Is “Just Water” Just About Water?

“There are many types of wilderness, literal and figurative; there are many types of thirst, material and spiritual. But there is only one water molecule that sustains life in conditions of aridity; its presence or absence shapes human lives.”
– Christiana Peppard[1]

Not until my final day of reading this book did a friend point out to me the dual meaning of the title of Christiana Peppard’s short book Just Water. While it sounds as though Peppard may be indicating that the book is explicitly focused on water, the subtitle, Theology, Ethics, and the Global Water Crisis, indicate that the book is about much more, and that the “just” in the title is additionally pointing towards the justice issues bound up within the fresh water crises plaguing the planet. Just Water is about the justice of water, and Peppard is addressing the water crisis from the angle that access to fresh water is a right-to-life issue, particularly as defined by the Catholic Church. Just WaterFirst of all, I was struck by the astrological correlation in the world transits that took place over the roughly two week period when I was reading this book along with my classmates in the course Ecology in a Time of Planetary Crisis. Over this period of time the Sun has been in a conjunction with the planet Neptune, and the archetype of the Sun in world transits sheds light, and brings focus and clarity upon whatever it touches, which in this case is the Neptunian realm of water, spirituality, religion, and ethics. Furthermore, the Sun-Neptune conjunction is square to Saturn, which archetypally relates to crisis, conflict, shortage, pollution, and justice. Saturn-Neptune, which first came into orb about a year ago and will be in the sky for nearly three more years, can manifest in world events as drought, water shortage, contamination and toxicity, and conflicts over water rights, among many other multivalent expressions. To be reading Just Water when the Sun was aligned with this transit felt particularly significant. As for the content of the book itself, I found myself having mixed feelings about how the material was presented. The chapters relating directly to the global water crisis—or crises as Peppard points out, since the issues with water are diverse and differentiated based on local context—were extremely engaging, important to take in, and indeed quite frightening. The second chapter especially, titled “A Primer on the Global Fresh Water Crisis” laid out many of the hard facts of how human beings are using and wasting water, mining “fossil water” from aquifers that will never be replenished on a human timescale, and capitalizing on water packaged in disposable plastic bottles sold to those in first world countries who have easy access to clean tap water, while millions around the world do not have a guaranteed source of clean, fresh water. The global water crisis is afflicting those who are not causing it to a highly disproportionate degree, while those who are responsible are largely sheltered from the effects. The parts of the book with which I struggled most were when Peppard drew on the teaching of the Catholic Church, particularly Catholic Social Teaching (CST), as an ethical resource for how to address the water crises. While I felt she had a legitimate argument for drawing on CST, at the same time the chapters relating to the Church felt disjointed and at odds with the rest of the book, as though they were not fully integrated. If the title of the book had been Just Water: Catholic Theology, Ethics, and the Global Water Crisis I could have understood better where she was coming from, but in reading the book it felt like she was trying to use the Catholic voice as the sole ethical voice addressing the water crises. While this is not necessarily true, I still wish Peppard had defined her position more clearly from the beginning, even in the title, or that she had drawn on other religious and spiritual traditions to provide additional ethical perspectives on the issue of water rights. I came away from reading this book recognizing that the global water crisis is as dire as climate change, and yet does not receive nearly the level of press as global warming does. While I can go online and roughly calculate my carbon footprint, I do not know how to calculate my water footprint: the amount of water that goes into everything I use, from the water I drink and bathe in, to the water used to grow everything I eat, to the water used to make all of the products that see me through my day-to-day existence. I cannot even begin to fathom the scale of that water usage, and yet it feels so essential that I be able to access this information and somehow change my behavior based upon it.

Work Cited

Peppard, Christiana Z. Just Water: Theology, Ethics, and the Global Water Crisis. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2014.

[1] Christiana Z. Peppard, Just Water: Theology, Ethics, and the Global Water Crisis (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2014), 182.

2 Replies to “Is “Just Water” Just About Water?”

  1. Thanks for the comments, Becca. I’d heard that your class was reading the book and appreciate your thoughts on it. You’re right that the ethical apparatus of CST is a consistent if uneven thread throughout, and that the title doesn’t specify the “Catholic” aspect. That’s a fact of book writing life: editors/publishers have final say in book titles. I agree entirely that there is much more to be said, and in many different kinds of ways! I hope the book invited some good conversation about the perils and advantages of situated moral reasoning and contemporary religious traditions facing the challenges of planetarity, specifically vis-a-vis water crises. Thanks again! -Christiana.

  2. Christiana, what a delight to hear directly from the author of a book I have just read! I really appreciate your response, and also empathize with the difficulty of shaping your title and book exactly as you want in the face of publishing constraints. The book certainly invited good conversation inside and outside of the classroom, and also opened up a greater understanding for how overlooked this issue is in public discourse. I think you have done a great service in writing the book and desperately hope these issues will continue to be brought to light, which is vital to our continuation as a species, as well as the well-being and flourishing of ecosystems worldwide.

    I must say I particularly appreciated the emotional impact and ethical imperative of your final chapter, “Women, Wells, and Living Water.” The highly disproportionate burden born by women in the face of the water crises is an essential aspect to bring forward.

    I look forward to seeing where your next projects take you and what further writing you bring into the world.

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