|"The spirit we have, not the work we do, is what
makes us important to the people around us."
A Benedictine Sister of Erie, Joan Chittister is
a best-selling author and well-known international lecturer on topics of justice, peace, human rights, women's issues, and contemporary
spirituality in the Church and in society. She presently serves as the co-chair of the Global Peace Initiative of Women,
a partner organization of the United Nations, facilitating a worldwide network of women peace builders, especially in the Middle East.
A speech communications theorist, Sister Joan's most recent books include The Way We Were (Orbis) and Called to Question (Sheed & Ward),
a First Place CPA 2005 award winner. She is founder and executive director of Benetvision, a resource and research center for contemporary
spirituality in Erie.
|By Joan Chittister, OSB
Its quiet here on this Irish mountaintop overlooking the Atlantic
Ocean. I get up, get a little breakfast, do the dishes, work at the computer a
while, get a little lunch, do the dishes, work through the afternoon, put the
turf in, light the fire, get a little supper, do the dishes. It sounds so far
away from things, doesnt it? So safe from the problems of the world.
Not quite. Think again.
The bogs are drying up, being bled dry, the neighbor said,
meaning that Irelands supply of peat, thousands of years old, is slowly
but surely disappearing.
Last week the mountain water that comes out of the cold tap on the sink
ran brown for three days. I couldnt wash the dishes, couldnt make
the tea. The hot water -- rain water caught in a tank up the hillside -- went
dry. The wash would have to wait a while and so would the shower.
Then, I got it: This place is neither quiet nor remote from the problems
of the world. On the contrary, Ireland may be one of the best clues we have of
how close we are to finding ourselves victims of our own distorted sense of
The important thing to understand is that this idyllic little place is
not primitive or backward or underdeveloped. Ireland is one of the fastest
growing economies on the globe. It is fast becoming one of the banking centers
It is, at the same time, however, surrounded by salt water, not usable
either for showers or dishes. Bog is a natural fuel that has for centuries
heated Irish homes and cooked Irish food, and does to this day, heating oil and
modern furnaces notwithstanding. But Irelands once major source of fuel
Whats more, Irelands population is small and there are few,
if any, major factories gulping up either water or energy. And yet, Ireland
does not have limitless supplies of either.
Here, I thought, is the tomorrow were all facing if we dont
do something about it today.
In the United States, for instance, we have built whole cities in the
desert and nourish them with water piped in from other population centers that
are also built on sand and rock, also growing rapidly, also consuming energy
and water at great rates.
But why worry?
Maybe this can help explain the problem: According to an article in this
weeks London Independent, Britains Defense Secretary John
Reid predicts that in the near future wars will not be fought for oil. They
will be fought for water.
And the leading cause of diminishing water supplies everywhere? Global
Right. Global warming, that scientific specter of oncoming doom that the
U.S. government has made a business of doubting, is now a universally
recognized reality everywhere but in the United States. Headlines on the
National Resources Defense Council Web site
(http://www.nrdc.org/bushrecord/), which monitors the Bush
administration record on Global Warming, reads like a press release from a fun
house. The record cited goes all the way from Bush administration rejects
Kyoto Protocol 03/28/01 to Bush administration finally admits big
trouble from global warming 06/03/02 to EPA scuttled global warming
videos to avoid White House wrath 07/01/05 to Bush admits humans
cause global warming but rebuffs action. 07/06/05.
I suppose you can call a succession of gradually decreasing rejections
like that progress. After all, if you start out talking to a stone
wall and end up in any kind of conversation at all about a commonly
acknowledged topic, thats an improvement. But whether or not it will be
seen so positively in the west of Ireland or India, in Turkey or Botswana --
places where water is scarce, energy resources are missing and global warming
is making things worse every day -- is anybodys guess.
In the meantime, England is hosting a crisis Downing Street
summit, the Independent reports, to address what Tony Blair calls
the major long-term threat facing our planet. Most of all, he
admits being alarmed at the political consequences of failing to deal
with the specter of global warming.
Translation: Water wars, far more serious than wars for oil because of
their universal implications, are on the way tomorrow if we dont do
something about global warming today. Reid predicts that we can expect violent
confrontation over water in the next 20 to 30 years. In fact, he ranks climate
changes due to global warming alongside international terrorism, demographic
changes and global energy demands as the major threats facing the world in
But we haggle and duck the subject. Do we doubt the existence of global
warming because were smarter? Hardly, given the fact that our reports on
the effects of global warming are in stark contrast to the findings of
scientific bodies around the world. No, we doubt it because if we face it,
well have to do something about it. Cut back on our oil usage. Invest in
electric cars. Meter our water. Change our technologies. Curb our usage. Stop
How do you get campaign funds from the big oil companies if you do
something like that? How do you get elected if you do something like that? How
do you keep under-funding peacetime research and development programs in order
to cut taxes, if you admit that the land of milk and honey is not only running
out of honey but whatever honey there was, was destroyed as well?
More than 300 million people in Africa live without safe water, Reid
says, a situation that will only get worse thanks to the climate changes
heralded by global warming.
The recommended water requirement per person per day is 50 liters and
some countries, Mozambique, for instance, use less than 10 liters per person.
The West, meanwhile, goes its merry way. Every English citizen uses on average
200 liters of water a day, every US citizen, 500 liters of water a day. People
in the West, according to the Independent, use eight liters of water
just to brush their teeth and 100-200 liters to take a shower.
From where I stand, the message is in the brown water in my Irish sink
and the ubiquitous bottle of pure commercial water now carried
everywhere in the United States by the wealthy healthy.
By the way, this mornings headlines also read: Iran
threatens U.S. with harm and pain and North Korea
reportedly test-fires two missiles. If you think the two sets of
headlines -- one on U.S. government responses to the problem of global warming
and the other on the emerging nuclearization of the world -- are unrelated,
think again. Otherwise, time for thinking about our responsibilities as
citizens of the world may well be running out -- and also drying up.
Comments or questions about this column may be sent to: Sr. Joan Chittister,
c/o NCR web coordinator at the address below.
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