What is Avid Weekly Ideas?
Each week I publish an idea or two either from a book I am currently reading or from my backlog of book notes. 📚
Of course, this isn’t intended to replace book notes or reading the book itself. Instead the aim is to extract a key idea or two from a book that struck me as insightful and share-worthy. Then I package it into a bite-sized digestible chunk. I hope these little nuggets of insight will spark some inspiration or ideas in your own mind. 💡
The Miracle of Water
I don’t know about you but water is one of those things I mostly take for granted.
Like air, we only start to appreciate it when it’s in short supply. 💨
This week’s passage illustrates just how amazing and interesting water is. And also well…just how weird humans can be at times if you really think about it. 😊
I love passages like this that can make a seemingly mundane everyday topic fascinating.
Imagine trying to live in a world dominated by dihydrogen oxide, a compound that has no taste or smell and is so variable in its properties that it is generally benign but at other times swiftly lethal. Depending on its state, it can scald you or freeze you. In the presence of certain organic molecules it can form carbonic acids so nasty that they can strip the leaves from trees and eat the faces off statuary. In bulk, when agitated, it can strike with a fury that no human edifice could withstand. Even for those who have learned to live with it, it is an often murderous substance. We call it water.
Water is everywhere. A potato is 80 per cent water, a cow 74 per cent, a bacterium 75 per cent. A tomato, at 95 per cent, is little but water. Even humans are 65 per cent water, making us more liquid than solid by a margin of almost two to one. Water is strange stuff. It is formless and transparent, and yet we long to be beside it. It has no taste and yet we love the taste of it. We will travel great distances and pay small fortunes to see it in sunshine. And even though we know it is dangerous and drowns tens of thousands of people every year, we can’t wait to frolic in it.
It goes without saying but Bryson also points out how dependent humans are on water:
I hardly need point out that we would be lost without it. Deprived of water, the human body rapidly falls apart. Within days, the lips vanish “as if amputated, the gums blacken, the nose withers to half its length, and the skin so contracts around the eyes as to prevent blinking,” according to one account. Water is so vital to us that it is easy to overlook that all but the smallest fraction of the water on Earth is poisonous to us—deadly poisonous—because of the salts within it.
He goes on to describe the finite nature of water on Earth, and the relatively small proportion of fresh water:
There are 1.3 billion cubic kilometres of water on Earth and that is all we’re ever going to get. The system is closed: practically speaking, nothing can be added or subtracted. The water you drink has been around doing its job since the Earth was young. By 3.8 billion years ago, the oceans had (at least more or less) achieved their present volumes. The water realm is known as the hydrosphere and it is overwhelmingly oceanic. Ninety-seven per cent of all the water on Earth is in the seas…Of the 3 per cent of Earth’s water that is fresh, most exists as ice sheets. Only the tiniest amount—0.036 per cent—is found in lakes, rivers and reservoirs, and an even smaller part—just 0.001 per cent—exists in clouds or as vapour. Nearly 90 per cent of the planet’s ice is in Antarctica and most of the rest is in Greenland.
So next time you have a nice cool glass of water, take a moment and thank God for the miracle substance you are holding in your hand. Cheers! 🥛
TL;DR of key ideas
- Water is an extraordinary substance. It has many interesting properties that make it uniquely suitable to sustain life on Earth. Quite miraculous indeed.
- It goes without saying but the human body deteriorates and withers really fast without water. That’s why you can survive without food for weeks but without water you can only survive a few days.
- Though the Earth is made up of far more water than land, only a small amount of the water in the world is fresh water that is suitable for human consumption.
If you liked this week’s idea, please consider reading the entire book to get the full context and meaning. 📚
Thanks for reading. If you enjoy these weekly bite-sized chunks of ideas from books and would like to support them, there are a couple of ways you could do that.
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