Friday, October 23, 2009

a good book and a burble on rivers

Upper Taieri River

I'm currently rereading a book “When the rivers run dry” by Fred Pearce. I really recommend it and this is my second time through. Is there anyone who can remember what our rivers near our towns and cities used to be like? They have been given a pretty hard time and they are suffering. It seems we have a blindspot with rivers and water. Maybe we think it will always be the way it is and we just don't notice the changes that have occured. But of course it's not like we can walk around all day thinking about rivers. Luckily, hopefully, that is what a blog is for :)

As fred writes;

“Earth is the water planet. It contains an unimaginable 1.4 billion cubic kilometres of the stuff. 97% is seawater. Of the remaining 35 million cubic kilometres of fresh water on or near the planets surface, two-thirds is locked up in ice-caps and glaciers and one-third, about 12 million cubic kilometres, is in liquid form. The greater part of it is in the pores of rocks. These reservoirs of underground water, known as aquifers, vary hugely in their accessibility and drinkability. But the water is there, beneath our feet.

The remaining smidgeon of the world's liquid waterfresh water- we are now down to a mere 200,000 cubic kilometres, are in lakes, and there is probably another 90,000 cubic kiilometres in soils and permafrost. Next comes atmospheric water vapour, which contains another 13,000 cubic kilometres; rivers, which contain around 2,000 cubic kilometres at any one time and living organisms, from rainforests to you and me, with about 1,000 cubic kilometres.”

Yes there is a lot of water but water is part of fast and slow water cycles and not that accessible even when you would expect it to be. Rivers for instance. “Hydrologists reckon the maximum that might reasonably be caught and used by humans employing currrent technology is 14,000 cubic kilometres. The three rivers with the biggest flows- the Amazon, Congo and Orinoco – all pass through inhospitable jungle for most of their journey from headwaters to the sea. Those three alone carry almost quarter of the water we have to survive on. And two more of the top ten – the Lena and Yenisei in Siberia – run mostly into the Arctic. A tenth of the world's river waters flow into the Arctic. Take out these and we are left with around 9,000 cubic kilometres of river water for our needs.”

For too long we have taken our rivers for granted. We don't actually have that much water to go around. We are blaise about water and rivers, but we know that the real truth is our rivers are all degraded from what we remember even from a few years ago. We need to wake up. There are lots of rivers under threat right now, from all sorts of 'developments'. Keep your ear to the ground about what's happening near you and your rivers. There is alot going on. Part of the solution is to get tangata whenua engaged and empowered, working together with all interested parties like environmentalists and fish and game (I take my hat off to fish and game they are fighting hard to protect rivers – thank you) and anyone else who loves the rivers the way they are. Provide a united front, backed up with all the analysis and number crunching that is needed. All parts can work together for common goals. But base it upon tangata whenua that is the immovable foundation. Anyway i digress.

The chapter titles of the book tell the story.
“When rivers run dry,”

the crops fail
we mine our childrens future
the wet places die
floods may not be far behind
engineers pour concrete
men go to war over water
civizations fall
we go looking for new water
we try to catch the rain
we go with the flow

You see, the book is optimistic and we have to be – don't we.

We are blessed with great rivers in this country and we must protect them. Damming more rivers is not the way to go. Creating dairy farms in places where cows shouldn't be is not the way to go. Mining National Parks for their mineral wealth is not the way to go. Those three things and more affect our rivers and the rivers are here under our guardianship our kaitiakitanga our protection. We can chose what happens to them. And we must protect against as Fred says,

“... what environmentalists call 'the tragedy of the commons'. Everybody chases short-term wealth even at the cost of destroying their long-term collective future. Nobody can afford to miss out on the boom, because they will all share in the eventual bust. Some think it is what we are doing to the planet.”

Are we going to do that here? Are we doing it already? It seems hard to fathom. I can promise you there are rivers in this country still unblemished by fouling. Still undamed and untamed. And it is possible to save our existing rivers and protect them more from here on in. We just have to think about it a little.

I'm only 80 pages into Freds book and I already feel inspired.

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