mostly nonfiction listener
The big idea in Charles Fishman's excellent The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water is that water is both an essential and scarce resource, and that almost universally governments and individuals have failed to manage this resource.
Our water failures are across the board.
We have failed to:
Put a realistic price on water consumption, allowing politics and sheer lunacy to determine who uses water and how much they use rather than the market and mechanisms of supply and demand.
Maintain, much less improve, our existing century old water infrastructure (the pipes, pumping stations, waste treatment facilities, reservoirs, etc) - leading to enormous water wastage and risks of water delivery failure.
Manage existing water supplies intelligently, including our failures to appropriately conserve and re-use water, and our continued insistence on sending high quality drinking water into our toilets and on to our yards and golf courses.
Educate ourselves about water and the water supply.
This last failure is, I think, particularly troubling across higher ed. Our students are not going to understand water locally, nationally or globally unless we teach them about water. Water can unify disciplines of economics, sociology, history, political science, chemistry, biology, environmental studies, and many more. We could use water as a lens to understand the interactions of science, history and politics. Water represents a teachable moment.
Fishman tells the water story by going to places and talking with people who are grappling with the management and delivery of water and water systems. From Vegas to India, Atlanta to Dubai, water economics and water politics are dominating the thinking and planning efforts of many companies and governments. The ed tech folks amongst us will particularly enjoy the description of how water is utilized in the making of computer chips (and be amazed how much embedded water is in your iPad).
Highly recommended. Smart, engaging, well-written, and disturbing.
Reason 1: You loved Kurlansky's Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World, Standage's An Edible History of Humanity and everything by Michael Pollan.
Reason 2: You are fascinated by the fact that the majority of the fish we eat is farmed, and that aquaculture is the fastest growing food production system on the planet.
Reason 3: You are torn about eating seafood. You have heard that seafood populations are collapsing, and that many of the fish we enjoy today will not be available to our children due to overfishing. However, you also hear that we need to eat more seafood for our health, and you think it is a good idea to move away from corn fed beef and towards a more sustainable and health diet that contains more fish.
Reason 4: You like learning about the economics of food, the sociology of food producers, and the psychology of food buyers. You have read Paul Greenberg in the NYTimes magazine and other places, and know that his writing is smart and funny.
First the quibbles. Yes, Friedman needs an editor with the cojones to force the master be be more concise. Second, as with the World is Flat, this book would benefit from a longer view of economic history integrated into the central arguments. My only other complaint is with the "crowded" - as I think Friedman should have spent more time thinking about the impact of an aging population on rich economies.
None of these complaints matter too much, as "Hot, Flat and Crowded" should represent the new middle ground of thinking about the relationship between the environment and economic development. Friedman's work should be the touchstone of reality for both policy makers and voters, that we can no longer pass the costs of our oil/coal economy to future generations. That our dependence on oil is dangerous and expensive geopolitically and militarily. That the argument that global warming is both man made and dangerous to our long term security and prosperity is a scientific fact and not an opinion. That creating a clean energy economy represents an amazing opportunity to regain a competitive edge, create millions of high-paying knowledge jobs, and reduce our dependency on the military to keep oil lanes flowing.
Friedman gets it right that the government needs to set-up market mechanisms to achieve these changes. One way to do this is to use the tax system to insure the people pay the true costs for oil and coal consumption, such as setting a price floor for oil and gasoline and taxing coal (which makes most of our electricity) to account for the true environmental costs. To many readers, Friedman's points will seem obvious - nothing new. What we want is for Friedman's central thesis to become the conventional wisdom across the political spectrum.
I remember watching Al Gore’s, “An Inconvenient Truth” and immediately afterwards being fairly upset. But as I had time to digest the messages of the movie, research the science a bit and think through it’s claims, the focus of my annoyance has changed. This book confirmed my suspicions that environmentalism has become the religion of choice for many and a powerful tool for proponents of fascism.
I agreed with the author of this book on most of his points, especially with regard to individual property rights and the natural stewardship that should logically follow having an vested interest in one’s own land / home. On a number of other points I was educated. All in all, this was a worthwhile read.