February 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Water, Water, Everywhere… | Our Unsustainable Future

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Like our use of many of Earth’s natural resources, our current freshwater usage has raised alarms throughout the scientific community. Simply put: it’s unsustainable. Two new titles, Stuart A. Kallen’s Running Dry: The Global Water Crisis (Twenty-First Century, Jan. 2015; Gr 6 Up) and Stephen Leahy’s Your Water Footprint: The Shocking Facts About How Much Water We Use to Make Everyday Products (Firefly, 2014; Gr 6 Up), address the very real concerns surrounding these issues through measured assessments, statistics, relatable examples, and a wealth of visuals.

runningdryKallen’s Running Dry: The Global Water Crisis provides a sobering overview of the situation, including the increasing demands for water as the world’s population grows and the impact of pollution and global warming on existing supplies. The author examines the extent of pollution, historical and contemporary, at sites across the United States: the burning Cuyahoga River in Ohio in the 1960s (which, among other disasters, led to the Clean Water Act of 1972); the alarming amount of salt and chemical toxins in the wastewater of fracking operations that are contaminating some wells; nonpoint source pollution (toxic leaking chemicals from vehicles, fertilizers, etc.); the waste produced at large-scale farms that slaughter animals; and aquifer depletion. Kallen cites both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s regulations—and lack of—where relevant. He covers sites and problems outside the United States as well: the extent of water pollution in China, wells dry from overpumping (“most acute in India”), the disproportionate cost of clean water around the world in poor households, and ecological migrants.

The chapter “Water in a Changing Climate” considers the effects of global temperate changes on glaciers; precipitation patterns (flooding, storms, droughts, famine); and the “shrinking snowpack” runoff, which has been a “vital source of drinking water and irrigation,” and the devastating impact these conditions have had on freshwater supplies.

While the picture painted is dire, Kallen also points to small strides: new EPA restrictions proposed by President Obama in June 2014 and China’s $294 billion investment in renewable energy in 2013. However, he also acknowledges that the influence of “multitrillion-dollar coal, oil, and gas industries” can thwart proposed regulations.

Running Dry is illustrated with captioned color photos and diagrams. Extensive source notes, a glossary, and a selected bibliography round out this timely and informative book, which raises important questions about the future of our water supplies.

waterfootprintIn Your Water Footprint, Leahy covers some of the same territory as Kallen, stating that while 70 percent of Earth’s surface is water, most of that (nearly 97 percent) is saltwater. Further, most of the freshwater (68.7 percent) is in the form of ice and glaciers. He discusses where we draw the freshwater we use, and how and why our limited resources are rapidly dwindling. In some detail, Leahy also examines the greatest use of freshwater (agriculture, energy, etc.) and considers the reality of water scarcity around the world, concluding that “Humanity faces difficult choices”—choices that will become “even more challenging with growing demands…from a rising population that’s expected to add a billion people by 2030.”

But it’s perhaps his explanation of how a “water footprint” is calculated and his real-life examples and numerous comparisons that will make the greatest impression on readers. Starting with a bottle of cola, Leahy tallies the  water needed to make the beverage, plus the water used in the production and processing of sugar and additives (vanilla extract and caffeine, which “require shockingly large amount of water to grow and process”), the plastic bottle, packaging, and shipping. The total amount of water required for one bottle of cola? Forty-six gallons. Other examples include a pair of jeans (2,000 gallons) and a T-shirt (650 gallons).

Following these discussions are chapters on “Food,” “Manufacturing and Farming,” and other topics, which contain numerous photos, maps, infographics, and illustrated statistical comparisons featuring large-print captions and colorful fonts, illuminated by a smaller-print paragraph (or two) of text. (For example, “A meat-based diet consumes the equivalent of 15 large bathtubs of water—daily, whereas a vegetarian diet consumes only 8” is illustrated with pictures of bathtubs, a steak, and a salad.) Leahy also offers a look at the impact of global warming, global trade, and the mismanagement of resources. His final chapter presents some “water-saving tips.” Extensive source notes and references conclude the volume.

How long will it be until we are all echoing the sailor’s lament heard in Samuel Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” “Water water every where/ [but not] a drop to drink”? Place these books on your classroom and library shelves as soon as possible. Time is running out.

Curriculum Connections

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Daryl Grabarek About Daryl Grabarek

Daryl Grabarek dgrabarek@mediasourceinc.com is the editor of School Library Journal's monthly enewsletter, Curriculum Connections, and its online column Touch and Go. Before coming to SLJ, she held librarian positions in private, school, public, and college libraries. Her dream is to manage a collection on a remote island in the South Pacific.

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