Letters From The Earth

A complex relationship

By Calvin Frost | October 14, 2013

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (in Old English, The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere) by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, is the story of a sailor who has returned from a long sea voyage.  The Mariner stops a man who is on his way to a wedding and begins to tell a story.  The man who is listening reacts first with amusement, then, impatience, fear, and eventually, fascination.

Many of you may remember the story: the Mariner sails on a ship that runs into storms.  An albatross leads them to calm but while everyone is praising their incredible fortune, the mariner shoots the albatross.  With that, everyone suffers until they meet a “ghostly” vessel.  On board are Death and Nightmare Life-in-Death playing dice for the souls of the crew. The crew dies and the Mariner has to endure a fate worse than death: he must wear the dead albatross around his neck for the rest of his life.

Eventually the Mariner realizes his mistake, the curse is lifted and the ship is allowed to return to its original port. There it sinks in a whirlpool and the mariner is forced to wander the earth, telling his story.

The Mariner leaves and the wedding guest returns home, waking the next morning a “sadder and wiser man.” It isn’t the concluding verse:

He prayeth best who loveth best
All things both great and small
For the dear God who loveth us
He made and loveth all.

But the verse below:

Water, water, every where
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where
Nor any drop to drink.

That really jumped out at me as I tried to craft this column.  It wasn’t the idea of the violation of nature and the psychological effect on Man.  It was, “water, water, everywhere,” that I thought would be a fitting way to introduce the topic, “attacking oceans.”

It started with a conversation that I had with Freddie, one of the staff at The Hyatt whom I met during the recent TLMI Technical Conference in Chicago. I was drinking a glass of water while Freddie was preparing five tables for a luncheon meeting.  Freddie remarked that he hadn’t drunk tap water since 1969.  He pays $7.00 to have a five gallon bottle delivered to his house every week. He supplements this with cases of water from Sam’s.  For the same five gallon volume, the cost is $3.50 per case.  I asked Freddie why he didn’t drink tap water.  He looked at me as though I was a dunce, okay worse than a dunce. He told me about bugs coming out of the water faucet at home, even flames (he lives near the infamous city, Gary, Indiana, garden spot of the world).  He told me no one in his family, including extended family, nor anyone in his community drinks from the city water system. This is a pretty sad commentary, don’t you agree? By the way, my RA drinks Chicago tap water filtered through a Brita pitcher; I drink it chilled but straight from the tap and I’ve yet to see a centipede.

I had just finished the review of a new book, The Attacking Ocean, by Brian Fagan. I have it now and have just started reading it. It is terrific.  Along with Fagan’s book, my conversation with Freddie, and “water, water everywhere,” how could I not write about water? 

Let’s face it, you mess with nature, you change balance and whether intentional or not, get ready to deal with the results. By extension, if we create a technology that is environmentally unfriendly, get ready to deal with the results which could very well be charges to converters to OEM’s for waste disposal or, worse, a switch back to glue applied identification from pressure sensitive.

The underlying cause of attacking oceans and water inundations is global climate change. Fagan’s book tracks rising oceans, starting with the Ice Age, fifteen thousand years ago. He writes about it regionally and proves that increasingly violent weather patterns caused by global warming are causing more earthquakes, tsunamis and other extreme events.  Each event has catastrophic consequences for the world’s consumption of water.  We’re not just talking cost in terms of dollars but cost in terms of human lives.  The dominant theme throughout the book is that humans have increasingly settled next to or near coastal or tidal waters.  This puts them at increasing risk.  I like what Fagan says:  his book “tells a tale of the increasing complexity of the relationship between humans and the sea at their doorsteps, a complexity created not by the oceans, whose responses to temperature changes and severe storms have changed but little.  What has changed is us, and the number of us on earth.”  Fagan proves that the world’s oceans have risen almost 400 feet over the last 10,000 years.  However, since 1850, the world has warmed more quickly and the changes are occurring more rapidly.  We are vulnerable to these changes. Our drinking water is at risk; fresh water shortages are becoming more pronounced and along with more common violent weather, we have crises. Climate change is now affecting water supplies.  We have over pumped our aquifiers.  Rising temperatures are boosting evaporation rates. These changes alter rainfall patterns and the typical melting patterns of glaciers that feed rivers during the dry season. (And remember, water shortage means food shortage. I wonder how long it will be before everyone figures this out!)

We’ve had two incredibly catastrophic storms over the last ten years:  Katrina and Sandy.  Each has caused upwards of $60 billion in damage.  Notwithstanding the loss of life, how can we afford to rebuild after a super storm?

All of the above is not peculiar to the western hemisphere.  In fact, the country that has the most immediate risk of disappearing from loss of drinkable water and rising oceans is Bangladesh, in Asia-Pacific.  When we look at cyclones, agriculture, population growth and living density near the sea, that country may disappear during the next 100 years.

I recently learned some interesting facts about a leaking water pipe. A hole in a water pipe that’s merely one-eighth of an inch in diameter, about the size of the average nail hole, can lead to a water loss of more than 3800 gallons a day.  We are living on the water’s edge. Sadly, our population growth, globally mind you, will come in countries where fresh water tables are falling and sea water is rising.  This is a recipe for disaster.

There is an option but it can’t be business as usual.  Those leaks must be detected and repaired. Freddie has to drink from his tap, not buy bottled water, which means the community water system must provide purified, safe water.  We know we can change global warming, if we make it a priority.  The bickering in Washington and other countries must stop so we can shift taxes and subsidies.  We have to create an honest market so we calculate indirect costs, as Lester Brown likes to say.  Water can be regenerated, aquifiers replenished, if we develop policies that are restorative.

Will we do it?  That’s the question.

Another Letter from the Earth.

Post Script:
Just to keep everything in perspective, note and remember that “agriculture” consumes almost 70% of all ground water. Of this, 60% is lost to overwatering, evaporation, etc. Sure-Aqua, a portable water filter company, has just released a study, What’s Endangering our Water?  Robert Domanko, founder and director of Sure-Aqua, wonders, “If two thirds of the earth’s surface is covered in water, then how can there possibly not be enough to go around?”  The answer is the huge loss as mentioned above (including contamination caused by fertilizers) and “attacking oceans.”

Notwithstanding all of this is the recently announced discovery in Kenya of an aquifier, 1000 feet down, the size of Rhode Island.  Wow, exciting, even though the cost of extraction will be significant. Water-poor Kenya will become water sufficient! What about the rest of the world?

Calvin Frost is chairman of Channeled Resources Group, headquartered in Chicago, the parent company of Maratech International and GMC Coating. His email address is cfrost@channeledresources.com.