It’s estimated that 1 in 9 people worldwide don’t have access to a clean, safe source of water. That’s almost 800 million people or a little more than the population of Europe. I got to thinking about that because we had a mini-plumbing crisis yesterday. Our water line from the street sprouted a small leak. We were able to get it patched but we will probably have to replace the line sooner rather than later as it is old and corroded. Nonetheless I take it for granted that I will have a steady supply of fresh, clean water. We have superb municipal water, in fact many many many communities in the United States have superb municipal water. One could argue that Americans have, on the whole, the best water in the world.
It’s not just about the water. It’s about the distribution systems and the schemes for filtering and treating the water as well. Most Americans enjoy these things as part of ordinary everyday life. The recent troubles in Flint, Michigan over contaminated water bear this out: that was a national news story and a political scandal. We turn on our taps and our spigots and our hydrants and let the water flow freely. This is DRINKING water, mind you. We have so much of it that we pour drinking water on our lawns. We hose off our driveways. We wash our cars and our clothes with it. Hundreds of millions in the world have next to nothing and we splash our supplies around like they’ll last forever.
Think about bottled water for a minute. The stuff is an environmental catastrophe, of course. The plastic packaging is a nightmare, not only from the manufacturing side (the plastics are petroleum-based) but the obvious disposal problem. American consumers have so much water that they can be fussy about it and buy it by the case in the supermarket. Nestlé will sell you 12 Liters (24 0.5 L bottles) for about 12 bucks or roughly 3 cents an ounce. That’s about the cost of gasoline! ($4.00 gallon ÷ 128 oz/gal = $0.03125 or ≅ 3¢) How stupid is that? Do the world a favor and drink water from the tap! And if you don’t like that then drink draft beer, which is 95% water, and is packaged in re-usable kegs. Even bottled beer is good because glass is a much better product than polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Not that polyesters aren’t useful (I ferment my beer in PET carboys, for example), and many are recyclable, but I think we all know that glass is better.
But that’s just an aside. It really points out the absurdity of our marketing culture. Just watch TV and see those idiotic commercials about people drinking water out of plastic bottles with silly labels on them smiling and running and playing as if the stuff was magic. Water IS magic, but we don’t need Nestlé or other corporate fucks to tell us that. That’s why communities have built water supply systems for their residents. You can’t live more than three days or so without water so if you want to live someplace permanently you better take care of your water sources. Only the über-rich will be able to get Icelandic glacial meltwater or what-have-you in the near future so it behooves us to conserve our local watersheds.
Oh, water is water, just in case you were wondering. Water has stuff dissolved in it. They call water the ‘universal solvent’ in case you didn’t know. There is nothing inherently healthier about one kind of water over another. This is assuming that known poisons like lead or arsenic are not present, or micro-organisms that cause disease. But water in a plastic bottle is not superior to water from the tap, no matter what kind of propaganda the bottle-sellers throw at you. They want your money and they will tell you what you want to hear so that you will give it to them. Chemical and nutritional mis-information is their stock-in-trade.
I’m the ruminative type, not to be confused with ruminants. Those are critters (like cows) that can digest grass and turn it into protein. You can’t do that, nor can I. But we can ruminate, or think things over like cows re-chewing their cud. In psychology rumination has a negative connotation, it means to re-think things to the point of paralysis-by-analysis, or to re-visit upsetting events. But for me ruminating is normal, the mental motor hums along and I turn things over in my mind looking for new angles or insights. Sadly, those are rare.
The water line leak got me ruminating about those poor folks for whom water is the central problem of their existence. We don’t worry that we won’t get enough to drink. We worry about imaginary problems with our water. They worry they might not make it through the year. It’s a crazy world that some have so much and some don’t have much at all. And when I say much I mean basic shit like water and shelter and sanitation. How can we live in a world where there are more cell phones than toilets? Did you know that about a billion people still defecate in the open? Can you imagine that?
Life is filled with cruel things. The idea that millions of my fellow humans can’t even be sure of a proper drink of water for the day while I can stand in the shower for twenty minutes is a brutal, hard reality. And it’s mostly luck. Happenstance. The vagaries of existence. Some of us caught a break and were born into relative wealth, peace, and security. Some of us got a raw deal. I don’t mean to say that I don’t enjoy or appreciate my good fortune. Far from it. I know how lucky I am that my ancestors survived their many ordeals and that my parents did their best for me. But if I’d been born in South Sudan life would be very different.
There will always be a little sand in the vaseline for me. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It’s just a way to stay grounded and to be reminded of how tenuous the links that hold together our civilization really are.