Water Crisis: the Largest Issue of Our Generation

Our generation seems to be plagued with a horde of unending issues. Everything from social strife, a broken political system, environmental degradation, technological advancement, global wars, social justice controversies, and beyond are all highly contemplated and discussed and hold a huge importance to members of our generation.

Those who know me are aware that I strive towards matters of social justice becoming obsolete through the redemption of equality, but I have a confession to make: I do not believe that social justice fights are the largest issues that we face right now. While they are largely important and will continue to require a fight, there is a much larger issue ominously hovering overhead, and no one is even talking about it: the Water Crisis.

 

Global Warming comes with a multitude of devastating consequences, including habitat loss, the extinction of different animal species, the overall increase in temperature… but none of these have such a drastic approach or post-apocalyptic outcome as the lack of drinkable water.

But what does Global Climate Change have to do with this decrease in water? Isn’t this just a consequence of the growing global population? Surprisingly, no. While population does play a part, the role of climate change is much more severe. This is for several reasons: rising heat brings more rapid evaporation, polluting of current freshwater sources, and sources of reliable drinking water are becoming more scarce.

As global temperatures rise steadily, the evaporation of water becomes quicker. With a sped-up evaporation process, water retention becomes much more difficult. This is particularly concerning in areas which already experience a natural dry climate, such as desert regions, because they are less able to hold freshwater or obtain it from lakes and rivers that dry up under the heat and sun.

Many freshwater sources are becoming polluted, rendering them unfit for human consumption. There are many reasons for this. Firstly, garbage buildup can cause many diseases and cause water to become contaminated and undrinkable. As garbage escapes out into water sources, it can spread downstream or become lodged within the bottom of the lake, river, or ocean. When this happens, the water can easily become contaminated. Additionally, as temperatures rise around the world, iceberg melt is occurring and the levels of the ocean are rising. This can lead to saltwater spillage into coastal water supplies such as rivers and underground aquifers. When saltwater gets into a source of freshwater, the process is very difficult to reverse and desalinization of water is (at this point) still costly and ineffective. Saltwater pollution can make sources of drinking water completely unuseable to the populations that are supported by these freshwater sources.

Evaporation and pollution are two contributors to the lack of reliable drinking water, but the problem doesn’t stop there. Many areas around the world rely on springtime glacial melt for much of their freshwater supplies. As temperatures on Earth continue to rise, the glaciers are receding rapidly. Glaciers are virtually impossible to recover once they have melted. Once the glaciers are gone, they cannot be replenished and that steady source of drinking water is lost forever. Additionally, rising temperatures correlate with an increase in rainy precipitation and a decrease in snow. Snow lets off a reliable stream of fresh water when it melts, allowing for easy capture and storage. However, rain moves rapidly and can cause issues such as flooding and home damage. It is much more fleeting and difficult to capture for storage. As snow precipitation goes down, precipitation as a source of freshwater becomes much more unreliable.

 

It is common knowledge that water is the source of all life on our planet, human and otherwise. Without water, animal species will be forced into extinction and the human race will begin to undergo its decline. Already, a significant portion of the world is already experiencing the effects of this water crisis, especially areas like Northern Africa, the Middle East, Western China, and the Western United States. The water crisis has already been cause for poverty, relocation, wars and conflicts, and much more. And it’s just going to get worse.

According to the UN Water’s Policy Brief on Water Quality, by the year 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living under absolute water scarcity and two thirds of the world will be living under water stressed conditions. Just five years later, in 2030, one half of the world will be living in highly water stress.

This is not that far away, under ten years from now. This is within our lifetimes, and it is something that we will watch as it tears away lives, rips apart nations, and decimates families. This is very real, and very soon.

 

The United States of America is the second, after China, as the largest producer of greenhouse gasses, which are the gases responsible for global warming and climate change, and ultimately the water crisis. As of 2011, we produce 17.1 metric tonnes of greenhouse gasses per person. This is tremendous.

