A wide-ranging look at that most precious of goods, water, and a world in which it is a subject of constant crisis.
Most of us in the First World don’t think about the source of our drinking water, for the simple reason that we have engineered our way around the problems of attainability that plagued our ancestors. Indeed, writes Fast Company journalist Fishman (The Wal-Mart Effect: How the World’s Most Powerful Company Really Works—and How It’s Transforming the American Economy, 2006), “our very success with water has allowed us to become water illiterate.” That is not so elsewhere in the world. By the author’s reckoning, four in ten people on the planet don’t have easy access to water, and many of them have to walk in order to obtain it—a fact that comes with a host of problems, usually borne by women and girls, who do most of the water hauling at the expense of more rewarding work or attending school. What’s worse, the numbers of water-poor people aren’t declining. Traveling to India, Fishman observes that just about every household has a well-developed water-storage system not just because so much of the subcontinent is arid, but also because municipal governments in even the largest cities—Mumbai, Delhi—do not reliably deliver water to residents, at least beyond a couple of hours per day. Americans, the author argues, have gotten good at doing more with less water. He quotes statistics indicating that our absolute usage has fallen by 10 percent since 1980, even as our population has grown by 70 million people; he does not allow that this has something to do with the offshoring of so much of our thirsty agriculture. Even so, he observes, Americans are still thirsty—and even now trying to figure out ways to engineer around looming crises such as the disappearance of Lake Mead and the Colorado River.
A timely warning about the dwindling global water supply. Drink up.