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The problem with water

Water by David LeamanBy Fred Baker | Water — Facts, issues, problems and solutions is not an easy book — but then water isn’t easy to understand. In fact, it’s downright weird.

Geologist David Leaman says if you want to understand how liquids behave, don’t study water.

The scope of the book is limited mostly to Tasmania, which is not noted in as suffering much of a water problem. Actually, it suffers from almost all the problems driving the catastrophe on the mainland and, given its small size, Tasmania is an ideal case study because of its geological and hydrological variety. It’s the Australian canary, warning us of dangers before we can smell them.

The behaviour of this odd liquid determines life on earth. We rarely notice its arcane workings unless there is either too much of it or, more so lately, too little. This book will jolt us out of a potentially fatal complacency.

Like all tellers of inconvenient truths, Leaman has been attacked by those who want to continue the untrammelled exploitation of this most fundamental of all resources and by myopic politicians who see no further than the next election.

The trouble with current debates about water is split vision. On the one hand we have the economy, a sacrosanct entity invoked whenever awkward questions are asked about what we’re doing to the world; and on the other we have the environment, which is over there somewhere in a special little box in the political mind, quite distinct from the economy.

… through our
profligacy
we have intervened
so massively
… we risk throwing it
completely out of balance

The economy is definitely not in the environment, but the environment can be in the economy whenever it can be dug up, chopped down or sold off in plastic bottles.

Water underlies everything, including the economy. Our world is a vast, self-adjusting hydrostatic machine, and through our profligacy we have intervened so massively in its workings that we risk throwing it completely out of balance. Unless we learn to husband water more carefully, there won’t be an economy any more.

That is Leaman’s ultimate message and that is why anyone who cares about the way the world is going ought to make the effort to read this difficult book.

It’s difficult because the subject is so complex. The hydrological cycle can be easily grasped but its consequences are not only unpredictable but seem to defy logic without the understanding this book brings.

Its replete with graphs, tables and maps; it covers land use, power generation, forestry practices, engineering, the politics of privatisation, pollution, erosion, to name just a few of the fundamental questions raised by water and how we use and abuse it. And it can’t all be done in layman’s language.

Earlier editions of this book — this is the third — had the subtitle ‘Facts, issues and problems’; this one adds ‘solutions’. But those solutions won’t come about unless we can get our leaders to get their eyes off the bottom line and take the plunge.


Water — Facts, issues, problems and solutions by David Leaman | Published by Leaman Geophysics | ISBN 978-0-9581199-4-8
Available in Tasmania only at The Green Shop, 83 Harrington St, Hobart, and the Green Room, 174 Charles St. Launceston. Normally $40 but offered by The Greens at the special price of $25.