Water: A Biography
Mon., Sept. 20, 2021 • 1:00pm PT • Live • Online
In conversation with Lynn Scarlett
Spanning millennia and continents, here is a stunningly revealing history of how the distribution of water has shaped human civilization.
Writing with authority and brio, Giulio Boccaletti—honorary research associate at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford—shrewdly combines environmental and social history, beginning with the earliest civilizations of sedentary farmers on the banks of the Nile, the Tigris, and the Euphrates Rivers. Even as he describes how these societies were made possible by sea-level changes from the last glacial melt, he incisively examines how this type of farming led to irrigation and multiple cropping, which, in turn, led to a population explosion and labor specialization.
We see with clarity how irrigation’s structure informed social structure (inventions such as the calendar sprung from agricultural necessity); how in ancient Greece, the communal ownership of wells laid the groundwork for democracy; how the Greek and Roman experiences with water security resulted in systems of taxation; and how the modern world as we know it began with a legal framework for the development of water infrastructure.
Extraordinary for its monumental scope and piercing insightfulness, Water: A Biography richly enlarges our understanding of our relationship to—and fundamental reliance on—the most elemental substance on earth.
Giulio Boccaletti is a globally recognized expert on natural resource security and environmental sustainability. He is an honorary research associate at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford. Trained as a physicist and climate scientist, he holds a doctorate from Princeton University, where he was a NASA Earth Systems Science Fellow. He has been a research scientist at MIT and was a partner at McKinsey & Company, where he was one of the leaders of its Sustainability and Resource Productivity Practice, and the chief strategy officer and global ambassador for water at The Nature Conservancy, one of the world’s largest environmental organizations. Boccaletti frequently writes on environmental issues for the news media, including Project Syndicate and The Guardian, and is an expert contributor to the World Economic Forum. His work on water has been featured in the PBS documentary series H2O: The Molecule That Made Us. He lives in London.
Lynn Scarlett is Chief External Affairs Officer at The Nature Conservancy. In this role, she influences climate and conservation policy in the United States and the 72 countries and territories in which TNC operates; with our Corporate Engagement team, advances private-sector partnerships to support sustainability and enhance ambitious actions to address climate change; and oversees NatureVest, our impact-investing team. Prior to her role at the Conservancy, Lynn was the Deputy Secretary/Chief Operating Officer of the U.S. Department of the Interior, where she also served as Acting Secretary of the Interior in 2006. While Interior’s Deputy Secretary, Lynn initiated and chaired the Department’s Cooperative Conservation Working Group and its first-ever Climate Change Task Force. She established the Interior Department’s Ocean and Coastal activities office and chaired the federal Wildland Fire Leadership Council. She served on the Executive Committee of the President’s Management Council and co-chaired the First Lady’s Preserve America initiative. Lynn is author or co-author of publications on climate change adaptation; ecosystem services; large landscape conservation; and science and decision making. She was a co-convening lead author of the 2014 National Climate Assessment. She chaired the Science Advisory Board of NOAA from 2014-2019 and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences Sustainability Roundtable. She is on the Dean’s Advisory Council of the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at UC Santa Barbara. She serves on the advisory board of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is on the board of trustees of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, and board emeritus of the National Wildlife Refuge Association. Lynn received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in political science from the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she also completed her Ph.D. coursework and exams in political science and political economy.
Giulio Boccaletti photo by Andrea Mattiello