Dr. Michal Kravčík
Slovak Technical University
The New Water Paradigm turns climate change strategy the right way up. As Michal Kravcik argues, the old water paradigm sluiced water out of sealed cities and drained rural soils - it broke the hydrological cycle. The task now is to retain as much rainwater as possible within ecosystems and in cities, so that it can permeate soil, replenish groundwater, and rise into the atmosphere to regulate temperatures.
In the 90s, Kravcik saw the Slovak state advancing an ecologically questionable and economically inefficient water policy. With his organisation People and Water, founded in 1993, and with support of the Slovak River Network and Slovak Union of Conservationists, he developed Water for the Third Millennium, an alternative integrated water management scheme. The program reforms water management institutions by the principle of subsidiarity and the idea of decentralized economic power and ownership; thus People and Water is part of a larger effort for sustainable village and regional development. For example, in the Upper Torysa, the organisation has implemented projects such as a family farm, a biological wastewater treatment plant, small hydropower schemes, and a small fish farm. With the money from his Goldman Environmental Prize (1999), Kravcik endowed the Blue Torysa Foundation in the 25 villages of a region in Eastern Slovakia. The foundation encourages local action to improve the quality of life of communities, save cultural heritage, make health and environmental improvements. The foundation also supports the development of civic democracy and broadens ethnic tolerance. To this end, it runs six basic grant programs.
The living world influences the climate mainly by regulating the water cycle and the huge energy flows linked to it. Transpiring plants, especially forests, work as a kind of biotic pump, causing humid air to be sucked out of the ocean and transferred to dry land. Area drainage, caused by deforestation, agricultural activity or canalized rain water in cities, means a reduction of evaporation, the conversion of sunlight to latent heat and hence a reduced local cooling effect of water. Dry soil and sealed surfaces increase the local temperature and reduce precipitation over the affected area. This process also destroys the natural sequestration of carbon in the soil, leading to carbon loss. Just as removing vegetation from an ecosystem dries out the soil, so removing water from an ecosystem means reduced vegetation. Taken together, these two processes are hastening desertification of the planet and intensifying global warming.
Michal Kravcik's work is recognised internationally through grants and fellowships; and has attracted media interest in Japan, USA, Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Canada, UK, Sweden, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Kazakhstan, Estonia, France, and Poland, As he points out, in both global North and South, industry and agriculture each benefit as forests and wetlands are restored, as cities are ringed with green, and as ecologically sound local employment is created. Even if we reverse greenhouse gas emissions, Kravcik says, this will not stop climate change unless we change how we manage water.