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nologies that we’ve previously used,,r.oc””’:'”‘ .. .. build dains, irrigation systems, and reservoirs to now construct more ecologically sound measures that ina4raize and preserve the world’s remaining supply of clean drinking water. Whereas Barlow and Clarke support a grassroots, aggressively confrontational political challenge to the World Bank, IMF, and the “Lords of Water” to abandon their wasteful projects, De Villiers looks to “imaginative technologies” to save the day–or at least allow us to stay hydrated in those that remain. Blue Gold calls for rebellion. Water seeks to carefully tweak the status quo. DeVilliers distrusts an exclusively political approach and sees more hope in engineered solutions run by scientists solutions like “water condoms” that tug water through the ocean from an area of high supply to an area of low supply, desalination technologies, drip irrigation, and closed-cycle hydroculture. It’s not especially sexy, it doesn’t satisfy the environmentalist urge to stick it to the corporate abusers, and it’s not a solution that’s going to stir the political passions that rage at World Bank protests. But as hope rapidly evaporates, De Villier’s ideas have the most likely chance of being heard. Plus, once established, these projects might filter through political systems throughout the world and wash away once and for all the corporate scum that has so long treated water as an endlessly exploitable resource. We can all drink to that. James McWilliams is a writer in Austin. Ifri ed aquifers in Israel regularly swallow. houses and buildings. Stories from China, India, and Russia–all carefully documented in both booksare ly bleak, “Unfortunately,” Barlow and Clarke write, “lessons from these terrible stories haven’t changed humanity’s behavior,” Indeed, our attempts to cope with water shortages often make matters’ worse. Massive irrigation systems, dams, nonsustainable commercial farming, and reservoirs serve short-term interests at the expense of serious long-term environmental costs. Water and Blue Gold offer persuasive and extensive critiques of these man-made “solutions,” Take irrigation, In instances of extreme over-irrigation, it’s not unusual for entire water systems to disappear. In Africa Lake Chad has diminished by 90 percent over the last 40 years, Irrigation from the Aral Sea, bordered by Afghanistan, Iran, and five former Soviet countries, allowed the Soviet Union to prosper as the globe’s second largest exporter of cotton from 1940 to 1980. Today, the sea and its irrigation system exist as a fried puddle. The sea itself has lost 80 percent of its volume, its surrounding wetlands are gone, and “each year, wind kicks up 40 to 150 million tons of toxic salt-mixture from the dry sea bed and dump[s] it on the surrounding farmlands.” The Aral Sea, the classic case of over-irrigation, has become the regrettable template for poor environmental planning throughout the world. Think it could get any worse? To an extent, Water and Blue Gold are comprehensive to a fault. That is, they layer anecdote upon horrifying anecdote to the point where their larger points dissolve in a generic heap of despair. But certain anecdotes are hard to forget. For me, it was this one, taken from Blue Gold: “[P]rescription pills leak chemicals into our public water systems” so extensively that “50 to 70 percent of all drugs pass through us,” including ibuprofen, beta-blockers, and estrogen from birth. control \(Altboti mentioned in either of those boo ks reports of estrogen slevels’bave ‘been: so high that in some , rivers fish have It would be easy to get lost in these amazing tales of degradation, and doing so would be worth the read alone \(the books provide abundant fodder to throw at smug libertarians who trash the environment under the bogus authors do, however, have a larger point, and it’s here where their analyses finally diverge. Barlow and Clarke lay the blame for the world’s water crisis squarely and unequivocally at the feet of global corporations. Blue Gold lavish es scorn on governments that “are abdicating their responsibility to protect and conserve water” while pointing fingers at oil, gas, rubber, paper, car, and commercial farming industries who use more than 25 percent of the world’s water and trash much of the rest, Governments, they argue, should eschew globalization and embrace “a set of principles and ethical considerations directly opposed to the predominant standpoint of the global economy.” Water must be “decornmodified,” they explain, restored to its natural state, and turned over to local public control. Only then will access to water become a right rather than a privilege. De Villiers takes a pragmatic approach to the problem of water, He has little tolerance for rosy notions about water’s “natural state,” and instead works from the premise that the human race has drastically manipulated the world’s most precious resource for so long that we’ve quashed all hopes of restoring it to a pristine ecological state. It’s a perspective perhaps tinged with defeatism, and one that idealistic greens may not tolerate. Nevertheless, it advocates solutions that embrace the tech . ‘, ” , 4/12/02 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 25