Guardian at the Gate

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She grew up in Dehradun, India, in the shadow of the Himalayas, where her father was a conservator of forests and her mother a farmer. She began her career as a physicist but felt drawn toward environmental and social justice work. Her latest cause is helping to save the world's freshwater supply, which is alarmingly low. Shiva (www.vshiva.net), the author of Water Wars: Privatization, Pollution, and Profit (South End Press, 2002), believes we can reverse that trend with a few simple changes.

Why is today's supply of fresh water so low? Our entire development and technological models assumed we had limitless water, so we've increased water use way beyond levels that we can renew—and much of what's left is unfit for drinking. In addition, private ownership of water by companies like Suez, Veolia Water, and Bechtel takes it away from those who don't have money. I call it "hydro-apartheid."

What can we do to become more responsible water stewards? Eat food grown close to home, support organic farming, and diversify your diet. Foods like amaranth and millet need little water but can feed millions. Try not to put clean drinking water down the drain and urge your city to recycle gray water for household and garden use. Also, wean yourself from bottled water. For every bottle sold, ten times as much water is destroyed from where it was mined. That leaves local communities with polluted water or none at all. Plus, plastic bottles leach dioxins into our groundwater. We all have equal rights to water and equal responsibility for protecting it.

Has being a mother affected your environmental work? My son is a daily reminder of the future. And we have to think about future generations.

How are you able to maintain such a busy schedule? I don't calculate on the basis of "Am I doing too much?" I have to think of my obligation to the next generation.

How do you remain optimistic?
There's a much bigger order out there, and it is our duty to learn to live in consonance with the planet's rhythms and processes. Just this basic realization teaches us humility and gives us reason to hope. To be really hopeful you also have to be deeply humble. We each must do all we can to allow our humility to flower.