Because Our Natural Resources are Being Depleted
Two weeks ago, I returned home from a trip to the International Space Station which—fortunately for my fellow crew members and me—lasted longer than originally planned. This gave us the opportunity to further study and to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to live in outer space. For example, take the fact that in my 17 days in space, I had a regular supply of clear and delicious drinking water. For people who live in developed countries such as ours, that is something that we all take for granted. You turn on the faucet and water comes pouring out whenever you want. But there isn’t a natural source of water in the space station. All of the water which we drank was recycled—water produced by an intricate system, which has been developed by several space agencies and is capable of recycling liquids. That system gathers the range of liquids in the station—the humidity in the air, our urine and our wastewater. Every drop of liquid was then processed by the water purification system to produce clear, pure, delicious and healthy water.
It’s worth bearing in mind that in the first few years in which the International Space Station operated, astronauts used to bring large quantities of water with them from Earth. The space taken up by the water tanks could otherwise have been used to house important equipment—the additional tremendous weight of that water meant that the space shuttles needed to burn more fuel. That problem has since been solved by several space agencies, producing a water purification system that is capable of recycling roughly 6,000 liters of water every year, allowing for 90% of the water in the space station to be recycled.
Our entire planet suffers from a water shortage. The water in many of the rivers and creeks that flow across the continents on Earth needs to be treated and purified to become drinkable. Take Israel, for example. A large part of the country is desert, and the average annual rainfall is barely enough to meet the needs of the population, which is perpetually growing larger. The Sea of Galilee used to be our primary source of water and would all find ourselves gripped with dread as we watched the sea level drop below the red line, and continue to plummet until it reached the black line!
Not so long ago, in the years 2008-2010, Israel suffered from a severe drought that created a terrible water shortage. Every household in Israel was forced to use less water, which was rationed. The solutions that Israel developed over the years to overcome its severe water shortage, included desalination—roughly 80% of all water used by Israeli households and municipalities is desalinated—and treated wastewater that is used for crop irrigation. Israel ranks first in the world on that front, treating 600 cubic meters of waste water every year that accounts for 83% of the water used for crop irrigation. Those developments complemented the drip irrigation methods that were developed to facilitate carefully measured and localized use of water in crop irrigation. Thanks to those innovations, Israel has not only stopped pumping water out of the Sea of Galilee, it engages in proactively restoring water to the habitat!
Water scarcity nevertheless remains a real problem. Even though we have excellent reasons to be proud of the fact that Israeli knowhow and technology is helping save the world from going thirsty, water has remained a precious natural resource, and we need to treat all of our natural resources with care and respect.
Judicious and cautious use of water is one way of preserving that limited natural resource. The space station is a miniature model of a closed system that is entirely disconnected from its surroundings, capable of ensuring that it has sufficient resources to allow people to continue to live in it. Similar to what is done with water, the space station also has an air purification system to keep the air clean and to filter out gases—such as CO2, which we exhale. It also generates electricity by means of solar panels.
Planet Earth is also a closed system with limited resources that are gradually becoming depleted. Since we, especially those of us who live in Western and other advanced countries, enjoy an abundance of products in all aspects of life, it is sometimes easy for us to forget that. But average human consumption demands twice the available resources on Earth. We need to use our resources thoughtfully for the sake of the generations yet to come. It is imperative that we recycle whenever possible; prioritize local, plant-based food products; increase the use of renewable energy, such as solar panels and wind turbines; and use natural resources, such as water, with far more consideration. We need to accustom ourselves to getting around more on foot, on bicycles and on public transportation, so as to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Every single one of us can and should contribute to that effort.
Do you remember the David D’Or song, Save the World, Child? It ends on a pessimistic note, urging the singer’s son to save the world “because we no longer can.” To paraphrase that song, I would say: save the world, child, because together we most certainly can.