Breach of Leadership Trust

Several issues seemed to hit the newspapers and airwaves at the same time this week. They have been brewing for years, but having them all highlighted this week brought home the fact we need our leaders to be deserving of our trust. Unfortunately, this message is falling on many deaf ears. Earlier this year, I wrote a post called “When Leaders Let you Down.” This highlighted the issue, but also spoke about leaders making poor decisions that led to people’s lives being affected. Today, I want to focus on this breach of trust.

The one getting most of the headlines is the detailed report looking into what the leaders at  Penn State knew and when they knew it regarding the sexual predatory activities of former coach Jerry Sandusky, who has been convicted of ten counts of sexual molestation with minors. Per the report, it turns out the University President and other leaders, including Coach Joe Paterno, knew of his misdeeds dating back to 1998 and did not follow through with any decisive action. This is three years before the incident that was witnessed by one of the coaches in the shower. It also turns out there was a culture where junior employees did not feel they could raise a concern due to the feared reaction of leadership. More time has been spent talking about Paterno’s failure to act and what appears to be his role in preventing action given his career of coaching and teaching in the right way. Like many, I have always had respect for Paterno, but this episode is truly a breach of trust and broke many hearts. Yet, I find the most fault with the University President. His lack of stewardship on this issue has cost many young boys who were molested later and will ultimately cost his university tens of millions of dollars in justifiable lawsuits.

Another university, Florida A&M also was in the news. As everyone knows by now, the marching band which is renowned for their prowess and numbers, had a hurtful hazing process where a member of the band walked a gauntlet on the band bus in the dark, while fellow band members would hit the “hazee” until he walked the entire length of the bus. A drum major died from a recent episode. The University President resigned this week after getting a “vote of no confidence” from the Board of Trustees. Apparently, the President was aware of the hazing process, but also was aware a number of the band members did not qualify as students and should not have been marching in the first place. In other words, parents of band members were unaware their children were marching with non-students.

As a parent of three, with one at college and one about to go this fall, I cannot tell you how upsetting these two activities are. I do not expect my child to go off to college and die or be raped due to the lack of stewardship at the University level. I do recognize incidents happen, the worst of which is the Virginia Tech shooting, but for leaders and adults to know that activities are occurring and fail to do something about it is unforgivable. We are looking to them to protect our children and young adults and provide a safe environment as they grow and learn. The monetary losses these universities will experience will be severe, but they will not make up for the transgressions which occurred on their watch. The Catholic Church has still not fully learned that lesson and won’t until more Priests and Bishops wind up in jail, where they belong. Some of the FAMU and Penn State leaders may join them.

If that were not enough, we had even more Bank leadership travails. I have written a couple of times about the breach of trust by banks, which used to be the most trusted of groups. JP Morgan Chase has updated their estimate of the trading losses at $5.8 Billion and it may climb to $7 Billion. Initially, it was estimated at $800 Million and was increased to $2 Billion back in April. Yet, equally troubling is several bank employees misled their bosses about the losses writing them down to smaller amounts. This may amount to fraud. While the leaders are reacting to this news, we seem to have a culture in the financial organizations that starts at the top that it is OK to push envelopes and not be accountable. Leaders have to set the tone and lead by example. We have to be prudent risk takers, but not foolish ones. And, if someone is taking inappropriate risks, we need to highlight the activities and take remedial action.

If that were not enough Barclays Bank in London continues to be under fire for the efforts in manipulating interest rates on loans between banks. The CEO resigned after being discovered, but apparently this practice was first identified as far back as 2007 by the US Federal Reserve. By my math, that is five years ago, so someone in leadership should have put a stop to this after it became known. Since nothing was done, the CEO should be held accountable. And, if anyone wonders why we need financial regulation or any regulation for that matter, I would point to these two stories. And, I did not even mention two banks settling lawsuits this past week on mortgage fraud issues.

These four stories highlight the need we all have to trust our leaders to do the right thing. Issues do happen outside their control, but how they react to them is so very important. And, they must insist on an environment where people will not cut corners or feel threatened if they raise an issue. The Penn State, FAMU and Barclays presidents knew problems were occurring and they failed to act. To me, once you know something criminal is (or might be) occurring, then your failure to act is also criminal. But, even if it was not criminal and was an ethical issue, addressing these issues is also important.

