Tellurians [a noun, meaning: inhabitants of the earth]

April 12, 2017
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By Zachary Sheridan

Amy Sharrocks’ stunning Museum of Water, as part of the Perth International Arts Festival, has spurred some brilliant conversation around town. The museum, ‘a collection of publicly donated water and accompanying stories,’ asks us to re-evaluate our relationship with water in all its forms, from the undulating oceans to the taps in our kitchen, from our tears of joy and sadness to the sweat beads on our back. Water is sacred, and without it we would be nothing but dried star-stuff.

It was at a forum discussing the project that I was inspired to write a two-part piece pertaining to issues not often discussed when tackling water issues, and, implicitly, ecological crises and climate change.

  1. Water is incredibly scarce. For example, an estimated 663 million people lack access to safe water, and this is largely a result of misuse. The aforementioned conversation was discussing such misuse and had noted the dangers of fracking, as example, and also acknowledged the need for more thought on the amount of water within products and consumer goods. Although, it felt like there was an elephant (or cow?) in the room no one wanted to talk about. This being water use with regards to animal agriculture.

A sizable 65% of water in Australia is used for agriculture compared with just 10% when it comes to household use. And yet we are told that in order to solve the climate crisis we must take shorter showers.

When it comes to farming we must ask what types of food require so much water? To produce one kilogram of potatoes requires 287 litres of water, but for the same amount of meat, a whopping 5,000 – 20,000 litres of water is needed.

Extrapolating to the world, animal agriculture accounts for at least 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all types of transportation. Moreover, methane from cattle is at least 25 times more destructive than CO2 on a 20 year time frame.

It seems that in order to take action on climate change, we have to collectively rewire how we consider our relationship with the environment and nonhuman animals.

  1. 2. And it’s definitely ‘go time.’ Distinguished Australian scientist Frank Fenner famously predicted just before his death in 2010 that we, the human species, only have 100 years left. But we mustn’t admit defeat, if only because the risk of not acting far outweighs the risk of taking action. And for this action, there’s a key ingredient not often considered.

At WOMADelaide in 2016, environmental activist David Suzuki recounted a trip to the Andes mountain range in South America. There he encountered a small village that teaches children from a young age to consider its local mountain as an Apu (a God). ‘Now imagine how those kids (of the village) will treat that mountain compared to a Canadian kid growing up in the Rockies told that those mountains are filled with gold and silver.’

Human beings are imbedded in a delicate ecosystem that depends on clean air, soil, and water. One of the most important lessons from discussion around the Museum of Water was that, if we are in an age in deep need of practicing sustainability, who better is there to learn from than traditional landowners who have cared for the earth for thousands and thousands of years? The planet is in crisis and the missing link is Indigenous knowledge.

Ecological thinking and practice requires hearts wide open and a whole lot of listening – to those with knowledge, to the weather, and to those who cannot speak for themselves. What is most beautiful about the Museum of Water is its ability to empower people to tell their own stories. In brief, consider this article of just a few thoughts (in what is otherwise a massive, complex web of ideas in reality) another call for radical empathy. Talking Western Australia specifically, everything we have is only through 50,000 years of caring for biodiversity.

For further reading begin with Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben.

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