We pollute and waste it when we should share it
|October 16, 2007||Posted by Jeffery J. Smith under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
We pollute and waste it when we should share it
Water crisis opens more eyes to water as belonging to everyone
We abridge an excerpt from the book Building the Green Economy by Kevin Danaher, Shannon Biggs, and Jason Mark, a conversation with Maude Barlow, the chair of the Council of Canadians, that country’s largest citizen’s advocacy group, who in 2005 received the prestigious Right Livelihood Award, the Alternative Nobel given by the Swedish Parliament, posted on AlterNet Sept 26; and “Our Drinkable Water Supply Is Vanishing” by Tara Lohan, posted on AlterNet Oct 11, 2007.
by Jeffery J. Smith
We are polluting surface water and mining groundwater at unsustainable rates.
In the North, most of the water is used by industry and agribusiness. The latter uses nitrates, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides, which contaminate a lot of water. Intensive livestock operations create horrible pollution.
In the South, people use rivers as toilets, garbage dumps, to bathe in, to cook in. They have no sanitation systems. As the Third World industrializes, that brings more pollution.
Coca-Cola uses military satellite imagery to find clean sources of groundwater then, often in poor tribal communities, sets up a plant and helps themselves until its gone — water mining.
Coke’s headquarters, Atlanta, allowed a private company to come in to run its water system. Two and a half years into a 20-year contract, the city kicked them out: “The water coming out of the taps is brown, and you raised the price.”
The people of Uruguay in 2004 voted for a constitutional amendment saying that water is a human right. Water is different. You can’t have anyone monopolize it.
Lohan: Water circulates through our bodies and the land, replenishing nutrients and carrying away waste. It is passed down like stories over generations — from ice-capped mountains to rivers to oceans. Historically water has been a facet of ritual, a place of gathering, and the backbone of community.
Today thoughtless development paves flood plains and destroys wetlands; dams displace native people and scar watersheds; unchecked industrial growth pollutes water sources; and consumption exceeds what nature can match. Increasingly, businesses across the world are turning water into a commodity for profit.
Demand for water is doubling every 20 years, twice as fast population growth. The biggest drain on our water sources is agriculture, which accounts for 70% of the water used worldwide — much of which is subsidized in the industrial world, providing little incentive for agribusiness to conserve.
Dams have displaced an estimated 80 million people worldwide. In India alone, over 4,000 dams have submerged 37,500 square kilometers of land and forced 42 million people from their homes.
The Ogallala aquifer — the largest in North America, stretching from Texas to South Dakota — is currently being pumped at a rate 14 times greater than it can be replenished.
It has oft been expressed that the next resource wars will not be over oil — or energy at all — but over water.
In the Klamath Basin of Southern Oregon and Northern California, Native American tribes have struggled with farmers and downstream fishermen. With not enough water in the river, either crops have failed or fish have died. To save the river, these groups are sitting at the same table and finally beginning to hear each other. Their alliance is taking on PacifiCrop whose dams disturb the ecosystem and the economy of the region.
Opposition to corporate control is rooted in the belief that water is part of the commons. Everyone should have access to clean water, regardless of their level of income or their country’s international standing.
Some countries are now treating wastewater so that it can be used — and drunk — several times over.
Drip irrigation drastically cuts the amount of water needed, low-pressure sprinklers are an improvement, and even building simple earth walls to trap rainfall is helpful.
Desalinization makes seawater available, but takes huge quantities of energy and leaves vast amounts of brine.
JJS: More people turn to these technologies as scarcity drives up prices. And more people see water as part of the commons, as our ancestors did. Even better, maybe rising prices for another part of nature — the land — will help people see surface sites as part of the commons, too, something that we need to share if were to afford farms and home sites, quit fighting over locations, and do an excellent job of husbanding all nature.
Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
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