The bad news is that the world’s water, carbon, and energy cycles are out of whack; the good news is that solutions to these problems are within reach.
Journalist Schwartz, who challenged much of the conventional thinking about global warming in Cows Save the Planet (2013), goes beyond that brief on holistic livestock management to look more broadly at how nature manages water and thus regulates heat. The author has traveled the world—Africa, Australia, North and South America—and spent significant time with farmers, ranchers, engineers, and scientists to understand the dynamics of plants, soil, and water and to see how these are related to climate change. Readers who stick with her will become familiar with transpiration, infiltration, and condensation (yes, dew is a major player here) as she discusses water problems and solutions. Interwoven into her occasionally challenging essays on plant biology and soil chemistry are profiles of the hardworking men and women she met and observed dealing with water problems and finding solutions that could be copied or adapted elsewhere. Schwartz demonstrates how mistreatment of the land disrupts the water cycle and leads to floods and droughts. If there is one take-home message, it is that the amount of rain that falls is not as important as what happens to the rain, how fast it moves, and where it goes. The author argues that intensive agriculture, improper grazing, urbanization, engineered water infrastructures, and forest burning lead to desertification, the loss of moisture that makes the soil bare and lifeless. Happily, she includes success stories from Slovakia, India, Africa, and Mexico that show “tremendous hope—and suggest there are multiple ways to fill the water bucket.”
Some demanding passages require perseverance on the part of general readers, but the stories that surround them are important and rewarding.