One of the biggest of these challenges is shifting baselines. Baselines measure the health of an ecosystem and provide information in which to evaluate change. These are important factors in restoration efforts. These baselines are used by a restoration project as goals in order to begin the restoration. However, “the historical baseline chosen for a restoration project is largely arbitrary — there are thousands of time periods to choose from.” This problem is part of the bigger challenge of shifting baselines. Daniel Pauly used fisheries to define “Shifting Baseline Syndrome”: as each new generation of fishery scientists continues in this career path, the perception of what defines a healthy fish population lowers from the generation before. Each generation accepts these declining standards only as far back as far back as the generation they can get information from.
The current generation thinks the environment has changed only from what the previous generation is aware of, but the decline is built up from the time humans first touched the environment. Because of the shifting standards that aren’t able to consider the original untouched state of the ecosystem, it is a challenge to know when an area is at the point of needing restoration and to what point it needs to be restored to indicating how much work needs to be done. Restoration goals are set by these shifting baselines causing unreliable restoration. The community supporting these projects only knows what they’ve experienced in their lifetime (a cause of shifting baseline); in order to fight this, awareness must be made about historical standards shifting baselines further back, and awareness must be kept in order to not backslide in the future of environmentalism. For proper restoration of a damaged ecosystem, baselines must be considered.
The existence of a water shortage today comes from humans contaminating the potable water they have at their disposition. It is easy to blame global warming as the sole source of decreasing levels of water, but when looking at the facts and reports, we come to see that one of the most prominent problems of the lack of clean water comes from our own pollution as humans, whether it be in industrial or non-industrial societies.
In Josh Fox’s documentary Gasland, the issue comes from corporations’ fracking activities. The water still exists in the areas covered, but if consumed it will have extremely dangerous consequences. I was shocked to learn that so many people share common side effects of constant headaches, loss of their sense of taste and smell, and permanent brain damage from drinking their tap water in active hydraulic fracking areas. No matter how much proof is given to these corporations, they still refuse to admit that their activities are endangering humans. Seeing the water bubbling in the streams and the flammable tap in people’s homes has only led the companies to object the disclosure of the chemical content being released in the water.
Image Source: Drilling rig on the Pinedale Anticline (Linda Baker)
Similarly in India, the Yamuna Network report Yamuna: A River In Peril, the Yamuna river is exposed as being a common disposal space for toxic raw sewage and industrial waste. The water now contains high and unhealthy levels of nitrate, spreading waterborne diseases amongst children. This has also led to the total destruction of the river, which now has huge accumulations of white foam covering its surface, turning it into a true sewage canal.
Mouth of Yamuna River, India
Contrarily to the tap water in Gasland, Yamuna is so much more than a source of potable water. The Yamuna River represents values, spirituality, and a holy space: it has been a continuous source of life to families of man for thousands of years.
The issue with the environment in which we live in today, whether it be industrial or non-industrial, is that people take what they please without thinking about the detrimental consequences of their actions. As Sunita Narain describes it, “Cities today need water, so they take water from a river, but they give back sewage.”
It was a casual Thursday night that me and my three best friends decided to go out and get a few drinks to unwind from a very long week. Once we settled down at the restaraunt and got to talking, one of my friends, Sarah, started talking about her political science classes. The topic quickly shifted to her theory that World War III is going to be about water. Now, given the circumstance, we all thought she was being absurd so our reaction was to laugh it off; there was no way that there was any truth to this.
After our last lecture in Green World, in which we looked at the environmental issues surrounding clean water, I’m starting to wonder if my friend Sarah was right all along. While the theory seems absurd, all the facts that support it are horrifyingly that: facts. Fact: The earth if made up of 70% water, but only 2.5% of that water is clean, and even worse, only 1% is easily accessible. Fact: the rivers in poorer cities and towns barely move due to the insurmountable litter that is thrown into them. Fact: Melting ice is flowing down moulins at a speed faster than ever, decreasing sea ice at both Poles and affecting the global energy balance. In short, water is becoming a commodity. And what, in the past, have nations done to secure commodities? They fight.
I lived in Dhaka, Bangladesh for about 6 months in my junior year of high school and I remember doing a science project in which we put seeds into the lake and those same seeds in fresh water to see which batch would grow quicker. After a month, we noticed that the seeds in the lake had not grown at all due to the extreme pH levels of the water. Being an eye witness to something so grave really affected the way I saw the situation. I wasn’t just reading about it from the comfort of my own classroom. I was seeing it with my own eyes. Poorer countries are at an even greater disadvantage because they have not organized proper filtering, recycling or garbage systems and so pollution is at all time high. As the amount of drinkable water dwindles, I fear that is the developing countries that are going to suffer the most.
While it is important to recognize that World War III could very well end up being about water: it is also important to recognize that war is not our only option. The solutions are clear and they are simple. Solution: developed nations can rally together to help developing nations create proper disposable systems to decrease pollution. Solution: developed nations can start using renewable energy sources more commonly to avoid dirtying large bodies of water with oil and nuclear waste. Solution: we need to all stop pretending that someone else will come up with the solution for us because before we know it, what seemed like a silly conversation between four college friends will become a horrifying reality.