Scarcity & Abundance

This week a one-hour documentary titled One Water airs on Discovery’s Planet Green channel.  I had a minor role in helping it get on the air.  One Water was produced as a feature film by a collaborative team at the University of Miami and it did well at film festivals in 2009.  I saw it in NYC last year in an auditorium with a great sound system and 200 people and it was powerful.  The cinematography is HD and absolutely as good as Discovery’s Planet Earth series.

But a big-screen film doesn’t always translate to the small screen, and when the filmmakers sought distribution on public television and various cable channels, they were essentially told that it was a little too slow and a little too long.  I worked with the producer/writer Sanjeev Chatterjee to re-shape the film for television audiences.

One Water was filmed in 15 countries over five years, and yet the goals of the project were much bigger than getting a film made.  “The central idea behind the project was the making of a documentary that would spark the creation of further media on the subject of water around the world.”  [1]  Through screenings at international conferences and many journalism partnerships, they’ve done that.

You can watch the trailer we produced at The most shocking facts:  half of all the world’s available fresh water is now contaminated.  In many places, the amount of water wasted is double the amount of water used.  At any given time, half of the world’s hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from waterborne diseases.

One more?  Data from 30 reference glaciers in nine mountain ranges indicate that since 2004 the average rate of glacial melting and thinning has more than doubled. [2] Glaciers provide natural year-round water storage for large populations world-wide.

One Water starts with the question:  If you live where water is abundant, how would you know about a world water crisis?  It builds to the question:  How will nations cope as drinking water becomes more scarce?

Scarcity, thy name is human

Scarcity is a scary word:  “the want of provisions for the support of life.”  It dates from the calamitous 14th century.  (See Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror).  Human nature is seldom at its best under conditions of scarcity. (See Roman Polanski’s Chinatown).

I’ve recently come across several fascinating articles about the difference between a scarcity mentality and an abundance mentality.  This is a version of:  there are two kinds of people in the world….

Scarcity mentality is characterized by the gathering and guarding of material possessions and knowledge to build personal power.  Abundance mentality is characterized by the understanding that the wealth of the planet, if nurtured and shared, will guarantee personal security and health. [3]

In countless wisdom stories from Genesis and the Ramayana to Shakespeare and Steinbeck we see that an abundance mentality is necessary to survival.  Scenes in One Water show us traditional “abundance” communities under the stress of scarcity.  Then we see the waste of resources that is typical of the world’s “scarcity” economies.

The irony is unmistakable.

In much of the world, clean drinking water is already a commodity available only to those able to pay for it—there is a clear correlation between access to safe water and GDP per capita. [4]

One Water asks:  which mentality will guide us into the future?


[1]  One Water was produced by the Knight Center for International Media in the School of Communication at the University of Miami.  Narrated by Martin Sheen.

[2] Findings from the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS), based at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, supported by the UN Environmental Programme.                                See also “Altered Climate Forces Cultural Change High in Andes” from

[3] Suite101: Scarcity Mentality: Abundance And Scarcity Mentality In Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Social Contexts: Aboriginal Poverty Mindset

[4] Watch the Gapminder video about this at Gapminder: “Unveiling the beauty of statistics for a fact based world view”


About John Wackman

A writer since I learned to hold a pencil (no, not like that...hold it like this!). Long-time writer/producer for television, now organizer of Repairs Cafes in the Hudson Valley (13 & counting!) -- Program Manager of Solarize Hudson Valley, non-profit, state supported, community sponsored renewable energy program. We're all re-inventing ourselves. It's a sci-fi world, isn't it?
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