No Water Means No Philosophy


I spend a good deal of time worrying over and working on the intangible.

I’d like to be better at learning languages. I’m working hard to build up a handful of new brands while making sure not to dilute my primary (personal) brand. I do my best to help other people live a lifestyle that’s more closely aligned with their strengths and goals while making sure that I can continue to do the same.

But what if I didn’t have access to water?

It kind of changes everything. If I wasn’t able to get my hands on the building block of the human body, basic H2O, my priorities would change drastically.

I’m able to focus on what I do for a living and my aspirations because I have a solid foundation in place. I’m financially secure. I’m healthy. I’m confident that if something goes wrong, I can bounce back and learn from the experience.

But if I didn’t have water, all that wouldn’t mean a whole lot. I would be dying. No matter how good I am at building brands or how many businesses I’m able to juggle or how much press I get…I’d be dead. Quickly.

This is one of those big-picture issues that I try to keep in mind with everything I do.

When there’s no sentient life (or at least no sentient life capable of focusing on more than the needs of the present), there’s no philosophy. Everyone is just an animal, scrounging for a drink and killing anything that gets in the way (or being killed).

And as terrible as it may be to hear, there exists the potential for such a shortage to occur. I’m not going to get into the math of it (if you want more details, check out some stats), but especially in developing economies (like many countries in Africa) a small shift politics or the price of tea in China can leave cities without enough potable water for everyone.

Can imagine what would happen in, say, New York City, if all of a sudden there wasn’t enough water to go around? Think Darfur, but with a European fashion-sense. Hell, New York City is more susceptible to this kind of shortage than most other cities, due to its reliance on other parts of the country to keep it stocked up on the basics; cultural centers would be the first to go.

The point is that we are truly fortunate to be able to think the thoughts that we do, and we should make every effort to ensure that we continue to be capable of such mental meanderings.

There are efforts all around the world to desalinate ocean water so that more of what’s available naturally will be drinkable, but many of these projects are creeping along when we need a mad-dash.

There are some excellent non-profits (charity: water is one of my favorites) dealing primarily with the subject of potable water for everyone, and so-called ‘humanitarian entrepreneurs’ creating products like the LifeStraw that are helping people worldwide using Capitalism to jump-start expansion.

Whatever model, group or company you support – if you decide to throw your weight behind any of them – keep in mind that the high-minded philosophizing we enjoy is a privilege stemming from the relative stability of the existing resource infrastructure.

This infrastructure is not invincible, however, and there are already many places where it essentially doesn’t exist and it’s all anyone can do to survive.

Let’s fix this problem before it becomes truly unmanageable.

With enough smart and capable people involved, I have every reason to believe we can prevent a crisis with the right combination of awareness, education and torque.

This post was written as part of Blog Action Day 2010.


  1. I have a whole new appreciate for clean water after living in the Dominican Republic for almost 4 months. 6 weeks into my stay, I got a bacteria from bad drinking water. I got rid of that and in turn got an amoeba. I got rid of that and then got both, together at one time.

    Awesome. 10 weeks and 20 pounds lighter you understand that the water thing isn’t just some pie-in-the-sky thing. It’s real. And clean water really *does* matter.

    I was lucky. I could actually afford medicine to get better, but a lot of people can’t and die from diarrhea. Die. Can you even imagine that?

    Good reminder Colin. Time to stop talking and take action.

  2. An excellent look at how water is absolutely essential to all that we do and can become. I love your unique perspective. Thanks so much for bringing the water issue to the forefront.

  3. Wonderful analogy, Colin. When I lived in Beijing, clean water was an imperative. Otherwise, you’d get real sick, real fast. That’s how it is with many countries less fortunate than where we are from, America. I am grateful for the many fortunes and opportunities we have, and that we certainly have taken for granted, here and there.

  4. I am so appreciative that you connect our privilege to philosophize with our access to the basic necessities. Not so much in Canada (where I am) but America is really susceptible to lack of access to potable water. Much of California, Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico rely on water that is nowhere near their location. If that infrastructure were to fail, or the aquifers were to run dry (which they are close to) it would be devastation.
    I, too, hold your wish that we preserve and conserve our water resources.
    If anyone wants to know more about how to do that check:

    thanks again.

  5. Amen. It’s important to keep things into perspective and not loose sight of priorities. In Canada we are quite fortunate to have large reserves of good water… but it is more often than not taken for granted – until you start traveling and go somewhere where every drop of water counts. Suddenly, 15-minute showers become ridiculous.

  6. Colin – Good general point, very very poor supporting example. NYC (in conjunction with NY state) controls both the land and the development of the land that provides its water. It is actually the model for sustainability in that moving the water uses little energy (gravity does most of the work) and the water needs comparatively little filtration since the woods and limestone of the Catskills do most of the work. Any time you get a lot of people in one place you have to bring resources in from somewhere else. NYC has one of the lowest impact and most sustainable ways of doing so (some of the tunnels are 100+ years old and still working great). Now, if you had used LA as an example that would be a completely different story. 20% of energy used in CA goes towards moving water from the north to the south.

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