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The New Petroleum


Today’s lead article on The Economist‘s website highlights the challenges of global water distribution ("A Soluble Problem"), and suggests that buffering trade is the most effective way to tackle the problem.  Goldman Sachs, a leading investment bank, eagerly indulged the possibilities:

"According to Sir Nicholas [Stern], in many places supplies are running short as rising consumption cannot be matched by fresh rainfall. As a result, suggests Goldman Sachs, the price of water is bound to rise: bad news for the poor and thirsty, but an opportunity for investors. The excited bank even suggests that water might be considered to be the "petroleum for the next century".

Conceding control of water (Earth’s most abundant and most important resource) to multinational investors like Goldman Sachs is bound to only intensify the problems.  These financiers necessarily prefer to back similarly large multinational corporations like Suez, whose collateralized costs ensure higher profit margins.  Despite the recents failures of privatized water (Suez’s longstanding contract with Paris, where its headquarters are located, will not be renewed in 2009), climatic instability and the associated perils to water systems leave room for a tempting retreat into corporate salvation. 

We should instead heed the advice of Maude Barlow, a prominent water journalist and activist, who in her most recent book and the latest Monthly Review uses the term "Blue Covenant" to describe the relationship that should be forms between citizen, state, and water.  Barlow warns that if we do not clarify the unalienable right to water (blasphemous as this may sound to The Economist):

"We are heading toward a world of deepening conflict and potential wars over the dwindling supplies of freshwater – between nations, between rich and poor, between the public and the private interest, between rural and urban populations, and between the competing needs of the natural world and industrialized humans".

The Economist is well aware that private water supply and service companies profit more when water is wasted; they are also well-aquainted with the incentives of ethical vacuity in the private sector.  For them to insinuate that turning control of water over to capital pushers like Goldman Sachs and their concomitant multinationals is the solution to the global water crisis is irresponsible, ill-informed, and emblematic of the 21st century propensity to turn crisis into profit.

Goldman Sachs wants to make water the "petroleum for the next century".  Let’s make sure they, or no one else, does any such thing.  Water Justice is a good place to start, but local water sovereignty movements are just as worthwhile and have more immediacy.

And just for good measure: The 30 Second Shower

You can use less than 30 seconds worth of water for every shower (and shouldn’t need any more than one a day) with this easy strategy:  Hop in, turn on the faucet (not too hot! heating water requires a lot of energy), count to 10 while you get yourself wet, then TURN OFF THE WATER WHILE YOU LATHER.  Many people just stand outside of the water’s path while lathering, but that water is being spent none-the-less.  After having scrubbed all over (including hair), turn back on the water, taking 20 or so seconds to efficiently wash off all the soap and shampoo.  Voila! 

For those of you who demand more time in the shower to perfect your hygiene, I’d sincerely recommend rethinking your shower strategy.  And besides, over-exposure to heated hard water is bad for the skin!

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