Talking Water

Talking Water (video 18 minutes)

Talking Water — Water, Water Everywhere

The video explains history of water use and some of the complexities of today’s water issues, but water is both a common subject and a profound mystery. We can never stop learning about it.

Water is the stuff of life. It makes up 45-73% of human bodies and 40-80% of animal bodies. Searches for extraterrestrial life start by searching for water.

Our best-recognized chemical formula is H2O. Although essential to all life, its chemistry and physics remain mysterious. The formulaic simplicity of H2O masks the complex possibilities of its molecular bonding. H2O’s counterintuitive mechanics weave the fabric of nature. We should be in awe of H2O chemistry, not take it for granted.

Instead we fight over water, too much or too little of it. Media hullabaloos describing human conflicts often ignore the silent role of water. For example, a drought has persisted from Northern Africa eastward to Afghanistan since about 2010. Water is a big problem in post-Gaddafi Libya. Migrants might be leaving parched Syria even if there was no war. Drought exacerbates the troubles in Afghanistan. The ongoing saga of the Mosul Dam points up Iraqi water perils; should the lake behind it fill and the dam break, a wall of water rolling down through Mosul and Bagdad could claim more casualties than all the fighting to date. (The reference is from a Kurdish view; other views differ, but all parties agree that water is in crisis.)

In Central America, U.S. media report almost nothing about the “Dry Corridor” pushing people off the land into urban gang war zones, then on to the United States if they can make it. Guatemala has been hardest hit by drought, but the Dry Corridor stretches from Costa Rica nearly to Mexico. However, media reports about illegal immigration into the United States rarely mention it.

Desperately needed is dialog among the parties affected, a better way for humans to agree on capturing water, preventing it from pollution, and allocating it. Dialog is a modern format for doing this, but human antagonists have protected and shared water for millennia – as well as used it as a weapon. This is not just a technical challenge; it challenges the state of human civilization. Can we improve humanity?

We – and not just scientists – need to keep learning about water and its pollutants. All of us must mind the fluid that sustains us. New pollutants proliferate while ancient ones like lead linger on. Roman water systems were made of lead. Investigators discount lead poisoning as a factor in Rome’s fall – but how many Roman children failed to reach their biophysical potential? Both our water issues and our expectations of health keep increasing. We must become much more aware of water.

This 18-minute video was made a year ago. It dives into the story of water, but still only breaks the surface. The point is that we – all of us – have to care for water. We cannot continue to mess it up and waste it, then expect to pay others to clean it up and find more of it. A world with more people, but much less water is coming at us.


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