Thursday, November 24, 2016

Water as a Human Right

In a recent article in my local paper, Peter Shawn Taylor says that anyone who wants to stop Nestle from draining aquifers doesn't understand economics and is hostile to capitalism. He implies that we can't just label water a human right above the fray of the market without doing the same with food, clothes, and housing. And "this sort of knee jerk hostility toward capitalism inevitably raises prices and reduces availability."

I don't understand the implications he suggests of that last bit. If we stop Nestle from taking groundwater to sell, which it's paying municipalities for at less than the going rate, then water will be more expensive and less available??

Taylor makes a false analogy implying that if we expect water to be free then we must also expect housing to be free because they're both human rights. The water warriors he refers to want to ensure that no company can take something essential for survival, get it for less than citizens pay for it, and then sell it back for 1,000 times the cost. So I think a much better analogy is, if we're going to allow Nestle to take water needed by a community, at a discount, then sell it at an enormous increase, then we must allow companies to take housing that's currently needed by people, get it at less than market value, and be allowed to sell it for 1,000 times the cost. See the problem with that version of capitalism now?

That's not something we worry about legislating because it'll never happen: nobody's going to buy a house that's so overpriced. Unfortunately, we still have a ton of people brainwashed by the cleanliness myth of bottled water who will continue to buy the product regardless the harm it causes to watersheds and communities. Free market principles suggest that the consuming public is the problem. If it's such a bad thing, then people just won't buy it and everything will equalize beautifully. But people don't work like that. We're a lazy and thoughtless lot. So sometimes we have to stop problems at the source in order to ensure longterm benefits to the people.

We already treat water like food, like apples for instance, as we pay for the labour mixed with the food. Farmers take the time and energy to grow the apples, pick and package them, and stand at a table in the market. We pay for all the people working down that line. In our parts, water is just there, under the ground, and we pay the city to treat it, monitor the quality, and pump it into our homes. Nestle is a company that wants to rip off the farmers by taking all the apples off the trees at a fraction of the cost so there's virtually none left for the local market, advertising them falsely as significantly superior, then selling them at 1,000 times the cost. It's right up there with WalMart for lowering prices by exploiting people along the way. We don't want to stop capitalism, just crony capitalism.

Furthermore, working to stop the control Nestle has in the area is imperative to impede any potential industry-influenced-government moves towards preventing citizens from collecting their own water in barrels or cistern like has happened in some jurisdictions in the U.S.

He suggests that native reserves run out of water because of gross incompetence by governments, not businesses. But when native reserves suffer from a lack of drinkable water, the blame often absolutely lies directly on the shoulders of industries like the Dryden Chemical Company and Reed's Paper Mill for poisoning the water with mercury and other toxins.

Finally, suggesting that "water is the most renewable of all resources" because it just keeps raining over and over shows Taylor's ignorance of the crisis we currently face. It's NOT continuing to rain in the same ways as it used to. Some areas are flooded and some are in drought. Groundwater is a different quality of water than surface puddles, and we need rain falling at the right intensity to be soaked into the ground to recharge our water table. Clean drinkable water must be protected. It's not something we can cavalierly use up expecting more to come tomorrow. That's the real irrational mysticism here.


The Mound of Sound said...

If water can be transformed into a commodity of commerce, so too then can the air. It's not that capitalism would treat water as a good of trade, it's that in making that claim they are inferring that humanity, all life on Earth can theoretically be denied access to it. While we're on the matter of capitalism, it's time we stopped treating that as some amorphous economic model. It's not. Teddy Roosevelt, in his 1910 Square Deal speech, addressed this. There's nothing wrong with capitalism so long as it is harnessed into service to the state and the public. The Scandinavians have shown that socialism and capitalism can not merely co-exist but flourish. China shows us that capitalism and totalitarianism can be best bedfellows when the corporate sector is freed of the chaos and uncertainty of democracy. At this specific moment in time I think we should all go back and spend 10-minutes reading Roosevelt's speech.

Marie Snyder said...

Absolutely! Another to add to my political philosophy syllabus.