Yet, the leaders need to create an environment where issues can be raised and that is where JP Morgan Chase failed. Following the financial meltdown in 2008 which was caused by chasing profits at the expense of prudent risk management, steps should have been taken to prevent the risky trades that were made in the magnitude they were made. While they have reacted to the mistakes so far, I question their failure to pick up their game after helping bring down the financial industry and cause the global recession we are in. In other words, “did you not learn anything?”

Let me close by saying the positions are bigger than the incumbents. Whether it is CEO, University President, Priest, Minister, Teacher, Principal, Coach, Congressman, Senator, Governor or President, when the incumbent dishonors the position, then they need to be held accountable. Going further, the role of a leadership position has a duty to honor the trust we have placed in that position. There is a duty to the customers, employees and shareholders (or stakeholders) to do the right thing. When they breach that trust, it is a disservice to many that will echo for a long time.

32 Million Fewer Words

While reading David Brooks’ excellent book called “The Social Animal,” I was alerted to a key result of classic study by Betty Hart and Todd Risley of the University of Kansas. One of the conclusions of the study is by the age of four, children raised in poor families have heard 32 million fewer words than those raised in professional family households. Breaking this down to an hourly basis, children of poor families hear on average 178 utterances of words per hour as compared to 487 words per hour in a professional family home.

And, it is not just what they hear, it is the emotional tone. There tended to be far more encouraging words than discouraging words in the professional home setting. Translating this to today’s time, there is a greater propensity to see single head of household families in impoverished families, so with one less adult and with the greater stress of earning a paycheck, doing housework and raising children lends itself to fewer conversations to hear those missing words.

In my volunteer work with homeless families and tutoring underprivileged children, I witness this first hand. I see kids who are having to overcome more obstacles than the very difficult one of coming from a homeless or impoverished household. They are starting school even further behind than the other children and will have to work hard to catch up. Just using the tutoring example, the two 5th graders I tutored were smart children, they just needed more time, targeted explanation and encouragement. The encouragement is as or more important than the first two needs.

In this same book, Mr. Brooks introduced me to a Greek term called “thumos.” We apparently don’t have an identical match in our language, but the word explains a lot of what we all need, but especially children. Thumos is the desire for recognition and union. People want to be recognized for their contributions, but through such recognition they want to have a sense of belonging. Translating this to the 5th graders, the children reacted well to the recognition of their efforts and especially the successes. When they “got it” it was like giving them the keys to the kingdom. It truly exhilarated me as much as it did them. To see their faces light up at the moments of clarity was truly joyous. High fives and fist bumps seemed to be insufficient to celebrate the moments.

I mention the tutoring as I see the resolution to this effort as “taking a village to raise a child.” This African proverb is very much on point, as parents, teachers and counselors all need hour support to help these children climb their individual ladders out of poverty. Why is this important for everyone? Education is probably the greatest challenge for our country as we have fallen asleep at the switch and will not be able to compete as well in the future. I do not have any statistics for what I am about to state, but I believe our best can compete with others’ best students. I think other countries have caught up and made this echelon highly competitive. Yet, when you get beneath this small sliver of talent, I think other countries are kicking our hind end all over the place.

The jobs of the future are not the jobs of the past. Even manufacturing jobs and high skilled blue-collar jobs require an understanding of technology that may not have been required to the same extent before. If our children are not educated we will continue to be left behind. There are too many examples of where the United States is not in the calculus of whether to invest in a facility, but the one I like to use, is Mercedes had to dumb down their manuals on how to build their car for the plant they built in Alabama. They had to use more pictures than words. If we cannot offer an employer a capable workforce, they will find it elsewhere and they do.

So, what do we about finding those 32 million words? And, what do we do from that point forward? In this age of budget cuts, which are totally understandable, we have to be zealous in defending educational investment. We have to invest in pre-school programs to help kids get off to a better start. The “Smart Start” and “More Before Four” programs do pay dividends and we need to find more ways to reach kids. And, we need to invest in our teachers – we need more and higher quality of teachers, but we need to give them the freedom to tailor their teaching.

We need to continue the focus on providing resources to parents through the various “Parent Universities.” To my earlier example, we need more volunteers to help tutor, mentor and baby sit while the parents attend self-education or teacher conferences, etc. In my work with helping homeless families, the significant majority of whom are employed, I come across a contingent that cannot be swayed from their belief that all homeless people are bums and addicts. I have argued until I am blue in the face to dissuade them from this erroneous belief, but the one area I do get some nods of approval, are to say let’s set aside the parent(s) and focus on the kids. They did not choose to be homeless. If we help them, we can break the cycle of homelessness. Quoting a forward-thinking minister, he said “we have no idea of the untapped intellectual capital that may reside in these kids in poverty.”

