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Annual Public Lectures Series > J. Carl Ganter

Scientists and Journalists:
Getting the Point Across
June 9-13, 2008

Thursday, June 12, 3:30 p.m.
Slow Fuse: Reporting the Global Freshwater Crisis
J. Carl Ganter, Journalist and Co-Founder, Circle of Blue


"Water is so cool. It is mesmerizing. It is magical." Thus began J. Carl Ganter's lecture on the global freshwater crisis. Ganter, a journalist and co-founder of Circle of Blue, spoke as part of the Metcalf Institute's 2008 public lecture series at the University of Rhode Island's Graduate School of Oceanography.

Water is important to everything. Ganter labels water as an "axis issue," one that intersects with many other issues, including climate, energy, health, conflict, and pollution.

At the same time, twenty percent of the global population is without access to a renewable water supply, and irrigation and urban water use are in excess of sustainable supplies. Over a billion people worldwide lack clean drinking water, and 2.6 billion people lack basic sanitation.

Lack of water often overlaps with many other issues. Ganter specifically cited gender inequality, which arises when water must be carried from distance sources. Often it is the girls and women in rural communities who must sacrifice their educations to carry the water if it is not readily available.

The challenges of freshwater access span the world, Ganter continued. In Asia, a billion people rely on water from the Tibetan Plateau, flowing downstream to China, Mongolia and India. Yet as the climate changes, more of this water is drying up. The Mongolian desert is expanding into China, directly impacting Mongolian and Chinese populations and indirectly impacting the American West, where the traveling dust from the desert will settle.

Ganter spent time in Tehuacan, Mexico, where he listened to community members tell their stories about water tables dropping, rainfall patterns changing, and sanitation problems intensifying. This population is buying drinking water for the first time ever. Many families have been torn apart as children become "eco-refugees," coming to the United States for water.

Examining his own field, Ganter spoke about how water is covered in current news stories. Spain is in a drought, and drinking water is being imported by barge. Although the press is reporting the story, photographers have been discouraged from recording the water barges for fear of backlash from investors or decreased tourism.

Ganter explained that journalists face several challenges in reporting on the freshwater crisis. Many people lack a clear understanding of what is a sustainable level of water consumption. Journalists also compete with other information from the media for the news audience's attention. Journalists need to figure out how to make the audience care about the freshwater story, Ganter argued.

Ganter was optimistic, however, and said we have the means to address our water problems. The solution involves telling the stories of people who are affected by lack of water and holding our leaders and ourselves responsible for developing solutions to the scarcity crisis.


J. Carl Ganter is a photojournalist, writer, broadcast reporter, and co-founder of Circle of Blue, a nonprofit journalism project covering the global freshwater crisis. His reporting has ranged from coverage of the AIDS crisis in Southeast Asia for Time magazine to the exoneration of a wrongfully convicted murderer in Illinois. He currently serves on the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars "Navigating Peace" water working group and is a member of the Clinton Global Initiative. He's a visiting instructor at the University of North Carolina and the Poynter Institute. He has been a speaker at the Aspen Ideas Festival, World Economic Forum and the Aspen Environment Forum. He received his MSJ in investigative and magazine writing at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism after graduating with honors from Northwestern's American Studies Program.

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July 31, 2008