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When the Rivers Run Dry: Water-The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-First Centuryby Fred Pearce
Synopses & Reviews
It was with the Colorado River that engineers first learned to control great rivers. But now the Colorados reservoirs are two-thirds empty. Great rivers like the Indus and the Nile, the Rio Grande and the Yellow River are running on empty. And economists say that by 2025, water scarcity will cut global food production by more than the current U.S. grain harvest.
Veteran science correspondent Fred Pearce traveled to more than thirty countries while researching When the Rivers Run Dry; it is our most complete portrait yet of the growing world water crisis. Deftly weaving together the complicated scientific, economic, and historical dimensions of the crisis, he shows us its complex origins, from waste to wrong-headed engineering projects to high-yield crop varieties that have kept developing countries from starvation but are now emptying their water reserves. And Pearces vivid reportage reveals the personal stories behind failing rivers, barren fields, desertification, water wars, floods, and even the death of cultures.
"Veteran science writer Pearce (Turning Up the Heat) makes a strong — and scary — case that a worldwide water shortage is the most fearful looming environmental crisis. With a drumbeat of facts both horrific (thousands of wells in India and Bangladesh are poisoned by fluoride and arsenic) and fascinating (it takes 20 tons of water to make one pound of coffee), the former New Scientist news editor documents a 'kind of cataclysm' already affecting many of the world's great rivers. The Rio Grande is drying up before it reaches the Gulf of Mexico; the Nile has been dammed to a trickle; reservoirs behind ill-conceived dams sacrifice millions of gallons of water to evaporation, while wetlands and floodplains downriver dry up as water flow dwindles. In India, villagers lacking access to clean water for irrigation and drinking are sinking tube wells hundreds of feet down, plundering underground supplies far faster than rainfall can replace them — the same fate facing the Ogallala aquifer of the American Midwest. The news, recounted with a scientist's relentless accumulation of observable fact, is grim. Maps." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
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 thirty countries while researching When the Rivers Run Dry, examining the current state of crucial water sources like the Indus River in Pakistan, the Colorado River in the United States, and the Yellow and Yangzte 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 dykes from containing floodwaters; the impoverishment of Pakistan's Sindh, a once-fertile farming valley now destroyed by the 14 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 dry up as soon as 2007; 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 greater efficiency and a new water ethic based on managing the water cycle for maximum social benefit rather than narrow self-interest.
About the Author
Fred Pearce is a former news editor at New Scientist. Currently that magazine's environment and development consultant, he has also written for Audubon, Popular Science, Time, the Boston Globe, and Natural History. His books include With Speed and Violence, When the Rivers Run Dry, Keepers of the Spring, Turning Up the Heat, and Deep Jungle. He lives in England.
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