I watched Maude Barlow speak Thursday night in Guelph, and it was fitting it was in a church. I was in turns choking back tears and roused from my seat to applaud more than any preacher could compel me. She's a fascinating mix of intellectual brilliance and folksy warmth. She can rattle off an analysis of facts and figures at lightening speed, but as she signed my copy of her book and listened to me rave like a teenager about having her picture and words on my classroom wall, she put her hand on mine and looked into my eyes to thank me for being part of the fight. I saw Maude speak before, decades ago, and despite spreading the word far and wide since then, educated people in my midst still buy bottled water. "But I like the taste." Drinking water from the tap is a small price to pay (actually you'll save a fortune) for public control over waterways.
The evening was hosted by the Wellington Water Watchers, a small group of dedicated people with a huge fight on their hands. Our hands. Spokesperson Arlene Slocombe referred to Nestle as a multinational predator in our midst. They've been drawing water from Aberfoyle (near Guelph) and Hillsburgh (near Erin) for years, and now they've gotten hold of Middlebrook (near Elora). Studies have found that the quantity water in Middlebrook was needed for the citizens. The township offered to buy the land, but Nestle outbid them with full knowledge of the effect it will have on the people in the area. Profits over people all the way.
When Nestle's permit expired in July 2016, the provincial government passed a law that allowed Nestle an unlimited extension without any transparency. Wynne thinks the solution is to raise the fees for corporate water extraction, but that will have a negligible effect on the outcome. Nestle will profit from climate change, which is the foundation of Klein's concerns around disaster capitalism. We must put the public's right for water first, and overwhelming public support and political pressure is necessary to stop the renewal of permits. Aberfoyle is up for renewal now, and Hillsberg is coming up next summer. Nestle pays fees and taxes to the municipality it's situated in (for Aberfoyle, money goes to Puslinch, but the water draw also affects Guelph), so sometimes poorer municipalities prioritize immediate cash over the future livability of the area.
WHAT CAN WE POSSIBLY DO?
(Barlow's words are further down, below the selfie. This is the important bit.)
Check out all that Nestle owns (brands are all listed here and in this graphic or get the buycott app for your phone), and boycott Nestle products. Then take another step to tell them about it.
Tell your friends and family about the issue. Tell everyone on social media. Start a petition. Tweet it to celebrities and TV producers en masse. Nothing changes a society's behaviour as quickly as regular-type sit-com characters changing their behaviour. Remember when Rachel changed her hair? Boom! If the cast of Brooklyn Nine-Nine carried re-usable water bottles and were shown filling them from the tap instead of carrying bottled water and hanging around the water dispenser, it could change people's mindless behaviours.
Call, e-mail, and/or visit your Mayor to insist we ban single-use water bottles in our city like Montreal's trying to do or, at the very least, ban them in all municipal events and buildings. The Blue Community Project can help it happen in your area. So far 18 municipalities in Canada have succeeded in this ban. They're early adopters of this new mentality. At times the speakers seemed to suggest that a Nestle boycott would be enough to save the day: "Just close your wallet!", but Chomsky says personal boycotts have the same effect as committing suicide. I signed the pledge card, but I'd argue that they're useful mainly for our own sense of integrity. To really fix things, we need to legislate Nestle out of business by petitioning municipalities (and provinces and the whole flippin' world) to ban bottled water everywhere.
Call, e-mail, and/or make an appointment to see your MPP. Tell them Wynne has to get tougher with Nestle. It's not enough to just raise the fees. She has to stop them from selling the water that our municipalities need to flourish.
Call, e-mail, and/or make an appointment to see your MP. Tell them that Trudeau has to reinstate the acts decimated by Harper: the Fisheries Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, and the Navigable Water Protection Act. (See below for more info on this one.) Tell them that if he doesn't, then we may as well be living under Harper's rule. No shirtless photo op will make you forget that he allowed Harper's mess to continue unabated. (Maybe don't tell them that last bit.)
Still PUMPED about it? Then get involved with...
The Council of Canadians, the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance, and/or the Wellington Water Watchers. If you're local, then show up to Guelph council this Monday, Sept. 26. There's a rally at 5:00 and you can try to follow Councillor James Gordon in at 6:30 (if they'll let everyone in). He plans to introduce a motion asking council to send a letter to the province opposing Nestle's application.
WHY DO WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING?
Here's what Maude told us (highly paraphrased - she spoke a mile a minute - and organized so I can make sense of it all, but linked. Note that some links go to corporate sites to illustrate the types of profit-driven arguments being made on the other side of the issue.):
We Don't Have as Much as We Think:
The world is in crisis, and Guelph is a microcosm of these world issues. We're in a place where we've been conned by a myth of abundance. Most of Canada's fresh water is in the north. The available water in the south is decreasing yearly. Canadian lakes are warming more than anywhere else, and there's no protection for groundwater. It hasn't even been mapped yet, so we don't really know how much we actually have.
We dump toxins and sewage in our water making it largely undrinkable. Europe has much higher standards around polluting water. CETA (the new TTIP) will make this whole situation much worse. If CETA is passed (there are some constitutional challenges from Germany right now), and Nestle is denied rights to water, Nestle will be able to sue us. Right now Coke and Pepsi can sue (with an ISDS) because they're American companies. But Nestle's European. CETA is not yet signed, so they can't sue yet. There's not enough public understanding of how CETA works and how damaging it will be.
Legislation has been Dismantled:
The National Water Act of 1970 handed power to the provinces, so most activist work needs to be done at the provincial level. Federally, Environment Canada's water budget is starved. There's a loophole in the Fisheries Act that allows the government to essentially designate lakes in order to allow dumping in them. About four years ago, under Harper, bill C-38 gutted the Fisheries Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, and bill C-45 removed protection for 95% of our lakes and rivers originally protected under the Navigable Water Protection Act (which was originally drafted in 1881!). These moves were on a directive from the Energy Industry.
