Eco-adventurers explore human relationship with...
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Feb 13, 2015  |  Vote 0    0

Eco-adventurers explore human relationship with water

Stratford Gazette

Chet Greason

During a school assembly earlier this week, Northwestern students had a frank discussion about going to the bathroom.

It's a subject that Alex and Tyler Mifflin, from the TVO educational program The Water Brothers, want people to start being more comfortable talking about.

It's really important.

The Water Brothers is a popular documentary series that tackles environmental issues through the topic of water. Alex and Tyler travel the world, from Bangladesh to the Arctic to the middle of the Pacific Ocean, speaking with experts and learning how humans are impacting the Earth's most important resource.

The two gave a presentation to Northwestern students on Wednesday, Feb. 11.

"Water is life," explained Tyler, pointing out that our bodies are comprised of 60-70 per cent of it.

"We use it in every single thing," added his younger brother, displaying a chart that showed, for instance, how it takes 200 litres to produce a glass of milk, or 2,400 litres for a hamburger.

They pointed out the scarcity of water; of how only three per cent on the planet is fresh water, and of that, 70 per cent is frozen in glaciers while a further 29 per cent is underground.

They observed the timeless nature of water; of how every drop on Earth has existed for billions of years, constantly cycling from vapour to rain to streams to the ocean and, yes, even through living things.

"That water you're drinking was once dinosaur pee," observed Alex; and that brings us back to that aforementioned frank discussion.

Throughout their presentation, the Mifflin brothers would cut away to clips from their television show. During one such clip, they visit Kibera, Africa's biggest slum in Nairobi, Kenya.

Kibera has over a million residents, most of whom lack access to basic services like running water.

"Imagine what it would be like if you didn't have toilets or washrooms at your school?" challenged Alex.

The audience didn't have to imagine long. The film clip screened by the brothers showed how those living in Kibera deal with that shocking reality every day. Most use a method dubbed the "flying toilet." In essence, they defecate into a plastic bag, then throw it as far away as they can.

These bags then clog the streets, contaminating what little water is available and making life extremely unsanitary for everyone.

"People don't like to talk about crap and pee," said Alex. "When talking about helping people in places like Kibera, they'd rather say, 'Hey, let's dig a well!'

"But sanitation is the biggest issue right now."

To drive the point home, the brothers told the audience that 2.5 billion people worldwide don't have toilets, and that 3.4 million die every year from water-related diseases.

In addition to the importance of sanitation, Alex and Tyler also addressed topics like climate change. An increase in extreme weather has caused mass flooding in Bangladesh, driving salt water from the ocean further inland and salting the soil, making it unfit for agriculture.

They tackled garbage; how plastic refuse is filling our oceans, congregating in mid-ocean sworls called gyres resulting in massive garbage patches that choke sea life.

But their message wasn't always dire. In fact, for every problem they brought forth, they typically illustrated how people were trying to fix it. The brothers told the gathered audience that if everyone did a little bit in order to be less wasteful, it would have a huge impact on the planet.

Tyler suggested giving up drinking straws, which are, for the most part, unrecyclable. Alex touted bringing your own water bottle everywhere to save on plastic trash. The brothers have developed Quench, a free mobile app that connects users to the nearest free water fountain or refill location. Currently, they need users to expand the app's network, including here in the Stratford area.

"Small actions can have a big impact," said Alex.

The third season of The Water Brothers premieres on TVO on April 7.

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