So what can be done on an individual level? Anything you can do to decrease your garbage output, decrease your heater and air conditioner usage, or cut down on water usage in your home helps. You can make sure to turn off your lights when they’re not in use or unplug devices when you don’t need them. You can lower or raise your heating a few degrees closer to the outside temperature. You can replace your lawn with fake grass or zero-scaping, or even simply refrain from watering your grass at times when the sun is directly overhead. It might not seem like a lot, but it all adds up. Even your small changes in lifestyle can make a small difference.

 

Sources:
http://www.unwater.org/downloads/waterquality_policybrief.pdf
http://www.gracelinks.org/2380/the-impact-of-climate-change-on-water-resources
http://www.unep.org/dewa/vitalwater/article77.html
http://www.theguardian.com/environment/datablog/2009/sep/02/carbon-emissions-per-person-cap
ita
http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-states
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A Little Bit About Modesty

Summer is coming, and the temperatures are rising. And, as always, with hotter weather comes less clothing. And with less clothing comes the criticism of “lack of modesty,” especially where women are concerned.

Already this season I’ve heard people commenting on how “so-and-so’s skirt is too short,” “she should really cover up more,” “girls should really learn to be more modest,” and so much more. Comments like these are hugely problematic and damaging.

 

Firstly, Utah weather gets hot. Temperatures in the summer average at approximately between 82 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, but can (and does) reach temperatures of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Especially when compared to our frigid winters, these temperatures are absolutely blistering. For most people, it is a lot more comfortable to minimize clothing in the hot weather to avoid overheating. Forcing people to “cover up” decreases comfort and increases body temperature, making the summers miserably hot.

Furthermore, most Utah high schools have a fairly strict dress code requiring knee length shorts and sleeved shirts. However, classroom temperatures tend to rise well above even the sweltering outside temperatures. Sitting through class in long shorts or pants and sleeved shirts is nearly unbearable. It impacts the academic life of students. It is impossible to concentrate on class and tests when one is so uncomfortable hot. Additionally, it is detrimental to students’ health to sit in the stifling heat. Students can pass out, experience heat stroke, become dehydrated more easily, and much more. Throughout my high school career I witness many people throw up or faint because of the warm temperatures, and more than once I would dip out of class to take a walk around the hallways in hope of some relief from the feverish indoors.

I remember once in elementary school, I had chosen to wear a tank top to school during the last few weeks of school when temperatures are the hottest. As a 7-8 year old third grader, I did not have much of a female body yet and the only real thing revealed by my striped tank top was my shoulders and my collar bone. And, as a young girl, I was told that my choice of clothing was inappropriate despite the blistering temperatures.

 

Second, comments like these are a huge contributor to rape culture. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, “rape culture” is a culture that normalizes rape and sexual assault and blames it on the victim. By telling girls and women that they should cover up their bodies for the sake of modesty, it perpetuates the idea that women’s bodies are indecent unless used for sexual purposes. Additionally, it adds to the idea that those people who choose to dress less modestly are provoking violence and assault against themselves.

Some argue that the reveal of the female body is distracting for men and promotes “unclean thoughts.” However, if you are turned on by someone’s shoulders, I have a news flash for you: you are the problem. By blaming women for sexual thoughts, this inherently adds to the promotion of rape culture by contributing to ideas perpetuated by this. Women’s bodies are not inherently sexual, especially not a leg or a shoulder. Even if a woman chooses to dress in a way that is revealing or sexual, this does not justify sexual assault or unwanted sexual attention.

 

Third, what another person chooses to wear is none of your business. If someone chooses to wear a full suit, it doesn’t affect you. If someone chooses to wear a princess crown and a tutu, it doesn’t affect you. If someone chooses to wear short shorts and a tank top, it still doesn’t affect you. The choice of clothing is up to the individual alone, and it is of no concern to anyone else.

Even without these warm temperatures, I plead that you keep these words in mind. No matter the weather, people should be free to wear whatever they choose without fear or conflict from others. It is expression of the person, it is comfort, it is self-confidence. And no one should make someone feel less because of how they choose to dress.

