It being summer and all, Kathy and I have once more relocated to our second home in beautiful Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, having travelled by car on a road trip that took us across Ontario, and down through Quebec and New Brunswick. It’s really an enjoyable trip, but all the while, typically pre-occupied with world affairs, I was thinking of this video posted on the Vox website, which I stumbled across just before we hit the highway, detailing the ongoing water crisis in Iraq:
Incredibly, the mighty Tigris and Euphrates rivers are drying up, the result of a combination of factors including climate change, the dysfunction of war-torn infrastructure, and extensive dam-building upstream in both Iran and Syria. The great city of Basra – Iraq’s only port, criss-crossed with an extensive canal system that once made it the Venice of the Persian Gulf – now looks like this:
This is what the planners in the Pentagon call a “derangement factor”, and something they’ve been warning us to expect, and fear, for almost 30 years now. This is what causes uprisings, civil wars, and international conflict and upheaval. In a part of the world in which some people are prepared to murder each other’s children over who was the proper successor to Mohammed, what do you suppose they’ll do over water? When the life-giving rivers dry up, rivers that fostered the birth of civilization thousands of years ago, where will the people go? What will they do – what won’t they do – to save themselves?
Syria and Iran are hardly in better shape – indeed, prolonged drought is thought to be one of the stressors that set off the Syrian civil war. It’s easy to imagine what might happen if the River Jordon begins to peter out, and the Sea of Galilee becomes a cracked and desolate mud flat. Syrian plans to divert water from the Jordan were a source of geopolitical tension before, in the run-up to 1967’s Six Day War, and this vital water supply could well be the source of conflict again. What’s happening now, in what were already some of the world’s most dangerous neighbourhoods, is the stuff of geopolitical nightmare scenarios. Access to water is worth killing for, plain and simple. Water is life. Nothing is more important. Nothing at all.
And over here, we never worry about such things.
I’ve found that nothing drives home the extreme good fortune of living in this country so much as simply travelling by road across it. There I was, thinking about water shortages and the geopolitical ramifications of widespread drought in the world’s hotspots, as we drove along the banks of a veritable inland sea of fresh water, for all its hugeness merely a lesser member of a set of five such fresh water seas that provide this part of the world with a unique abundance of the planet’s most precious resource. Almost 5,500 cubic miles of the stuff, 21% of the world’s surface fresh water, ours on top of huge additional sources in a country chock full of rivers and lakes, some, like Lake Winnipeg, essentially Great Lakes in their own right.
Hour after hour we drove past hundreds upon hundreds of miles of rich, green, arable land, planted to the horizon with flourishing, obviously well-irrigated crops – I realized, feeling a little silly, that I couldn’t even tell what they were, exactly, being not yet packaged and labelled in my local Loblaws. All along the way, we kept crossing over rivers great and small, and driving past sizeable lakes, fresh water in incredible quantities, until we reached the St. Lawrence, a fantastic thing to contemplate if you take a step back and really think about it. I looked it up: the section of the river that flows past Cornwall is moving about 220,000 cubic feet of water per second. It’s never much less than 80 feet deep, and at its deepest sections it’s over a thousand feet to the bottom. The width of it, as you cross over the bridge at Quebec City, is almost surreal:
A word like “river” hardly seems to do it justice.
The scenery was only a little less lush through New Brunswick, where a particular crop was so prevalent that I had to google it in image search – potatoes! Miles and miles of potatoes stretching out of sight as we barrelled down the Trans-Canada Highway toward Fredericton, where we stayed at a lovely hotel situated on the bank of the St. John River, which might not match the St. Lawrence, but isn’t anybody’s idea of a shallow creek, either. This was the view from our room:
Wow. Just wow.
You can’t look at that just after watching a documentary on the plight of Basra and feel anything but grateful, yet amazingly, the water that we all take for granted is only one of the many, many things that make our nation wonderful. Consider it: here, we think nothing of getting into a car and travelling through a thousand miles of beautiful, resource-rich countryside, cruising at speed and unmolested along a continent-wide, ribbon-smooth strip of well tended asphalt, fed, watered, and fuelled all along the way at any number of roadside facilities, surrounded on all sides by prosperity, peace, order, and good government. At one of the numerous “ONroute” stops that line the Ontario highways – big, clean, modern rest stops where you can get gas, buy a burger, get some money out of the ATMs, and surf the net over the free WiFi in air conditioned comfort – we encountered what looked to be a whole chapter of the Hells Angels, and all I could think was that in this country, even the members of criminal motorcycle gangs stand quietly in line at Tim Hortons, calmly waiting their turn like good Canadians.
This is an amazing civilization. We don’t even know it, really, never pausing to consider that in the whole of history, and on the whole of the planet today, nobody has it, or ever has had it, as good as we do now. We’re safe, and free, and up to our necks in resources, including the most precious resource of all, clean, potable water that flows from our taps in any quantity we please. There are huge swaths of the globe upon which struggling, desperate masses of people may soon be killing each other to grab a meagre fraction of what we feel free to waste, fighting and hopelessly migrating under the torment of dire want, while suffering the violence of oppressive governments determined to stop them from getting a share of what little is left.
Not here. Here, I bathe under a long hot shower of water fit to drink, then nip next door to pick up a couple of litres of Diet Coke and some packaged sandwiches and salad, at one of the many thousands of well stocked grocery stores that dot the landscape of every populated corner of this huge, peaceful, beautiful country. Ten million square kilometres, most of it empty, and all of it ours, just 36 million of us occupying a domain so vast that it took us the better part of three working days at 100 KPH to transit a mere third of its width. The entire UK could fit inside this country 40 times. We have national parks that are roughly the same size as the Netherlands. We have lakes that are bigger. It’s not even fair, really. One wonders if we aren’t supposed to give some of it to somebody more needy.
Nothing lasts forever. Someday, thousands of years from now, people who may know of no hard evidence of our existence and everything we achieved, living in a much different, maybe much harsher world, will hear legends about us, and think of us as mythical. We live in tomorrow’s Atlantis. Amazing, isn’t it?