The Indian physicist Sir C.V. Raman called water ‘the elixir of life’, the most important substance on our planet. But as Erica Gies reminds us, we have forgotten water’s true nature, which is to flex with the rhythms of the earth, expanding and retreating upon the land. The inexorable march of climate change is turning water into an ever more destructive threat to our survival. The author highlights the escalating destructiveness of natural phenomena such as floods and droughts. In some US regions, the amount of precipitation falling during heavy storms has, in the past 65 years, increased by as much as 55 per cent.
So too have we been outsmarted in our quest to control water. Gies points to the 58,000 or so high dams standing around the globe as an example. An attempt to reclaim water’s power, we are now seeing the perils – not least the harm to aquatic life. The perceived benefits of hydropower may even be illusory – the cement used to build dams accounts for nearly ten per cent of global carbon emissions.
Gies proposes a new path. Like the Italian ‘Slow Food’ movement of the late 20th century, ‘Slow Water’ is an approach that works with local landscapes, climates and cultures, rather than trying to dominate or change them. It seeks to call out the ways in which speeding water off the land causes problems. The goal is to restore natural slow phases to support local availability, flood control, carbon storage and myriad forms of life.