Aaron Wolf Visits Campus

Spring 2012 –

On Jan. 25, Aaron Wolf Ph.D. visited campus for the 10th annual Baldwin Frontiers in Geology Lecture, sponsored by the Department of Geology and Environmental Earth Science.

Wolf works in the department of geosciences at Oregon State University and examines in the relationship between water management and water policy, and resolving water conflict.

Wolf lectured an auditorium full of students on “Healing the Enlightenment Rift: Rationality, Spirituality and Shared Waters.”

He began by addressing students with information about how much fresh water is available on Earth, how many people have access to safe water and how many deaths are caused because of that.

When he spoke about issues of water sanitation in the United States, students became more interested as their American viewpoint that unsafe water deaths happens “somewhere else” was dismantled.

Wolf said the beginning of water conflicts is political.  Since the beginning of time, water has created its own systems with rivers, streams and basins. When people came along, they drew political boundaries right across those basins and rivers, without thinking of the consequences.

There are 276 international basins and 80% of the world’s flow begins in basins shared by two or more countries. Those shared basins create conflict.

Although, he also said that they also can lead to discussions, which can then lead to treaties.

Wolf highlighted the importance of seeing the big picture of what he calls Environmental Conflict Resolution, by seeing the basin without the boundaries. The first step is to understand that in the hierarchy of needs, physical is first.

Wolf’s added that a bird in a famine is not beautiful, but delicious.

The need for water becomes more complicated when spiritual needs are added into the equation.  In some cases, water can be a sacred site or have a sacred use.

Using water from a Native American sacred site for coal slurry could be like using the holy water from the front of a church to unclog a toilet in the back; it just shouldn’t be done.

In order to lead negotiations like this, Wolf takes ideas from all religions and walks of life.  He also works to better understand how negotiations take place in different environments.

The first step is to understand who will be there and who should be invited because sometimes politics can forget local cultures or religions when discussing water.  In other cultures it is necessary to save a seat for “god” or the local spiritual head.

The next step is to choose a location for a discussion that is easy for everyone to get to, and that has a peaceful atmosphere for speaking about something that is controversial.

Seating at these events is also important because that can dictate how people will address each other.  Everyone should be sitting next to each other instead of one person standing over others.

“You can’t get angry sideways; it’s really hard,” said Wolf.

Finally, it is important to share food and introductions with all of those in attendance.

These guidelines are not foolproof, but they are something that Wolf enjoys working by to help water negotiations.

Wolf ended with a quote from the Massachusetts Episcopal Diocese:

“Simply demonstrating that we are all connected by water: rich and poor, urban and rural, upstream and downstream, is a fine place to start.  I think the Holy Spirit will take care of the rest.”


By: Ariana Williams

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