Sunday, 22 March 2009

Canada's Environment Minister denies water is a human right.

So, this morning I hear on the CBC Radio One news that Canada, courtesy of our so-called 'environment' minister Jim Prentice has thwarted efforts to have water declared a human right, not just a human need. Apparently Mr. Prentice is worried that if water is declared a human right, that Canada will be obligated to export water to countries that don't have enough of it. This is a total red herring. If that were the case, then we would be obligated to export everything that already is declared a human right, like food for example.

I find it absolutely astounding that, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights linked above, leisure time and property ownership are considered human rights, and yet access to safe drinking water isn't. How is this even possible?

Sadly, I know the answer to that question: it's possible because private water companies want it that way, so they can further commodify and commercialize water, selling it to those who can afford it. And that big Canadian project that Minister Prentice also talked about, the Global Environmental Monitoring System, will just help these multinationals get even better at finding where the good water is, so they can exploit it further.

This is why it is absolutely essential that we as citizens do not support private water supplies in any way, shape, or form. We need to make it a point not to buy any bottled water, including water that comes in the form of bottled juice or pop. Companies like Coke, Pepsi and Nestle are notorious for tapping into the aquifers in places like India, and even Florida, denying those citizens their right to clean water.

Today is World Water Day. But it's a sad day for water and a sad day for Canada.

Picture courtesy urbansprout


SoapBoxTech said...

You are right, but tap water is still private water.

Eco Yogini said...

Ugh. Some days I am so disappointed in Canada.
I think I might look into some ways to help, perhaps a letter? I'll be checking into Maude's info to see if she has any petitions or such.

Theresa said...

SBT - but tap water, for the most part in this area of the world, comes from a publicly/municipally operated water utility, which makes all the difference. Some things need to remain publicly owned and operated, and water safety and distribution is one of them.

I'm not sure what you mean by tap water being private water. Do you mean that because it comes out of my tap in my home that it is mine? If so, I don't look at it that way, any more than I think the air in my house is mine.

EcoY: I have those days too. More so under the current government I'm afraid. There is lots of info over at the Council of Canadians site, of which Maude Barlow is chair - I'm sure you'll find what you're looking for, and more, over there. :)

SoapBoxTech said...

We're not just talking about this part of the world, for one thing. Much IMF loan activity for 3rd world or developing countries has been used to transfer public water distribution rights to privately owned entities.

And even here in our part of the world...where are the public taps for those who cannot pay for lines and meters, or cisterns? Where are the free public showers? No mall is going to let anyone bring in a big jerry can to fill at the water fountain. Most places won't even let you use the bathroom. No, our system is as exclusionary as any, to those who do not exactly fit societal expectations.

In this case, I really fail to see the difference between fully privatized water companies (including bottlers) and the public water utilities company which still only gives access to this water when one pays for it. We just usually keep the consumer's costs lower in the public companies. And most of the public in this part of the world is content to exercise their right to water by dumping huge amounts of it onto their stupid lawns, where it can leech their fertilizer and herbicide directly into the water table, causing more processing requirements!!!!

The truth is, without a strong society brimming with responsibly free people, both private and public ownership can be a slippery slope (I seem to be fond of saying that lately).

Now, I am not trying to argue that water should not be an inalienable human right. I am just saying that its fine and dandy to say this should be the case but its a hell of a lot harder to put into practice.

After all, food is considered a human right, yet do we manage to get everyone fed? Are food supplies kept public?

Reality is, that list of universal human rights is lovely and water should be on it. However, that list is unlikely to be more than lip service to human rights, and a public relations tool for justifying military activity in certain regions and for restricting national or individual sovereignty. Given the UN track record in the last 20 years or so, adding water to that list of human rights could actually undermine Canada's longterm ability to protect our water supply, if we ever chose to REALLY do that.

I'm sorry this comment is so rambly and disjointed, this is obviously an incredibly touchy matter. And I haven't even talked about what 100% public water would do to responsible users like my parents. We'd have either lost our land and become the homeless with our sense of responsibility, or we'd have had to become the irresponsible, selfish and greedy types like so many others.

Eco Yogini said...

@SBT: hmm. that was interesting. What about people who own wells? My parents own their well, and therefore their water is 'free' in that they paid to have their well dug and installed and were able to afford a pump etc. (however, back then it wasn't near as expensive as it is now).

I guess I see your point, however privatization of water beyond the public/municpal sector is a scary, very real possibility. Having tax payers and government control water (in theory the government being held accountable by law and by it's citizens- in theory) allows for less monopolization of the utility. Allowing a private organization that is NOT held accountable (ie what occurred in Bolivia) can (and would) result in a monopoly of prices, power and water accessibility above and beyond what we have here now. My understanding is that we pay for water (if we have housing) through our taxes but what can be taken 'away' from lack of payment would actually be heated water? So essentially, if you have housing than you have water- just might not be hot.

