Some sentences can change your life…

I’ve just finished reading The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters, and it’s no exaggeration to say that it’s among the best books I’ve ever read. I’ll have more to say later, but for now just one sentence from the closing chapter (emphasis mine):

Water, water everywhere and none of it is infinite. Water is a fixed commodity. At any time in history, the planet contains about 332 million cubic miles of it. Most is salty. Only 2 percent is fresh water and two-thirds of that is unavailable for human use, locked in snow, ice and permafrost. We are using the same water that the dinosaurs drank, and the same water has to make ice creams in Pasadena and the morning frost in Paris. It is limited and it is being wasted.

Comments

Chuck's picture
Chuck on November 10, 2008 - 21:24

I’m curious to read more about your experience with this book, Peter. On the face of it, concerns about wasting water seem absurd: as the excerpt says, we’re drinking the same water the dinosaurs did. There’s no more or less water on Earth than there has ever been (minus a few litres ejected on various space missions).

Is the argument that water *quality* is in danger and that we won’t have access to adequate supplies of uncontaminated water?

Very curious…

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on November 10, 2008 - 21:28

I can’t do justice to the book, but an additional excerpt may shed more light:


Poor sanitation, bad hygiene, and unsafe water — usually unsafe because it has fecal particles in it — cause one in ten of the world’s illnesses. Children suffer most. Diarrhea—nearly 90 percent of which is caused by fecally contaminated food or water — kills a child every fifteen seconds.
Chuck's picture
Chuck on November 10, 2008 - 23:29

OK, that makes more sense. Have you seen the new PUR water purifier? They won a Popular Mechanics “Breakthrough Award” this year.

A couple of excerpts:


Americans now have a ready alternative to stockpiling water or boiling it. It
Kevin's picture
Kevin on November 11, 2008 - 16:21

I never really understood water conservation except in places where so-called ‘geological water’ (non-renewable) is being pumped for irrigation or where rain simply doesn’t fall.

How does flushing fewer litres of water down the toilet (for example) preserve any water at all as long as we aren’t exceeding the natural water/vapour/rain cycle in our area? Does the book address this in any way?

And while I’m at it I’ve a problem with “cap and trade” carbon reduction. Isn’t cap and trade the metaphorical equivalent of me going to the community pool and paying a well-known pee-er to not pee in the pool so that I can do so myself? (This is one of two reasons why I support a carbon tax. The other is my faith in capitalism’s ability to protect itself when threatened by any kind of tax; thus, much less carbon emissions.)

Where a tax is the rough equivalent of “let the rich pay”, cap and trade is “let the rich pollute”.

oliver's picture
oliver on November 11, 2008 - 21:58

>Isn’t cap and trade the metaphorical equivalent of me going to the community pool and paying a well-known pee-er to not pee in the pool so that I can do so myself?

Is a carrot the metaphorical equivalent of a stick? Are corporations people or dogs? Do we reward and nurture the behavior we like or exact retribution for what we don’t? In other words, quit being an idiot, Kevin.

oliver's picture
oliver on November 11, 2008 - 22:00

(that was irony, BTW, that last remark)

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