Saturday, November 29, 2008
Fred Pearce - When the Rivers Run Dry - What happens when our water runs out?
There is a great irony that we live on a planet which is two thirds covered in water, yet millions of people around the globe live in areas of water shortage, or areas where the water isn't safe to drink.
New Scientist writer Fred Pearce looks at the reasons why water has become such a limited resource - there are many reasons - climate change has played its part, but more often than not, human changes have caused the problems. In many areas of the world - in particular places in the Middle East, though the US and China are great culprits to, people are using ancient underground acquifiers. These fossil reservoirs of water take thousands of years to fill, but are being emptied at a rate far faster then they are replenished.
Pearce demonstrates how sometimes our irrational use of water - to keep the fountains running in desert cities for instance - leads to these shortages. But he also illustrates how attempts to store water have often led to problems. He describes the mania for dams to produce hydro-power and store water for future use, has surprisingly caused more problems then they have solved, being the source of flooding, pollution and destruction of ecological areas. There is the insanity of huge reservoirs in the desert, water evaporating into the air while downstream people die of thirst.
This isn't a cheerful book. Pearce offers us a glimpse of a future were millions of people suffer from drought and water shortages. But he does show how a different approach could solve many problems. He challenges the idea of big engineering problems as the solution, and shows how localised projects across the world could solve many of the problems associated with wate - in this sense the book is a hopeful one that does also offer a glimpse of a much better society - where human society is much more in balance with the rhythms and cycles of the natural world, in this case, the very ebb and flow of the rivers, streams and seas.