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BOOK REVIEW: When the Rivers Run Dry by Fred Pearce

June12

“Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.” Rime of the Ancient Mariner – Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Fred Pearce has been writing and consulting on environmental issues for decades. A highly respected and internationally acclaimed science writer, his newest book, When the Rivers Run Dry: Journeys into the Heart of the World’s Water Crisis, addresses the issue that many scientists contend will be the cause of future world conflicts – the world is running out of water. Earth is awash with water; however, usable water is at a premium. The last sentence of Pearce’s introduction states: “Water, after all, is the ultimate renewable resource.” The question therefore becomes: How is it possible that we are using more water than can be renewed?

Pearce’s contention is that the Western water “footprint” on the rest of the world is a major problem. On average, the water used to feed and clothe most of us for a year takes between 1,500 and 2,000 tonnes, more than half the contents of an Olympic-sized swimming pool. As most of what we eat and wear is grown and manufactured in other countries, we are importing vast quantities of what economists refers to as “virtual water.” What we wear and eat influences the hydrology of producer regions, resulting in a yearly global trade estimated at a thousand cubic kilometers – twenty River Niles.

The small measures we take each day, using low flush toilets or turning off the water while we brush our teeth, while useful on a local scale, have little influence on the majority of water usage. In a system where 11,000 litres are needed to produce the patty used in a McDonald’s Quarter-Pounder, a global solution must be found.

Pearce suggests that the countries currently undertaking massive irrigation projects for food production must reconsider their water usage, weighing the environmental impact of transportation against water depletion. Instead of turning deserts into agricultural land to grow wheat, in some cases using three times as much water as the global norm, countries need to consider importing wheat and other food crops from countries with a lower water cost. New economic models must be developed to consider the true cost of producing food.

When the Rivers Run Dry is an unflinching look at current water situation in more than 30 countries. Just three countries – India, China and Pakistan – account for the usage of more than half the world’s total use of underground water, one-sixth of the world’s usable water. Some of the world’s largest aquifers are under desert sands; however, these aquifers cannot be replaced by rain and in some cases the water being drawn from deep within the earth is thousands of years old. This water is a bank account we are draining dry, dooming the aquifers to extinction: “When a river runs dry, it is very visible. But underground water is invisible…and few in the corridors of power talk…about a slow-burning disaster that will one day affect hundreds of millions of people.” When the water in the world’s aquifers fails, food shortages will follow, undermining the world’s ability to feed itself.

Pearce puts forward that “water flows uphill to money.” If we hope to weather a global climate certain to become more extreme with shifting patterns of precipitation, the world’s governments must stop focusing on the money and instead look at the best interests of the world’s rivers, wetlands and aquifers. Attention must be paid to deteriorating municipal water systems and investments made to fix the potable water leaking into the ground; in some cities, as much as 40% of a city’s potable water disappears this way. New attention must be paid to traditional methods of living in harmony with the world’s rivers rather than attempting to tame the rivers through dams and man-made irrigation channels. Desalination of water from the oceans, for agricultural use is still an incredibly cost-prohibitive undertaking.

As David Suzuki states in the foreword: “This…is an urgent warning and a call for action that we must not ignore.” Pearce has delivered a difficult message that should be required reading for all concerned citizens.

Fred Pearce is an environmental and development consultant at New Scientist. Writing about environmental and water issues for more than twenty years, his next book, With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change, is scheduled for release in February 2007.

See the review at ReadySteayBook – When the Rivers Run Dry.

BOOK REVIEW: It’s the Crude, Dude: war, big oil, and the fight for the planet

May24

This review has been submitted to Alternatives Journal but I do not know when/if it will be included in their publication.

The Iraq Invasion as Smokescreen: Fight for Democracy or Oil?
It’s the Crude, Dude: war, big oil, and the fight for the planet, Linda McQuaig, Toronto: Anchor Canada, 2004, revised and updated 2005.

