The worldwide character of the conservation problem is brought sharply into focus in a book published last month in London, Water & Life, by Lorus and Margery Milne (Deutsch, $3.50). This is a pioneering study of water in terms of world use, and gives an enlightening perspective on the way U.S. problems look compared with those of the rest of the world. The work of a husband and wife team of exploring scientists, Water & Life is also a study of water in relation to the needs of all species, rather than of man alone. The findings are memorable. Man is remarkably dependent on freshwater supplies. Gorillas seem to be able to survive without drinking any. Kangaroo rats, after weaning, may go a lifetime without taking a drink. Our first nine months, however, are almost as aquatic as any fish. Once born, three-tenths of our weight carries the seven-tenths of our physical structure that consists of water. A loss of more than one-tenth of that water is fatal.
What the Milnes call for is not a change in our needs, but a reappraisal of our habits. If the rest of the world used (and wasted) water the way the Americans do, mankind would face a global water shortage within 20 years. Archaic sewage systems are a scandal everywhere; they are the modern world's equivalent of the slaughter of the passenger pigeons. Perhaps cattle require too much water in a dry land for our good. A pound of beefsteak costs 30,000 pounds of water. In the dry lands of Rhodesia herds of antelopes and zebras are now being profitably raised for meat on land too dry for cattle, horses and sheep. Perhaps deer rather than cattle should be raised for food on semi-arid plains in Texas and the Southwest. Sometimes the authors' knowledge of water lore leads them afield—they suggest that an Arab wants two wives so he can keep one at home while the other goes for water—but in general their wide travels and fresh perspective give a distinctive flavor to an important conservation study.