Water – the ups and downs in American Samoa

Fresh clean unadulterated water, there’s nothing like it.  Unfortunately this natural resource is becoming scarcer and scarcer and the years go by.  Now you have to live in the right places to get access to the best water.  As a citizen of the United States of America, I admit that I’ve grown up with the privilege of clean water to a degree that I never thought twice about it.  It didn’t matter where I lived or visited in the states, clean water was always available and for most of my life, it was free.

With the advent of the plastic bottle, this has changed considerably.  Instead of free access to water wherever one goes, water is a high profit commodity.  Virtually every store or market has plastic water for sale and this water is causing communities to eliminate their access points to free water using infrastructure like water fountains for public use.  The concept of free water from water fountains is one that many of the latest generations don’t understand.

Now corporations like Nestle are making millions of dollars and are draining the water supplies of drought stricken areas like California.  Currently there is a petition to tell corporations like Sprouts Market to stop selling plastic water bottled illegally and in places where it takes away from the needed and scarce supplies locally.

Here in America Samoa, plastic water is a way of life.  This is an unfortunate reality based on several factors, the primary being the way the islanders have tended to their natural resources.  While things are getting better than they were two decades ago pollution is still a problem here and littering is a way of life for many.  Water quality is impacted by a lack of infrastructure and for decades piggeries (pig farms) polluted the water with fecal matter that went unchecked.  Here roughly 10% of homes are missing either running water or a toilet.  Additionally, the average annual income is only $13,000 according to the CIA’s website.  So things are not very good here when you look at pollution and income.  What’s shockingly worse is that the water quality is atrocious.

Taking a look at the American Samoa EPA Integrated Water Quality 
Monitoring and Assessment Report will leave one with their jaws dropped wide open.  With approximately 250 miles of inland fresh water pathways, and about 150 tested – none were deemed safe for drinking water with pathogens being the primary culprit.  Additionally, 15 beaches were tested as unsafe for the Memorial Day weekend.    These beaches are primarily located within the inhabited portions of the island where human impact has a negative effect on the water.  Fortunately there are pristine areas where most natives don’t travel.  These are generally found at the end of mile or longer hikes through national parks land and are definitely a winner for the traveler to enjoy.  More on these beaches can be found here, thanks to Lonely Planet

So what do people on this island do for water, one might be asking by this time.  The reality is they import it.  Some have installed rain water collection systems to provide fresh drinking water, others put out buckets to collect water when it rains.  The one thing on the main island is that people don’t drink the tap water.  Instead they buy plastic bottles of water.  With the average income of $13,000 and a gallon of water costing $2.50 at the store or about $1,000 year per person at a gallon of water per day or between 4 and 6 thousand dollars a year for the average family.  Additionally, this represents a quantity of imported water from California that is staggering to quantify.  With the average case of bottled water utilizing 3 quarts of oil to manufacture and transport, the CO2 expense to supply water has some serious impacts on global climate change.

As the EPA, American Samoan Power Authority and Government officials work together to improve infrastructure hopefully we will see drastic changes in these facts over the coming decade.  But for now, American Samoa is tragically addicted to plastic water and this habit is directly connected to keeping her people in a tragic poverty cycle.  Combined with the fact that there is currently no national recycling program leaves much to be desired here in solving problems with pollution and trash management.

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No really, recycling isn’t good enough – it’s time to recognize the impact of over consumption

Yes that’s right, I said it.  If you recycle your plastic you are doing a good thing, but really it’s not enough to make a difference.  According the the EPA, currently  only 8% of plastic is being recycled.  If your plastic doesn’t have a stamp and a number on it, most waste disposal companies don’t want your plastic.  If it’s got moldy food on it, you probably just tossed that plastic into the garbage can, where it will never change form from the oil it was polymerized out of.  Going out to eat?  Did you notice how many items like straws, ramequins, and lids are made of plastic and get thrown into the waste stream on a regular basis?

No, most people who find this post will be forced to admit it –  American’s as a whole do not appear to be attentive to the levels of consumption they participate in.  It’s a hard truth to face because we Americans have been raised by the corporations around us to consume as much as possible with minimal efforts going toward reducing those numbers. This has been a business model for all of time.  Fortunately American’s only need to go back about 100 years to the creation of the National Forest Service to see examples of why a conservation method of consumption and production is necessary.  Without the efforts of the likes of Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir; hundred of ranchers, woodsmen, hunters and loggers would have mass consumed the natural resources of our land.  Instead these resources are still being used generations later – all because a conservation methodology was pressed upon them.

