Monday, October 17, 2011

The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water - a review

Fishman, Charles, 2011. The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water. New York: Free Press.
I began reading this book in the same way that I read most books for review, carefully bookmarking various quotes, facts, and passages.  The sheer number of passages that I marked was astounding.  Here are just a few:
...every day, as a nation, just to flush our toilets, Americans use 5,700,000,000 gallons of water -- 5.7 billion gallons of clean drinking water down the toilet. ... more water than all the homes in the United Kingdom and Canada use each day for all their needs.

...not one of India's major cities provides twenty-four-hour-a-day water.

... People routinely make do without electricity; we improvise around having no working refrigerator, or microwave, or traffic lights.  But without routine water service, it is hard to imagine civilization proceeding. ... ... you can't call Dasani if your house catches on fire.

... In the fall of 2007, metropolitan Atlanta came within eighty-one days of running out of water.

... in January 2010, the city of Jackson, Mississippi, went without water for an entire week after a fourteen-day freezing spell fractured the city's water mains.

... Americans spent $21 billion on bottled water in 2009. ... As a nation, we spend $46 billion for a year's water, always on, whenever we need it. ... We spend about $29 billion a year maintaining our entire water system in the Unites States -- the drinking water treatment plants, the pump stations, the pipes in the ground, the wastewater treatment plants. ... So as a nation, we spend very nearly as much on water delivered in small crushable plastic bottles as we do on sustaining the entire water system of the country.

... Australia's water has disappeared, with stunning speed and almost unbelievable thoroughness.  In the last ten years, the rainfall that fills Australia's rivers, its reservoirs, and its aquifers has simply not come.  Australians refer to the last decade as the "Big Dry."

... That we couldn't detect the "dirt" ten years ago doesn't mean it wasn't there ... The tricky part is that the opposite is also true: The fact that we can detect the substances, their very presence in the water, doesn't mean they are harmful, or even significant.  Just because we suddenly realize there's stuff in the water we didn't was there before doesn't mean we have to take it out.  We actually don't know.  That is, we don't know how clean the water needs to be.

... how do you weigh a single farmer, and the food he raises that can feed 100,000 people in the city, against the water needs of those very same 100,000 people? And perhaps hardest of all, who decides?

The Big Thirst is not just a book of mind-blowing statistics.  It is a thoughtful consideration of the world's water situation, an insightful look at our relationship to water, and a thought-provoking conclusion about how our water woes could be solved. 

Fishman's view is a global one. He examines water woes in Australia where in the midst of drought they argue over the acceptability of using recycled wastewater, in Southern California, where recycled wastewater is routinely used but still cannot fill the gap in supply, in Las Vegas where water conservation has been spectacularly successful, in India where lack of a regular water supply has restricted the productive possibilities of an entire generation, and in Galveston where they know all too well the consequences of life without potable water.

We do not have a water shortage. 
Every drop of water that's here has seen the inside of a cloud, and the inside of a volcano, the inside of a maple leaf, and the inside of a dinosaur kidney, probably many times.
What we have is a profound quandary about what to do with the water we have.  The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water is a well-researched  book that places a weighty and sometimes philosophical problem into a context that is easily understood and entertaining to read. Its ten chapters can each have merit of their own, but together they pose a global question and propose a global shift in perspective. Read The Big Thirst and you will not ever look at water the same way again. Fascinating!

Extensive Notes and and exhaustive Index are testament to the deep thought that went into the making of The Big Thirst.

Interviews and reviews of The Big Thirst are on the book's website.

Nonfiction Monday is at Simply Science today. Nonfiction Monday is the weekly gathering of children's literature bloggers.  Once in a while, however, I do take time out for a great adult book.  This is one of those times.

1 comment:

  1. I wish I had a copy of this book today! It sounds fascinating. Thanks for joining in on Nonfiction Monday.