Review: Blue Gold–The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World’s Water

6 Star Top 10%, Capitalism (Good & Bad), Civil Society, Complexity & Catastrophe, Economics, Environment (Problems), Intelligence (Public), Nature, Diet, Memetics, Design, Politics, Power (Pathologies & Utilization), Survival & Sustainment, True Cost & Toxicity, United Nations & NGOs, Values, Ethics, Sustainable Evolution, Voices Lost (Indigenous, Gender, Poor, Marginalized), Water, Energy, Oil, Scarcity
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5.0 out of 5 stars 6 Star Plus Foundation Work,

August 28, 2010

Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke

I read the authors' more recent Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water yesterday and watched the also more recent Blue Gold: World Water Wars last night, all in the context of raeding 12 books on water I bought for a UNESCO project I had to drop from when I joined the UN in Guatemala (which I am leaving 31 August).

This is a six-star and beyond foundation work, and even though I continue to think that Marq de Villier's Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource is the original tour d'force (published in 2001), and that the The Water Atlas: A Unique Visual Analysis of the World's Most Critical Resource is still the best buy over-all, this book joins with Water Wars: Privatization, Pollution, and Profit as a foundation contribution. The authors received the Right Livelihood Award, called the Alternative Nobel, for the work that this book represents, so I urge readers to dismiss the ideologically-rooted and intellectually dishonest appraisals of this book as leftist pap.

Published in 2002, this book is more of an overview briefing, and it does that very well. I learn early on:

+ 70% of the water service market has been captured by corporations–I have a note to myself that this parallels what the oil and automobile magnates did to public transport–bought it all up, killed it, and then pushed highways and petrol-guzzling cars as the “only” alternative.

+ Bottled water coast 1,100 times what tap water costs [other studies point out bottle water is by no means safe, and that the water used to create the plastic bottle is much much greater in quantity than the water contained in the bottle.

Three organizations making a difference:

01 Public Service International
02 Global Water Contract
03 Friends of the Earth International

I learn that in 2004 a Peoples' World Water Movement got started, and later on in the book, that fighting back is working.

Other great stuff that made it to my notes:

+ Watersheds come in nested families, difficult to diagnose one watershed removed impact on yours
+ The problem surprised the public because it was left to the experts and not made a matter of PUBLIC discussion
+ Solution, apart from establishing clean water as a human right within a humam commons, to restructure society and our lifestyle, and of course this is addressed to the one billion rich not the five billion poor. Here I want to mention the work of Robert Ackoff of Penn State University and John N. Warfield of George Mason University, I am among their acolytes and a number of us are now “surging” on the need for both collective intelligence and public access to all information in all languages all the time.
+ Need a global treaty initiative to make water a global commons.
+ We have lost touch with indigenous knowledge, for an in-depth treatment of this see 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

The broad challenges are two primary and two secondary (major and minor did not seem right):

PRIMARY: Population explosion AND explosion in use of water per person
SECONDARY: Breaking of hydrologic cycle (losing 1% a year) AND sewage into water raising the stakes

Among the individuals that the authors identify (one reason I read books) are:

01 Michal Kravcik of Slovakia on the hydrological cycle
02 David Suzuki of Canada on “exponential environmental destruction (Club of Rome got it right, and so does the UN High Level Panel on Threats, Challenge, and Change in their report, A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility–Report of the Secretary-General's High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change but see also the easier to grasp book by J. F. Rischard, High Noon 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them
03 Sandra Postel with the WorldWatch Institute, whose latest book I just reviewed, State of the World 2010: Transforming Cultures: From Consumerism to Sustainability (State of the World)
04 Peter Gleik et al of the Pacific Institute, a force in himself, I just reviewed what is “the” reference every two years, The World's Water 2008-2009: The Biennial Report on Freshwater Resources
05 Emerita Ursula Franklin of Canada, on “standpoints” (see QUOTE at end of review)

Other points that caught my attention:

+ Other species extinctions are 100X to 1000X the “norm” before humans became industrial and predatory
+ Threats to water include toxic run off, deforestation, global warming, invasive species, over-irrigation and unsustainable agriculture, and dams. Here I want to recommend two books, Pandora's Poison: Chlorine, Health, and a New Environmental Strategy and also High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health–the computer industry, not all the other industries, in the primary creator of “Super Fund” toxic sites.

