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Town Hall Seattle: Science Series

Town Hall’s Science series is dedicated to understanding the world around us. Whether we’re hearing from a legendary physicist or a UW graduate student, the Science series explores math, biology, chemistry, the environment, and so much more.

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Jul 5, 2023

From the very creation of the planet to the present day, water has always been central to life on Earth. And while the amount of water on our planet has not changed, it has, in fact, changed the world. It has shaped our very existence.

Renowned scientist Peter Gleick sheds light on water’s long history in his book, The Three Ages of Water. Gleick recounts how water has developed civilizations and empires, and driven centuries of advances in science and technology — from agriculture to aqueducts, steam power to space exploration — and progress in health and medicine.

But the achievements that have propelled humanity forward also brought consequences like unsustainable water use, ecological destruction, and global climate change, that now threaten to send us into a new dark age. In Gleick’s research, he has found that billions of people today do not have access to clean water or sanitation. The scarcity of this fixed resource, Gleick believes, is directly linked to the growing violence and conflicts around the globe.

Gleick says that we must change our ways, and quickly, to usher in a new age of water for the benefit of everyone. Drawing from the lessons of our past, Gleick charts a path toward a sustainable future for water and the planet. While water may be a fixed resource, Gleick believes we have the power to change the trajectory of the planet’s future by understanding its role in today’s current climate.

Peter Gleick is perhaps the world’s most widely known and cited water expert. Educated at Yale and Berkeley, he went on to cofound the Pacific Institute, the leading independent research group devoted to reimagining water for a changing world. He is a scientist by training, winner of a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” award, and an elected member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. In 2018 he was awarded the Carl Sagan Prize for Science Popularization. He lives in Berkeley, California.