So, spending in the area of helping children is not only the right thing to do, it is the smartest investment we could possibly make. I need only look at the second prize winner in a recent Intel science project who was a former homeless child. Yet, we also need to spend money on organizations like “Planned Parenthood.” This organization has become a pawn in an idiotic political game. As an Independent voter, this pariah status placed on such an important organization makes me ill. There are numerous studies that show causal relationships between family size and poverty in the US and abroad. In the work on homeless families I do, I tend to see larger families than in non-poverty settings. I place a lot of criticism on the churches for this. Birth control is used by many women and men, but it not as available or universally understood as needed in all segments of our population.

One of my old colleagues who is an African-American woman told me how frustrated she was at her minister and church leaders. She said the teenage kids in her congregation are so misinformed about pregnancy and STD risk. As an example, some told her they heard you could not get pregnant if you had intercourse standing up! When she went to her minister to see if they could offer some guidance she was scoffed at.  Abstinence is the only thing they will teach. Well, as a 53-year-old let me state what everyone seems to know but the church leadership – kids are going to experiment and have sex. You can preach all you want, but it will not stop that train. So, we must embrace planned parenthood and the use of birth control. And, to me what better place to teach than in church. In many respects, I think some ministers and church leaders are misusing their authority to not be forthcoming with these kids. Please note through all of this discussion, I did not use the word abortion; I see that as its own issue with its own debate. I am speaking of birth control which is used by well over 90% of Catholic women, a fact the Catholic church tends to overlook.

You probably did not expect a discussion on education to include planned parenthood and birth control. Yet, I see them linked with the causal relationship I noted above between poverty and family size. Having an unfettered number of children, will put the family and children at risk. I love children, but with the cost of raising a child the way it is, I don’t think I could afford a fourth child. Yet, my wife and I have access to birth control and governed our family size to a manageable level. We would have loved a fourth child, but we have the family size we want. I think many church goers would say the same thing.

However, I would prefer to end on a more targeted note and that is the volunteerism. I described the need for the help, but also the joy to the giver. The gift of your time is immeasurable to those in need, but it will lift you up as well. At our agency that helps homeless families, where we do not permit the proselytizing to those in need, our executive director likes to say “who is witnessing to whom?” Our volunteers get as much out of the experience that the families do. The families are witnessing to the givers. So, find some way to give back. It will be a fulfilling experience. Match your passions with the needs in the community. My wife likes to say on her involvement “I am giving these kids a soft place to land.” Let’s all provide these soft places to land and help find the missing words in the children’s lives. You may even find a few words for yourself.

North Carolina’s Lack of Environmental Stewardship

Some of you may see this and pass on reading as it does not apply to your state or country. Yet, I would hope you would give it a few minutes, as it shows examples of how little by little, the leadership (or lack thereof) of a governmental entity can slowly chip away at good environmental stewardship. The word stewardship is one of my favorite words to describe how  leaders of any group are obligated to be good stewards of its resources. Those resources must include our air, water and land assets which are our most dearest resources. A few posts ago, I referenced the book called “Water” by Steven Solomon who noted how civilizations rose to and fell from power based on their ability to manage water resources. This water stewardship was vital to the success of the populace and those in power.

In the past six months, the North Carolina (NC) legislature has taken three actions which are antagonistic to the environment and our future success. These actions fly in the face of other actions that are being taken to make NC a more alternative energy state, some of which have been reported in earlier posts. One of these recent actions was so ludicrous, Stephen Colbert did a bit on his show lampooning the decision, which you can find on his website – more on that later. Each of these has been written about previously, but a recent decision and how it was accomplished was about as un-American as we can get.

The first of the big three environmentally antagonistic actions are allowing billboard advertisers greater freedom to clear trees, so that they can put up even more billboards on interstates and roads. They even went to the trouble of usurping authorities given to towns and cities on tree clearance within their city limits. Several cities are contesting the local override, yet we still have to contend with advertisers taking down even a greater swath of trees on the interstates and highways.  So, we will have fewer oxygen creating trees and a great driving hazard with the various distractions. But, rest assured, you will be able to clearly see the multiple advertisements of when the next “We Bare All” truck stop is. As a father of three, this has always been important to get to explain what those signs mean to my children.

