The warm fall sun dazzles my wings as I hover and swoop over the Valley. The wind rustles the tall willow trees and beaming children play among bright orange pumpkins. I follow a whoosh of air over the main road and find a small frog pond with lily pads. I bask in the sun on a pad and drink some water. The water refreshes my spirit and quenches my thirst.
I take off for my main intention of the day, to check in on one of the students at Smalltown University. I catch a few mosquitos in my wide jaws and gain the needed burst of energy. Today is the final day of Smalltown´s Water Week. The event was born from the inspiration of three young females. It celebrates the human invention of easily accessible, very clean drinking water. No scummy pond water for those humans!
Humans have somehow mastered an artificial filtration and transport system for water, much like the river, stream and wetland combo we see in our watersheds. It uses steel, cement, and other human made materials. It is another amazing feat of human intelligence. But the real dilemma that sparked these festivities is the rising popularity of another human invention, the plastic bottle.
I find Zoe and two of her student friends rolling out a long chain of plastic bottles. I can´t count but I do know it takes me a good while to fly from the bottom of the chain to the top where they stand. The effort of these students is baffling; the human desire to create work never ceases to amaze me. I am a little skeptical about the necessity of this grand display and so I wait to find out more.
One of the students walking by approaches Zoe. I land on Zoe´s shoulder so I can listen carefully.
¨Hey how´s it going? Wow that´s a lot of bottles… I have been watching the progress from mealhall. I was wondering… why are you guys doing this?¨
¨Well, we wanted to give everyone a visual idea of the impact of choosing bottled water for drinking water needs. It creates a huge amount of plastic waste when you add it all up. This is one week´s worth of bottles collected from Smalltown´s residences.¨
¨I see. Yes it does make me stop to think. But can´t plastic be recycled? Why is it seen as harmful?¨
¨Here is where it gets complicated. The bottle is supposed to be recycled but it often ends up in a landfill or in the ocean because a lot of people still don´t bother sort their waste. Even if the bottle is recycled, it still uses a huge amount of fossil fuel energy to make, recycle, and transport the bottles. Not only that, but the quality of the water is often less than tap water. Scientists have tested it in the past and found traces of metals and other harmful substances. You end up spending a lot on a product that is low in quality and not very necessary since your taxes pay for drinking water infrastructure. Access to water is vital for life and needs to be seen as a basic human right that is supported by our government.¨
¨Wow, that´s a lot of information. I must say I never saw bottled water that way. I grew up in the Cayman Islands and there we don´t have the luxury of a dependable public water system. In fact, my Grandmother used to always warn me to never drink the tap water because you never know if its contaminated. We always drank bottled water and it gave us peace of mind, you know? Now if I think of drinking tap water my guts start to turn because I see it as something unsafe. I have tried the water here but it tastes like chlorine! Not very appetizing I must say. Maybe I will just stick to juice! Hahaha.¨
¨Haha ya, some people really dislike the taste of tap water. I tend to use a Brita filter, but the cost of filters can add up. I had never really considered the experience of people coming from places without access to safe drinking water. Would you consider drinking tap water here if you knew it was guaranteed to be safe?¨
¨Hmm… well its kind of like the saying you can bring a horse to water but you can´t make him drink it! Even knowing its safe, the idea still irks me. Sorry I won´t be converted today but I am glad to know more about the issue¨.
¨Okay thank you for stopping by and sharing your experience!¨
Zoe finished unrolling the chain of bottled water with her friends then went on a walk across campus to her favourite sitting spot in the gardens. She was clearly puzzled by what the girl had said. She sat down near a fountain and I landed once again on her shoulder, connecting and tuning into her energy. She was questioning the ban on bottled water that she and her friends had long been advocating for. She became sad as she thought of the people that they would be leaving out if that were to happen.
I focused intently and then let go, whispering into her ear:
¨It is true that access to quality drinking water is important for people to care and think about. It is vital for all of life, from the tiniest insects to the largest animals and even the trees. Awareness of all sides of a complex issue such as this one is important. But there is also no one right way to address the issue. The Cayman girl´s experience is not right or wrong. Every human experience is valid.
Bottled water may be necessary in some places where humans choose to live but it may not be necessary in other places. Or it may be necessary during times of drought but not in other points in time. Open your mind to the possibility that bottled water may not be bad or good in an objective sense. Just as tap water is not necessarily all good or all bad.
The question now is how do you move forward in this campaign created to ban bottled water on campus? How do you integrate these diverse perspectives on the necessity of different types of water access? Where is the common truth in all of these perspectives?
Humans need to drink water to live. And it is the sad truth that not all humans have access to readily available, clean drinking water. It is even sadder that humans are extracting water from aquifers and rivers at such a rate that they are not being replenished. The growing demand for water, for the exploding human population (and their industries), is having lasting impacts on habitats and the survival of countless beings. Banning bottled water on campus here and now can help lessen some of that impact but there are deeper issues at play here in the hearts and minds of humans.¨
I feel Zoe´s mind racing as she digests this wider view of the issues and I take my leave, flying high above the brick and concrete hives that define this institution of human knowledge.