On World Water Day, at the kind invitation of Alene Sen (supervisor and coordinator for the City of Mississauga at the Mississauga Valley Library) I talked to some 100 Grade 8 students of the Valleys Senior Public School about water. Several classes, in groups of about fifty students each, came at tandem to the library to learn something about water.
I had about half an hour to prime them with something that would spark their interest and which they could take home and think about—and possibly apply in stewardship.
I started the talk by explaining that I’m a limnologist—someone who studies freshwater—and that water is still a mysterious substance, even for those who make it their profession to study. After informing them of water’s ubiquity in the universe—it’s virtually everywhere from quasars to planets in our solar system—I reminded them that the water that dinosaurs drank during the Paleozoic Era is the same water that you and I are drinking.
We briefly reviewed some of water’s most interesting anomalous and life-giving properties such as cohesion and adhesion—responsible for surface tension and water’s capillary movement up trees. Below is an excellent 4-minute YouTube video “The Properties of Water” that describes these properties well.
I reviewed the circle of life and energy in an aquatic ecosystem and used the grey whale as an example to study trophic cascades and the balanced trophic cycle—with an endnote on the whale’s significant role in influencing climate.
I introduced each class to the incredible and very tiny Tardigrade, also known as the water bear or moss piglet, with magical properties of its own. The 4-minute TED video by Thomas Boothby is particularly instructive and entertaining.
I then showed the class an image of the Three Gorges Dam in China and reported how as a result of so much dam-building and retention of water—and because most dams are located in the northern hemisphere—we have slightly changed how the Earth spins on its axis. We’ve sped its rotation and shortened the day by 8 millionths of a second in the last forty years.
Water needs to constantly move. The Water cycle moves through the planet in all three forms (vapour, liquid and ice), over land and sea and through the earth, but also through all life. We are part of that cycle. We drink it and get immersed in it; we also breathe water in with every breath we take and breathe it out with every breath we exhale.
We are water; what we do to water, we do to ourselves.
I invited the class to discuss things we could do to help water as it moves through the planet. We talked about things we could do at home, with our friends, in our school and community to help water. Things like planting a tree in your back yard; adopting a nearby stream and taking care of it; organizing a beach clean-up; deciding to do something at home to waste water less.
Each action is a small thing. But that is how large things happen, through the accumulation of small things. And with every “small” action is a small shift in thinking, which leads to the kind of leadership that will change the world and make it a better place—for water and everything that depends on it.
After a discussion of the problems now facing water on the planet, I asked the students from The Valleys Senior Public School to answer the question “What can we do to help water?” Alene handed out a small sheet of paper on which they wrote their response then collected them. Their responses showed great thought and a willingness to do something concrete. Alene created a billboard at the Mississauga Valley Library with the Valleys Senior Public School student responses to the question.
Nina Munteanu is an ecologist, limnologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.