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When the Rivers Run Dry: Water--The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-first Century [Hardcover]

Fred Pearce
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 9, 2006 0807085723 978-0807085721 First Edition
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.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* From the Amazon to the Nile, the Congo to the Colorado, the rivers of the world are running dry. Forget oil: nations have gone to war over water rights and access in the past, and may be forced to do so again as the availability and purity of this vital resource continues to decline. Unlike fossil fuels, water is considered a renewable resource, an erroneous belief that has contributed to its abuse and misuse by superpowers and Third World countries alike. Yet as aquifers are tapped to extinction, rivers dammed to depletion, and wetlands converted to deserts, societies continue to employ the profligate water management techniques that created the current dire situations. Former New Science news editor Pearce cogently presents the alarming ways in which this ecological emergency is affecting population centers, human health, food production, wildlife habitats, and species viability. Having crisscrossed the globe to research the economic, scientific, cultural, and political causes and ramifications of this underpublicized tragedy, Pearce's powerful imagery, penetrating analyses, and passionate advocacy make this required reading for environmental proponents and civic leaders everywhere. Carol Haggas
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press; First Edition edition (March 9, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807085723
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807085721
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #442,016 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Fred Pearce, author of "The Land Grabbers: The New Fight over Who Owns the Earth" (Beacon Press, 2012), is an award-winning former news editor at New Scientist. Currently its environmental and development consultant, he has also written for Audubon, Popular Science, Time, the Boston Globe, and Natural History and writes a regular column for the Guardian. He has been honored as UK environmental journalist of the year, among other awards. His many books include When the Rivers Run Dry, With Speed and Violence, Confessions of an Eco-Sinner, and The Coming Population Crash.

Photo Copyright Photographer Name: Fred Pearce, 2012.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
68 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fresh Water: The Defining Crisis of the 21st Century April 19, 2006
British author Fred Pearce has collected together some of the most interesting, nerve-wracking, disappointing, and infuriating stories and statistics on water politics worldwide into this gripping volume, titled When the Rivers Run Dry. The depth with which Pearce treats the subject and the diversity of angles from which he approaches the issues facing water management (and rather more often the appalling mismanagement) makes this book required reading for those who wish to be environmentally literate.

Actually, let me elevate that statement to say instead that this book should be required reading for anyone over the age of 15, regardless of their language or nationality or cultural background. Many people think that water comes from the tap in the same way that milk comes from the carton, and this simplistic ignorance is dangerously impermissible in a supposedly educated society. Pearce's work is illuminating and educational while also being an engaging read, and given the fact that water is even more fundamental to life than oil is, everyone should know much more than they generally do about the water cycle. More to the point, we need to know how that cycle supports human life and civilization, and how it is being disrupted and abused for selfish political gains, economic control, and narrowly commercial self-interest.

This abuse is being perpetrated by a handful of breathtakingly arrogant government bureaucrats, working in concert with wonkish engineers disconnected from ecological realities and corporate thieves seeking to commandeer common and collectively-held resources for their own private empires. Prepare to be shocked, dismayed, and appalled as you read about what has happened to the world's rivers, lakes, marshes, and estuaries.
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72 of 81 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars When the citations run dry June 19, 2006
This book deals with a very important subject and describes the author's first person observations with passion in a very readable manner. However, the book suffers from several glaring flaws.

First, almost every page has a discussion based upon at least one major statistic. Unfortunately, the source of none of these statistics is provided. There is no bibiliography, no footnotes or endnotes. A critical reader is given little help in following up on the issues raised. From a policy perspective, this book will not be helpful to anyone attempting to persuade non-believers.

Second, the discussion eventually becomes repetitious. I don't mind that he is clearly extremely biased, but after a while the diatribes grow tedious, and detract from an otherwise impressive presentation.

It is a real shame that such passion and effort should result in a book that doesn't share the sources of the research so that others can verify its contents and persuade others to take action.
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62 of 74 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars First-Person Account, No Notes June 11, 2006
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a good book if you like first-person accounts with no notes that fail to mention other stellar works. I confess to being spoiled by Marc de Villers "WATER: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource," and by David Helvarg's "Blue Frontier: Dispatches from America's Ocean Wilderness" as well as William Langewiesche's "The Outlaw Sea: A World of Freedom, Chaos, and Crime."

