Two articles on CNN.com caught my attention today. The first was a report on the discovery of aquifers underneath Kenya and the second was a report about Voyager 1 crossing the heliosphere into interstellar space. Both are really remarkable in their own right. But the fact that both articles were published the same day made me ponder the amazing things we humans can do and the important things we choose not to do.
Voyager 1 was launched into space in 1977. The primary mission was to study the far reaches of our solar system and beyond. Travelling at over 35,000 mph, Voyager 1 has traversed 11.7 billion miles since it left Earth. The engineering and understanding of physics that made all of this possible is mind-boggling. And since 1977, outer space technology has made it possible to do so much more. We may have space tourism within a few years. We may have people visiting Mars in the next half century. We may have a permanent moon colony soon as well.
The discovery of water aquifers under Kenya in my mind is just as important an announcement because it has more immediate implications for a significant number of people. Kenya has suffered severely from droughts and the limited water that is accessible tends to be of very poor quality. There have been relief efforts for years but there is still no comprehensive permanent solution.
For me, the announcements are an indication of how difficult it has been for humans to find balance in our priorities. Kenya has been thirsting for water for a long time and yet there have been no serious engineering solutions provided by those with the technology to do anything about it. Kenyans may desire clean water but they lack capability to get it on a sufficient scale. The rest of the world doesn’t desire enough to implement a solution. to the problem That’s not a judgment. It’s just a fact. If we desired it, we would allocate resources and make it happen. We desired the free flow of petroleum out of the Middle East and did an amazing job of destroying native military capabilities that threatened it. (I’m not sure who I mean by “we” but I guess I would be hypocritical if I excluded myself. I wish I was a rich politician with a background in engineering, sometimes. When I’m not being too selfish, I try to support legislation that favors education, free trade, funding for humanitarian aid, and other initiatives that might positively affect troubled countries even if it means a hit on my income).
If people can create the capability to build a space program, people can also create the capability to deliver clean water to Kenya. My takeaway is that when we humans put our minds to herculean projects like space technology, time and money are the only two throttles once the desire is there. If both are opened wide, incredible things happen quickly. I suspect that if you asked anyone in 1960 if they believed we would place human beings on the moon within a decade, the majority of people wouldn’t have believed it was possible that quickly, if at all. And yet it happened.
So, the comfortable classes of the world (me included) lucked out to degree when water was found underneath Kenya. The technology and cost needed to access the aquifers is most certainly going to be less problematic than creating a desalinization system that pumps water out of the ocean, converts it into a usable resource, and pipes it to drought-ridden regions of the country. The same probably goes for the notion of hauling icebergs from Antarctica.
I’ve said in other posts that it’s Africa’s time. Over 300 million people have limited or no access to safe water supplies. On my side of the globe, when I water my plants or flush my toilet I do so with the same quality of water that I drink. I can also run my tap aimlessly as I wander around my bathroom and it will cost me pennies. I don’t ever have to take a full day to go across town with 10 gallon plastic jugs to get water for my most basic needs for the week. Most Americans can vouch that we’ve observed automatic sprinklers shoot water randomly into a street at night because a landscaper hasn’t adjusted the heads. We’ll even admit that we see the same problem at the same location night after night.
As always, I’m guilty of oversimplification. There are many issues that affect the dispersal of resources on our planet, but what I’m getting at is that I think we can do marvelous things on an even greater scale than just launching sophisticated machinery into space. We have the ability to do that and solve the chronic environmental problems in Africa at the same time. We all just have to want it bad enough, I guess. Thoughts?