The second action is the one Mr. Colbert lampooned. Please look on his website and search on global warming or climate change to find the video of the piece on rising sea tides. In short, a study was performed and reverified at the behest of twenty coastal counties that indicated the expectation the sea level off NC will rise 39 inches by the turn of the century. This projection is consistent with what has been accepted in Virginia (which borders NC), Maine, Louisiana, California, etc.Yet, the legislature would not accept a report that showed acceleration due to climate change impact and would only accept a “looking backwards over the last 100 years” estimate of 8 inches. The concern is it would be harmful to development of property on the coast. The fact that the sea is consuming houses on Bald Head Island on the tip of the Outer Banks and that risk managers see climate change as the greatest threat to business and government is irrelevant. So, rest assured developers,  the state of NC is literally holding back the tide with legal briefs. Best wishes on your development and good luck finding insurance if you build to close to the shore.

The third action truly disappointed me as we had a chance to make a clear statement and dropped the ball big time. The legislature overturned the judicious move by the Governor to veto a bill to further enable fracking for natural gas. If you refer to an earlier post on “The Perils of Fracking” this is probably the worst thing you can do to get at natural gas. Since I wrote that post, I have learned there is documented evidence which shows a causal relationship between the disposal of the chemically laden fracking water and earthquakes (in Arkansas and Ohio). In fact, a British company ceased fracking as a result. Note, this is on top of the toxins that are released into the air and leak into the water supply. Yet, forgetting all of that, fracking takes 2 to 5 million gallons of water per fracking well. So, my big question is this what we want to use our dear water for?

The veto was overturned by one vote and here is where it gets un-American. During the vote, a legislator hit the wrong button and can be overheard saying she messed up and needed to change her vote. After several tries to change it and get the attention of the vote gatherers, she was blocked from changing her vote. The reason was various versions of “tough luck” and “you should have known better.” To provide some further context, the Speaker of the House last year took a midnight vote on another issue after telling legislators there would be no vote and calling his alerted party legislators (and others in the vicinity) back to the chamber for a vote. Those who had gone home rightfully called foul. I would add there was another legislator who had changed her vote on the fracking bill after voting against it the first time. She apparently received a concession on another bill benefiting her district. That is politics and is her right as a legislator, so I am OK with her change. Yet, I am offended by the denial of the legislator noted above the right to change her vote. That is un-American.

The sad part of all of this is NC is a leader of solar energy development and is doing great things in various pockets around bio-mass and conservation. NC is poised to do more with wind energy and Charlotte, its largest city, is becoming an alternative energy location with over 27,000 jobs. It was reported in today’s Charlotte Observer that Germany (who has a lot of North American operations here in NC) will be free of nuclear power by 2022 and by 2050 will have 80% of its energy from bio-mass, wind, solar and hydro power. And, just to show further seriousness of purpose about what can happen, they have created 370,000 jobs in alternative energy in the last twelve years. Please keep that in mind, when our Oil/ Gas industry lobby, which is the strongest lobby in our country, touts that only jobs in the non-renewable sector can be created.

So, as a tax-paying citizen of NC (and US) who cares about our children and environment, we need to challenge ourselves to be better environmental stewards as we make our eco-energy decisions. And, not that this is important, but since the author of the NC fracking bill calls his opponents “liberal tree huggers” and the Exxon Mobil CEO likes to say we are “manufacturers of fear” let me be crystal clear – I am an Independent voter who reads and tries to take the time to find out the dangers in what we are doing. Based on what I have read, each of these three decisions is unwise and taken together show poor environmental stewardship.

 

 

Blink and Politics

I recently completed Malcolm Gladwell’s second book called “Blink.” I may be one of the last people to read it, as all of his books had lengthy stays on the best seller list. I enjoyed his other three books so much, I felt I needed to complete the cycle. If you have not read it, I would encourage you to do so, as it very compelling and an easy read about how we think without conscious thinking. The more experience we have with a subject, this process yields an effective way of making decisions.

