If you believe, correctly, that
gold, oil and wheat are some of the most valuable commodities on
Earth, think about water for a moment!
There is a fascinating book The
Frozen Water Trade by Gavin Weightman. It's a story of
one man, Frederic Tudor, and his obsessive pursuit of what his
friends and even family viewed as sheer lunacy.
Tudor was certain that he could sell
Massachusetts ice in the tropics at a high profit. He eventually
succeeded, but endured financial ruin, sea-going catastrophes,
multiple trips to debtors' prison and even a mental breakdown on
his way to a fabulous fortune and a place in history.
In the early 1800s, the harvest was what
sailors in the trade called frozen water more commonly known
as ice. It grew into such a thriving business that battles were
fought in court over who owned the ice in winter-locked ponds
and rivers. The ice was harvested by horse-drawn plows and men
wielding chisels, often by the light of the moon (the colder the
temperature, the better the ice harvest).
Properly stored, winter ice could last
through a long sea voyage into tropical climates and all summer
long. In fact, under the right conditions, ice could last for
Some fascinating facts:
- Transplanted British, French and
Spanish colonists in the tropics were the first to put ice
cubes in their drinks. Next time you have a cocktail on the
rocks, hoist a toast to those hardy pioneers.
- It wasn't until the frozen water
trade began that the idea of ice boxes came about ... an
idea that made its way into every American household and
continues with today's refrigerator.
- Though forgotten today, icemen made
deliveries in parts of the United States until the 1950s. My
friend Dennis Dunn, who was born in Detroit in 1946,
remembers well the horse-drawn ice wagon making deliveries
on his street. Refrigeration was invented in the 1800s, but
only became common in American homes with municipal
electrification in the 1920s and '30s. Still, many stubborn
consumers clung to their "ice boxes."
Ice from New England was sold in Calcutta
for 50 years till eventually electrification killed the frozen
And once again, a resource that many take
for granted water is becoming very valuable. Did you know
- Parts of Georgia and North Carolina
could actually run out of water this year, unless they get
torrential rains. The situation is so bad that Georgia is
trying to move its border with Tennessee to annex part of
the Tennessee River.
- A water crisis is also building in
California. The Los Angeles region has enough natural water
resources to support one million people; the population
today is closing in on 20 million. According to the
California Department of Water Resources, if more supplies
aren't found by 2020, the region will face a shortfall
nearly as great as the total amount consumed today.
- The UN reports that the Himalayan
glaciers that are the sources of Asia's biggest rivers the
Ganges, Indus, Brahmaputra, Yangtze, Mekong, Salween and
Yellow Rivers could disappear by 2035 as temperatures
rise. About 2.4 billion people depend on that water.
- Less than 15% of the Chinese
population has access to clean drinking water; China's
government will spend $128 billion on water infrastructure
in the next five years.
- It's not just the third world that's
in water trouble. The EPA says that 25% of U.S. water pipes
are in poor shape, and by 2020, 45% of U.S. water utilities
will need repair. Many municipalities are turning to private
water companies to upgrade their water systems.
- Americans spend more on bottled water
than they do on movie tickets or the latest gadgets a
whopping $15 billion last year. And as much as U.S.
consumers complain about the rising cost of gasoline, they
willingly shell out two or three times that for an
equivalent amount of bottled water!