This image has been going around the intertubes recently, I saw it first on Planet 3.0 and again on APOD. It is one of those interesting illustrations of large quantities that seems surprising or anti-intuitive either because you never thought about it carefully before or just because it is hard to get your head around sizes that are so far outside the realm of everyday experience.
Anyway, I am posting it because my wife insisted (a very unusual turn of events, considering the usual frown upon spending my non-work time on the computer!). When she saw it she became quite alarmed and thought people should see just how little water there is and how it is actually small enough that our polluting activities are a threat.
A new version popped up that puts the much smaller quantity of fresh water into perspective.
And don’t forget that that ball of freshwater is mostly out of range of our drinking glasses and irrigation systems. A full 74.5% of that much smaller ball is locked away in ice caps and glaciers and 24.7% is groundwater (much of that out of reach). There is only .56% of the world’s freshwater circulating in lakes, rivers, rainfall, soil and the biosphere.
We poison it at our peril, this goes without saying, yet I am sure another image of that much smaller ball of water set beside something on a more human scale, like a large city, would provoke an opposite “wow, there is so much!” reaction.
This seems to touch on a lot of interesting ethical communication issues, but I don’t really know what to make of them. Is it wrong to pick the view that triggers the reaction you want (“Oh no! There is so little!” or “Bah! Look at all that, let’s frac-away!”), even if it is what you believe to be the case?