Water: causes, costs and future of a global crisis

Paperback available from Virgin Books.

All known forms of life depend on water.

Water covers 71 per cent of the Earth’s surface, making ours a blue and white planet, gleaming in space.  The seemingly boundless ocean feeds water vapour into the atmosphere, from which it falls as rain – ultimately our only source of fresh water, the most precious substance on Earth.  But with global warming, the seas are getting too hot, and the weather increasingly erratic as warm water feeds more energy and moisture into the air.  Even in the past, some land areas were desperately dry and others flood-prone, but these tendencies are now deepening as well as shifting from place to place.  On top of this we’ve been mismanaging the ecosystems that regulate the availability of fresh water, and polluting what we do have.  As a result, well over a billion people lack access to a safe water supply, the amount of drinking water available is shrinking, and the growth in demand for fresh water is increasing relentlessly. We are approaching a global water emergency. But how did we get into this situation, and what can we do about it? In this book, Julian Caldecott reveals where the water we use comes from, and at what social and environmental cost. He explains the history, science, economics and politics behind the looming water crisis, what the future is likely to hold if we do too little, and what we can all do to make a difference.

“This fascinating book explains not only why we need to restore balance, but more importantly how we can do it.” – from the Foreword by Zac Goldsmith, Director of The Ecologist.

“a prophetic read” – Edward P. Echlin, ecological theologian and author of The Cosmic Circle.

“includes a lucid presentation of the Aquatic Ape Theory … The book shows that we can avoid disaster if we come to our senses and give Gaia a helping hand” – Elaine Morgan, evolutionary anthropologist and author of The Descent of Woman and The Scars of Evolution.

From the 2007 review in The Guardian (22 December 2007, Mind Altering Reads) by Steven Poole:

“… Julian Caldecott’s running contrast [is] between ‘Taoist’ and ‘Confucian’ ways for humans to interact with the natural world.  We could do with more of the former, he says, justifying the argument with a brilliant overview of an enormous subject: the function and behaviour of water on our planet, and the ways in which we use and abuse it.  We learn about oceanic cycles, vulcanism and tsunamis; overfishing, the destruction of wetlands, the draining of lakes and incontinent pollution.  There are beautiful, almost cinematic evocations: of strangely coloured deep-ocean fish, or the eruption of Krakatoa as ‘the loudest noise ever heard’ by humans.  And the problems of waste storage are dealt with in terms of unarguable rationalism: “Everything eventually leaks”.  Shortages of water and desertification will lead to more war (as they arguably have already done in Sudan); and Caldecott argues with persuasive urgency that a respectful approach to water-dependent ecosystems is merely a matter of self-defence.  I look at my bottle of spring water, whose plastic took six times as much water to manufacture as the bottle contains, guiltily.”

From the 2008 review in The Ecologist (March 2008) by Mark Anslow:

“Caldecott keeps a masterly hand on the reins of what is a vast topic, dividing it up well and using the concept and properties of water to explore ecological issues on an impressive scale.   With laudable dexterity, Caldecott moves from the very small to the very large, from the interactions of atomic particles to the role water plays in the biosphere.  He examines our interaction with water – oscillating as it does between worship and downright abuse.  He dives into the depths of the oceans to remind us of the effect we are having on [these] ecosystems … He weighs up the value of much-maligned wetlands and evaluates our relationship with the world’s lakes – alternately water source, sewage dump and electricity generator.  He also opens the reader’s eyes to the world’s vast reserves of ground water, which, one pillaged, may never be replenished.  But despite the retinue of shiver-inducing statistics he keeps at his fingertips, Caldecott is at pains to be optimistic.  He relates some remarkable success stories, including a clam-restoration project in the Philippines, which has had a phoenix-like effect on fish stocks, and a mangrove-planting project in Indonesia to undo the damage caused by prawn-farming.  He ends with a call for us to be as conscious of the water in our products and lives as we are becoming of energy …”

From the 2008 review in Resurgence (May-June 2008) by Miguel Mendonça:

Water – Life in Every Drop should be read far, wide and as soon as possible. Why? Because we take the everyday for granted, no matter how important; because water is critical to all life, yet is fast becoming an endangered resource around the world; and because this book does an excellent job of promoting a rational, effective, trans-ideological approach to environmental decision making.  Critically, Caldecott succinctly identifies what mistakes in decision-making have been made in our dealings with water bodies, and shows how we can rethink policymaking, as well as why we must.  One of the most striking things about the book is its enchanting descriptive passages. The David Attenborough voiceover is almost there. It takes me back to watching Wildlife on One as a child, and being effortlessly drawn into alien, sub aquatic worlds, to explore the lives of creatures I might never know, but could gaze in wonder at from a suburban living room thousands of miles away.  But, Caldecott is also brutally realistic. Nothing here to shield us from the harsh truths that lie just beyond the shimmering imagery. We are confronted by accounts of humanity savaging the environment, groups using every possible technological tool to increase their share of the harvest, governments getting it horribly wrong, corruption and ignorance creating desperate tragedies which are repeated again and again.  The author seems to come from a place that I believe is of the utmost value in these times. The work itself is a valuable tool, which people can learn from. But it is delivered in a way that transcends ideology, that avoids getting caught up in dealing with the political spectrum. What it concentrates on is asking lean and practical questions: what can we learn from this? How should we do things differently? By what criteria can we judge the correctness of a policy or practice? How do we work with local communities and stakeholders to maintain the healthy function of water–bodies?  We have seen what doesn’t work, as Caldecott outlines; now, as he further shows in his vision of the future at the book’s climax, let us decide to remake our minds, and rationally and fairly remake our world, in order to serve the interests of all life.”

From the 2008 review in the Ark (Summer 2008) by Edward P. Echlin:

“Caldecott argues convincingly, by writing lucidly about people, earth and water, that something radical must change in the next few decades, either voluntarily through a mass increase in the organic, water-revering green movement … and relocalisation, or by catastrophe, already beginning with floods and droughts and extinction, as gaia, under God, strikes back.  I recommend this well written and presented book to everyone interested in earth, its water, life and animals, and in responding as Christians to earth’s water crisis.”


Read some samples of Julian’s book:

What is water?

Water in the biosphere

The experience of water

Ocean water

Swamp water

Lake water

River water

Ground water

The world to the rescue?

People to the rescue!