Noah, the Hollywood blockbuster starring Russell Crowe, has generated a lot of buzz since its March 28 premiere. The movie depicts the Genesis story about Noah building an ark to save himself, his family and various animals from a great flood.
While this may be billed as an action/adventure movie, I view it more as a cautionary tale, because devastating floods are a very real and increasingly destructive and frequent threat to our world.
Last week, just in time for Earth Day, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a new report that outlines the need to enact major climate change laws. In a related story, The New York Times wrote, "This week's report makes clear ... that the window is rapidly narrowing to forge new policies that will protect the globe from a future of serious food and water shortages, a drastic sea level rise, increased poverty and disease and other profound risks."
This is no Hollywood story. This is our reality. And there are examples all around us.
Consider last year's floods in Colorado that resulted in lost lives and widespread destruction. Remember Superstorm Sandy in 2012, which ravaged 24 states along the eastern seaboard. Many communities were left without the basic needs of shelter, food and clean water, much less the "luxury" of electricity. In the summer of 2013, historic flooding in the greater Toronto area caused almost $1 billion in property damage, making it the most expensive natural disaster in that region's history, knocking out power for days and disrupting travel.
Urban storm water runoff, it turns out, is the leading cause of water pollution. I know something about this issue because early in my career, as an aide to the mayor of St. Paul, Minn., I worked a massive, decade-long project to address a problem many urban areas still face: the fact that their storm sewer systems and their sanitary sewers are not fully separated. During heavy rainfalls, water runs off concrete surfaces without green spaces to absorb the excess. Storm sewers spill over into the sewer systems that carry waste from our homes, overwhelming water treatment facilities that weren't built to handle these deluges and ultimately flowing untreated into critical water resources -- like the Mississippi River, in the case of St. Paul.
The equation is simple: climate change leads to extreme weather, which directly affects water quality.
We each have the responsibility to be stewards of our environment. Stewardship is defined as "responsibly managing what others have entrusted to our care." What higher stewardship duty do we have than to preserve our shared environmental resources and, in particular, to ensure that there is clean water available for generations to come?
I am proud to lead a company that invests time and energy into preserving this precious resource through the RBC Blue Water Project™, a 10-year, $50-million global commitment to help protect the world's most precious natural resource: fresh water. Recently, I had the opportunity to discuss our commitment to preserving clean water on Forbes.com.
Through the life of the Blue Water Project, I have had the opportunity to work with National Geographic Emerging Explorer Alexandra Cousteau, a recognized advocate on water issues. In 2010, RBC sponsored Alexandra Cousteau and her Expedition Blue Planet: North America, a five-month interactive expedition that explored critical water issues from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The resulting documentaries present a stark reality about the state of our natural water resources North America. These films won't be watched by as many people as Noah -- but they are more important.
One lesson I learned from Alexandra is that the key to addressing water quality issues is to act locally. Be aware of what needs to be done in your backyard, your neighborhood, your community -- and do something. At a time when government leaders appear to have neither the will nor the resources to take action, we can and must make a difference in our own communities.
So do the planet some good. Plant some green, clean up a stream or a lake, volunteer at a local nonprofit whose mission is to preserve and protect water, or simply educate yourself about the threat to your local community's fresh water resources and the simple everyday acts you can perform to help stem the problem.
Every parent thinks about their children's future and the legacy they want to leave them. What better legacy can you leave than a planet with enough clean water to ensure their survival?
One person can make a difference. And you don't need to be Russell Crowe or know how to build an ark to do it.