It also falls second to "The Winds of Change" and to "The Weather Makers" (I tend to read books in sets to tease out varying perspectives), and ties with "Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum."

The author's most exciting idea, absolutely worthy of global implementation, is to call for the marking of all products with their "water content." He is stunningly education, truly original within my reading as reviewed at Amazon when he itemizes the amount of water needed to create a pound of rice or any of a number of other products. I would advise any future leader to demand that products be labeled as to their water content, their oil content, and their chlorine content (see my review of Joe Thorton's "Pandora's Poison: Chlorine, Health, and a New Environmental Strategy."

The author notes that the US is exporting ONE THIRD of its water in the form of products that consumed that amount of water.

Other highlights from this book, for me personally:

Six water winners are Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Indonesia, and Russia, with Mongolia as a water wild card.

Treaties about water are out of date. Technologies, including cement as an answer for re-directing water, are mis-directed.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Global Water Crisis Spelled-out January 3, 2007
By Bugs
Fred Pearce has traveled the world researching and documenting water issues for over 20 years and in this alarming book, he has spelled-out current trends of misuse of our precious water resources. Aquifers, lakes, and rivers are being drained faster than can be replenished. Worse yet, these bodies of water in many areas are being infiltrated by sewage, toxic chemicals and sea water rendering them useless for future use. Unnecessary dam construction, lake and river diversions goes on despite an abundance of historical and scientific facts demonstrating the adverse effects they cause-- displacing millions of people; flooding useable land while drying-up downstream environs and altering historic weather patterns.

Pearce finishes the book on a lighter note by relating the many sustainable alternatives to depleting aquifers, dam building, and lake diversions, although at current usage, one wonders if this will help reduce the rate of depletion and escalating environmental damage. Pearce makes it clear that we humans must immediately come up with a new world-wide ethic on water consumption and distribution before we hit the point of no return.

After reading this fine, in-depth expose' of the world water crisis, I was reminded of the potent quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin: "When the well runs dry, we shall know the value of water" (one of many variations spelling-out the same profound message).
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars great overview
a great overview for the lay person of the situation of water in the world. At times a little scary, we have to start paying attention.
Published 1 month ago by michel
5.0 out of 5 stars Must read
This thoughtful expose clarifies how much water we humans take for granted and now mine to our own demise. Though published almost ten years ago, its commentary remains accurate. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Phil Carney
4.0 out of 5 stars Rivers flow upward to money
For the most part, I enjoyed the ideas and issues that Pearce discusses about. He effectively mixes soft and hard evidence: his statistics were well researched and helped in... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Jerome
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
This is a great book and definitely worth reading for anyone who is even slightly interested in the state of our worlds most valuable resource, water. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Jay Kaplewicz
5.0 out of 5 stars A timely warning
Interesting to read how so called experts can destroy so many peoples lives. Unfortunately we don't seem to learn from our mistakes.
Published 9 months ago by M. D. Laird
5.0 out of 5 stars Makes you think about all the water we use... and take for granted
I would like to recommend this book to everyone, especially everyone who lives near a river or a dam in Australia. I grew up near a dam on the Lachlan river. Read more
Published 12 months ago by LJQ309
5.0 out of 5 stars A good book!
This is a book required for my writing class. However, I do not just read those chapters that are assigned for the papers. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Linglin Zhu
5.0 out of 5 stars Concerned with the future of our planet? Read this book
Written in a conversational style, this book will introduce you to water issues throughout the world. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Sandra D. Lipsey
4.0 out of 5 stars Pearce shows us how crucial future planning is for protecting a...
Fred Pearce delivers truly startling statistics about our water consumption and its impacts. He delves into finding out why the world's rivers are running dry, detailing historical... Read more
Published 16 months ago by KEC
5.0 out of 5 stars A thorough and good read
It's easy when writing about this topic to fill a book with facts and figures, and forget to tell a story that people can grasp. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Rich Gust
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