Back in the olden days, philosophers thought a lot about water. Thales (sometimes considered the first philosopher) went out on a limb and proclaimed that “all is water.” This was a gutsy move given the fact that a simple walk around the block will convince most human beings that all is, in fact, not water. But Thales was after something more profound. He was trying to make a distinction between the “really real” and the way things seem, the way things appear. Water is the foundation, he was saying, water is what its all about. Such a distinction pretty much defined the act of philosophizing from then on.

The next guy to make a big claim about water was Heraclitus. He mentioned, notoriously, that you can’t step into the same river twice. For Heraclitus, all was not water…. More…

The battle between a group of Maine villagers and mighty Nestlé is the hook upon which Elizabeth Royte hangs Bottlemania, an examination of the pros and cons of consuming bottled water. It’s a huge issue. Sales of bottled water surpass those of milk and beer; Nestlé’s 2006 profits from its water division were $7.46 billion. And that’s only Nestlé. Coke and Pepsi each market purified water, reaping similar yearly profits. Hundreds of other companies both large and small are earning big bucks from spring water, extra-purified tap water, even bottled rain water that never touches the ground. Among the questions Royte asks are these: Why are we willing to pay for something we can draw from a tap in our homes? What does the consumption of water from individual plastic bottles say about our modern culture? And most important: Is this practice environmentally sustainable?

Royte traces the short history of… More…

 

When I was a youngster in Appalachia, my grandfather and I would sometimes go to the Black Valley Spring to fetch water. Granddad’s summer cottage had no plumbing. We made do with rain barrels, a couple of intermittent springs near the house, and extreme conservation methods that included an outhouse. It was never absolutely necessary to tote water from Black Valley Spring, but Granddad liked the taste of it. The spring stood on county land, and as we sank extra-large mayonnaise jars and ceramic jugs into its depths, he would say, “If this gusher was on someone’s private property, it would be worth a lot of money.”

Granddad was right on two counts: The consistent flow of straight-from-the-mountainside water, so clear you could see the minute ridges in the stones at its bottom, would have brought a private… More…