WRITE about what you know, they say, and Paul Younger has done just that in a book called Water.
Truly it is a quart in a pint pot, a slim but fact-packed volume dedicated to the stuff that wets our whistles, floods our homes, floats our boats, covers two thirds of our planet and sustains life on Earth.
Prof Younger is one of the world’s leading hydrogeologists. He is from the North East, worked for just under 20 years at Newcastle University and four months ago moved north of the border to occupy Glasgow University’s Rankine Chair of Engineering.
“It’s like a lot of things in life,” he says. “You wanted to go but you didn’t want to leave. Obviously I’m from the North East and there’s a huge number of connections I have there as well as family.
“But I thought I was ripe for a new adventure and didn’t want to reach a stage where I’d look back and say, ‘What if?’”
He hasn’t had cause to regret the move but points out that he hasn’t ditched water.
“Water has been my day job since I finished my first degree. I’m now professor of energy engineering but that has a lot to do with the interface between water and energy.”
Water, then, still seeps into his professional life in a very significant way. It’s on every page of the book which he describes as “a tribute to the first half of my career”.
It reflects his renowned skills as a communicator with a common touch and clearly has allowed him to go a little off piste.
“It’s not really a text book as such,” he says.
“What I’m hoping is that it’s the kind of book that’ll get picked up by people who are interested in the issues they read about in the Press.”
Water, you’ll learn, is at the heart of politics in a lot of places around the world. One chapter is called Water Wars and Hydrological Peace-making.
Contrary to the media’s occasional dire warnings – often expressed during times of drought – that more bitter wars will one day be fought over water than over oil, Paul says there haven’t yet been any full-blown water wars.
But in the book – and to me – he mentions the case of Egypt which, thanks to an old colonial treaty, claims almost all the waters of the Nile. Under President Mubarak it repeatedly threatened war to any upstream county – including parched Ethiopia, where 75% of the river’s flow originates – that attempted to take some for itself.
But when the Mubarak regime was washed away in the Arab Spring of 2011, upstream countries, according to Paul, were not slow to launch projects aimed at securing some of the Nile waters for their own use.