Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Interviews, Recommendations, and More

Maude Barlow's Boiling Point: An Excerpt

Passionate and cogent, this could be the most important book of the year for Canadians.

Book Cover Boiling Point

Maude Barlow's Boiling Point: Government Neglect, Corporate Abuse and Canada's Water Crisis is a self-described "cry from the heart" from one of the world's foremost water activists. "Passionate and cogent, this could be the most important book of the year for Canadians." We're pleased to feature an excerpt here, and along with a list of other remarkable books on the subject of water. 


For over three decades, I have travelled the world, learning about water, learning that abundance is not a given, and that the future of the human race and the species with whom we share this planet is literally dependent upon it. I have stood in solidarity with those fighting for water justice in their communities or trying to save endangered lakes and rivers from contamination, overextraction and corporate malfeasance, and I am always amazed at how far away these struggles appear to be to most Canadians when I return home.

For make no mistake, the world is running out of accessible water. On World Water Day 2015, the UN reported that demand for water will increase by 55% over the next 15 years. By that time global water resources will meet only 60% of the world’s demand. A 2016 report from leading scientists warned that two-thirds of the global population currently lives with severe water scarcity for at least one month of every year and almost 2 billion suffer severe water scarcity for at least half of every year. The water crisis could affect as many as 7 billion people by 2075. UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon gathered 500 scientists together who concluded that our global abuse of water has caused the planet to enter a “new geologic age” akin to the retreat of the glaciers over 11,000 years ago.

It is no surprise that some parts of the world, such as Australia, many countries in Africa and all of the Middle East, are in water crisis as they had few water resources to begin with. But the crisis has suddenly moved well beyond the expected. Canadians would be wise to look at other traditionally water-rich countries for insight into what could happen to us if we do not plan, if we do not hold our governments accountable to build a coherent water strategy for the future. Brazil, listed by the UN as being the most water-rich country in the world, is experiencing such devastating drought in its southern region that 20 million people are at risk, and the city of São Paulo almost ran its reservoir dry last year. Muddy sludge clogged municipal pipes as residents turned on their taps. In China, over half the rivers have disappeared in just 25 years. The United States, listed as the eighth water-richest country in the world, has been experiencing a multi-year drought rivalling the Dust Bowl of the 1930s throughout large swaths of its south and west.

In 2015, California had to impose strict water rationing in many communities, and neighbour turned against neighbor as people battled over compliance. While it is true that El Niño–driven rains have provided some relief to the most drought-stricken parts of the U.S., scientists believe that it is short-lived and that droughts in the arid parts of the U.S. will become both more frequent and longer lasting.

A perfect storm of declining water supplies, rising poverty levels and climbing water rates has brought what we have always thought of as third-world issues to our own doorstep.

"Despite our shared mythology of limitless water, Canada is not immune to the world’s most pressing problem."

Despite our shared mythology of limitless water, Canada is not immune to this, the world’s most pressing problem. We face serious issues of water contamination, eutrophication, overextraction, glacial melt and climate change. Extractive energy and mining projects endanger our waterways. Corporations are eyeing Canada’s water, setting up bottled water operations and bidding to run water services on a for-profit basis. There are even renewed calls to allow bulk commercial water exports to drought-stricken states.

Water protection regulations across the country are uneven and generally inadequate, and federal rules are almost non-existent. They are a patchwork of outdated, vague and even conflicting regulations with no coherent overarching principles or rational planning. Many of our laws were originally enacted well over a century ago for a country that was still largely rural and agrarian and whose population mostly extracted water for their own use. As our economy grew and industrialized, our governments updated laws, enacted new ones and set regulations piecemeal as situations and need arose. There was little understanding, among either the general population or elected officials, of the consequences of pollution, overuse or overextraction. Our forebears genuinely believed that clean water would always be available and that there was more than enough for every purpose. 

We have only recently begun to realize how mistaken that belief was.

This book is a cry from the heart. It is time to abandon our erroneous beliefs that Canada has unlimited supplies of water, that Canadians have taken care of this water heritage or that we still have lots of time to do so. We need a strong, national plan of action based on a new water ethic that puts water protection and water justice at the heart of all our policies and laws. The path forward is clear, if not simple.

From the book Boiling Point: Government Neglect, Corporate Abuse, and Canada’s Water Crisis, by Maude Barlow. Published in 2016 by ECW Press. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.


Book Cover Boiling Point

About Boiling Point:

We are complacent. We bask in the idea that Canada holds 20% of the world’s fresh water—water crises face other countries, but not ours. We could not be more wrong. In Boiling Point, bestselling author and activist Maude Barlow lays bare the issues facing Canada’s water reserves, including long-outdated water laws, unmapped and unprotected groundwater reserves, agricultural pollution, industrial-waste dumping, boil-water advisories, and the effects of deforestation and climate change. This will be the defining issue of the coming decade, and most of us have no idea that it is on our very own doorstep.

Barlow is one of the world’s foremost water activists and she has been on the front lines of the world’s water crises for the past 20 years. She has seen first-hand the scale of the water problems facing much of the world, but also many of the solutions that are being applied. In Boiling Point, she brings this wealth of experience and expertise home to craft a compelling blueprint for Canada’s water security.


49th Shelf Recommends Further Reading: 

Book Cover Blue Covenant

Blue Covenant, by Maude Barlow

About the book: An Inconvenient Truth of water.

Imagine a world in twenty years, in which no substantive progress has been made to provide basic wastewater service in the Third World, or to force industry and industrial agriculture production to stop polluting water systems, or to curb the mass movement of water by pipeline, tanker and other diversion, which will have created huge new swaths of desert.

