Chicago’s Own Big Thirst

Thanks to Friends of Debra Shore for providing this information.

The Big Thirst was here! Charles Fishman, author of this landmark book on water, culture, and scarcity, visited the Chicago area this past weekend. Big thanks to Debra Shore, an EcoMyths Alliance advisory board member and Commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (an EMA institutional partner), for alerting us to Fishman’s visit and local appearance on November 13th.

Did you know that:

  • The U.S. uses more water each day then it uses oil in a year?
  • Americans spend almost as much each year buying bottled water as they do maintaining the nation’s entire water system?
  • The U.S. uses less total water today than it did in 1980—despite an economy twice as large?

These and other facts about water issues can be found in The Big Thirst. And here are some quotes Debra shared from the book in her newsletter last week:

“Water is the most familiar substance in our lives… It is also unquestionably the most important substance in our lives. Water vapor is the insulation in our atmosphere that makes Earth a comfortable place for us to live. Water drives our weather and shapes our geography. Water is the lubricant that allows the continents themselves to move. Water is the secret ingredient of our fuel-hungry society. The electricity you use at home each day requires 250 gallons of water per person, not just more than the actual water you use at home in the kitchen and the bathroom but two-and-a-half times more. That new flat-screen TV, it turns out, needs not just a wall outlet and a cable connection but also its own water supply to get going. Who would have guessed?

“Water is also the secret ingredient in the computer chips that make possible everything from MRI machines to Twitter accounts. Indeed, from blue jeans to iPhones, from Kleenex to basmati rice to the steel in your Toyota Prius, every product of modern life is awash in water. The two-liter bottle of Coke in your refrigerator required five liters of water to produce.

“Water is, quite literally, everywhere. When you take a carton of milk from the refrigerator and set it on the table, within a minute or two the outside is covered in a film of condensation—water that has migrated almost instantly from the air of the kitchen to the cold surface of the milk carton.

“But water has achieved an invisibility in our lives that is only more remarkable given how central it is. Water used to be part of the rhythm and motivation of daily life, and there are plenty of places, including farms and whole swaths of the developing world, where it still is.

“But in the United States and the developed world, we’ve spent the last hundred years in a kind of aquatic paradise: our water has been abundant, safe, and cheap. The twentieth century was really the first time when all three of those things were true. It has created a kind of golden age of water, when we could use as much as we wanted, whenever we wanted, for almost no cost.”

— from The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman


If you missed Fishman’s presentation in Wilmette on Sunday night, you can  learn more by buying the book.