water | May 15, 2011

A "Torrential Flow of a Book:" Charles Fishman's The Big Thirst

In a glowing review of Charles Fishman's new book on water, Nature magazine writes: "The Big Thirst  is a delight to read—full of salient and fascinating examples, well-researched and laced with wry humour. It would be wonderful if Fishman's rant against bottled water converted every reader. It would be even better if it promoted a serious reflection on how little we value that on which our life depends." Much more than a rant against bottled water, though, Fishman's Big Thirst may be one of the most comprehensive and readable books ever published about our most essential resource. The Nature reviewer praises Fishman for his ability to drill down to the core water issues of our time, the so-called "witch's brew of sociology, economics, suspicion, electoral politics, history and mythology that makes decision-making sometimes difficult, and often nearly impossible."

Fishman's argument is simple: we don't value water, therefore we are reluctant to pay for it. As he points out, free is not a good price to pay for water. In order to use water efficiently, "reservoirs, pipes, energy, chemicals, staff, fencing and monitoring [are] needed." But these all cost money—money that people often are unwilling to pay for through taxes. Instead, pipes leak, facilities deteriorate, and we are left with a system where "many cities across the world lose one-quarter to one-half of the water in their plumbing systems" and "most irrigation systems are less than 50% efficient." Despite the book's call-to-arms to better manage a resource so essential to life, The Big Thirst maintains an optimistic view on the future. Fishman points out that we have enough water to go around. The issue isn't one of water scarcity in the natural world, it's that scarcity is a result of human design. Although he "enjoys naming and shaming the villains," Fishman "takes greater joy in celebrating the heroes," championing those communities, organizations and private companies that have come up with innovative ways to become more water efficient.

Read more about keynote speaker Charles Fishman