Occasionally murky, slow-flowing study of the role of water in the making—and perhaps undoing—of civilization.
Journalist Solomon (The Confidence Game: How Unelected Central Bankers Are Governing the Changed World Economy, 1995) takes a step from short-form reportage into big-picture history, with mixed results. His overall thesis is unexceptionable: Humans have a heavy ecological footprint, and it’s getting heavier and less localized as we begin to search more intensively for water as the planet begins to dry up. The wars of the future are likely to be about the control of water, foremost among other resources, and places relatively rich and poor in the substance will come increasingly into conflict. The industrialized nations of the West, though currently embattled, enjoy “relatively modest population pressures and generally moist, temperate environments,” which put the former first world at advantage in the new world to come. In the long course of his sweeping history, Solomon often loses the trail; too much of the historical material is padding, disconnected from larger themes. For example, the author includes digressive narratives concerning long sea voyages, which he reels in by remarking that explorers had to find a freshwater source soon after landfall, the development of the “improved cask” notwithstanding. More germane is Solomon’s long view of the future, in which he sees opportunity “for the Western-led market democracies to relaunch their global leadership,” even if, as he also notes, those countries are most given to squandering water. He identifies plenty of obstacles to an equitable future, both institutional and geophysical, but remains optimistic that science-born solutions are in the offing.
Though too long and not always to the point, a somewhat useful piece for readers interested in natural resources and the geopolitics attendant to them.