 

Sources:

http://www.usclimatedata.com/climate/salt-lake-city/utah/united-states/usut0225

http://time.com/3918215/modesty-culture-rape-culture/

Toul Sleng and Fear

There are certain places that set off human instincts. Fight or flight. Places that make you feel afraid, deep down in the pits of your stomach. For some people, it’s their basement when they turn out the lights, or a forest at night when you leave the path, or an old abandoned house. For me, the strongest I have ever felt it is inside of Toul Sleng. Toul Sleng, if you are unfamiliar with it, is a torture center used by the communist Khmer Rouge regime in their conquest of Cambodia. Of 17,000 prisoners, there are only twelve known survivors and only seven of those remain alive today. Now it is a museum, but when you step inside the walls of Toul Sleng you feel the presence of torture and death pushing in from the walls and the ceiling, crushing you.
The first room I entered was set up as an example of what a cell would have looked like when it was in use. I walked around the room eyeing the pictures on the wall, depicting torture that may very well have taken place within this room, paintings of humans held in excruciating positions, every bone in their body showing through dilapidated skin. Finally I turned my eyes to the decor of the room, to the furniture. I looked at the bed, metal and rusting now, barely wide or long enough to fit a grown person. The chair, decrepit and made of old wood. If I had sat on it it would have collapsed. What caught me off guard was a delicate white flower placed on the table in front of the barred window. It was so out of place in this despairing concrete block, such a symbol of hope amidst such crushing sadness.
Some of the rooms were filled with boards upon boards of victim’s mugshots. Children, adults, women, men, and everything in between all with the same deadened expression in their eyes. Some of the faces were contorted by bruising and injuries, swollen eyelids and missing teeth were common. The sheer numbers were astonishing, so many I couldn’t estimate a number if I tried.
The last room contained a shrine to the countless unknown dead. A white marble platform was topped by a golden bell-shaped spire. Surrounding it were skulls of many unknown inmates, some cracked, broken and dirty. People prayed and made offerings on the floor before it.
By the time I finished the last room it was hard to breath. i felt like suffocating, simply because of the atmosphere inside. I could fight or flight, and I chose flight, sitting on the curb of the road for half an hour while the rest of the group finished their tour.

Sexual Education Reform: Why?

As many of you know, I have been involved this year with Housing’s Social Justice Board. This last week, we held a program a program focusing on Sexual Education. It was largely informative and, in my opinion, a very successful event.

However, there is one large problem: high school Sex Education in our country is poor enough that my board felt the need to hold an event for college-aged students on sexual education.

Sex Education in US high schools  is poor enough that I’ve had to explain to freshmen at the University of Utah what herpes is. I’ve had countless people tell me they didn’t know what was happening when they lost their virginity, and didn’t even know the risk of getting pregnant. Any form of biology lesson as far as genitalia goes is absent. I mean, I quite literally had to look up the word “sex” in a dictionary to find out what it was.

And this is terrifying. Sex Education is absolutely crucial to a healthy and safe sex life, but high schools (especially in Utah) leave students vastly unprepared with a miniscule two-week course that barely covers anything important. The average age when virginity is lost in the United States is seventeen years old, the junior or senior year of high school. It is frightening to think how unprepared we are leaving these teens.

This lack of a proper and comprehensive Sex Education in high school is problematic to gigantic proportions. It impairs the safety of people who choose to become sexually active, leaving opportunity for disease, pregnancy, discomfort, and many other issues.

Let’s start with contraceptives: the United States has one of the highest pregnancy rates in the developed world at 57.4 girls in every 1000. So why is the coverage of contraceptives so poor? Many schools, especially in Utah, advocate for abstinence with little to no mention of other forms of birth control. In my high school class, condoms were briefly discussed but there was not a demonstration on the proper use. Improper use of a condom is nearly as dangerous as sex without a condom. Additionally, there was a conspicuous lack of any information about pills, diaphragms, IUDs, dental dams, the Nuvaring, or any others of the numerous methods. I’ve heard from students from other high schools that even condoms were frowned upon, with all methods outside of abstinence compared to something dirty and repugnant. While there is nothing wrong with abstinence, the strict preaching of it is harmful for those who do become sexually active. No matter how much you tell people not to have sex, it’s going to happen. Knowledge of how to do it safely and responsibly is much needed. Teens will have sex. However, they should be provided with education on how to avoid pregnancy when they choose to become sexually active.

