What do the leader of 1.2 billion people, one of the world’s most bankable movie stars, and a Traverse City-based environmental non-profit have in common? Later this week they will be key members of a worldwide water conference/symposium on the value and values of water.
“The Vatican approached us,” says J. Carl Ganter, co-founder and director of TC-based Circle of Blue. The organization focuses on reporting, research, and analysis regarding water issues, particularly those where water, food, and energy intersect.
The event, dubbed Watershed, is a global initiative taking place March 22, World Water Day. It kicks off with a Papal address, when Pope Francis will speak to the worldwide importance of water, about which he has previously said, “Access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, […] is essential to human survival and […] is a condition for the exercise of other human rights.”
Immediately following the Pope’s address, some 400 leaders will convene. The event takes place at the Vatican and will be live-streamed across the globe. It is being coordinated by Circle of Blue and co-hosted by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture and the Club of Rome, a global think tank focused on economic and environmental issues.
The movie star? Matt Damon, long an advocate for clean water, will also address the assemblage. He’s the co-founder of Water.org, promoting safe water and sanitation in developing countries.
Damon and Traverse City’s Ganter are two of the more than two dozen speakers, including religious leaders, scientists, business leaders and water experts. The group will focus on water’s value (its monetary worth and economic impact) and values (the moral obligations revolving around the availability of clean water for all).
“It’s an interesting convergence of business people, scientists, government. We’ve gathered 400 people with an audience in the Vatican for a Ted-style presentation and conversations,” says Ganter.
Ganter says living in the midst of the greatest concentration of fresh water in the world can cause some to lose sight of many water crises elsewhere. He believes both the Arab Spring uprisings and the crisis in Syria were both caused in large part by drought. “Look at Syria. If we’d responded to droughts there, we might not have had such intense migrations,” he says.
The event will be broadcast online via Damon’s Water.org, the World Economic Forum, and the United Nations; other organizations will also stream it on their Facebook pages. “Facebook says we could have up to 20 million viewers,” adds Ganter.
After the event, some 60 people will meet to discuss what’s next. “We’ll gather together, roll up our sleeves and say, ‘What did we learn? What did people say, and what didn’t they say?’” Ganter says. “Then we’ll take all the outcomes and identify where the stories are.”