December 9, 2008
MAUDE BARLOW AND THE GLOBAL WATER CRISIS
How will an almost comedic carelessness of water consumption south of the border affect us here in Canada?
"The global water crisis is the greatest ecological and human rights crisis of our time," says Maude Barlow, the chairperson of the Council of Canadians.
Barlow is the author of Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water. She cautions that if we don't quickly change the way we source and consume water, large populations of people will face certain hardships and/or death.
In early 2008, Barlow spoke to a sold-out audience in Castlegar, British Columbia while on tour promoting her book. She had just returned to Canada from the United States where she had also been speaking to audiences about the water crisis.
"I'm very filled with these stories about a super-power to the south of us that is going dry in some very important places," said Barlow to the Castlegar audience. "A recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report said that there are thirty-six states in the United States that are going to have 'serious to severe water crises in the next five to ten years', and there are seven states facing the end of water right now," she added.
Those states are Colorado, Utah, California, New Mexico, Nevada, Wyoming and Arizona.
While one would hope that measures are being taken to prevent any developments that would further exacerbate these concerns, that may be giving the United States of America too much credit!
"In Arizona, they just announced they're building a water theme park in the desert called the Water Wave," explained Barlow. The audience gasped. "They're going to have waves so high that you can surf on them, and they're going to have rivers that run so fast that they'll have white-water rafting in the desert."
Ah yes, America!
Barlow's examples of our neighbour's carelessness did not stop there.
While Arizona may be an easy example of how water resources can be misused, mountainous areas like Utah and Colorado, famous for their snow, seem like an odd addition to the list.
"Utah is a State that totally depends on the snowmelt from the mountains and they are cutting down the trees and the shrubs that protect that snow and they're building great big resorts, new ski runs, and in the summer, all-terrain vehicle (ATV) trails."
The snowpack that provides the water for the remainder of the year is thereby decreasing.
While the absurdity of the situation south of the border is certainly to be taken seriously, it did nevertheless evoke humour during her talk. "It reminds me of The Far Side cartoon where there's a bunch of dogs in a life raft and their ship is sinking," said Barlow. "One of [the dogs] says, 'ok, everyone who wants to eat all the food at once, put your hand up.'" Barlow believes the hungry American appetite for water is not much different.
The water crisis can indeed be addressed as an issue on its own, but how do these looming water shortages affect us here in Canada? We do after all have a comparatively healthy supply of water.
As Barlow and many others have feared for quite some time now, water is very clearly on the negotiating table as a possible bulk export along with our trees, electricity and oil. While many efforts are being made to ensure that water does not become a traded commodity, our reliance on imported food may become the deciding factor on whether or not this will happen. Of the $20 billion worth of food that is imported into Canada each year, a little over 4% of that comes from the State of California alone ($835 million). That's a significant number. When walking into any Canadian grocery store, and especially in these winter months, Canadians are presented with an overwhelming selection of foods grown in California.
Unless Canadians choose to drastically alter how we eat, California is likely going to become very thirsty for our water, and by extension, so are we.
The scenario plays itself out in an awkward way; we ship water to California and they ship us food in return! While it sounds like a crazy scenario, our current globalized consumption patterns play out such irresponsible trading patterns every day.
Nevertheless, Barlow does remain hopeful. Perhaps her optimism is because the situation is becoming so comedically absurd.
"We have all the knowledge that we need in terms of fixing this," she suggested. "All we have to do is be sensible and conserve and protect source water, and bring water back into watersheds that can no longer retain water because we have abused them."
Barlow believes what we're lacking is political will, and she suggests that this will is not going to "come from the top." Instead, she believes it will come from communities, farmers, peasants, indigenous populations, and those who are and will be affected by future water shortages.
Deconstructing Dinner is heard on radio stations across Canada and is available as a Podcast. For more information on this situation and to hear a recording of Maude Barlow, visit (www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner/032008.htm).
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