There are numerous examples therein, but one of the easiest to describe is how a leader of a firefighting crew entered a house and when they could not put out an extra hot fire in the kitchen after dousing it several times, the leader sensed something was unusual about the setting. His experience and sensation led him to get the firefighters out of the house now. Just after leaving, the main floor collapsed as the fire was burning from the basement below. His unconscious knew something was amiss and his gut told him to get out quickly. His basis was his vast experience in fighting fires and all he could later think through was the fire was not acting as it should have been – its intensity was high and they were not making a dent in putting it out. Hence, he came to a decision in the blink of an instant.

In the book, though, there is a body of work which allows people to be “primed” to think one way or the other. In essence, when you are making snap decisions, you can actually be predisposed to respond a certain way. Again, there are numerous examples therein, but one that I found compelling is the historical gender discrimination toward women in classical music. At one time there was only about 5% of a symphonic orchestra made up of women and those tended to be around more feminine instruments (their words not mine). What was learned after one woman (with an androgynous first name) became considered for a German symphony playing the trombone after a blind-tryout, is a definite gender bias existed for the previously considered “male” instruments. After she won two law suits proving her claim of discrimination, conductors started doing blind tryouts. They realized it should be about the music and not how you look. After this became more the norm, symphonic orchestras became more evenly split by gender. The conductors were “primed” to think a certain way before which led to the discrimination. The good side of the story is this discrimination has been largely overcome.

While reading the book, it hit me that the spin-doctors in politics are doing what these conductors were doing. In politics, we are being primed to think a certain way. So, if something is said enough, there are people who will believe it to be true. Even those of you who may support an opposing candidate, you can be led to believe some of this priming to be true. You may have observed the GOP likes to use the adjective “job-killing” in front of every Democratic policy. Job-killing regulations, job killing Obamacare, e.g. The spin-doctors are priming you to believe that everything the Democrats or President has done or is doing are job-killing. The irony is the President has done more to create jobs than he is given credit for and, as an Independent voter, I don’t see a lot of job creation ideas coming from the GOP led-Congress.

Some may say we are smarter than that and would not fall for such tactics, but I am convinced in a world of uninformed voters, we can be led to believe a certain way.  The more common tactic we have seen in the GOP primaries and before is to reference the “liberal or lame-stream media.” These references have caused a large contagion in the conservative parts of our country to believe the mainstream media is out to get them and the only place they can get unbiased news is through outlets like Fox News. As most people know, this is actually the opposite of what transpires as Fox News is one of the most biased news sources around and fills people with propaganda on a regular basis. They have moved the median to the right on the normal curve, so when fair news is portrayed, it looks like it is more liberal than it is. I have heard more than one editor say, the only bias the media has is toward conflict.

There are numerous examples to draw from and I must confess that I do believe the conservative side of the house does more of this than the more liberal side. Truth be told, this is one of the three major reasons I left the Republican party five years ago. I observed a higher propensity to make stuff up – be it “weapons of mass destruction” or “swift-boating.” People died because of the former priming example and John Kerry was vilified unjustly for having fought in Vietnam by someone who did not in the latter example. Yet, both sides are guilty of the process. Sarah Palin was not qualified to be a Vice-Presidential candidate in 2008 and was not adequately vetted. Yet, if we turned back the clock and John McCain went in another direction, she could have finished her term as Governor, been re-elected and maybe run for Senator of Alaska. If she had put the time in, she may have been a much better candidate with more experience down the road.

I believe once the GOP got over the sugar rush of her candidacy, I think she was in part unfairly vilified by the press which heightened her negatives. Again, she was not qualified or versed in the issues of the day. To be truthful, she may never have gotten up to speed even over time. Yet, while there is legitimacy to the majority of the questions being asked of her, there was also some unfair treatment in my mind. I think Senator McCain saw that. I think she was unfairly promoted as a rock star which probably heightened the media’s criticism. Unfortunately, we will never know, as she liked the rock star image so much, she quit as governor and her credibility will forever suffer. Getting back to “Blink,” she does not have the detailed experience to be able to make the quick on your feet calls about issues of import.

I feel the same way about Vice-President Joe Biden and a lesser extent to former VP Dan Quayle. Biden has actually done a highly commendable job as Vice-President. He has been a tremendous extension of President Obama, especially on foreign affairs, yet people keep waiting to pounce on his gaffes or misspeaks. People are primed to think a certain way about him, so he is not getting the credit he deserves for his work the last three years. Our younger folks may not remember Dan Quayle, George H.W. Bush’s vice-president. He was not nearly as experienced as Biden, yet like our current VP, the press and others waited to pounce on his gaffes and misspeaks. I felt he was treated unfairly on more than one occasion, even though no one should include him on a list of great VPs. Yet, folks were primed to think a certain way about him. So, he could never overcome this priming.

