Reflections on Water
by John Todd
Reprinted below are thoughts about water by a man who has
spent his life enjoying it, studying it, and working with it. Dr. John Todd and his
wife Nancy Jack Todd are founders of the New Alchemy Institute and Ocean Arks International,
devoted to developing and implementing environmentally sustainable technologies.
They have received numerous awards during their more than two decades of work, are
authors of a number of books, and currently publish Annals of Earth, in which the
following first appeared.
Our liquid planet glows like a soft blue sapphire in the hard-edged
darkness of space. There is nothing else like it in the solar system. It is because
Water is the ultimate mystery. I was born on the north shore of Lake Ontario and
was always a water child. My bedroom was only a hundred feet from the water. I lived
on it, in it, under it. My favorite pastime was canoeing on it through the miles
of beautiful marshes.
I used to walk to school along a creek bed and -- I hate to confess -- there were
many days when I didn’t get all the way there. The life in the lakes and streams
was so rich and varied. My indulgent parents tended to overlook the fact that I had
lost track of time and would end up at home at noon, thinking it was four o’clock.
The early part of my life was intimately entwined with the flowing, the moving, the
sounds of water. Then, abruptly, the basis of my world began to be destroyed by development.
I saw streams disappear. Burlington Bay became polluted and the fish I knew so well
disappeared. That initiated my search -- the journey I am still on -- my commitment
Many years later, I encountered Sir Alaster Hardy’s theory that we human beings,
we “naked apes,” developed as we have during a long period in which we lived in the
water. He pointed out that we, like marine mammals, shed salt tears. Like them, we
have subcutaneous fats. We have a larynx and air passages that could have evolved
through diving and living in the water. These allow us, like whales and some of the
other marine mammals, to make complex sounds. Perhaps the most compelling argument
for our water origins is that an infant child can neither walk, nor crawl, but it
In my own work as a scientist and biological explorer, water continues to take on
new meaning. This substance, water, H2O, is really a scientific freak.
It has a rare property in that it becomes denser as a liquid than it is as a solid.
And in that behavioral property is the reason for life on Earth. If it weren’t so,
if like other substances the solid state were the denser, lakes would freeze from
the bottom up and would never melt. The whole planet would be a ball of ice.
Water is the only substance occurring naturally in solid, liquid, and gaseous states.
In time it can dissolve any other substance on the planet. It is made up of two abundant
elements, hydrogen and oxygen. One burns, the other aids combustion. Together they
quench our thirst and douse our fires.
Apparently, no one has ever seen a water molecule. The formula H2O is simple, the
reality is complex. People who have made X-ray studies have observed that the atoms
in water are so intricately laced they resemble, in miniature, what has been described
as entire rivers from the headwaters to the sea.
A single water molecule is tied together by billions of tiny bonds. One of the great
mysteries of water is the way in which the hydrogen atoms are attached to oxygen.
Most molecules, when they assemble themselves, adopt a regular geometry coming together
at 45, 60, or 90 degrees.
In the case of water, the two hydrogen atoms always rest against the atom of oxygen
at an angle of 104.5 degrees. Always. This has been described as the angle of life.
This is the secret of why this is not a frozen, bleak planet. Water has so many unique
attributes. The more one knows the more mysterious it becomes.
And we are water. About 70 percent of the human body is water. Roughly 150,000 pounds
of it passes through us in our lifetimes -- 75 tons. Water is the blood of the Earth.
It is the great climatic regulator. Without it there would be no climate. If, as
Vernadsky said, water is life, the quality of water should determine the quality
For me, this creates a real sense of urgency. I think that the restoration and protection
of water should be the first order of business. Analyzing the problems can only take
us so far. What is needed is to create a generation of people committed to becoming
stewards of the water.
Reprinted from TIMELINE, a bimonthly newsletter
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