The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

November 30, 2012

Water's sobering reality

Sometimes when I start thinking about a subject to write on, I get a little nervous, even concerned at times, that history is repeating itself — and not necessarily for the better.

When I studied years ago to become an EMT with Waukomis Fire & Rescue, one of the very first things my classmates and I learned was there are three things none of us here on Earth can do without: oxygen in the air we breathe, food for our bodies, and water.

I could add the sun to this, because obviously without it we would be frozen popsicles instead of living, breathing entities, but that just roils the mix.

Take away oxygen from your brain for more than four minutes ... and you’re toast.

Take away food, or a way for your body to process it into glucose and amino acids for your cells to live, and you will drop like a rock.

It was the last one on the list that got me to thinking, as I flew westward to Phoenix last week for Thanksgiving, across arid stretches of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona — there’s not that much water out in those parts.

Of course, it’s there, all right. It’s always there. It’s not only in the ground and above it, it’s in the air. Water, if you paid attention in school science class, can’t be destroyed — but it can be altered.

Think about that for a moment.

No matter how hard we try, water will always be with us. It can’t be abolished or even compressed. Those simple properties allow us to continue as a species here on Earth.

Yet, scientists estimate 99 percent of all species that have ever been here now are extinct.

That also means the odds heavily favor this old Earth — or something else out in the vastness of the universe — can snuff us out like a candle in the blink of an eye.

Pretty sobering when you start thinking about it. Maybe that’s why we don’t think about it much — the alternative is more than a little unsettling.

So it struck me, since we are in the midst of one of the worst droughts in our young history — at least since the Dust Bowl and the Dirty Thirties — maybe it’s time we start thinking about it with a little more alacrity.

Watching the sometimes-harsh landscape from above as I flew at 300-plus mph, it also struck me our forefathers (and mothers) had few of the illusions about water we have today.

From the very first day they stepped off a boat, they had to find food and water fit to drink.

Both were life-sustaining, but water had to have been the biggest obstacle.

Today, with modern methods and technological acumen needed to sustain huge populations of people and provide them with fresh, uncontaminated, drinkable water, we have removed the daily struggle our forebears faced to provide themselves with water. We have, through our own creativity and knowledge, found ourselves taking that fact for granted.

It’s what we do as a species.

Yet, we only have to look back a fraction of years into the history of the planet to see entire civilizations have been wiped out or forced to move because water was taken out of the equation for sustaining life.

Look no further than the Anasazi, an ancient Pueblo people of the American Southwest who thrived in a large area just west of Oklahoma’s far Panhandle border, and emerged about the time of Christ.

Yet, by about 1300 A.D., the peoples of this advanced culture left their established homes for an as-yet unexplained reason.

Archeologists say the factors in the death of this civilization — more than a thousand years older than the present United States — included regional climate change, prolonged periods of drought, topsoil erosion, environmental degradation, loss of trees, religious and cultural changes, not to mention outside influences from other neighboring cultures.

Sound familiar? It’s like a roadmap of what can and is happening on a daily basis across the world. And while we tend to look past our own situation with drought, climate change and other influences, our nation is just as vulnerable as the ancient Anasazi.

Take away large amounts of our fresh water, or environmentally degrade the land until it no longer can sustain mounting populations, and — like many other ancient peoples — this nation could cease to exist.

I get annoyed when my Internet connection gets disrupted for 10 minutes. Can you imagine what it would be like if our fresh water supplies were disrupted, for whatever reason?

Chaos on a massive scale would ensue. And it would be worse than in the ancient world, because there are a lot more of us now.

It’s something to ponder, as each of us continues on the inexorable ride of history.

Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle. Go to his column blog at enidnews.com/historicallyspeaking.

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