Our Jobs Shouldn't Destroy our Lives and our Future:
Our manufacturing used to be 26% of GDP, and now it's 11% because our jobs have moved overseas. We're turning to our natural resources for jobs, but it's having a disastrous effect. 11 million litres of toxic waste are leeching into water every day around the Alberta tar sands. Alberta will be first water-insecure province. The Energy East Pipeline would cross 3,000 waterways and put the drinking water of 5 million Canadians at risk. For the past 30 years, pipelines in Canada have averaged three breaks per day. It's not a matter of if they'll break, but when. BC and Alberta are fracking and mining due to a move to public-private partnerships (PPPs). Suez and Veolia, water 'servicing' corporations profiting off human need, argue that once we're in a PPP agreement, then they must be compensate if any municipality breaks their contract with them. There's also serious issues with allowing water trading (already started in Alberta), water pollution trading (euphemistically called 'water quality trading'), and water exporting. We already export bottled water, all in plastic, to the tune of close to 465 billion litres of bottles a year.
Politicians are Acting Cowardly:
This is a global fight. Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, CEO of Nestle, thinks the human right to water is ridiculous. He's also the advisor to the World Bank Water Resources Agenda 30/30 that delivers water to poorer people worldwide. This is a conflict of interest, and an abominable abuse of power. It's also a local fight (that's being watched across the pond). Nestle pays less than $15 per day for the water they take in Aberfoyle. 11,000 people of the Six Nations have no access to running water. Two-thirds of First Nations have been under drinking water advisories here in the past few years. It's a travesty that's largely being ignored.
Provincial politicians "clearly don't know what they're doing." They just want to raise the fees attached to taking the water, which will have a negligible effect on a huge corporation like Nestle. This is our water, and Nestle needs to leave this community.
Federally, Trudeau had some positives in his budget. He added a lot to water and waste water services in First Nations communities and into the fisheries an oceans, but he didn't increase allotments to Environment Canada. If they don't undo the damage by reinstated the gutted bills, it'll be as if Harper is still in office. Trudeau launched consultations on those acts instead of reinstating them because the oil and water industries are pushing back. We must tell MPs that they have to fight for this for us.
This is all Possible!!:
"Boiling Point is a cry from my heart to yours." We have to abandon the erroneous belief that Canada has lots of water. We need a federal plan to protect our groundwater. We need to ban pipelines, fracking, and bottled water. We need justice for First Nations. We need a new water ethic that overrides all policies involving water use or that has an impact on water (agriculture, trade deals, etc.). Water is a public trust. It must not be allowed to be taken piece by piece.
Oscar Olivera was leader of first fight in the water wars in Bolivia. Bechtel privatized water and tripled the price and fined anyone capturing rainwater. People fought back and got Bechtel to leave. He explained his dedication with this line: "I would rather die of a bullet than thirst." This is similar to Mike Mercredi's struggle right here. He lives with the tar sands, and when children swim in lakes nearby, they get covered in sores and cysts. He says, "It would be kinder to come in with guns and kill them quickly."
At Site 41, near Barrie, people fought a dump being scheduled on top of an aquifer of exceptionally clean water. In the spring of 2011, Mayors were ready to go ahead with it for the tax money. Equipment was moved in, but First Nations women set up a peace camp and held prayers on the road in front of traffic. They were able to stall the equipment all summer until the frost made the work impossible. Their arrest was ordered, and the community was split three ways on the issue. Pro-dump, pro-water, and undecided. Then one of the leaders of the pro-dump group was presented, by his grandchildren, with the opposition's sign. They pleaded with him, and he announced his job description had changed to being a steward of the water.
THE LAST STRAW (my two cents on activism):
This event was covered by Guelph Today news, and the Council of Canadians site, where both report a 'packed hall' or a 'big crowd'. The thing is, it wasn't all that packed. I was worried about getting a seat, but there were many to choose from. Papers like to suggest that this is important news because everyone who's anyone was there, but in reality this is really important news because so few were there. So few people, particularly younger people (I felt like I was younger than most there), are concerned or "woke" enough to come to a talk or rally or write their MPP or try to fix this vital and life-threatening problem in any concrete way. Writing about small numbers won't sell papers, but it's an important part of reporting the problem. Hopefully it was truly packed in Toronto last night.
When I talk to students about what effective activism looks like, they often focus on people who became famous. Martin Luther King Jr. is a name they hold up as the model of an activist that changed the world. But then activism becomes something far too difficult for an ordinary person to do. How do we possibly get thousands of people to follow us? How do we write and deliver all those speeches? It's not in the skill set of the best of us.
I tell them to keep in mind that MLK didn't start the civil rights movement. He was there at a high-point in the movement, when things dramatically turned a corner. But, and he's said as much, the movement started decades earlier with thousands of people whose names you've never heard and wouldn't recognize. He happened to be the last straw that broke the backs of a racist system. He didn't make it happen. The people who paved the way before him, each one of them were absolutely necessary for the country to galvanize around him. And we never know when we'll hit that corner, when we could be that last straw.
We have to add ourselves to the numbers. We can't do this for fame or fortune; we can't expect that we will be the ones to save the world. We have to work on these issues knowing we likely won't be known or remembered for our work, but it's simply the right thing to do. That people are suffering, literally dying of thirst, so a corporation can increase its profits by duping the public is a travesty. Barlow said the fight is on our doorstep, but I say it's right in our home. This world is where we live, and Nestle needs to get the fuck out.