I like the authors' survey of the nature of the human crisis, and their headings say it all–this is a perfect book for undergraduate study and useful to graduates outside the water domain as well.

+ Lethal Waters
+ Unequal Access (most do not realize that poverty, like disabilities, impairs diversity of thinking coming into the future)
+ Elite Privilege
+ Food Scarcity (diversion of water to biofuels and other needs)
+ Dam fall out (I learn that schistosomiasis and other parasites thrive)
+ Wars Wars
+ Energy drain of water
+ Privatization

Bottom line is that governments no longer represent the public interest, and the “everything for sale” mentality, combined with the unethical and intellectually unsupportable World Bank, WTO, and IMF positions on “international competitiveness,” are looting the Third World as well as the Western world of water.

Strangely to me the author does not focus on corruption, which has become a primary focus on my life, not only dishonesty in taking bribes, but dishonesty in allowing data pathologies and information asymmetries to persist against the public interest (e.g. true cost economics not being demanded nor supported by governments).

This is probably the best book treatment of the global conquest by Suez, Viendi, Enron (RIP), RWE-Thames, and E.ON, of the world's water, and I am just blown away by how complacent people–including ostensibly educated people in the USA heartland–are allowing all this to happen. Will companies own the air next? Buy clean air? We have reached a tipping point, and the authors address that at the end of the book.

The author reviews the means by which the water cycle is being corrupted, including pipelines, supertankers, grand canals, water bags (for when whaling is off-season, let's start ripping these up), and bottled water, which combines theft with pollution, but see Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog for the piece on the Japanese invention that now turns plastic back into oil.

Precautionary Principle anyone? I do not see this anywhere, and that is consistent with governments worldwide, from national to local levels, abdicating their responsibility to act in the public interest. Three books recommended here: Protecting Public Health and the Environment: Implementing The Precautionary Principle; Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War; and Corruption and Anti-Corruption: An Applied Philosophical Approach.

The chapter on global nexus presents the integrated fashion in which the corporations have “bought” the UN and its new water agencies, the World Bank, WTO, IMF, and also regional trade regimes and regional banks.

The chapter on fighting back is useful and probably needs to be a new book in the near term all on its own, beyond Blue Covenant. Perhaps the authors could take street-fighting lessons from Lori Wollach…. The authors cover movements to regain public control, fight privatization, block water exports (this strikes me as HUGE and under-focused), fighting water contamination (e.g. hog farms), restoring water systems, stopping dams, and–the subject of what I hope will be a new book, the internationalization of the struggle with one big change: use water to build that movement, and then immediately expand it to focus on holistic eradication of the ten high level threats to humanity through the public orchestration of information and spending and behavior across the twelve core policies, water being the twelfth. More on this at Phi beta Iota and originally at the Earth Intelligence Network.

QUOTE (205): “A standpoint, explains Dr. Franklin, is an ethical framework that informs one's purpose and one's work. … A standpoint brings a sense of priority, a sense of proportion, and a sense of obligation. Having the courage to find a place to stand, and if necessary, fight for what you believe, is required before any person or movement can effect real social change.”

In the USA this means to me both the end of the two-party tyranny, and the end of the Federal Reserve/Treasury Congressional looting of the public purse on behalf of Wall Street. The Bush-Obama bail-out of Wall Street instead of freezing foreclosures and evictions can only be understood if one sees that the White House is the servant of Wall Street, and not at all acting in the public interest–regardless of which party is in power. There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be fixed by non-violent Electoral Reform.

The book concludes with a focus on water as a commons demanding stewardship, equality, and universality, and three lists, two on how to achieve water peace and one with ten steps to water security–buy the book, it is still relevant, still valuable, still a foundation work.

Amazon limits links to ten, so the 12 water books I am reviewing are best accessed directly via Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog. The last three, the most dense, are the severely over-priced and therefore not recommended The Evolution of the Law and Politics of Water, unillustrated but brilliant Governing Water:  Contentious Transnational Politics and Global Institution Building (Global Environmental Accord:  Strategies for Sustainability and Institutional Innovation); and the historical Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization.

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