This is where we must come in. There are numerous blogs from some folks I follow about  our increasingly uninformed voting public in the US. I would include the misinformed (or misled) voters among them. We need to ignore the adjectives that are there to prime how we think. We have to work hard to focus on the issues and what people would do given their party or individual stance. What scares me most about a Romney victory has more to do with the stances he and his party take on issues. Global warming is here and is man-made and we have to do something about it. You cannot cut the deficit by reducing taxes – we need to thoughtfully cut spending and raise revenue. We must provide freedom to all people, not just heterosexual Christians. We have far too many guns in America and no one outside of law enforcement should own an AK-47. We have job, infrastructure and education issues which we must resolve. We cannot resolve them by cutting spending for teachers, bridges and mass transit. These are the issues to me.

I guess being an old fart has afforded me one set of experiences – to know when something or someone is full of BS. I have made mistakes and will make them in the future, but we need to call out the BS when we see it and focus on the facts. Otherwise, we will blink and let people tell us what to think. The more facts, experience and context we have, we will be better prepared to let our unconscious make good decisions.

When the well is dry, we learn the worth of water

The title above is a quote from Benjamin Franklin which speaks volumes. Water is a very dear resource and we truly do not know its ultimate value until it is gone or our access to it is limited. I recently completed one of the best history books I have ever read “Water – the Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power and Civilization” by Steven Solomon. Solomon has written for the New York Times, Business Week, The Economist, Forbes and Esquire among other places and is the author of “The Confidence Game,” so the book has an investigative storytelling bent which makes history come alive. Yet, it is not just a history book as he brings us to today’s times and provides us with cautions to heed as we move forward.

In short, the book shows the ability for great civilizations to rise, thrive and fall based on their ability to control water resources for drinking, farming, manufacturing, sewage and transportation. Through this we learn the vital role that bringing water into an area for use and then using it to sweep away sewage from that same area can have in enhancing or debilitating our lives. To paint an ugly picture, London in the mid-1800’s had a terrible period, as did other major cities, where cholera, dysentery and other diseases were prominent. The period was called “The Big Stink” as sewage was not be adequately washed away and was actually being dumped into the same drinking water sources. After years of postponement (sounds like our debt crisis) of dealing with it, the smell became so grotesque that Parliament had to act within 18 days to set in motion a plan to resolve it.

I use this example rather than others as it shows how basic the needs water fills and our inability to use it wisely can be truly catastrophic. Rome was known for its aqueducts and how it flourished with the baths it created. The baths which improved hygiene became so popular, they were the social meeting places where people of all strata kept themselves clean and healthy. It is not ironic that Rome flourished during this time and fell when many of these aqueducts were destroyed by invaders from the North.

To use a more recent example, Teddy Roosevelt is probably the greatest water president in US history. Before his time, the greatest US water accomplishment was the building of the Erie Canal which reduced the cost of goods transport immensely connecting ports. Roosevelt had three major contributions – the building of the Panama Canal, the development of planned water rights and retrieval in the west to help irrigate dry areas for crops and sustenance, and the protection of water sheds via the vast number of parks he created. His inspiration and force of will also led to the building of the Hoover Dam which occurred later and whose success was copied many times over by his cousin, Franklin when he was in the White House.

It is arguable that these water initiatives by Teddy Roosevelt are key reasons the US is as powerful today. I recognize that downplays the roles of many others, but the US leveraged its access to both coasts through the building of the Panama Canal. Plus, it helped the can-do psyche of Americans after earlier attempts by France to build the canal failed. Successful major construction can be uplifting just as failures can be crushing as China saw with the huge failure of a major dam project completed just four years ago.

I wanted to provide a little varied context from the book, as we look at problems of today and the near and longer term future. I had incorrectly given credit for this quote to Jim Rogers, the CEO of Duke Energy, but a key chapter title in the book is called “Water: The New Oil.” We have growing concerns in the US, especially in drier parts of the country, but even other areas which are not known for being dry. More on these later. While we have these concerns, we are still referenced as being more water rich than other places on the planet. What this book highlights is the insatiable desire for water in water poor countries is causing the misuse or  unplanned use of water at too fast a pace so that it cannot be replenished. What will bring the Middle East to its knees will be the ever worsening shortage of water. As rich a country as Saudi Arabia is through oil, it is water poor and will very soon be using up its water supply. Other countries are even in more dire straits in that region.