“…the Middle East, with 2/3 of the world’s oil and lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies.” Dick Cheney, November 1999

Linda McQuaig, a journalist well-known for taking pokes at the big myths, now focuses on the largest. In It’s the Crude, Dude: War, Big Oil, and the Fight for the Planet, McQuaig aims squarely at the debate no one is having – Why was information on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction falsified and why did the United States want to invade Iraq? During the 18 months since the falsification came to light, no commission or committee has been convened to investigate. It’s the Crude, Dude is an attempt to bring into perspective the US’s actions in Iraq by positioning them within the historical perspective of their behaviour in the Middle East, and their quest to control the world’s oil resources.

McQuaig posits that the Iraq invasion was already planned to serve the interests of Big Oil when Cheney was still CEO of Haliburton. Once George W. Bush took office, two key policies to benefit the oil industry were immediately implemented: withdrawal from the Kyoto Accord and the beginning of the invasion of Iraq. Bush and Cheney have continually put the interests of Big Oil before those of democracy, global law and the American citizen. The “war on terror” has provided the smokescreen of “national security”, creating the illusion that there are no competing interests at work within Bush’s administration.

The oil shortage has already begun, mostly unacknowledged by officials, and, thanks to NAFTA, Canada gave up its right to reduce oil exports to the US, unless we reduce our own consumption by the same amount. McQuaig believes this wake-up call needs to be heeded and the reliance on oil reduced if Canada hopes to weather the coming war between China (second in oil consumption) and the US over oil.

At a time when the world’s focus should be finding renewable energy sources and environmental conservation, the current US administration is rolling back environmental protections and promoting reliance on oil.

McQuaig doesn’t put forward anything Canadians don’t already know or suspect. It’s the Crude, Dude provides a starting point for the discussions that must happen, framing the research and statistics in a clear, concise manner understandable by the average concerned citizen.

Non-Fiction Book Reviews – Master List

April15

In an effort to reduce the long list of reviews in my sidebar, I decided to create an entry of each of the category of books I review. That way I can update this entry and link to just this entry in the sidebar.

This is a list of the non-fiction books I’ve reviewed, alphabetical by author.

  • Jane Jacobs: Urban Visionary – Alice Sparberg Alexiou
  • Abode of Love: Growing Up in a Messianic Cult – Kate Barlow
  • Every Book Its Reader: The power of the printed word to stir the world – Nicholas A. Basbanes
  • The City of Falling Angels – John Berendt
  • My Life as a Furry Red Monster – Kevin Clash
  • Grayson – Lynne Cox
  • Pursuing Giraffe: a 1950s Adventure – Anne Innis Dagg
  • The Weather Makers: How We Are Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth – Tim Flannery
  • Kristallnacht: Prelude to Destruction – Martin Gilbert
  • Secrets of a Satisfying Life: discover the habits of happy people – David D. Ireland
  • The Intellectual Devotional: Revive Your Mind, Complete Your Education, and Roam Confidently with the Cultured Class – David S. Kidder & Noah D. Oppenheim
  • Every Mother is a Daughter: the neverending quest for success, inner peace, and a really clean kitchen (recipes and knitting patterns included)– Perri Klass & Sheila Solomon Klass
  • Path of Destruction: the devastation of New Orleans and the coming age of superstorms – John McQuaid & Mark Schleifstein
  • It’s the Crude, Dude: war, big oil, and the fight for the planet – Linda McQuaid
  • The Things That Matter: what seven classic novels have to say about the stages of life – Edward Mendelson
  • Time was Soft There: a Paris sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. – Jeremy Mercer
  • The Pulpwood Queens’ Tiara-Wearing, Book Bearing Guide to Life – by Kathy Patrick
  • When the Rivers Run Dry: Journeys into the Heart of the World’s Water Crisis – Fred Pearce
  • The Secrets of Judas: the story of the misunderstood disciple and his lost gospel – James M. Robinson
  • The Mural at Waverly Inn – Edward Sorel and Dorothy Gallagher
  • You Can’t Win If You Don’t Enter – Carolyn Wilman
  • Newer Entries »

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