As you probably already know, PLU has a strong national reputation for its global involvement. This global involvement is coordinated by the Wang Center for Global Education. Every other year, the Wang Center hosts a major international symposium designed to raise awareness and educate about an issue of both global and local significance. On February 23 and 24, 2012, the fifth of these symposia will be held, this time focused on water.
Titled, “Our Thirsty Planet,” this year's symposium will address many of the issues surrounding the great paradox of water—a resource we are over-exploiting and over-using and yet the very resource upon which we must depend to survive. Because the flow of water is an issue that intersects with every human being and nation it is a true global issue. It links environmental and human health; it raises questions of social justice and political conflict; and provides the highway across which so much of the world’s trade passes.
Nearly 50% of every PLU graduating class participates in study away for a month or more (the national average is under 3%). In fact this month (January 2012) we will have more than 300 students studying on 21 different intensive courses in 16 different countries. There is also another group of students studying the entire spring semester overseas, in our own program in Trinidad & Tobago with 30 more spread across 17 different countries, from Asia (China and India) and Africa (Ghana, Morocco, and Senegal) to Europe (England, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Spain) and Latin America (Argentina, Chile and Ecuador). Even with the new need-based Global Scholar Award (made possible through the recent Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gift), which makes study away accessible to nearly every PLU student, 50% of PLU students do not participate in study away. For these students we work to bring the world to campus, and the symposia are part of this effort.
To begin with, water is the world’s most essential resource. Every living being needs water; not one can survive without it. Yet water is frighteningly finite, becoming increasingly precious, and contested. In fact, there is the same amount of water in the world today as there was in prehistory. Yet as the global population passes seven billion, it is already estimated that two-thirds of the worlds’ population—about 5.5 million people—will live in areas facing moderate to severe water shortages by 2025.
Globally, coral reefs are vanishing and ice shelves in Antarctica and the Arctic are melting and breaking off. On land, women and children especially travel great distances to collect the water their families need. However, the water they collect is too often polluted and leads in a straight line to disease; thus women and children bear the brunt of the diseases carried in dirty water. It is said contaminated water contributes to the death of 15 million pre-school age children per year. It is like wiping out a country the size of Canada every three years.
Regionally, fish habitats are being restored in the Nisqually Basin and through the removal of dams on the Elwha River while industrial fisheries using nets, some of which are seventeen miles in diameter, are trawling ocean beds. Locally the Port of Tacoma acts to be a business leader that protects environmental quality and serves as a catalyst for tens of hundreds of jobs. At the same time a Tacoma NGO works around the world to provide clean drinking water to people, one school and one orphanage at a time.
And locally? 95% of water that US city utilities provide isn’t used for drinking or cooking but for flushing toilets. You can buy Fiji brand water but half the population of Fiji doesn’t have safe reliable drinking water! On average, human beings need 50 liters of water per day for drinking, cooking and sanitation. The average North American uses just under 600 liters. A five-minute shower uses 25 to 50 gallons of water, 5 times the amount needed to keep a human being alive for one day. It takes 2.6 liters of tap water to produce 1 liter of Coke or Pepsi, and even more if sugar is used to flavor water and soft drinks. As the WorldWatch Institute notes, “Water scarcity may be the most underappreciated global environmental challenge of our time.”
All these issues and more will be taken up at some time in the symposium
This symposium begins on Thursday evening with a keynote address in Lagerquist Hall by Maude Barlow, chairperson of the Council of Canadians, who has been active in trying to have the UN General Assembly recognize water as a human need. Her talk, “The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water,” will consider how the world is running out of available water supplies and the potential for conflict will be severe. She will set out the nature and cause of the crisis and offer a three-part solution to a water secure world.
On Friday Prof. Terje Tvedt of Norway, an internationally recognized scholar, documentary producer and Norwegian TV presenter will deliver a second keynote, and throughout the day a series of concurrent sessions will be led by hands-on practitioners, authors, business people and scholars. The full symposium schedule, speaker bios, and other materials can be found on the symposium website.
Should you be interested, previous symposia topics have been on China: Bridges for a New Century; Norway’s Pathways to Peace, Advances in Global Health by Non-Governmental Organizations, and Understanding the World though Sports and Recreation. Links to all of these can be found here.
Neal Sobania, Executive Director
Wang Center for Global Education