To me, that is the difference between 'public' ie government run and private.

Of course, the ideal would be water as a right to everyone, not just tax payers or people who can afford housing. But then, we get into the entire conversation of homelessness, which is related, but such as HUGE discussion all on it's own.

However, realistically our government does not respond well to extremes or ideal solutions, and change happens gradually. I would like to believe that we all can make a difference. The first small step being letting our government know that water SHOULD be recognized as a human right and that we do not support the sale of water as a competitive commodity.

SoapBoxTech said...

Oops, I should have said "could do to responsible users like my parents".

Theresa said...

SBT, thanks again for your impassioned comments. I'm glad it touched a nerve with you, as it does with me as well. I wish it would touch a nerve with more people. I don't know just how to get people to start thinking about water as the lifesource it is, rather than just as a commodity. You're right though, the public water providers need to live up to their name, and not just provide private services under the guise of municipal government. I actually have no problem paying for the right to consume water, as long as I know that everyone has the same access to it as I do.

And wasteful water use needs to be discouraged - I like the idea of every household being entitled to a certain amount per month for free, and then usage over that gets progressively more expensive. I think the same thing should apply to electricity and natural gas. Utilities that people need to live, need to be provided in basic amounts free to everyone, and then the ones that want to waste can pay. Revenues from that can go to install things like public drinking fountains, and more safe public washrooms.

Labeling something a human right without following through on the practicalities of that is just hypocritical, I agree.

Thanks again SBT - I do enjoy your thoughtful and thorough postings. :)

Theresa said...

EY - thanks for your comments as well - ever since reading Maude Barlow's book "Blue Gold" I have been just flabergasted by the audacity of the private water companies and the governments that let them in to supposedly provide better service to citizens. Things as essential as safe water just shouldn't be in corporate hands, providing as you say, that the government of the country is truly accountable to its citizens. This is no guarantee by far, but then we should be encouraging better government, not privatizing water.

SoapBoxTech said...


That sort of well example is what I was referring to in mentioning my parents. They are small family farmers who have their own well. We've been worried for some time that the County would decide the well was supplied by THEIR water and start charging them for it (the farm is in kind of a sensitive area as there is much development beginning all around).

I understand your (in theory) point about governmental control, but how much responsible governmental management can you point to in the last 20-30 years? Not only that, but it is my understanding that most water utility companies have shares which are at least partially publicly traded. This means a devotion to profit in managing that particular utility. Sadly, I am not aware of whether this is the case here in Canada but I would be very surprised if it was not an increasing scenario. Yet one more thing I need to research further.

But in terms of property ownership, I have never owned property other than a condominium where all utilities but electricity are covered by condo fees. However, it was my understanding that most city dwellers had a water meter on their property and they pay for their individual water no pay bill, no have water.

SO perhaps municipally controlled water is a lesser evil, but the only real difference I see between here and the Bolivia situation is that most Canadians are nowhere as near poverty as most we can pay our water bill and pretend that everyone has access to clean freshwater.

Why doesn't our government respond well to the need for change? Because we voters cannot tend to agree on how to achieve change, or even whether change is needed...because we do not understand balance or (for the most part) that "I" am not the most important thing in the world. So it remains primarily an "us" vs "them" scenario and those who direct the government can play the various societal groupings against one another.

Theresa, I am pleased that you enjoy my comments. I often worry that I come across simply as being argumentative, when the reality is that I wish I didn't have to talk about most of the stuff that I normally rant about. I admit tho, that you're right, I do get very impassioned about some things.

I have never understood the need for incentives to get people to do the right thing. I hate that people must be punished into common sense behavior. This only ever leads to tyranny. Bartering I understand, but our economy (and justice system) exists basically to service the fact that a great deal of humans seem to live only for getting one up on everyone else. This I do not understand. But I understand this...

Humanity is at a cross roads. We can choose to evolve as a species or we can choose to continue as we are, but I maintain that to continue as we are can only result in the degradation of our species into something that is no longer human...a species that no longer knows real love or truly connects with nature and beauty. It will be a species dedicated entirely to intelligence and technology and which is totally ignorant of wisdom and balance, a species that only knows violence and consumption.

Theresa said...

SBT - I welcome impassioned and vehement discussion, and don't see your comments as argumentative at all. Maybe this is because I've grown up in a family and school setting where such discussion is highly valued. :)

I also see that humanity is approaching a tipping point more and more. While I wish and hope with every fibre of my being that people could just suddenly experience the interconnection between themselves and nature that would result in a total cultural and behavioral change in favor of balance between people and the earth, realistically I just don't see this happening, at least not soon enough. So sometimes we as a society have to encourage the behavior that we want through concrete consequences for consumption/conservation, like carbon taxes and incremental usage fees, and the like.

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche would say that the world at large has a setting sun mentality, not a rising sun mentality. Until more people awaken to the rising sun, we must help everyone we can who still have the setting sun perspective, and who may only understand things within the parameters of that perspective. Such as carbon taxes, declarations of rights and responsibilities, and other external control mechanisms.

But as always, I wish that all beings are delivered from suffering and the root of suffering.

Cookiemouse said...

Even mice need water!

Theresa said...

Indeed, they do!

SoapBoxTech said...

So then how do we, a society that needs incentive and external control mechanisms as you argue, ever achieve a higher state? How can we ever evolve as you and I both suggest that we need, when we undercut the very foundation of what it takes to achieve that evolution, that being free will.

I agree that the awakening is not going to happen over night. I agree that we have reached a point where the re-balancing, should we choose to embrace it, will still be deeply painful.

I do not disagree that the soft external control mechanisms, in a pure state, should accomplish what is needed. I simply feel that humanity is as ill-prepared to create this pure state as we are likely to suddenly awaken en masse, otherwise we'd likely not need the soft external control mechanisms in the first place. I think history, our present situation definitely included, shows that these soft external control mechanisms always eventually become hard. I suspect many Buddhists would agree, holding the China/Tibet situation up high as an example.

I am right there with you in wishing for and working to avoid that suffering, but I cannot agree with finding/developing 51% of the population who agree, and then forcing our will on the other 49% through legislation. Certainly not until our checks and balances are once again actually what they are supposed to be. THAT is where I think we masses need to focus our social energy, with our spiritual and physical energy focused towards reconnecting with the natural world. The more of us who do so, tho better and stronger will be the example that this is what should be done.

SoapBoxTech said...

Bringing my comments back to the original topic, I suggest the way to approach water is the same as the other issues facing us. We determinedly come together in self-manageable groups, rural and urban, to share labor and resources.

Enough people have realized, I think, that our system of constant economic growth and endless consumption is critically destructive. We are realizing the trappings of wage-slavery and are more and more to more equity between the holders of capital and workers, at least on a local level. Skill diversification instead of specialization is increasingly popular, although still agonizingly slowly. What I'm getting at, is we're slowly becoming more able to work together, in small groups, on multi-generational projects such as permaculture and local water management. I maintain that this is where we need to focus, building consensus through example, and demanding that our government do their job which is to provide the necessary infrastructure and uphold the integrity of our checks/balances, at our direction.

Thanks so much for the inspiring forum.

SoapBoxTech said...

hehe cookiemouse. that gave me a nice smile, thanks.

theresa, and anyone else appropriate, I thought I'd leave this link here, tho you probably know of it already:

SoapBoxTech said...

Oops, I missed a word.

"...are more and more OPEN to more equity..."

Theresa said...

"So then how do we, a society that needs incentive and external control mechanisms as you argue, ever achieve a higher state? How can we ever evolve as you and I both suggest that we need, when we undercut the very foundation of what it takes to achieve that evolution, that being free will."

I think you answer that nicely yourself SBT, with this:

"THAT is where I think we masses need to focus our social energy, with our spiritual and physical energy focused towards reconnecting with the natural world. The more of us who do so, tho better and stronger will be the example that this is what should be done."

I'm not trying to be flippant by quoting yourself at yourself, but its just that I just couldn't explain it better myself! And I guess I should explain a bit about what I mean when I say external controls. I don't mean this in any sinister way, but more along the lines of a developmental psychological concept - i.e., that people need external controls until they develop their internal ones over time through things like maturational processes, episodes of insight, accumulation of foundational knowledge, etc.

I also strongly believe, as I think you do, that (re)connection with nature is one of the best ways to foster this kind of insight and development: once you've felt the interconnectedness of all things, the world is never the same again. And in that way, the solutions you propose to the water issue (i.e., small groups of committed citizenry working together over time and generations - a.k.a. "the way it used to be.") is the way our evolution as a species can be well and truly fostered. Oh for the day when one doesn't need insight to see that people and environment are one and the same, but that it is just collectively understood as truth.

The Urban Farmer is great - I'm looking forward to hearing him speak again at his Xeriscape and Forest Gardening workshops at a local garden centre. Gord and I went last year to the Edible Garden seminar he put on, and it was fantastic!

Theresa said...

Oops, I meant Edible Landscapes!