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A Mini-Series: Insights into Activism

By Natalia Ruvalcaba

Activists around the world are ceaselessly fighting for environmental justice in an ongoing battle against inhumanity.  Accessible Clean Water Anywhere (ACWA) remains devoted to this fight as we strive to bring awareness of the unequal access to clean water seen throughout the globe.  As part of our mission, we educate our readers about the cases of environmental injustice through clean water accessibility, and in that vein, we have created Insights into Activism.  As we begin this mini-series, based on Bloomberg’s article around water activists, we hope to engage readers in identifying leading individuals in the fight to achieve clean and accessible water. Through this mini-series, we hope to bring your attention to just a few of the thousands of activists, scholars, and researchers who are paving the way to a clean future as they address environmental issues through clean water accessibility.  In doing so, we wish not only to expand the achievements of these individuals but to enlighten our readers into the endless possibilities to be part of the step in the direction towards water equity. Today, we begin with Peter Gleick, founder of the Pacific Institute most known for his creation – the field of fresh water management.

In an ever-evolving world of innovation and technology, progress has always been made the end goal – yet the true outcome reveals a failed intent.  Drilling, exploring, and fueling have been crucial proceedings for some of the world’s most groundbreaking science and engineering projects, though Peter Gleick uncovers the unforeseen consequences of such actions. Gleick is a Yale graduate with a degree in engineering and is all too familiar with the engineering innovations that have cultivated a new generation, but behind these achievements are destruction – pollution, and global warming. Bloomberg magazine recalls, “In the process of making so many things possible, they had destroyed rivers, flooded towns, and created consumption habits that needed to be unlearned”[1]. Noting the indirect effects of these science and engineering projects, Gleick emphasized the importance of addressing the vitality and simultaneous stratification of water’s supply.  

Determined to make a difference in the way in which we understand water and manage its resources, Gleick began with identifying the root cause.  According to the leading scientist, water insecurity is not simply an inevitable occurrence, rather it is the continued disregard for safe, cautious, and protective environmental measures.  When innovators fail to acknowledge the everlasting environmental turmoil brought upon by their creations, we are no longer left with progress as the damage enacted is far too evident to ignore.  Water pollution, contamination, and neglect have come to be the unfortunate consequences of scientific exploration – but it is human activity, overall, that has contributed to water poverty around the globe. Water insecurity, according to Gleick, is due in large part to rising temperatures, industrial projects, and an increasing population.  As noted previously, engineering projects deemed successful at an external outlook – including exploring, drilling, and fueling projects – brought destruction through the forms of man-made climate change. In particular, industrial projects have brought toxic chemicals and minerals to our reservoirs, rivers, and lakes, making our fresh water resources unusable.  Every year corporations supervising industrial projects dump toxic waste into nearby water sources, saturating water supplies with arsenic, chromium, mercury, and lead. 

Though industrial projects are not the sole contributor to climate change and water scarcity, human activity is also to blame for the rise in the Earth’s temperature.  This human activity can be characterized by humans’ actions in burning fossil fuels through the seemingly inoffensive acts of driving, maintaining agriculture, or disposing of waste.  In undertaking these lifestyle choices and perpetuating unecological needs, we have produced overwhelming amounts of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere.  Our surface air temperature is said to have risen by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit since the beginning of the 20th century, and while this may seem minuscule, in retrospect its possible effects are alarming.  Particularly, if we look at the water cycle, the entirety of its process is altered by the slight change in the Earth’s temperature – from water vapor concentrations, clouds, and precipitation patterns.  If temperatures continue to rise, sea levels will follow suit.  In this event, contaminants and saltwater will have the ability to infiltrate precious water sources. Rapid population growth has also surged water insecurity as clean water price rates rise and the impoverished are left unable to afford a basic need that has become commodified.

While the field of engineering has brought harm, Gleick recognizes how in partnership with an environmental lens, he could bring forth change through a new field.  In understanding water poverty around the globe and in an effort to rectify the issue, Gleick established the field of fresh water management. Launching a vital area of research, Gleick set forth a new applied academic discipline and founded the Pacific Institute in 1987.  This new field of fresh water management would ask questions about water poverty and put forward solutions towards an equitable outcome.  While engineering products produced the infrastructure we blindly use today, it came with the spoiling of towns that became engulfed with floods and degraded rivers that could no longer support the ecosystem they once were able to. The cumulation of years that ignored this environmental destruction needed change, to which Gleick offered up the idea of “soft water paths” which would ameliorate existing levels of water productivity by distributing water services to reflect that of the end-users’ needs.  The idea of soft water paths would, in all, efficiently manage water demands.  This idea was also followed by the establishment of “peak water” a concept used to “define when things such as pumping and contamination make the cost of use prohibitive”(Bloomberg).  In all, Gleick’s establishment of the fresh water management field has pioneered the way in which we understand water, its use, and the effects human activity has on its supply.

Gleick recognizes that water is connected to every part of our existence, noting that the most inexcusable act of the world is its failure to provide clean and sanitary water for billions.  In an article titled, Basic Water Requirements for Human Activities: Meeting Basic Needs,  Gleick outlines that at a minimum, humans need 13 gallons of water every day. Peter Gleick’s work is revered throughout the world, examining how climate change is directly linked to water resource limitations.  Analyzing water and the conflicts that are brought about by environmental harm, Gleick was one of the main figures in defining the basic human need and right to water.  His ideas and knowledge were used in multiple human rights court cases as well as the United Nation’s battle for the human right to water and sanitation.


[1] “Meet Six People Fighting Water Scarcity Across the Globe.”, Bloomberg, 

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