There is growing concern that resource scarcity may lead to an acceleration of military conflicts this century. What we are witnessing today in the Ukraine, Nigeria, and the Middle East may broaden into wider conflicts as resources like water become scarcer.
In the last century, in World War II alone, 65 million human beings perished. Forty-four million were civilians. It is vitally important to take the time to consider the boundless suffering that number represents if we wish to avoid repeating the same mistakes in this new century. What can be done to make this new century different?
We must begin to take a greater interest in understanding the resources-- like water-- that drive conflict. With that knowledge we''ll be less indifferent to how life-sustaining resources work, who or what may be driving the problems, and what needs to change.
"What can be done" will be ultimately answered by our collective decision of what we want our lives to stand for. Will our life amount to a few trophies and some measure of power, however indifferent we had to be to get these things? Or will our lives stand for something beyond ourselves, that contributes to insuring there is enough for all?
What is water anyway? A landmark film on the story of water, Blue Gold, begins this way:
In 1906, Pablo Valencia dared the journey from Mexico to California in search of gold. He survived without water for a week…seven days. He was rescued and documented the experience of thirst. Saliva becomes thick. A lump seems to form in the throat. The tongue swells so large that it squeezes pass the jaws, the throat so swollen that breathing becomes difficult, creating a terrifying sense of drowning. The face feels flu due to the shrinking of the skin. Many people begin to hallucinate. The eyelids crack and the eyeballs begin to weep tears of blood. When Pablo Valencia was found his skin was like purplish-gray leather, scratched but with no traces of blood. His lips had disappeared as if amputated. His nose withered to half its length. His eyes trapped in a winkless stare. Saving water is not about saving the environment, it is about savings ourselves. Because whatever one's environmental, political or religious opinions, whatever one's race, sex or economic standing, whoever of us goes without water for a week, cries blood.
Today, the story of water is in part the dramatic conflict between growing understanding of the importance of water, and growing efforts by some to capture ownership of as much water as possible, wherever it may be, and whoever may be effected.
Scientists, economists-- not to mention the nearly 1 billion people who lack adequate water-- consider water the most valuable and important resource on earth. This Reader will give you further insight into this live-sustaining resource from some of the brightest thinkers and authors on the subject of water.
Peter Gleik writes, "Solving our water needs will require fundamental changes in how we think about water. It is time to plan for meeting present and future human needs with the water that is available, to determine what desires can be satisfied within the limits of our resources, and to ensure that we preserve the natural ecological cycles that are so integral to human well-being.”
We can survive without oil but no human being can survive without water, which is why it is a major force in the destiny of civilizations, the focus of this issue of The Reader Magazine, and nothing less than the story of the century.