only nurtures us but helps us thrive.
In fact, nature is ESSENTIAL to our existence.
The basic and bare necessities we require to simply survive all come from nature. We retrieve food from the Earth, water from the streams, and oxygen from the trees. Without these three vital components, life would not exist. Nature curates the trifecta of survival.
Caption: The Earth provides us with a seemingly unlimited supply of food and soil from which we can grow our own.
Source: Tania Malrechauf, Unsplash
Nature forms the foundation of our society. Agriculture, consumerism, materials, energy - everything we need for our machine of societal existence to continue turning its cogs heavily relies on the natural environments surrounding us and what these verdant landscapes provide in abundance.
We need soil to grow our crops, we need bees to pollinate plants and create a haven of diversity, and we need water to nourish not only the land but our very cells that craft the essence of our physical being.
Caption: A bee seeks hungrily for some sweet nectar. Bees are among the world’s most significant pollinators.
Source: Georgia Carter, Mindful Meanderer
Venturing into nature, whether on an extended hike, taking a day trip to the park, or simply rooting your feet into your garden ground, is vital in creating a healthier lifestyle.
In young children, nature is another parent. It teaches without words, revives and encourages curiosity, and embraces each and every unique quality found within oneself. Children who spend time in nature tend to experience a healthier development, physically, emotionally, intellectually, and mentally.
Caption: The developmental growth of children is accelerated when they spend time outdoors, connecting with and learning from nature.
Source: Crema Joe, Unsplash
In terms of the chemical impacts nature has on our bodies, the benefits are paramount. Nature improves all five senses, reduces blood pressure, eases the pains of long-term illnesses, and improves one’s memory span. A connection to the Earth and spending time outdoors vastly improves one’s quality of life, provides cleaner air, reduces obesity, and alleviates mental fatigue.
While physical health allows us to flourish in the physical realm, mental health is just as important in helping us shine throughout our human experience. And, of course, nature bolsters our mental health in a number of ways too.
Wandering in a forest or taking a leisurely stroll on the beach reduces stress levels and invites peace, calm, clarity, and tranquility. Nature acts as a vehicle of inspiration, further influencing our actions, behaviour, and cognitive pathways for the better.
Caption: Wandering through the woods helps alleviate stress and improves mental health.
Source: Lukasz Szmigiel, Unsplash
In fact, nature is the greatest motivator, helping sculpt cultures, identities, and ways of being. It increases productivity, acts as a muse for all art forms, and connects people to the essence of their existence.
Nature has a profound effect on one’s mental state - so much so that hospital patients who have a view of nature heal 30% faster than those who don’t. Simply witnessing nature first hand has exponential positive effects on one’s mental disposition, paving the paths of success in every field of life.
Belonging - that is what a connection with nature is all about. We are all from the Earth, we all call this planet our sole home and lifegiver. We are actually just the universe experiencing itself. And since we are all one, all connected on the most basic of levels and existence, we feel right at home when we’re in the welcoming grasp of nature.
A connection with nature is a reconnection with our core. When immersing ourselves into a natural environment, we invite the intention of not only going within, but zooming out. We’re able to reflect on our lives and life as a whole, just like peering into a river and seeing not only our reflections, but what lies beneath the surface - a powerful force of something unknown but innate.
We as humans are constantly searching for the answers to questions we might not even be able to formulate. What are we doing here? What is reality? What is my purpose? While we don’t have these answers, and while we may never retrieve them, nature is the unspoken truth, the starting and ending point, the cycle of life incarnate.
However, nature is free and we, therefore, overexploit it. It gives to us because we are nature’s children - an extension of itself. It’s time we learned to appreciate it and help it thrive alongside our human evolution and progress.
Caption: Spending quality time in and exploring nature helps develop a healthy relationship to the world and existence itself.
Source: Source: Georgia Carter, Mindful Meanderer
The lungs of the Earth.
So poignant as a virus that causes humans to experience deathly shortness of breath sweeps the world. Yet, as I write this at 10:30am, a deforestation counter shows that over 33 000 hectares of forest have been cut or burned across the world today.
Forests are incredibly important to preserve as a means to slow climate change, for many more reasons than air quality. Preserving forests tackles climate change, global warming, the biodiversity crisis, desertification and drought, air and water pollution.
Trees ‘breathe’ out the oxygen that we breathe in, providing much of the oxygen that most organisms on Earth need for survival. They also improve the quality of the air by absorbing polluting gases through their leaves. A 2010 estimate stated that trees and forests removed 17.4 million tonnes of air pollution in the United States – monetising the human health effects to be worth $6.8bn. Besides reducing pollution, forests and urban trees also balance air temperature – cooling cities and reducing the need for fossil fuel powered temperature-control devices and improving day-to-day quality of life for humans, animals and insects.
Effortless Earth guardians: trees absorb the all-important Carbon Dioxide simply by breathing; they are the second-largest carbon stores on Earth, after the oceans. Trees store this carbon in their trunks as a structural component and when they die and rot, it becomes new soil. Beautiful carbon sequestration. A quarter of a trillion tonnes of carbon is stored in the biomass of the world’s tropical forests alone. Cutting and burning of these forests releases large amounts of carbon back into the air, exasperating the greenhouse effect that is causing Earth to warm at an alarming rate - with the clearing of tropical forests contributing about 20% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
It is well known that forests create rain locally through evaporation and transpiration but, a Russian physicist has claimed that forests also create rain in areas far from where they are situated as well as creating the wind that carries the rain clouds. The theory states that coastal forests create wind that pulls moisture off the ocean, adding it to their own evaporation clouds and sending it to form rain inland. Therefore, the loss of these forests would cut off inland water supply – creating and spreading deserts. “Forests are complex self-sustaining rainmaking systems, and the major driver of atmospheric circulation on Earth,” Anastassia Makarieva says. Atmospheric jets or ‘flying rivers’ send water from huge forests like the Amazon, to inland areas - where they are stopped by mountains and fall as life-giving rain. The Amazon flying river is thought to carry as much water as the more visible, terrestrial river below it.
Yet, 11,088 sq km of Amazon rainforest were destroyed from August 2019 to July 2020.
Besides controlling weather across the globe, forests also stabilise land masses – preventing erosion, they filter water and slow it down – preventing flooding, indigenous and old-growth forests stop fires and slow down winds close to the land, whilst providing important habitat, food and medicine for people, animals, insects, fungi and smaller plants.
80% of Earth’s land-based biodiversity is housed in forests, as well as the 60 million indigenous people that call them home. Deforestation is seen as one of the main reasons for us entering the Sixth Mass Extinction, and we may be reaching a ‘tipping point’ where forests begin to decline on their own due to the sheer mass of human-led destruction that has already occurred.
Forests are incredibly important for a myriad of reasons and it is up to each of us to protect them. As the animal agriculture industry (particularly cattle and soy to feed cattle) is one of the leading contributors to deforestation, a huge step towards slowing deforestation would be for each consumer to switch to a plant-based diet. Other actions including: choosing sustainable palm oil, ensuring that you can trace the origins of everything you buy – especially coffee, chocolate and wood products – buying local, planting trees in our own spaces and volunteering for tree planting organisations, choosing to use platforms (like Ecosia) and support companies that care about forests and are active, challenging destructive companies and government policies.
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
-Dr. Suess, The Lorax
Written By: Kelly Steenhuisen