What's the deal with bottled water & oppression?
I didn't want to waylay the Hot Topics thread, but you made a reference to it that went right over my head, so I'm here humbly begging education.
I just found an old thread about the bottles being extra plastic used and extra waste for the landfill...but it seemed like there was more than that behind it. (Where some of the non-recycled the garbage goes?)
Yeah - the waste associated with bottled water is definitely a part of it, but from what I've learned, there's a larger economic problem that arises from the privatization of water. I'm not super-educated on the issues surrounding this (I deal more with imagery of 'wilderness' and 'mother nature' - Pan's my man; Poseidon's a ride-along), but here's what I do know...
Maude Barlow (well-respected Canadian political activist and chair of the Council of Canadians) claims that we're moving into an age where water will be more highly valued than oil. The UN supports this claim, saying that by 2025, something like 2/3 of the world will be "water poor." Most of the world's water is salt, of course, and a big chunk of the salt-free water is in the polar icecaps. So there's actually only a very small percentage of the world's water that is useable for us. Canada has (I think) the third or fourth highest amount of useable water in the world (after Russia and Brazil... and possibly China? - not sure about China, though). Barlow predicts that as our water supplies continue to diminish and become more and more polluted, that we're likely to actually see world wars fought over water. It's all very much like a bad Mel Gibson/Kevin Costner movie.
There are a number of things we could do to diminish the rate at which we collectively use/pollute our water supply. Most water use and pollution occurs at the corporate level, but if ever the gov't addresses water conservation, it's usually at the level of low-pressure showerheads, good toilets, and not running the tap while you brush your teeth. Of course these things are important, but let's face it: no amount of low-pressure showerheads are going to save enough water to make up for the tonnes and tonnes of water that is wasted by Big Business every day. But governments tend not to want to interfere with Big Business, because Big Business means Big Bucks. And Big Bucks are good, if you can get your hands on them. But in the end, you can't drink a dollar bill. You CAN, however, trade in a dollar bill for some water... But what about those who don't have a dollar bill, you ask? Ah, well, that's just too bad for them, and here's why:
Big Business isn't only destroying our valuable water supplies, they're also controlling them! There are three companies now vying for control over municipal water supplies around the world (there are actually more than three companies, but these three are the big ones) - two of them are out of France, and I can't remember where the third is from... is it England? They've got a nickname, these three have: The Water Barons. If the nickname itself isn't enough to have ye shakin' in ye boots, hear this: these companies have referred to water as "blue gold." Water is becoming a commodity, to be sold only to those who can afford it. These companies conceive of water as something to be bought, controlled, and sold, not as a necessity and basic human right. The Water Barons provide privatized water to communities in something like 60 or 70 countries. Actually, now that I think about it, I believe the study that cited those stats was a few years old, so it's probably even more now.
The Water Barons promise clean water supplies to these municipalities at a fair rate, and equal access to water for the rich, the middle class, and the poor. But the situations have rarely played out this way. Often, the poor (especially in developing countries) can't afford their water, and it has been cut off. A crummy deal, if you ask me. There have been mass demonstrations against water privatization in a number of different municipalities. In fact, even Atlanta had such a huge problem with their water supply after privatization that they broke a contract with Suez (one of the three big privatized water companies), and the poverty in Atlanta is nothing compared to the poverty in, say, Bolivia, South Africa, and the Phillipines - where there were actual riots protesting the privatization of water.
So why would a government allow a privatized water company to control their water supply? The World Bank plays a big role in this. It refuses to subsidize water treatment plants unless they are privatized. So if a poor country needs a loan for water treatment, they can only get it if their water becomes privatized. In fact, the privatization companies have themselves said that without the help of the World Bank, water wouldn't be a viable business.
This is not only an issue in developing countries. Here in Canada, we see similar themes playing out. About ten years ago, in my hometown of Moncton NB, we had a problem with E. coli in the municipal water supply. The city was under boil order for about a month. Privatized water companies were falling over each other to supply the city with fresh water. About ten years ago, at the Kashechewan Reserve in northern Ontario, a new water treatment plant was built. Within two years, the community was under boil order for E. coli. Over the past eight years, they've been under boil order a number of times, the longest being for the past two years - a two year continuous boil order. In October of last year, most of the residents were airlifted out of the reservation because the levels of E. coli had finally gotten so high that boiling the water wasn't enough. People were getting really, really sick. It took a huge public outcry for the gov't to address the issue. In the meantime, however, not one water privatization company stepped up and offered them a contract. So what's the difference between Moncton and Kashechewan? Moncton is predominantly middle class; Kashechewan is poor, poor, poor. We simply can not rely on privatized water companies to administer our water supplies, especially to those areas that require extra aid.
So, okay, blah blah blah - water privatization is a nasty piece of business. We get it. But what is the link between bottled water and oppression? Well, it's a tenuous link right now, and based pretty much on speculation. But it's speculation that I put a lot of faith in.
There is a growing movement for international trade of bottled water. This water will only be able to come from a select number of countries - those that have extra water to sell, of course, like Canada - and will only be available to the elite who can afford it. The elite, as I think we can all agree, control Big Business, and Big Business often controls government. So if the elite have their water needs taken care of, there's very little incentive for government to put funds into water treatment - both in treatment of waste water, and in the cleaning of ground and rain water for human consumption and use. That's where privatized water comes in.
The purchase of bottled water, both locally and in international trade, supports by proxy the move toward possible large-scale privatization. And while this is now just a possibility for the future, think about the infrastructures we've built around mass oil consumption. Do we want to contribute to economic and environmental structures that lead toward similar problems with water distribution? I don't. So I don't support the sale of water. I *do* support public contribution through taxes for the maintenance and distribution of water, as long as that service is provided by the government. But I can't in good conscience agree with the privatization of water in any way.
That's where I'm at, at any rate :) But again, this is not an area that I'm fully informed about. I'm taking my cues from environmental and social policy organizations, like the Sierra Club, Oxfam, the Council of Canadians, and the Canadian Environmental Law Association.
By contrast, the only good things I've heard about the privatization and commodification of water have come from either the companies who profit from it, or from the World Bank.
Thank you-- I really appreciate the amount of time and effort you put into the explaination! It sounds like it has potential to be a terribly nasty deal.
You know what *I* appreciate? That you asked... :)