Recently a friend of mine posted a comment that essentially indicated that because she participated in recycling processes, mass consumption of plastic bags was acceptable.  I’m here to argue this as a falsehood.  Besides the fact that most plastics are not recycled; the act of consumption equates to the justification for manufactures to continue taking virgin oil and producing virgin plastic as a sustained and profitable practice.  Unfortunately, this practice is not considered sustainable as oil is available on a limited basis, once we run out, there is no more.  We have but one planet to live on.  Ironically, it’s also the one source for all concepts of life as we know it.  With one planet providing us with a limited stream of resources, the concept of limited consumption should be a no brainer.

Unfortunately for our grandchildren, these concepts were not passed effectively from generation to generation.  Remembering lessons from our past allows us to prepare for our future.  Only we don’t have a past where we polluted our oceans and skies while piling ‘single use’ materials all around ourselves.  In fact, the lessons from the greatest generation – about working hard, achieving, thinking outside of the box, tending to the space you are given, giving more than you were given ( just to name a few); well these lessons are falling by the wayside of I want it now and I shouldn’t have to work at it.  But, the most important of these lessons should really be about supply and demand.

If I don’t use or make purchase of plastic, I’m not generating any demand for the product.  However, when you slow your consumption of plastics, a movement is afoot.  If you and I use less oil, participate in ride sharing, public transportation and planning trips to the store; if we can begin to work with others in our community to change the way we think as a group, then we become more than a movement.  Changing your consumption habits is not going to be an easy thing, but when the day comes when birds on remote islands stop dying from plastic ingestion, the day when all plastic is recycled or depolymerized back into natural or refined chemicals then maybe we will be glad that we took time to appreciate the efforts.  If we don’t make these changes, we can’t teach our children by example.  They follow in our footsteps, replicating the behaviors they see at home.  So instead of participating in destructive behaviors toward our planet, consider the positive impact your hard work will benefit those to come in both indirect and direct ways.  Can you think of three ways which changing your consumption will benefit the planet?

It’s Fat Tuesday – What are you doing for Lent?

So,  it’s Fat Tuesday.  Lent is right around the corner and many people are on social media talking about what they are going to give up for Lent.  Some of you may not understand the purpose of giving up something, ‘For Lent’.  While there are many different  ‘beliefs’ behind the Religious and Dogmatic essence of what Lent, and it’s physical precursor Mardi Gras, is all about, one thing is generally considered true, most people miss the point.   In my own words, I’d suggest that the Christian faith allows us to take a time to consider the trials and temptation of Jesus, and the sacrifice he made as the atonement of mankind’s sin.   Deviations from the spiritual concepts of Lent are clearly represented in the festivities of Mardi Gras, closing with Fat Tuesday – a specific example of the gluttony of human wastefulness.  For those that are come from a different culture, Lent started as a Christian memorial that generally covers 40 days (to represent the temptation of Jesus by Satin fora period of  40 days in the desert) and concludes with the celebration of Easter Sunday ( the resurrection of Jesus from the dead).  Many of the days themselves have been given semblances of historical value and others contain aspects of their historical value that has now been lost on the modern world.  For example, Fat Tuesday was a final day of gluttony and ‘fattening up’ because in the tradition of Lent, people would fast for 40 days and would need the extra fat in their systems to help them survive.

Regardless of your personal spiritual beliefs, you are probably aware of the concept of giving something up as a way to become more aware of your personal habits.  Every New Years we often make a commitment that we are going to do things differently.  Those who have a personal drive or spiritual commitment to making this kind of change are generally those who have the successes we all can admire.  They also have an accountability base to promote their own success.  This is why these things work, accountability. I think for those that practice the giving up something , or fasting,  for Lent the accountability is often more on a personal spiritual basis; with the support of family and friends as encouragement when times get tough.   Today I want to be your encourager.  Do you remember the first challenge I asked you to consider?  Yes, the one with two separate garbage cans one for recyclable materials and the other for trash… how’s that going?

What about Lent?  What will you be giving up?  Besides turning away from processed foods, I myself am going to attempt to give up 50% of the single use plastic I currently use.   By cutting out any plastic bottled beverage of any kind, and focusing my diet on whole, fresh fruits and vegetables (known as a Daniel fast).  I hope to allow two paths of my spiritual walk to combine.

Will you join me to ‘Cut The Plastic’ over Lent?’  I look forward to the conversation in the comments section!

http://www.theplasticfreetimes.com/news/13/02/11/plastic-free-lent-interview-gabriel-lamug-na%C3%B1awa

http://5gyres.org/posts/2013/02/12/fat_tuesday_equals_fat_plastic_in_new_orleans