Skip to main content
In this version of an article originally published in National Geographic in 2010, popular novelist and essayist Barbara Kingsolver offers a poetic overview of our intensifying global problem—water, a lack or excess of it—and its relation to climate change. Her claim is that as a global culture, we must humble ourselves and adjust our collective attitude, i.e., our values and morality, to regard water as a precious commonwealth. Her ecological approach reminds us that while water is life, water is neutral and doesn’t care about human beings in particular. We regard water as our bottomless birthright, but Nature is rapidly showing us that she is indifferent to our assumptions. Climate change is diminishing freshwater resources, precipitating global crises. Across the essay, Kingsolver mentions several global problem areas and deploys logos, ethos, and pathos (e.g. the fruitless well digging in the Bajo Piura Valley in Peru and Ecuador) to support her claim. Kingsolver argues that we must learn to think and act collectively to save ourselves, because in many situations, a “rational pursuit of individual self-interest” under the capitalist system “leads to collective ruin.” (Although she doesn’t mention it, this was the case in Oklahoma and other states during the 1930s Dust Bowl). Individuals must be willing to adapt their behavior, “agreeing to self-imposed limits” for the communal good before it is too late. As a progressive, commendable example, she cites Ecuador’s groundbreaking action of placing the rights of Nature on its constitution. Laws, rules, and practices must be guided by a scientific, global, and compassionate perspective.
Why use this chapter:
“Water is Life” is a great piece to use as an example for an “Argument from Experience” essay assignment, in that she combines personal experience, such as her time living in drought-ridden Arizona, with research citing global examples. It could also be profitably used as the subject of a rhetorical analysis; five groups could take on one area each—ethos, logos, pathos, Kairos, and figurative language. This would also be an excellent example of how non-fiction writing can still make use of literary technique. The piece is dense with vivid imagery, alliteration (listen for the “w” sounds in the first two sentences), metaphor and analogy (for example the fallacy that one can see stars from the bottom of a well). Small groups could investigate a particular technique and give examples of how it is used rhetorically. On the whole, it is a great piece to inject a bit of global awareness.