Tuesday, March 5, 2013

By Billy Wharton

Water politics may be the next big thing on the political landscape of the United States.  Questions over who has access to water, who profits from the distribution of water and who gets cut out of the water equation are emerging all over the country.  The universal notion of free accessible drinking water for all is rapidly becoming a thing of the past, trodden on by private water corporations, sold off by bankrupt municipalities and polluted by energy corporations grand claims of "energy independence."  Water politics are about more than just what comes out of the tap.  They are about who gets to use fresh water, what they get to do with it and, even as the article below explains, who gets to make it.  Water may be the most simple, most fundamental element of life for all beings, but it it is increasingly becoming entangled in the politics of 21st century capitalism.

To start, I would recommend a look at the principles of Water Democracy by Vandana Shiva.  They provide an excellent baseline from which to measure the current state of water politics.  Shiva's ideas come out of the anti-Globalization fightbacks of the 1990s and stand as an ideal of how we might remake the relationship between humanity and water with an eye toward regaining equilibrium by removing water from the status of a commodity.

The most recent attempt to by-pass the crisis of fresh water in capitalism relies on a combination of childhood naivete and advanced science. Why don't we just use the ocean water?  Science has provided an answer to this through the process of reverse osmosis.  Water is run through a series of filters which serve to desalinate (take out the salt) by removing microorganisms and sedimentation.  The result of the process is clean fresh drinking water.

An easy solution, right?  Like any attempt by humans to insert themselves into a natural process, there are unintended bad outcomes.  Once the ocean water is pumped into the desalination plant the natural composition of the water is transformed during each stage of processing, making it less and less organic. Of the 300 million gallons of sea water pulled into the plant each day, only 100 gallons makes it to the desalination process and then only half of that becomes fresh water.  The rest is left as a lifeless muck - remember the process kills the micro-organisms in the water - that is two times saltier than ocean water.  This waste water then has to be rehabilitated before it is discharged into the sea.

No easy solutions offered by desalination, but an awful lot of big capital is tied up in plant construction. Poseidon Resources, the operator of the new desalinization plant in San Diego has all the trappings of green capitalism.  They put forward claims of "environmental stewardship" while attempting to balance maximizing efficiency with enhanced compliance.  This pitch earned the privately held company a contract to finance the $922 million plant that is expected to generate between $3 and $4 billion a year in revenue from water contracts.  Going green means serious profits for Poseidon despite the complicated environmental impact desalination brings with it.

Not surprisingly, Poseidon has also begun to engage with national politics through its lobbying arm which has sought to influence green capitalist legislation in Washington.  One key bill was the 2005 Clean Water Investment and Infrastructure Security Act which sought to lift the cap on tax exempt bonds issued for private investments in water and sewage facilities.  Poseidon executives have also made initial contributions to the newly formed Reclaim America PAC which was established by Florida Republican Marco Rubio in 2012.  This is no shining progressive venture.  Poseidon is straight capitalist enterprise.

As the struggles over water intensify, it is important to be able to see the differences between efforts to capitalize on the profits offered by the environmental crisis and efforts to strike out for a new equilibrium between nature and humanity.  Such differences make work by activists such as Shiva critical since they provide a theoretical guide from which delineate between strategies that offer long term sustainability and those that provide short term fixes that may do more harm than good.  Scratch beneath the surface of the short term fixes and you are sure to find a profit motive.  Examine water democracy more closely and see a hope for the survival of our species and the planet that hosts us.

(Republished from http://counterheg.blogspot.com/)

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