Water and Well-Being

World Water Day, which is coming up on March 22 aims to encourage governments, , communities, and individuals around the world to actively deal with pressing water quality problems by working on pollution prevention, clean up and restoration. (More info…)

It’s not hard for us to appreciate the vital importance of water to everyday life. This doesn’t, however, mean that our society has taken appropriate action to protect our water resources — in fact, far from it. The question is: “why?”  The answer may be in how our society values things. In 1972 Bhutan’s King Jigme Singye Wangchuck decided that Gross Domestic Product indicators had no bearing in defining his country’s ‘wealth, but Gross National Happiness measurements did. The bottom line is that the GDP only looks at ‘success’ through the veil of capitalistic growth. Exponential growth and its foot soldier, consumption, has been anathema to a healthy and biologically diverse planet. As we approach 7 billion people, less than a billion people have participated in the west’s economic dream, and 70 percent of all consumption is created by those same billion people. Over-consumption in North America raises the GDP, but as monetary rewards surge they blithely disregard the implications economic gains have for water quality, First Nation peoples’ lack of clean water, increased greenhouse gas emissions, soil erosion in ethanol production, mining for gold in Canada and why we are opening up the Northwest Passage to explore for new oil and gas while encouraging dangerous global shipping to proceed through arctic waters. The accelerating rape of our planet and higher GDP numbers go hand in hand with the inevitable collapse of ecological resiliency. Perhaps this is why there have been many credible attempts to have other indicators of ‘wealth’ such as the Genuine Progress Indicator and the Happy Planet Index, an index of well-being and ecological impact. ”The HPI is based on general utilitarian principles — that most people want to live long and fulfilling lives, and the country which is doing the best is the one that allows its citizens to do so, whilst avoiding infringing on the opportunity of future people and people in other countries to do the same.”  The HPI has shown that out of 143 countries Canada is rated 89th on the list for 2009 and ecologically balanced Costa Rica is at the top.
Fifty-three of the hundred largest economies in the world are corporations. Many of these corporations embody what the UN’s 1996 Human Development Report terms as jobless, ruthless, voiceless, rootless and futureless growth. An example of such types of growth in Canada can be found in the push to expand globalization and profits by selling Alberta’s dirty tar sands to Asian markets via unwanted pipelines and new coastal infrastructure. This adds up to a more divided society as well as an increasingly impoverished Earth including B.C.’s marine species.
James G. Speth, Dean of the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale and author of, “The Bridge at the End of the World”, promotes the well-being of people and Nature through “Being, not having; giving not getting; need, not wants; better, not richer; community, not individual; other not self; connected, not separate; ecology, not economy; part of nature, not apart of nature; dependent, not transcendent; tomorrow, not today.” Speth’s book  begins with 16 graphs ranging from population growth, great floods, damming of rivers and water use, to name a few, and in each case by the time we proceed to year 2000 from 1900 measurements, consumption has spiraled to unsustainable levels.
The UN’s Millennium Development Goals named 2005 to 2015 the “Water for Life” decade and has an excellent 20 page booklet outlining the actions that need to take place if we are to create a more equitable and conserver society.

World Water Day is a good opportunity to remind ourselves that the most valuable things on earth are not always measured in dollars and cents. What is clear is that if we fail to properly value water we will soon pay a price that cannot be measured.

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