Published: August 25, 2013
When I was a young lad in the Boy Scouts, we were taught that if confused or lost in the woods, we should simply listen, smell and search out water. Upon locating a brook or a stream, simply followed it to a river, and then track the river to reach civilization. All cities were built on coasts or rivers, near water, because it meant good water transportation as well as the chance for available drinking water. In most of Europe and in our own United States, the same dictum holds, except for several cities in the arid dry west which 'borrow' water piped from more blessed neighbors.
When you consider that humans are grown and birthed in water, live on a planet that has a surface that is 70 percent salt water, 28 percent frozen water at the north and south poles, can survive but a few days without water, and are designed with bodies composed of 75 percent water; in a myriad of ways, we truly are hydraulic folks.
In his simply titled book "Water," Steven Solomon describes how most of our world history has taken place in and near water. I frequently check the Baltic Dry Index to see how world business succeeds, and find it a better predictor than some of the nonsense mouthed from Washington. You see, the world BDI numbers tell how many ships sail with full cargoes, and indicate how profitable business really is across the world. Depressions start when world trade collapses, so you see the point. While politicians tell us "we recover," water tells the truth; the BDI is at an all-time low. Go figure.
Have you ever considered the influence of water on world exploration and discovery? The first ships were logs an ancestor mounted to float down the river to hunt, trade, find a new family or start a war.
When the wind was harnessed by sail, we traveled in bigger boats to farther and farther places to uncover untold new vistas. Think of Columbus, Magellan, and Captain Cook. But, alas, when James Watt harnessed vapor water - in our common language, steam - a whole new era opened up with steam ships, steam railroads, steam tractors, steam machines in iron mills, cotton mills, flour mills, and on and on.
The Industrial Revolution did more to advance civilization than most any other single epoch, but upon reflection it was simply a hydraulic or water-driven revolution.
In the West, where would we be without water power from our hydroelectric dams? Hydro accounts for more than 20 percent of the power in 13 western states, with the Colorado and Columbia rivers providing some of the lowest electric rates in the whole country.
The lonely little H2O molecule - underappreciated, overlooked, and wantonly wasted - may well hold the key to the energy needs of future millennia as someone, somewhere, somehow, liberates one of the two hydrogen molecules in water for consumption as the cleanest, most efficient, source of energy ever anticipated.
The water story won't be finished soon, and there are numerous chapters yet to be written; ways that water will surprise and become a saving grace for our futures. Water becomes a more fascinating study each day, even before the children ask "why?"
Jack Flobeck is the founder of Aqua Prima Center, a nonprofit think tank for water research. Readers can contact him at email@example.com.