One Family’s Amazing Journey Inspires Hope and Optimism on World Water Day
The water crisis offers unexpected life lessons and investment opportunities.
As sobering details accumulate of threats to the world’s vital freshwater supply, and their outsized impact on women, it’s easy to feel powerless and pessimistic. Don’t despair. One woman and her family have embarked on a journey that offers a glimmer of hope, and even inspires celebration this World Water Day.
To be sure, there is plenty of cause for concern. As the global population grows, and agricultural and energy production guzzle ever greater quantities of water, critical sources of fresh water are either drying up or becoming too polluted for use. Indeed, in 2014, the World Economic Forum named water crises as the third most significant risk to human wellâ€“being. It has been slowly climbing the ranks of global threats in the last five years.
Women bear the brunt of the effects. For instance, in just a single day, women around the world expend 200 million hours collecting water for their families. That’s time they can’t spend working, going to school, or educating their children.
Where some of us might find this daunting, Julie Frieder (formerly a Senior Sustainability Analyst at Calvert Investments) decided to take action. Julie’s story reminds us of how much of a difference good and dedicated people can make, both on their own and as part of the companies where they work. Julie, her husband Charlie, and their son Johnny packed their lives into a camper van last June and set out on a yearâ€“long, waterâ€“themed road trip to explore local sustainability and water conservation efforts across the country. They’re calling it the “Going with the Flow Tour,” and Julie shares their experiences on her blog.
Sunset at Kachemak Bay
and the Kenai Mountains,
Johnny on beach
Hesketh Island, Alaska
Jules, Charlie and Johnny
in a lagoon formed by the
receding Pederson Glacier,
Aialik Bay, Alaska
Young river guide Johnny
paddling on the
Ichetucknee River in Florida
This family already had a special place in its heart for water. Julie has worked on sustainability and natural resource management issues since graduate school; during her tenure at Calvert, she helped us to launch our Calvert Global Water Fund. Charlie is a hydrogeologist specializing in water rights and water planning. Johnny is an inquisitive fourth grader who is learning quickly. After all, a big driving force behind this trip was Julie and Charlie’s desire to “road school,” Johnny, giving him firstâ€“hand experience of the many wonders of the world around us.
Looking at water problems and solutions through a local lens is critical.The family agreed to volunteer as ambassadors for the River Network where you’ll find another blog of the family’s journey). Julie explains that while water problems are global, the solutions to those problems are often local and emphasizes that this is not just about the science, but also who’s at the table when decisions are made about water pricing, allocation, and management. The family repeatedly witnesses local solutions emerging when all stakeholders are involved.
That’s why companies are a critical part of the solution as well. Around the world, the vast majority (98.5%) of freshwater goes to energy and agricultural production, as well as other industrial activities. Therefore, the role of enterprise in both creating and solving our water problems cannot be overstated. The Calvert Global Water Fund holds forward-looking companies that work to reduce water consumption, provide filtration technologies, improve water infrastructure, address urban sanitation, and more. And it is evident that when you take a closer look at how these companies do business that they understand the need to craft local solutions to water challenges.
Julie acknowledges that there are aspects of our planet’s water story that concern her. The itinerary for this road trip was partly framed by which places might not be around for Johnny’s own kids to see. In the not too distant future there may no longer be freshwater springs in central Texas and north Florida, or skiable slopes at certain elevations, or Alaskan glaciers, so the family is trying to see these while they can. “We’ve met people all over who are concerned about impacts to water resources, whether it’s water quality, water quantity or watershed health,” says Julie. “If more people felt connected to the natural world, there would be greater awareness and support for protecting threatened water resources and we think it needs to start with children’s education.”
When asked what has most surprised her along this trip so far, Julie’s answer came down to one word: flow. The family has visited such rivers as the Colorado, San Miguel, Dolores, Rio Grande and many more and Julie was shocked to see how low flows can be in these vital waterways. “To see parched, cracked mud is alarming. I knew about it, but seeing it is a different thing,” said Julie.
But this is no story of despair. Indeed, Julie is more optimistic than pessimistic. Charlie and she both believe that the best approach to environmental education is to establish a positive and healthy connection to the environment. “Don’t start by scaring kids!” enjoins Julie.
Proclaiming that polar bears will die if you don’t stop driving your car is a tough way to get children involved! You can say, ‘Look at this gorgeous place, let’s swim in this lake or hike up this sand dune.’ It’s so easy to point out challenges and problems, but a kid who grows up connected to nature doesn’t have trouble understanding when it’s threatened. That’s why I’m optimistic. This country is so beautiful! There is so much majesty here, so much to see, so much variety. There’s also so much to protect and the value of water, though sometimes hard to quantify is undisputed. We have met people around the country whose livelihoods absolutely depend on clean water. We’ve also been places where water simply defines a communityâ€“like Kachemak Bay, AK; Ichetucknee Springs, FL or the Clark Fork in Missoula. Really everywhere water flows, there are stories and lessons. There are super-smart people out there who are finally, thank goodness, at the table. I’m hopeful that the solutions they find will deliver mutual benefits.
When asked what the rest of us can do to preserve our precious water resources, Julie turns both philosophical and practical.
When I’m teaching my son, I ask him, ‘How might a scientist explain this? How might a musician sing about this? How might a poet describe this?’ The point is to try to understand both the science and the art behind a subject. We should always ask ourselves how something is made, where it came from, what energy and materials it embodies. Ultimately, we need to strive to understand what goes into the product or service that we’re enjoying, and to see the beauty in that.
I love the idea of investing in solutions, which is why I found my work on Calvert’s Global Water Fund so fulfilling. The value we create with such approaches expands the pie for everyone. This is not just about sacrifices. We can save resources and have protections in place while maintaining a healthy portfolio.
And what does young Johnny make of all this? A brief conversation reveals a boy who is passionate and informed about water. When asked how he’ll feel when the journey concludes in a few short months, Johnny acknowledges, “I’ll be glad to see my friends again, but I’m really going to miss this trip.”
Our challenges are serious, but our capacity for solving them runs deep. This World Water Day, let’s take a moment to celebrate the beauty of the resources we value, and then think about how we can all be part of the solution.
To get started on your own journey to better understand the issue of water, download the Calvert Water Investing App, which is designed to inform, engage, and enable you to be part of the solution to the global water crisis.
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You can also watch the Calvert water video (featuring Jules Frieder) at www.Calvert.com/water.
Investment in mutual funds involves risk, including possible loss of principal invested. By concentrating its investments in the water sector, the Calvert Global Water Fund is subject to the risk that a downturn in the water-related sector would impact the Fund more than a fund that does not concentrate in this industry, and the Fund therefore may be more volatile than a typical mutual fund. In addition, foreign investments generally involve greater risks than U.S. investments, including political and economic risks and the risk of currency fluctuations.