Throughout history, rivers have been our foremost source of fresh water both for agriculture and for individual consumption, but now economists say that by 2025 water scarcity will cut global food production by more than the current U.S. grain harvest.
In this groundbreaking book, veteran science correspondent Fred Pearce focuses on the dire state of the world's rivers to provide our most complete portrait yet of the growing world water crisis and its ramifications for us all.
Pearce traveled to more than 30 countries examining the current state of crucial water sources like the Indus River in Pakistan, the Colorado River in the U.S., and the Yellow and Yangtze rivers in China. Pearce deftly weaves together the complicated scientific, economic, and historic dimensions of the water crisis, showing us its complex origins - from waste to wrong-headed engineering projects to high-yield crop varieties that have saved developing countries from starvation but are now emptying their water reserves. He reveals the most daunting water issues we face today, among them the threat of flooding in China's Yellow River, where rising silt levels will prevent dikes from containing floodwaters; the impoverishment of Pakistan's Sindh, a once-fertile farming valley now destroyed by the 15 million tons of salt that the much-depleted Indus deposits annually on the land but cannot remove; the disappearing Colorado River, whose reservoirs were once the lifeblood of seven states but which could easily dry as overuse continues; and the poisoned springs of Palestine and the Jordan River, where Israeli control of the water supply has only fed conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
The situation is dire, but not without remedy. Pearce argues that the solution to the growing worldwide water shortage is not more and bigger dams, but a greater efficiency and a new water ethic based on managing the water cycle for maximum social benefit rather than narrow self-interest.
©2006 Fred Pearce (P)2010 Polity Audio LLC
"Oil we can replace. Water we can't - which is why this book is both so ominous and so important." (Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature)
"The growing water crisis represents the greatest ecological and human rights crisis of our time. Fred Pearce has helped sound the alarm with this passionate, knowledgeable, and thoroughly researched book. A veteran reporter, Pearce cuts to the heart of the crisis and tells the human stories behind what can be soul-numbing facts. A great contribution." (Maude Barlow, co-author of Blue Gold and winner of the 2005 Right Livelihood Award)
"Fred Pearce is an artist with a pen, writing beautifully and movingly about an emerging crisis that will galvanize the world's attention. Combine the water issue Pearce so cogently presents with the threat of global climate disruption and you have what's waiting for us if we don't respond - the perfect storm of the environment." (James Gustave Speth, dean, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies)
I can't believe this book was only $5.95 on Audible. It was one of the best non fiction books I have ever listened to. Fred Pearce the author must have spent ten years researching this book as he visited most of the places he talked about in the book from India to Lybia. Tony Craine the narrator is excellent and I wish he was the narrator of every book I downloaded from Audible - he is that good. This is an easy 5 STARS.
This is another one of those depressing books that catalogs in grim detail just how badly humans are destroying the environment, on a cataclysmic scale, how greed, desperation, and short-sightedness have destroyed entire ecosystems, devastated nations, and displaced millions, and how even though we have the scientific and technological know-how to do better, we're not going to, because short-term thinking always wins.
Oh, the author ends with an optimistic chapter, as all these books do, detailing bold and forward-thinking news plans from economists and water engineers and politicians and scientists around the world — all the ways in which we could save the water tables, grow crops more efficiently with more "crop per drop," irrigate more cheaply, supply urban populations more sustainably, etc.
But that's after chapter after chapter detailing such disasters as the Aral Sea, which the Soviets basically destroyed and which the current government is continuing to destroy, and the Salton Sea in California, created by a mistake and now allowed to become a festering, drying blister in the Sonora desert, and the Dead Sea, which is receding visibly every year. Worse, though, are the water tables. These are the underground reservoirs of water which, unlike rivers, are non-renewable. Much like oil, once you tap them dry, they're gone (and they also destabilize the surrounding earth, leading to erosion and possibly even earthquakes), and farmers and cities around the world, from the American west to India, are tapping them at an alarming rate. Everyone knows that wells used to hit water at 200 feet and now have to go 1500 feet or more, but this doesn't stop everyone from trying to get the last drop.
It is the Tragedy of the Commons on a regional scale. As many of the farmers Fred Pierce interviews point out: "If everyone stopped using the water, that would be great, but if only we do, it won't make a difference, except that our family will starve."
When the Rivers Run Dry is a bit of travel journalism that covers nearly every continent. India and China and their respective mistreatment of the Ganges, the Indus, the Yellow and the Yangtze rivers are all covered, as is the madness that is Los Angeles and Las Vegas, currently draining the Colorado River dry and casting thirsty eyes thousands of miles north to the Great Lakes.
While America's water woes are certainly serious (at least in the west), the most tragic regions of the world are, predictably, the places where government policy is completely disconnected from local resource management, or where politics and war mix violently with water rights. China and the former Soviet Union have literally killed millions in man-made floods. The author's visit to the region around the Aral Sea was particularly depressing, as he describes a stunted, poisoned land where the people have no jobs, no hope, and no future. Then there is the Middle East, where Palestinians go thirsty in sight of Israeli swimming pools.
While there are some compelling stories in here, and enough facts and history to make you think, When the Rivers Run Dry was... well, a bit dry. Fred Pierce has been to many places and talked to many people, and what he's produced is a global atlas of water mismanagement, wrapped up in the end with a few cheery programs that might solve a few of them, and some suggestions that no one is really going to heed. He questions the wisdom of dam-building, says that cities like Los Angeles and Las Vegas need to be more conservation-minded, and that farmers worldwide need to use more water-efficient irrigation methods.
Yup, good luck with that.
Faced with mindless duty, when an audio book player slips into a rear pocket and mini buds pop into ears, old is made new again.
“When the Rivers Run Dry” was published in 2007. The author is an environmental journalist based in London. He has written several global environment and development books—the first as long ago as 1989 and the latest as recent as 2012. Pearce has written for US publications like “Audubon”, “Foreign Policy”, Popular Science”, “Seed”, and “Time”.
Pearce writes a rambling and semi-optimistic history of fresh water resource in the world.
Pearce’s story rambles because of the wide territory covered from seas to rivers to underground aquifers. Pearce exposes both short-sighted and visionary ideas about water. Though he skewers the lack of foresight and negative consequence of industrial pollution, he suggests that some old and new ideas about fresh water conservation may preserve human existence.
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