The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water by Charles Fishman
The Big Thirst is not only a book about water. It is a book about change. By taking the reader on a world tour of water, Fishman shows how humans currently view and use water and how that has to, and will, change in the future. From American suburbia to the streets of Delhi, Fishman illustrates both the ultimate power of water in economic and personal development and the apathy with which we view this resource—that is, until it becomes hard to get or disappears. And that’s when people begin to see water’s value and begin to change. They change by innovating around conservation, as in Las Vegas where, ironically, water is used much more wisely than almost all of America. They begin to innovate around water pricing and delivery, as in India, where homegrown water delivery innovation in some slums has spurred micro-economies and made standing in line to wait on a truck a thing of the past.
When these changes happen, growth happens; but until that time, we face the oncoming dilemma of falling groundwater levels, rivers that no longer flow to the sea, and threatened biodiversity. As a scientist concerned with and working on water issues, I related strongly with Fishman through his journey. And I think this book will resonate with anyone who is concerned about the human use and biodiversity effects of our current water system and the opportunities that are possible if we change how we think about water.
One thing that I particularly liked about The Big Thirst is that Fishman does not use these pages as a platform for a “gloom and doom” scenario. Rather, he points out that, unlike many other complicated problems that humans face (e.g., energy, climate change), water issues are local, with local solutions, and that localness should give us real hope. For example, water use in Louisiana does not affect someone in Shanghai, or even Florida for that matter. And because they are local, water problems are very solvable within a short period of time. But to solve them, we must change.
—Reviewed by Bryan Piazza, director, freshwater and marine science, The Nature Conservancy in Louisiana