Who knew? Well, Fred Pearce, for one, and in his Washington Post review of three new books on water, he writes:
“Water is the ultimate renewable resource — which is why we are running out. Because it falls from the sky, constantly replenished and cleansed in a cycle of evaporation and precipitation, we regard it as free, a gift from God. It is never truly owned or consumed, only borrowed from nature. And so we squander it and defile it. Until, as we are increasingly finding, it is not there when we want it.”
Regarding The Big Thirst: the Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water, by Charles Fishman, Pearce quotes the author and observes that:
“we have taken [water] so much for granted that “we don’t have a good language for talking about water, we don’t have a politics of water, or an economics of water.” We can’t work out whether to treat it as a commodity, as a human right or simply as a force of nature, like the air we breathe.”
For The Ripple Effect:the Fate of Fresh Water in the Twenty-First Century, by Alex Prud’homme, Pearce notes that the book is true to its title, following the use and abuse of water from a brutal drowning at a waterworks to the link between water and energy.
The third of and final of these reviews is for Brian Fagan’s Elixer: A History of Water and Humankind, which Pearce praises as the most eye-opening of the three, relating a fine history that shines a light on today. And for that comment alone, it’ll probably be what I’ll read on my next transatlantic flight. Pearce finishes his reviews by stating:
“Water permeates our culture and language. It is the most universal symbol in the world’s religions, from the sacred rivers of Hindus to the baptismal waters of Christianity to the purification rituals of Islam.”
“The bad news is that we manage the planet’s most abundant and renewable resource so poorly that we sometimes run out of water when and where we need it. The flip side of our profligacy is that we have so much room for managing it better. And the best news of all is that every day, around 240 cubic miles of the stuff, purged of pollutants, falls to the Earth. That’s more than 37,000 gallons for each of us.”
Pearce neglects to note that he is a hydroscribe himself, having authored When the Rivers Dry: Water–The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-first Century, a book that warns of a dire future for water resources and for mankind. I’ve read Pearce’s book, and can vouch that it is worth your time, but be forewarned: his view of the future is not a rosy one.
Whichever you pick, any of these would be a fine addition to your summer reading list.