Desalination plants will ring the world’s oceans, many of them run by nuclear power; corporate nanotechnology will clean up sewage water and sell it to private utilities who will sell it back to us at a huge profit; the rich will drink only bottled water found in the few remote parts of the world left or sucked from the clouds by machines, while the poor die in increasing numbers. This is not science fiction. This is where the world is headed unless we change course.


Book Cover Undercurrent

Undercurrent, by Rita Wong

About the book: The water belongs to itself. undercurrent reflects on the power and sacredness of water--largely underappreciated by too many--whether it be in the form of ocean currents, the headwaters of the Fraser River or fluids in the womb. Exploring a variety of poetic forms, anecdote, allusion and visual elements, this collection reminds humanity that we are water bodies, and we need and deserve better ways of honouring this.

Poet Rita Wong approaches water through personal, cultural and political lenses. She humbles herself to water both physically and spiritually: "i will apprentice myself to creeks & tributaries, groundwater & glaciers / listen for the salty pulse within, the blood that recognizes marine ancestry." She witnesses the contamination of First Nations homelands and sites, such as Gregoire Lake near Fort McMurray, AB: "though you look placid, peaceful dibenzothiophenes / you hold bitter, bitumized depths." Wong points out that though capitalism and industry are supposed to improve our quality of life, they're destroying the very things that give us life in the first place. Listening to and learning from water is key to a future of peace and creative potential.


Book Cover What is Water

What is Water? The History of a Modern Abstraction, by Jamie Linton

About the book: We all know what water is, and we often take it for granted. But thespectre of a worldwide water crisis suggests that there might besomething fundamentally wrong with the way we think about water. Jamie Linton dives into the history of water as an abstractconcept, stripped of its environmental, social, and cultural contexts.Reduced to a scientific abstraction—to mere H20—this concept has given modern society licence to dam, divert,and manipulate water with apparent impunity. Part of the solution tothe water crisis involves reinvesting water with social content, thusaltering the way we see water. An original take ona deceptively complex issue, What Is Water? offers afresh approach to a fundamental problem.


Book Cover Water as a Social Opportunity

Water as a Social Opportunity, by Seanna L. Davidson; Warren E. Mabee & Jamie Linton

About the book: Often when water is thought about, the focus is on problems, challenges, and crises. In November 2012, a group of researchers came together at Queen’s University with the idea that it is more illuminating and constructive to think about water as an opportunity. 

Water as a Social Opportunity conveys the idea that the ways in which society responds to water-related challenges has the potential to yield a variety of positive outcomes not just for water, or the economy, but for society more broadly. Contributors consider water issues across Canada from this original perspective, and suggest this concept as a basis for developing a long-overdue national water strategy in Canada.


Book Cover Back to the Well

Back to the Well: Rethinking the Future of Water, by Marq de Villiers

About the book: Droughts, floods, and contamination of fresh water in the american Southwest, in the Great Lakes region, in Australia, in northern china, in the Middle East, and in India have broguht the critical issue of water supply to the forefront of public consciousness. In dozens of countries, ordinary citizens have cause to worry about what (or how much) will come out of their taps—if they even have taps—and who will make sure it is available, affordable, and safe.

In this refreshing examination of the fate and future of water, Marq de Villiers takes on some of the biggest questions and shibboleths of the century. Who owns water? is access to water a human right? Who is responsible for keeping water clean and ensuring it gets to the people who need it most? Is privatization of ownership and supply networks an evil or an extension of the public trust?

Fifteen years after the publication of Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource, his influential Governor General's Award-winning book on the water crisis, de Villiers returns with a clear-eyed assessment of the politics of water—from the personal and commercial uses of water to the impact of climate change and global conflicts. Examining how political ideologies often obscure the underlying issues, de Villiers makes the controversial suggestion that there is no global water crisis, but that water problems are fundamentally local and regional and can most effectively be addressed through local, rather than global, action.


book cover downstream

downstream: reimagining water, edited by Dorothy Christian and Rita Wong

About the book: downstream: reimagining water brings together artists, writers, scientists, scholars, environmentalists, and activists who understand that our shared human need for clean water is crucial to building peace and good relationships with one another and the planet. This book explores the key roles that culture, arts, and the humanities play in supporting healthy water-based ecology and provides local, global, and Indigenous perspectives on water that help to guide our societies in a time of global warming. The contributions range from practical to visionary, and each of the four sections closes with a poem to encourage personal freedom along with collective care. 

This book contributes to the formation of an intergenerational, culturally inclusive, participatory water ethic. Such an ethic arises from intellectual courage, spiritual responsibilities, practical knowledge, and deep appreciation for human dependence on water for a meaningful quality of life. Downstream illuminates how water teaches us interdependence with other humans and living creatures, both near and far.


Book Cover Border Flows

Border Flows: A Century of the Canadian/American Water Relationship, by Lynne Heasley and Daniel Macfarlane

About the book: Declining access to fresh water is one of the twenty-first century’s most pressing environmental and human rights challenges, yet the struggle for water is not a new cause. The 8,800-kilometer border dividing Canada and the United States contains more than 20 percent of the world’s total freshwater resources, and Border Flows traces the century-long effort by Canada and the United States to manage and care for their ecologically and economically shared rivers and lakes. Ranging across the continent, from the Great Lakes to the Northwest Passage to the Salish Sea, the histories in Border Flows offer critical insights into the historical struggle to care for these vital waters. From multiple perspectives, the book reveals alternative paradigms in water history, law, and policy at scales from the local to the transnational. Students, concerned citizens, and policymakers alike will benefit from the lessons to be found along this critical international border.

Comments here

comments powered by Disqus

More from the Blog