Next, there’s the risk of disease. If anything, this is used as a terror tactic inside of health classrooms. It is important to know about STIs. It is important to know that they exist and how to avoid them. But when the only ‘avoidance technique’ that is taught is abstinence, that greatly increases the risk of these diseases spreading. Condoms and dental dams are largely effective in reducing the risk of disease with consistent and correct use, but if students are not aware of how to use them then how can they protect themselves? Simple education could help to reduce the rates of STIs among sexually active people.

Biologically, high school health classes leave a lot to wonder over. I didn’t know what a labia was, I didn’t know what the scrotum is, I didn’t know anything about any biological parts (including my own). I learned about them by playing Cards Against Humanity, which, for anyone who is familiar with the game, decidedly should NOT be the main source of biological sex education for our generation. I’m not the only one who has a similar story: many of my sexually active peers have confessed to me that they still don’t know the different parts or functions of their own biological features, let alone others. If students are not taught about their own bodies, this is terrifying. You know elbows, you know fingers, you know knees. But everything that can be covered in underwear is so vague that even people who are sexually active are unfamiliar with them.

And then there’s the concept of shame that is so preached by high school Sex “Education” programs. Students who are sexually active have been referred to as “a chewed stick of gum” or “dirty” or “used up.” This is a massively harmful concept. Firstly, the moral implications on sexuality and the loss of virginity should belong to no one but the individual, who may or may not choose to have sex. No one can decide for you when you feel ready and prepared to have sex, and telling young people that there is something unclean about their sexual desires is biased, outdated, and just plain mean. There is no biological change after the first time one has sex: it is a myth that the first time is the best, it is a myth that there is a loss of sensuality the more you engage in sex, it is a myth that girls become “looser” the more they have sex, and it is a myth that the breaking of the hymen (or cherry) happens solely at the loss of virginity. Secondly, this concept of shame is a monstrous perpetuator of rape culture. When young people have suffered from sexual violence and are told that, because they have engaged in sexual acts, they are dirty and unclean, there is a detrimental mental and emotional weight placed on them. Many of you have heard of Elizabeth Smart, a girl who was kidnapped from Salt Lake City at the age of fourteen and subjected to sexual abuse for years before her rescue. In an interview, she explained the harm of abstinence-only sex education:

“I remember in school one time, I had a teacher who was talking about abstinence and she said, ‘Imagine you’re a stick of gum. When you engage in sex, that’s like getting chewed. And if you do that lots of times, you’re going to become an old piece of gum, and who is going to want you after that?’ Well, that’s terrible. No one should ever say that. But for me, I thought, ‘I’m that chewed-up piece of gum.’ Nobody re-chews a piece of gum. You throw it away. And that’s how easy it is to feel you no longer have worth. Your life no longer has value.”

This concept of shame, especially for victims of rape, is incredibly harmful. There is no ‘loss of worth’ when it comes to sex and by planting this idea in the minds of young people, Sex Education drags down the mental and emotional state of students who have engaged in sexual acts, by choice or not.

The state of Sex Education in our country’s high schools is abysmal and in dire need of reformation for the safety and comfort of the younger generations. It is not only beneficial to a pleasurable sex life, but is all-important in matters of sexual safety. Sex will happen, and there is no feasible way to prevent this (nor should it be attempted). However, it can be made safer and healthier through education.

 

Sources:

https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/facts-american-teens-sources-information-about-sex

https://thenationalcampaign.org/data/compare/1678

http://www.cdc.gov/condomeffectiveness/brief.html