Re: The Wizard and the Prophet (Ch. 5) Water: Freshwater
I appreciate the specific title Mann has chosen for this chapter: "Freshwater," not just "water." It's often said that water covers 75% of the earth, a fact that conveys plentitude. But taking in all that water, just 2.5% of it is the freshwater capable of sustaining terrestrial life, and just 1% of that is available for our use at any given time. That's still a lot of water, enough to sustain the current population and then some. The problem is discrepancies in distribution. There is no feasible way to get Canada's surplus water to California, much less to the Middle East. The case of California illustrates another aspect of the water problem, which is using arid areas for food production on a scale greater than needed to satisfy regional needs.
Wizards favor large projects to divert water from where it is to where it is wanted. That is called the hard path and contrasts to the soft path of Prophets, which focuses on conservation and is the newer approach. Water diversion has been necessary on some scale for the development of civilizations, but mistakes and overextensions have contributed to the demise of numbers of them. Prophets lament perhaps most of all the waste that occurs through both irrigation projects and supplying drinking-quality water to citizens. Water evaporates from canals and soaks into the ground; municipal water pipes are notoriously leaky and prone to breakage.
Mann has several passages that epitomize the Wizard/Prophet split, not just in terms of water, but generally.
And then there is the vision of endless supply seen in desalination--endless supply for areas near oceans, at least. The large scale of these plants, their ownership and operation by big corporations, and their negative environmental effects, make them no favorites of Prophets. (Presumably, desalination would provide the freshwater for the sea-civilization Robert has been talking about.)
Because the largest portion of freshwater needs to go toward making food, Mann covers that topic and ends the chapter with this passage: