Pricing the Priceless: Capitalism's Hand on Fresh Water
Reviewed by: Stéphane Néron
Bleu Gold: The Battle Against Corporate Theft of the World's Water. By: Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke, Toronto Canada, 278 pages.
Image source: Flickr, Blue Water.
Thirty degrees Celsius, the blasting sun-rays automatically elevate your feet one at a time - like a puppet - and drag your thirsty dried-up carcass to the corner ice-cream parlor in quest for a refreshing slush. As you take the first long sip with a pumping motion, you can hear the precious sugared liquid caressing its way up through the straw and sense it hydrate every arid cell in your body, and once hydrated; you come to your senses to realize what had just symbolically happened by rapidly sucking down the dampened container dry.
To prepare slush from scratch, it takes a few minutes to crush the ice, another few to concoct the sugared mixture, and finally a few more to mix it all as one. Yet, it takes only a few seconds to suck it dry. This is exactly how the industry is pumping fresh water aquifers. It takes it a few years to get the exploitation permits, another few to get set up, and they're ready to suck ground water reservoirs dry at on unbelievable pace. In a book titled Blue Gold, co-authors Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke give a detailed description of this phenomenon and much more. In fact, through their geo-political essay, they wish to inform the world population of an inevitable global water crisis unless public action is taken. Author, co-author, reporter, cooperating on diverse films, and recipient of many educational awards, Maude Barlow is an internationally reputed activist. Founder of the Blue Planet Project and chairman of The Council of Canadians, Barlow relentlessly drives her energies toward the protection of our planet's waters. Similarly, Tony Clarke, another militant, has effortlessly focused on global right to water access. In 1997, after having played a leading role battling those who tarnish or decline civil rights, Clarke founded the Polaris Institute which goals to inform citizens of corporation misdeeds. Both authors have joined forces in the water justice movement and have won the Right Livelihood Award in 2005. Finally, they aim to globally form political alliances amongst those prone to the conservation of fresh water and opposed to its privatization.
According to the authors, transcontinental corporate control of public water, under the eye of governmental laissez-faire, can only increase water scarcity and, thus, lead to worldwide crisis. The world is desertifying at an alarming pace since people in different parts of the world have chosen to bend nature to accommodate their needs. For instance, by building cities in already deserted areas, aquifers are emptied out at a faster rate than it can be replenished to satisfy the residents' demand of water. Furthermore, runoff water, which would normally hydrate the surrounding soil, meets the cities' cement, concrete, and asphalt to directly end up in the sea. Moreover, when forestry businesses around the world cut down forests, they are depriving the soil's ability to retain water. In fact, trees and their roots can compare to sponges that keep the moisture in the earth. Tree roots reach water veins and transpire to the soil above while pumping upward; this combination is crucial to the ground's dampness. Consequently, in quest to conquer nature, excessive ground water pumping and deforestation have damaged hydrologic cycles, which caused vast areas of land to dry up.
International fresh water is being tarnished and used up faster than it can be replenished thus leading to an assured global crisis. Contaminated by many different sources as household and industrial detergents, lack of sanitary services, pesticides, or even industrial toxic dumping, water is being petrified at an alarming rate. In some areas of the world, waste water used to irrigate cultivated land is returned to the consumers in their food since no other water is available for agriculture. Additionally, dams built for hydro electrical purposes trap water preventing it from following its natural path. Subsequently, inside the newly inert water - where life is unsustainable - bacteria are formed and eventually entire ecosystems die off. Moreover, since surface water as become toxic, aquifers are being pumped down more quickly than they normally should, and scarcity of this precious liquid has become a threat to world peace. As water scarcity increases, conflicts within societies as well as between countries arise. Also, well known to economists, when something becomes rare, its value increases dramatically. This is the reason why transnational corporations are not interested in cleaning up surface water, but only aim to bottle as much ground water as possible for international markets. Strictly profit-oriented transnational corporations are taking control of the world's freshwaters. Once declared a basic need as opposed to being a right at the World Water Forum in March 2000, water - newly understood as a commodity - can now be sold, privatized, and conquered by the global water lords. Vivendi Universal, Suez, and Coca Cola, just to name these three, have become world giants of water control and can legally operate their activities as desired.
Governments, whose role should tend to protect the common good, work toward private-based profitability by easing the privatization of public water systems; they are handing power to corporate industries. As stated by the authors, "... governments are increasingly abandoning their responsibility as guardians of the commons... In short, blue gold is rapidly becoming a big business investment, consolidated by global water markets..." (104) As a matter of fact, elected officials all around the world are bribed in order for private corporations to achieve power over public waters as well as their infrastructures. For example, Coca Cola now rules in Mexico after the Fox administration as given most of its water concessions. It is to say that governments protect investors instead of people's rights to freely access water. As a result, people are becoming slaves of private corporations. Social movements, indispensible to citizens' claims of water rights, shall effortlessly mechanize their action until governments choose to truthfully respect their mandates. Heading back to local farming-consuming, preventing overpopulation, learning how to live with the limits of our water sheds, transforming our lifestyles, and creating global political alliances are, amongst others, specific propositions shared by these social groups. Nonetheless, if not heard, they remain dismissed by the general public.
Although their overall work is astonishing, Bleu Gold presents a lack of profoundness in voice, which probably is accountable to fear of being censored. Sometimes, it is as if the authors want the audience to read between the lines: between the tons of facts stipulated. In my opinion, Barlow and Clarke would have stated the following if they could have. The new transcontinental corporate system, where a given enterprise is allotted rights on the same basis as those human beings used to have, reduces citizens to a vegetative state completely alienated to a new world order based on consumption. In this totalitarian global society directed by capitalistic rules, democracy no longer deals with citizen affairs as common good and moral values, but really contracts corporate matters. In fact, falsely elected through the mask of "server of the population" governments are in reality puppets of a new global capitalistic order: they serve a machine deprived of a soul. Capitalism functions in a particular way which tends to monopolize every existing thing including the living. A century ago, there existed a balance between merchant activity and government's role to serve its population through laws preventing civil society from total chaos.
Today, crude, rigid, wild, and devastating, capitalism grasps, seizes, pockets, captures, and hoards whatever it needs to meet its end; including government control. Consequently, world populations have lost protection and are heading toward a period of great agitation. Truly masses must rebel and confront beyond the giant corporate world. Yet it's hard to wake up when the vast majority is brainwashed by main stream media - which, by the way, purposely intends to do just so: put masses to sleep. Remember, the same group of people now owns everything -thus including media -. As Nietzsche would have said, mainstream media is the opium of the people. Nevertheless, when social movements do get to unify themselves and organize a demonstration to be heard for instance, the police or army will shatter them. This is what is called living in a police state, where citizens have lost their voice. Furthermore, governments, including in Canada, have recently passed laws making any protestor a terrorist. But in reality, they'd be terrorists to whom? Is it because they'd be a treat to corporate thieves of intercontinental fresh water? With all the needed sub-tools in its hands capitalism becomes the ultimate structural means of control.
Overall, Bleu Gold summarizes and constructs a specific portrait of the global water issues and leads the way to understandable solutions. As a goal of informing the world population of an upcoming water crisis, they have excelled. On the other hand, in view of the new totalitarian world order in which we live in, the proposed solutions - utopic as they may be - simply don't add up to the complexity of the global contradictions noted above. The battle here is greater than a one on one fight against a corporation at a time. The heart of the invisible groups - in reality capitalistic ideals -, which control the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, major transcontinental corporations, and governments, must be thoroughly confronted. Until then, the new masters of the world control their subjects through ownership and pricing of everything that exists, and this, of course, includes water.