Is Water Becoming The New Oil?
Is Water Becoming The New Oil?
Public fountains are dry in Barcelona, Spain, a city so parched there’s a €9,000 ($13,000) fine if you’re caught watering your flowers. A tanker ship docked there this month carrying 5 million gallons of precious fresh water – and officials are scrambling to line up more such shipments to slake public thirst.
Barcelona is not alone. Cyprus will ferry water from Greece this summer. Australian cities are buying water from that nation’s farmers and building desalination plants. Thirsty China plans to divert Himalayan water. And 18 million southern Californians are bracing for their first water-rationing in years.
Water, Dow Chemical Chairman Andrew Liveris told the World Economic Forum in February, “is the oil of this century.” Developed nations have taken cheap, abundant fresh water largely for granted. Now global population growth, pollution, and climate change are shaping a new view of water as “blue gold.”
Water’s hot-commodity status has snared the attention of big equipment suppliers like General Electric as well as big private water companies that buy or manage municipal supplies – notably France-based Suez and Aqua America, the largest US-based private water company.
Global water markets, including drinking water distribution, management, waste treatment, and agriculture are a nearly $500 billion market and growing fast, says a 2007 global investment report.
But governments pushing to privatize costly to maintain public water systems are colliding with a global “water is a human right” movement. Because water is essential for human life, its distribution is best left to more publicly accountable government authorities to distribute at prices the poorest can afford, those water warriors say.
“We’re at a transition point where fundamental decisions need to be made by societies about how this basic human need – water – is going to be provided,” says Christopher Kilian, clean-water program director for the Boston-based Conservation Law Foundation. “The profit motive and basic human need [for water] are just inherently in conflict.”
Will “peak water” displace “peak oil” as the central resource question? Some see such a scenario rising.
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This is a scenario that some including myself have been warning about for the last twenty years. The prognsosis that increasing population and lack of proper maintenance of infrastructure along with destructive corporate policies that pollute and waste this precious resource will culminate to bring us to a point where there will not be enough potable water to sustain this world's population.
And as with the warnings given by many including Al Gore regarding the climate crisis for the last thirty years, we are just now coming to a consciousness that this is indeed a global emergency that needs our attention and action. Why does it take so long for us to come to these ephiphanies? Is it politics? Or is it the desire of the human species to simply resign itself to not taking responsibility for its own actions?
The water justice movement in this world is now just starting to make headway with bringing people to that consciousness regarding water and the impending repercussions we will most certainly face upon not giving this crisis the attention and action it deserves on a global scale. Drought (caused by waste but now also caused predominantly by climate change and the burning of fossil fuels at a rapacious pace unprecedented) is a silent killer that is creeping across this planet very stealthily in search of more land to suck dry, which is now putting the lives of millions in the Horn of Africa and in other parts of this world including the United States at risk. And in that process, where will that leave the poorest in our world? At the mercy of corporate conglomerates that will charge them unsurious rates to have a substance they cannot live without? How can anyone claim this is even moral let alone legal?
Water is a human right. It sustains our lives. Without it we would die. To have corporations and governments telling us whether or not we can have that resource and what we must pay to have it is beyond the boundaries of morality and human dignity. Yet, this is happening now with this issue which is so important to the very sustenance of human beings given little to no weight in political platforms, the media, or in every day discussion.
Have we truly become so distracted with the frivolous and mundane that the very issues that decide our ability to survive have become frivolous and mundane to us? When a child dies from a waterborne disease brought on by a lack of sewerage facilities, is that not a reflection on the moral character of the human species? When a young woman has to go without an education because she needs to walk 9 hours a day to fetch water that is polluted thus putting herself in mortal danger of rape, robbery and even death, is that not a reflection on the moral character of the human species? When we see the steady decline of Democracy because multi-national companies with money and back door political associations buy policy and get away with it because of our apathy, is that not a reflection of the moral character of the human species?
If governments and multi-nationals have their way, water will become a commodity to trade like oil and pork bellies. It will be reduced to something that only the rich can afford and many will die because of it. It is not only imperative that the water justice movement then continue to be vocal about this gross injustice to the poorest in our world, but also imperative that we, every citizen in America and elsewhere who treasures this most precious resource speak out for water being declared a human right to make it known to those who seek to use it for their own profit that it will not be tolerated any longer. We are at a crossorads as a species. The future of water is our future.