ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Tackling Water Conundrums

In his review of Jayanta Bandyopadhyay’s Water, Ecosystems and Society: A Confluence of Disciplines (EPW, 5 December 2009), Ramaswamy R Iyer, while being generally appreciative of the book, picks up some quibbles with the author. The first, and I believe, the most important question raised by Ramaswamy Iyer concerns the relationship between reductionist versus holistic perspectives on one hand, and a stock versus flow perception of water on the other. He suggests that there is no obvious connection between the two transitions that Bandyopadhyay calls for in his book – the transition from reductionist to holistic understanding of water, and a transition from looking at water as a flow rather than stock.

For much of human history, the biophysical foundations of societies were governed by the solar flow that is, for all practical purposes, stock-unlimited but flow-limited (human agency cannot alter the rates of flow). Beginning with coal and then rapidly accelerating during the present oil-age, industrial societies in the modern world turned to stock-limited but flow-unlimited terrestrial resources as their biophysical base. The differences between these two modes of securing our biophysical foundations are more than material or technical. Instead, these two modes lead to two very different kinds of civilisations with fundamentally different epistemological positions (that approximately correspond to “reductionist” and “holistic perspectives”, respectively).

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