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Our Tempestuous Love Affair with Water

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Davis Centre Library

Ring Road

Room 1302

Waterloo, ON N2L 3G1

Canada

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As part of the Water Institute's WaterTalks lecture series, Anthony Turton, professor in the Centre for Environmental Management at the University of Free State, presents, "Our Tempestuous Love Affair with Water."

Light refreshments will be provided

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The more I have studied water, the more complex I have found the topic to be. This is like a tempestuous love affair with a person of incredible beauty, but also profoundly convoluted complexity. We take it for granted until it’s no longer there. It has an infinitely elastic price curve, yet we fail to value it correctly. Because it’s linked to fundamental survival, we associate it with human rights, but as we discover that survival refers to all species, we face a dilemma in assigning the same rights to environmental flows. Our evolution as the primary species on this planet has been based on the way we control water, typically with hard engineering on a grand scale, yet we arrogantly neglect fundamental lessons from the hard-working beavers that do just that, but with soft engineering on more localized scale. My journey through life has been a deep love affair with water, sometimes torrid, but always interesting, shaped by my early exposure to the Kalahari and the ecological complexity of the Okavango. I have seen water drive national hydraulic missions, water become a weapon of war, and the gentle caress of water on the harsh desert sand rapidly transform the landscape into a sea of petals in an extravagant display of exuberant defiance - until the drought returns. I sense that at planetary level we have all witnessed some of these facets of that beautiful creature called water, and as we reach for Mars, we will realize just how profound that substance is beyond our own planet located on a nebulous arm of the Milky Way galaxy, floating in the infinity of outer space. But the most important lesson I have learned is that we misunderstand water by regarding it as a stock, to be used once and discarded; because in reality, it’s a flux moving in time and space. This makes it infinitely renewable and therefore unique.

About the speaker

Anthony Turton is a professor in the Centre for Environmental Management at the University of Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa. His speciality is transboundary water resource management, initially approached from a national security perspective.

He grew up on the Kalahari, the son of a big game hunter, with early exposure to water flowing from the Okavango Delta into the desert of the Makgakgadi Depression. Here he learned about water as ecological flows sustaining livelihoods in a harsh desert. He later served as a soldier in an armoured reconnaissance unit, facing off against Russian T55 tanks manned by Cubans in the build up to the last hot battle of the Cold War. Here he witnessed water as a weapon of war. He then served in a Special Operations unit, brought together to capture the mastermind of the Pretoria car bomb, detonated outside Airforce headquarters with large loss of life. Here he learned about the effectiveness of highly trained small teams, working at the cutting edge of peacemaking that created the enabling environment for the negotiated transition to democracy. He served under Nelson Mandela and became a founding member of the South African Secret Service (SASS) where he honed his skills in the field of water as a national security risk. He was purged from SASS in an ideological cleansing operation launched by Thabo Mbeki, so he became a Fellow in the Natural Resource and Environment unit at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), developing high impact transdisciplinary teams. Here he developed the concept of “Science in the Service of Society” as a technological tool for rapid socioeconomic development in a fledgling democracy. He was purged from the CSIR in 2008 when his work into uranium as a human health risk in the Witwatersrand Goldfields came into direct conflict with a fraudulent capital raising scheme that needed the environmental liability to remain off balance sheet. This is called state capture, as the extent of President Zuma’s rent-seeking empire becomes known, and was his first harsh encounter with the criminalization of the newly democratized state.

He holds a number of awards, including a Lifetime Achievement from the CSIR (2007), the Habitat Council Award for speaking truth to power (2009), the Nick Steele Memorial Award for Environmentalist of the Year (2010), and he has recently been listed among the eighteen most visible scientists in South Africa.

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Davis Centre Library

Ring Road

Room 1302

Waterloo, ON N2L 3G1

Canada

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