This is the 40th in a weekly series celebrating Colorado Water 2012.
By JUDY LOPEZ
Rio Grande Watershed Conservation
and Education Initiative
VALLEY — This fierce independent spirit of simply being an American has helped to define Americans in many ways.
Americans place a value on setting themselves apart from the pack in a variety of ways. One way is through education. Americans educate for literacy, mathematical skill, science basics and historical background. Yet today, they attend school, not because they love to learn or because they love to question. They go to school because they love to own. They love to own the things which they can hold, feel and touch. They love to own that which they can present, and claim. Americans love to own things that can be replaced. It is this love that has placed Americans into quite a quandary.
What about things that cannot be replaced? Take water for instance. The majorities of people simply go to a tap located close by and solve their water needs – drinking, cooking, watering the lawn, washing a myriad of stuff. They can do it easily and inexpensively. So what‘s the big deal? The deal is that folks use water for so much more than meets the eye. For instance each pound of fresh beef requires 6.8 cubic meters of water to produce. That compares to just 2.73 cubic meters of water for a pound of chicken and roughly 0.45 cubic meters per pound of root vegetables or tubers such as potatoes and yams. The jeans folks wear take 1,800 gallons, cars 39,000 gallons and a gallon of paint 13 gallons. In an ironic twist, the process of making a plastic bottle for a liter of water requires 1.85 gallons of water to manufacture.
In November of 2011, humans reached the seven billion people mark for the planet and the five million mark for the state. Those numbers are expected to double by 2050. When asked if they are not concerned about this upcoming crisis once it is pointed out to them, most people respond – “we thought someone else (with more knowledge) was taking care of it.” To their credit there are a lot of great minds working to resolve the impending crash between supply and need, but they need everyone’s help.
So why might education be important besides being just a stepping stone to securing employment? By understanding the issues that directly affect the outcomes of folks’ daily lives, they become empowered to effectively change things for the better. They become informed decision makers. It is a tragedy, that people would attend school, do revision and assignments, study and take exams, simply to get a job. When they do this they overlook the prospects of gaining knowledge and trade that desire for materialism. They blink away the curiosity they held dear as children, and quit asking questions for the sake of knowing.
There is a way to turn the tide — develop individual Environmental/Conservation Understanding Potential. This doesn’t mean that people need to save a whale, chain themselves to trees or join Greenpeace. It means simply to open the mind. It encourages hands-on learning: Anyone who has spent any time at all watching kids (their own or others), knows they don’t need a classroom, a desk, or even a teacher to learn… they interact with the world around them. They listen and watch, making sense out of things all on their own. Kids are learning machine and they’re “wired” to learn through imitating, playing, exploring, touching… in short, doing something. This is something most have forgotten.
A good environmental education takes action: planting a garden, taking a hike to identify plants and animals, or gathering water samples for pollution analysis. This kind of education engages kids in the way they’re born to learn. It engages the sciences: When was the last time politicians were wringing their hands about how woefully behind U.S. kids are in science? At least part of that comes from how Americans teach it. Sure, there’s some hands-on experimentation (lab time), but it’s mostly lecture and reading. That often makes it difficult for kids to recognize how this stuff fits into their worlds.
Environmental education doesn’t just get kids active… it gets them active gathering samples and data, differentiating between species, and recognizing patterns and systems… all hallmarks of scientific thinking. None of these thought processes are limited to the environment. They could prepare students well for study of and careers in medicine, engineering, and other technological and scientific pursuits.
It requires cross-disciplinary thinking. Science is important, but so are political science, economics, sociology, and anthropology. The natural world inspires artists of all types, so it can serve as a doorway to visual art, music, and literature. And arguing for environmental conservation (or even against it) requires the best that agriculture and resource management has to offer.
It requires systems thinking. In a very basic sense, nature’s a system… or, more accurately, a system of understanding. Studying the environment requires exploring those systems, and the connections that are inherent in them. People simply can’t look at elements of nature, or their impact on it, in a vacuum, and understand it completely.
While it is important to understand how fragile people are, it is equally essential to recognize how ridiculously powerful they can be. The U.S. is a nation of learners with ability to empower each other. Perhaps it is time to use this power towards motivating action to do what’s best with resources.
For more information on Water 2012 in the Rio Grande Basin, please visit www.rgwcei.org or www.water2012.org. This month, don’t miss the Water 2012 display at the Blanca/Fort Garland Library. Next, it will be at the new library in San Luis. The Alamosa River Keepers, in partnership with the CDPHE, will be hosting a free tour of the Summitville Water Treatment facility on Friday, October 5th. For more details and to register, please visit the www.rgwcei.org, go to the “Calendar of Events” and select the event date.