The Wizard and the Prophet (Ch. 5) Water: Freshwater
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Author:  Chris OConnor [ Tue Dec 10, 2019 1:52 pm ]
Post subject:  The Wizard and the Prophet (Ch. 5) Water: Freshwater

The Wizard and the Prophet (Ch. 5) Water: Freshwater

Please use this thread to discuss the above chapter.

Author:  DWill [ Tue Mar 17, 2020 9:24 am ]
Post subject:  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.
Like Howard's vision for agriculture, the soft path is about limits and values. It is, Brooks has said, "a human vision toward a sustainable future." At one level, it is about reforming institutions; at another about changing habits. Ultimately, though, it is a vision of the human place in nature. Hard-path supporters see technology placing humanity in charge: we can move H2O molecules wherever we want to satisfy our wishes. Soft-path people think this level of control is illusory--cooperation and adjustment, not command and control, is the way to live.

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:
The hard path creates universal Wizardly solutions that do not depend on local conditions or knowledge. It leads quite naturally to broad fields of waving grain--visions of concentrated productivity. Societies that develop the soft path will lead toward networks of smaller farms with drip irrigation and multiple crops--the inhabited, networked spaces preferred by Prophets. One values a kind of liberty; the other a kind of community. One sees nature instrumentally, as a set of materials freely available for use; the other believes each ecosystem has an inner integrity and meaning that should be preserved, even if it constrains human actions. The choices lead to radically different pictures of how to live. What looks like a dispute over practical matters is an argument of the heart.

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