On a crowded shelf of books on water, one name stands out – John R. Wennersten. In his new book, “Global Thirst” (SchifferBooks), this seasoned scholar of environmental history has turned his eye from local issues of the Chesapeake Bay and Anacostia River to water across the globe and throughout the centuries.
Global Thirst offers a critical perspective on water, its uses, and access, as a major global issue in the 21st century. John R. Wennersten turns an unflinching eye on todays global water problems, critically analyzing pollution, drought, dying rivers, and the privatization of water utilities. He also offers commentary on what kinds of sustainable water options we should be pursuing in the near future. The author also touches on some of the less conventional aspects of the history of water. For example, Wennersten provides an extensive discussion of water’s role in culture, spirituality and religion, mythology and human speculation of the origins of life. Water not only provides a mean of survival, but it is also ingrained our culture. “Rivers appear frequently in the world’s sacred traditions as symbols of divine influence and life’s interdependence. They evoke an image of spiritual-intellectual energies cascading through the manifold planes of cosmic and intellectual life.”
Wennersten is a bit more historical than most water writers that we have read, and a bit less concerned with policy recommendations, however this comes as a breath of fresh air. When our focus is primarily on consuming water as a way of survival, we forget how much it affects other aspects of our life. Humans have always used water as a part of religion, entertainment and relaxation, and this continues to be an important aspect in our culture. We shouldn’t shy away from this or hope water supplies will be enough for the rituals to continue. On the contrary, “hope is not a strategy,” but solutions that require planning and work is what we need to focus on. “Carelessness and failure to plan have been the biggest enemies in the face of natural weather events. Our water catastrophe (the complete global scarcity of water) will not be a product of Mother Nature – it will be human-made.”