“A tree is best measured when it is down,” the poet Carl Sandburg once observed, “and so it is with people.” The recent death of Harry Belafonte at the age of 96 has prompted many assessments of what this pioneering singer-actor-activist accomplished in a long and fruitful life.
Belafonte’s career as a ground-breaking entertainer brought him substantial wealth and fame; according to Playbill magazine, “By 1959, he was the highest paid Black entertainer in the industry, appearing in raucously successful engagements in Las Vegas, New York, and Los Angeles.” He scored on Broadway, winning a 1954 Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical – John Murray Anderson's Almanac. Belafonte was the first Black person to win the prestigious award. A 1960 television special, “Tonight with Belafonte,” brought him an Emmy for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series, making him the first Black person to win that award. He found equal success in the recording studio, bringing Calypso music to the masses via such hits as “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell.”
Harry Belafonte - Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) (Live)www.youtube.com
Belafonte’s blockbuster stardom is all the more remarkable for happening in a world plagued by virulent systemic racism. Though he never stopped performing, by the early 1960s he’d shifted his energies to the nascent Civil Right movement. He was a friend and adviser to the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and, as the New York Times stated, Belafonte “put up much of the seed money to help start the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was one of the principal fund-raisers for that organization and Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that “he helped launch one of Mississippi’s first voter registration drives and provided funding for the Freedom Riders. His activism extended beyond the U.S. as he fought against apartheid alongside Nelson Mandela and Miriam Makeba, campaigned for Mandela’s release from prison, and advocated for famine relief in Africa.” And in 1987, he received an appointment to UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador.
Over a career spanning more than seventy years, Belafonte brought joy to millions of people. He also did something that is, perhaps, even greater: he fostered the hope that a better world for all could be created. And, by his example, demonstrated how we might go about bringing that world into existence.
We may forget that water is not an infinite source on the planet so what happens when we run out?
While seventy percent of the Earth is covered in water, only about two percent of it is drinkable. On top of this, most freshwater is inaccessible, either frozen in glacial ice or buried deep beneath the Earth's surface. According to several sources, there are currently one billion people in developing nations who lack access to clean drinking water and by 2025, up to two thirds of the world's population could living under water stressed conditions. When looking at the increasing scarcity of usable water, rising populations, and today's volatile political climate,many experts have come to the conclusion that we are on the verge of widespread conflict and many are saying that the next major war will be fought over water.
The preliminary effects of the coming crisis are already being felt all over the world. Economic powerhouses like China are suffering from pollution in their rivers and as evidenced by the Flint water crisis, even the US isn't completely immune to clean water shortages. In the US, most of our problems are due to outdated and slowly crumbling infrastructure and while this is nothing to sneeze at, access to water in the US can be fixed by replacing old pipes for the time being. Whether this is done through public works or private investment is political semantics. Right now, Third World countries are the ones who truly suffer. About 2,300 people die per day from diseases contracted through unclean water and with very little support, these countries don't have the tools necessary to mitigate the effects of prolonged drought. Desertification and global warming are also contributing to water scarcity in a big way, the latter causing about 20% of our water scarcity issues today.
While the situation is dire, we aren't doomed yet and there are several conservation measures being kicked around by the world's top environmental scientists. One solution that has been gaining popularity in recent years is desalination. Israel has successfully used desalination to supply its population with fresh water with 55% of its water coming from the ocean. In the US and many countries in Europe, large scale desalination projects are being funded for a vast array of what-if scenarios.
The problem is, desalination isn't very energy efficient. Desalination requires an enormous amount of energy and although the technology is improving, desalination plants have the potential to become major contributors to global warming in the coming years. On top of this, there are unforeseeable effects on sea life and desalination has the potential to disrupt the fragile balance of the ocean's ecosystem. Significant changes in the ocean's ecosystem means significant changes to the way we fish and subsequently, the way we eat. Since there haven't been many studies on the long-term effects of desalination, it's difficult to say how damaging it is but there does seem to be some cause for alarm with regard to its immediate effect on sea life. Fish, plankton and other organisms are often killed during water intake and processing and at the moment, it's probably safer to look for other methods to fix the world's water issues.
When the well is running dry, it's sometimes better to examine its structural integrity before digging a brand new one. Agriculture accounts for 80% of America's water use. Rather than focusing on desalination, many water activists are looking to fix inefficiencies in the way we farm food. Leaking irrigation systems and the cultivation of non-local crops are wasteful practices that are squandering huge amounts of water. How much? Up to 60% of water used in farming is wasted because of irrigation issues alone. Rather than rushing to invest all of our time and resources into desalination, it might be time that we reexamine the way in which we grow food. In Volgograd, farmers have been using experimental drip irrigation with extremely effective results both in regard to maintaining healthy soil and proper water utilization. The water scarcity issue may have to get a whole lot worse before people start paying attention to it but it's important to recognize the farmers and scientists who are currently making a contribution. The Water Project and other charitable organizations are also doing their part for water conservation.
If the future looks tumultuous, it's because it is, but with the implementation of more eco-friendly farming methods and the use of desalination as a last resort, there is less of a reason to panic than one might think.