By Antonia Zerbisias
July 30, 2011
The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart practically cowered under his desk last month when journalist Alex Prud’homme appeared.
That’s because Prud’homme’s just-published The Ripple Effect: The Fate of Freshwater in the Twenty-First Century is 435 pages of bad news about how North Americans waste, contaminate and violate our water supplies.
“Water is a deceptively plain substance,” he notes in his introduction. “Yet it is the basis for life, and is considered an ‘axis resource,’ meaning one that underlies all others.”
Without water, there is no life. As we have seen this summer, droughts have ravaged the U.S. mid- and southwest, China and even France. In Somalia and Kenya, it’s a humanitarian disaster.
In North America, we’re spoiled.
On the phone from his home in New York City, Prud’homme says, “We really need to start thinking about water.
“Because we’ve become so good at collecting, transporting and treating water, people feel they can turn the tap on anytime they want and get as much water as they want, at any temperature they want, for as long as they want. So we’ve forgotten how important it is. But what we haven’t done is manage it very sustainably or wisely.
“But now conditions have changed. There are more people on Earth, we are using water more and more, the climate is shifting, our diets are changing, the ways we pollute water are shifting. Our indifference is a luxury we no longer can afford.”
On a per-capita basis, Canadians are just behind the world’s most wasteful water users, the Americans, reports the Conference Board of Canada. That’s a lot of water down the drain.
What’s more, says Prud’homme, we excrete Viagra, synthetic estrogen and other prescription drugs — as well as illicit substances — when we use the toilet. Some of us are even flushing chemicals and leftover pills away. We poison fish every time we wash with antibacterial soap. Our factory farms send rivers of runoff — including potentially E. coli-carrying manure — into lakes and streams. Turn on an appliance, including the computer on which you may be reading this, water is used to power hydroelectric dams, or cool nuclear plants, or run coal generators.