Updated: Jan 28, 2021
By Samira Mehta
Long, slimy, black bugs,—dozens—swam across the water’s surface in a white, plastic bucket. A woman bent over it and dropped in a live electrical wire to kill the pests. This Jardines de San Juan, Mexico, resident who had walked along her mountain path to a single public tap jutting from an aging, brick building, could then strain out the bugs—and drink.
I met this woman the summer before my senior year in high school in Dallas. Six of us had joined an Isla Urbana trip to install systems to harvest rainwater. We climbed up mountains outside Mexico City so steep I hardly knew what kept me from falling backwards. Our legs burned. The people here, including kids who should be in school, walked these paths hours a day for water. No pipes and no wells connected them to the aquifer below Mexico City that is being drained faster than rain can replenish, just weekly government water deliveries that did not always come. They’d figured out how to live on 20 liters of water a day, for everything. Just one luxurious U.S. shower, like I was used to in Dallas, consumes 65.
Three years later, I returned, this time with four members of Isla Urbana at Penn, a chapter I co-founded here at my university to provide more systems to harvest rainwater. At El Centro de Atención Múltiple No. 69, a school for special needs children in Quiltepec, Mexico, piping along the roof leads through filters to large storage cisterns for storage. In its first season, the system had brought this school 10,000 liters of clean water. The principal beams when he tells us this school will never have to shut down again because of a lack of running water.
That’s one small victory. We’re proud of it, but the fact is that right now, more people in the world possess a cell phone than a clean source of water. By 2025, just five years from now, the U.N. estimates that two-thirds of the global population will be living in water-stressed regions as a result of unsustainable water use, population growth, and climate change. Sustainable solutions to water scarcity exist, such as building rainwater harvesting systems and wells that tap into groundwater. But as an increasing number of water sources dry up and rainy seasons continue to become more variable, more people are being—and will be—left without clean sources of water. Climate change will continue to worsen the situation at an exponential pace, unless climate action is taken.
We must take it. And we can.
Climate change can often feel like a hopeless, unavoidable phenomenon, but there are actions that we, the people, and we, the youth, can take to make a difference. Each of us, from 18 years old, has a voice. How will our government approach this crisis? What kinds of policies will we enact? All of it is at stake in every election, and never more urgent than now.
I’m answering the question: “Why Vote?” with this Climate Justice feature. The policies and practices we Americans put into place will have an outsized effect on how humans manage the changing climate, and protect the most vulnerable. That’s my jawn. Please read, share, and send us great science-based media you find, too. Lots of elections this cycle, but only one world.