Water fans, watch out! That tap might run dry.
Tonight, Dominican University will host a lecture titled, Water 101: Adventures of the Miracle Molecule. The lecture is part of an ongoing series exploring the chemistry, history, spirituality and geopolitics of water and will be led by Dr. Paul Heltne, president emeritus of the Chicago Academy of Sciences.
In his presentation, Dr. Heltne will discuss the interconnectivity of all the earth's water, as well as its preservation, influence on weather and the potential for conflict arising from water scarcity.
The lecture will be held at Dominican's Priory Campus, 7200 W. Division St. in River Forest, in Room 263 tonight beginning at 7 p.m.
Patch talked with Dr. Heltne earlier this week to find out what he'll touch on in his presentation, and ask what might happen if our water supply starts to run out.
Patch: Can you introduce yourself to our readers?
Dr. Paul Heltne: I am now an independent scholar continuing on several research and writing projects. After graduating with a Ph. D. from the University of Chicago, I taught human anatomy at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. I returned to Chicago in 1982 to become the President of the Chicago Academy of Sciences. In 1999, I joined the Center of Humans and Nature. Since 2009 I have been an independent scholar.
Patch: In your opinion, are we taking our water for granted?
Heltne: It is easy to take water for granted when it dependably comes from a spigot. I believe that we are beginning to recognize water scarcity, but need to become much more literate about water issues and other aspects of the environment.
Patch: Your speech at Dominican will focus on how all water is connected. Can you tell us a little about that?
Heltne: Water occurs as liquid, vapor and solid at temperatures at which humans can live. Water is fundamental to human and all life. As water evaporates it is cleansed, but only if the air is not polluted. As water seeps into the aquifers below us it is cleansed, but not if the soil is polluted. A river will cleanse itself through natural aeration, but not if we continually add more pollutants. It is our human habit to mess up a resource essential to health and life. We have, often without recognizing until too late, damaged a purification system that has been in place at least since the pre-Cambrian period.
Patch: Living just off Lake Michigan, will resident in our area have to deal with water scarcity?
Heltne: You bet. That’s where your water comes from. As international agreements currently stand, we can only withdraw so much water from Lake Michigan. We need to work hard to use that well. Fortunately, lots of individuals, organizations and agencies are working on this. Chicago is fixing water main leaks, for instance, by replacing aged pipes.
Patch: A lot has been written and said about the social and political consequences that will arise from a scarcity of fresh water. Will your discussion touch on this subject?
Heltne: You need only to look at a map of the Danube River, or the Nile River, or the Tigris Euphrates system to understand the potential for conflict over water supply. We are fortunate that the Mississippi Basin is almost entirely within the US. However, particularly in the West, which has different water rules than the Eastern part of the U.S., there are persistent and pervasive conflicts over water. We will touch on this during the lecture.
Patch: What can people do?
Heltne: Humans can become vastly more thoughtful about the environment, which is not only ours, but belongs also to all living things. We need to keep our eyes open. For instance, the rush to [hydraulic fracturing] has harmed water resources in some areas because of limited water supply, in other areas because of dumping of very contaminated wastewater vomited up after the blasting. Gas is very useful, but we have not been prudent in developing this resource.
Patch: Do you imagine any technological solutions to these issues?
Heltne: Technology alone cannot solve any of our problems. We need to live sanely. For some of us that will mean changing substantially. For most of us, it will mean reallocation of some priorities. As with many environmental conditions, if we respond in a prudent and timely manner, there need hardly be anything called suffering. If we continue to drift along, inattentive or inactive with respect to the water issue—and several other environmental problems—there is the likelihood of enormous suffering.
Patch: Who should come out to the Dominican lecture and why should they come?
Heltne: Anyone interested in the environment or in water issues. I hope we get lots of interested high school students.
Patch: Anything else you'd like to add?
Heltne: Dominican University is clearly a religious institution. I am hoping that the words, “God so loved the world…” from John 3:16, begin to take on a much broader meaning for the religious among us.
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