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 of water.

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 to water.

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 can swim.

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 of life.

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 of
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