Water Over Gold
Water is life. Life would literally cease to exist if we had no access to potable water, which is why the absence or scarcity of water can be a seriously concerning factor in any work of literature. What makes a story so compelling is its sense of realism, although fantastic elements may exist, therein lies a universal truth of human experience. Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Paul di Filippo’s “Stone Lives” guide us through worlds that are torn by competition over resources, pollution and systems of inequality.
Parable of the Sower is a perfect example of this fear surrounding depleted resources. In Lauren’s world of mayhem, we see that the environment has been so degraded that water has become a scarce commodity. Corporations are buying up whole cities in the hopes of turning a profit, in exchange for provisions and housing—modern indentured servitude. The act of consuming water in public, can make that person a target—and this even happens in Parable, as Lauren witnesses, after her exit from Robledo where a man is beaten and robbed after taking a sip of water. The idea of limited fresh water is not so unbelievable, and our society’s current trend concerning sustainability does not take a humble approach, we tend to view such resources as unlimited, when in fact, it is not.
The same parallel may be drawn from “Stone Lives”, although Stone lives in contested grounds—that is, a corporation has yet to develop the land into a profitable entity—and water is a scarce commodity as well. In the beginning of this story, Stone describes his “secret” water source that he has discovered and his possessiveness over this find shows the reader how much of an issue fresh drinking water is in his world. In fact, in order to gain access to those important resources in the Bungle, those who inhabit it must out themselves at the mercy of corporations that hire them and more often than not, those jobs require some rather unethical procedures.
While we currently have access to fresh drinking water, the confidence that this will be so in thirty years is waning. The National Water Research Institute projects that water availability will decline drastically by 2050, if current consumption trends maintain—which could leave nearly sixty countries worldwide with limited access to fresh water (2). Although we live in a planet abundant with water, much of that water would require processing to make it potable, such as ocean water; however, the process of desalination requires a great deal of money, which many countries may not have (Schnoor 2). There are many factors at play regarding access to fresh water, and this can be seen in Parable and “Stone”; In Lauren’s world, the environment has been so polluted and degraded by a lack of industrial regulation, it has accelerated climate change, which threatens our largest source of freshwater—the glaciers. Stone’s lack of access to water has much to do with the lack of development of the Bungle—not unlike third world countries, which lack the resources to access those stores of water.
Schnoor, Jerald. “Water Sustainability in a Changing World.” National Water Research Institute. 2010, pp 1-17. http://nwri-usa.org/pdfs/2010ClarkePrizeLecture.pdf
Perlman, Howard. “Ice, Snow, and Glaciers: The Water Cycle.” U.S. Geological Survey. 2016. https://water.usgs.gov/edu/watercycleice.html