If you move into the African continent you can look to Ethiopia to where the Nile begins, but most of the water is used in Egypt. Issues have erupted around the sharing of water and will continue to be of concern. The building of the Aswan Dam was in some respects a success, but in others a failure as it was built in the wrong place. Much of the water created from the dam evaporates before it is used. The book points out to these kinds of issues as we plan ahead and we must. This issue becomes even more critical in water and economically poor countries. So, globally we need concerted planning on we should use our water resources. This problem will only become worse if we grow unfettered increasing the number of people on our planet and the impact of global warming continues to affect our supply.

Bringing the issue back to the US,  we are water rich, but could be better personal, industrial and governmental stewards of our water. Americans use far more water than others on the planet. We are seeing droughts and water fights between Georgia, Alabama and Florida and Texas has numerous places where the water table has dried up, e.g. The global warming impact will continue to hit the driest places on the planet the most and it is one of the factors there has been the onset of forest fires which we are seeing here and in Australia and Russia.

So, we need to act now to plan ahead with better water usage strategies and not wait for the “big stink” to occur using that as a metaphor for all water problems. And, we need to continue to offer and help other countries develop strategies and execute them at the regional and local levels. One of the ironies is in parts of rural India where the British water management back in the early 1900’s did not reach, they still maintain water councils who provide stewardship over water use. India has grown so rapidly in major cities, that the infrastructure needs updating, but these smaller water council areas continue to be judicious users of water because they had to be that way. We all need to be judicious.

So, what can we do? At the individual level, conservation is key. Three of the greatest water uses are in flushing toilets, washing clothes and washing dishes. If we each can strive for more the more energy-efficient wash cycles and lower water use toilets that could be an enormous savings. There are recycling examples for water where toilets can draw from shower water and rainwater collections can be used for watering plants. We Americans need to cut back on the lawn sprinklers as well as we abuse this privilege. We can do this through use, but also by planting more indigenous grasses and plants. I am also reminded of my Dad’s navy shower restrictions on ship – 25 seconds of water. You used five to wet your body. Then you soaped up and turned back on the spigot for the last twenty seconds of water to rinse off. I am not advocating navy shower limits per se, but we do not need to be like my children either and lounge around in the shower.

Yet, I think we need to be aware and advocate that we should address our problems. There are some very good things going on in our country that can be done elsewhere. Setting aside the Big Stink example, Orange County in CA has successfully reused sewage water as drinking water and for irrigation. As scary as this sounds, they use multiple filtering and cleaning techniques that have proven to work.  There is continued exploration of desalinization techniques with ocean water, but they tend to be very expensive and the issue of what to do with the salt is an issue. Plus, there are some neat things going on in industry to use recycled water for various uses.

On the flip side, we have continued to be poor stewards in other areas and have been slow to act in rectifying these issues. In “Living Downstream,” Dr. Sandra Steingraber has noted we continue to pollute our waters with petro-chemicals which wreak havoc. In Canada, they have outlawed ornamental pesticides for home use due to the air and water poisoning. And, one of the big reasons I am against fracking is, in addition to the toxic issues it causes for air and water, it uses an exorbitant amount of water, 2 – 5 million gallons per fracking well. Fracking did not cause the drought in Texas, but it sure is not helping it now. We need a strong EPA, not a weakened one.

Finally, this is a major issue that affects every resource issue, so it needs to be stated. I am going to ask everyone to set aside their religious beliefs for these next few statements. The earth cannot support the unfettered increase in population.  We are in the neighborhood of 8 million people. If we all consume as Rwandans do, the earth may be able to support 15 million. If we consume the way Americans do, the earth could only support less than 2 million. Please reread these two sentences. So, if we do not have planned birth control, we will run out of food and water. Even if you set aside global warming and its impact which is here and will get worse, we cannot support an unfettered increase in our population. So, when I hear how evil Planned Parenthood and its global partners around the world are by our more evangelical global citizens, my reaction is we desperately need family planning and birth control or we are sentencing ourselves and our children to die or to a much different kind of life. In my bible, God told us to be good stewards of the earth. We all need to step up to the plate now and heed his wishes or we will witness Benjamin Franklin’s caution noted above.