"Why should it be my responsibility ... to quench my neighbors thirst?"
May 23, 2013 8:34 PM   Subscribe

“We’ve seen the price of food become more expensive than ever three times in five years. Normally we’d see three price spikes in a century,” said Kaufman. “And part of the reason is this new kind of commodity speculation in food markets.” In an article published Oct. 24 in Nature[subscription required], Kaufman describes what he calls “Wall Street’s thirst for water” — the push to turn water into a commodity like food, with the same instruments that produced the mortgage-backed security collapse and 2008 financial crisis.
Public or Private: The Fight Over the Future of Water

007's Water War Was Based In Reality, Not Fiction
"There’s a growing debate about the importance of oil to our national security, and I think that without a doubt, oil is critical to our national security," says Gleick. "But ironically, I would argue that water is even more important to our national security. There are substitutes for oil; there are no substitutes for water."
As foreign investors eye their public utilities, water workers scramble to create cooperatives.

Commons Has Expanded, Not Shrunk, Over Past 200 Years - "Public water systems, public education, public libraries, and public roads are modern innovations."
Our Hidden Wealth: How The Commons Make Everything Else Work
posted by the man of twists and turns (54 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
 
Old saying out West, 'Whiskey's for drinkin' water's for fightin'
We are seeing this in action now with the bastard who owns Nestlé's saying 'Water is not a right'

Personally, I don't think Hell is hot enough for the bastards who want to commodity water.
We ALL need water. I don't care who you are or what you are, if you are alive, you need water.
Whoever wants to use this on us is evil and is the enemy.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:55 PM on May 23, 2013 [46 favorites]


Purchase article full text and PDF: $18

Shit, Nature sure makes it pricey to quench my thirst for knowledge...
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:02 PM on May 23, 2013 [9 favorites]


RobotVoodooPower: if only people systematically pirated such content, and then put it on household name pirate sites for anyone with a torrent client to access, eh?
posted by el io at 9:04 PM on May 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Calling it now: those of us in the US without retained lobbyists are going to lose this.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 9:11 PM on May 23, 2013 [14 favorites]


007's Water War Was Based In Reality, Not Fiction

I always assumed Quantum was based on Bechtel.
posted by homunculus at 9:17 PM on May 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Can I bet on the race to the bottom?
posted by Divest_Abstraction at 9:27 PM on May 23, 2013


Can I bet on the race to the bottom?

Soon. That's the idea.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:37 PM on May 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


If we could look into the investment portfolios of top fracking executives and their families, I think we'd see lots of rights to surface waters in the areas where they're doing the heaviest drilling.
posted by jamjam at 9:39 PM on May 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I always used to read these science fiction works where in the future, everyone was going to war over water.

Invest in desalination tech.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:43 PM on May 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


The provision of water by a city is "civilization" itself. These bastards are liars and think they can redefine things any way it suits their profits. They think nothing really matters so long as they keep making money. Give them a chance, they will deprive you of water completely while taking out life insurance policies on the thirsty. Anything for profits!
posted by Goofyy at 9:48 PM on May 23, 2013 [10 favorites]


Advocates of water privatization argue that water rates are kept artificially low, which is probably true but keeping in mind that first Guernica article, the reason for doing so is presumably so that economic stratification isn't made that much worse. The Atlanta Municipal Options Tax was a tax initiative voted for by the citizens of Atlanta to repair aging water and sewage infrastructure. It was one part of a larger plan to modernize infrastructure in Atlanta. I learned about it from the PBS documentary Liquid Assets which, tangentially, was the only documentary I could find about modern Atlanta that wasn't about how great their neo-punk music scene was. In any case, Atlanta has a shit ton of other problems but this is one of those things that this city can really be proud of.
posted by dubusadus at 9:48 PM on May 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


Don't forget that "public" allocation of water resources has already produced more than its share of outrageous and environmentally destructive waste. It's odd that they don't mention that.

From the taxpayer's point of view being ripped off by Ag is probably not that different from getting ripped off by Finance.
posted by nixt at 9:49 PM on May 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


You can't say (openly, in the West) that access to clean drinking water is a human right, because once you say that it's a very short step to saying that access to pure food is a human right, and that is essentially socialism -- therefore "unserious" and forbidden.

We will gladly tolerate millions dying of thirst and hunger before we ever consider lifting a finger to stop it.
posted by Avenger at 9:50 PM on May 23, 2013 [15 favorites]


Personally I hope they make water rights sky high and people begin to die of dehydration. We'll get over this whole frog in pan syndrome we've got going on when the proles realize they can either die on their knees or die taking one of these bastards out with 'em.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 9:52 PM on May 23, 2013 [6 favorites]


We'll get over this whole frog in pan syndrome we've got going on when the proles realize they can either die on their knees or die taking one of these bastards out with 'em.

I don't know about that. Kim Jong Il murdered something like 10% of his country's population through criminal mismanagement and faced no real threats to his administration (or even his legacy) within North Korea.

The human capacity for suffering and cognitive dissonance is essentially infinite. The future is crowds of God-fearing Americans lining up to vote for the guy who will take away their Medicare and cheap water, forever.
posted by Avenger at 10:00 PM on May 23, 2013 [10 favorites]


If the CEO of a company actually succeeds in privatizing and commodifying water, we owe it to our forefathers, our ancestors and humanity itself to remove that CEO from the human race in as public a way as possible and to destroy everything they have ever built and to erase record of them from history. And pain too.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 10:24 PM on May 23, 2013 [12 favorites]


Kim Jong Il murdered something like 10% of his country's population through criminal mismanagement and faced no real threats to his administration (or even his legacy) within North Korea.

History is rotten with peasant revolts against incompetent or thieving rulers. It takes a lot, a LOT a lot, to get the poor so angry that they start killing the rich, but it's happened quite frequently in the course of world history, and pretending that modern Masters of the Universe are immune is, frankly, silly. Pointing at extreme outliers doesn't disprove the principle. And frankly, we don't yet know what's going to kick the North Korean people over the edge.
posted by 1adam12 at 10:25 PM on May 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Technology is a double edged sword, 1adam12.
posted by effugas at 10:30 PM on May 23, 2013


If we could look into the investment portfolios of top fracking executives and their families, I think we'd see lots of rights to surface waters in the areas where they're doing the heaviest drilling.
posted by jamjam at 12:39 AM on May 24 [+] [!]


Sure you would, but it's not quite the point. Fracking co.s buy the water rights in areas they're fracking so that they don't get sued into the ground for contamination of that water.

It's more significant that they own water rights in areas with no gas reserves and thus with no drilling, fracking, or contamination. They own the friggen clean water.

Furthermore they own the patent rights to a whole lot of water filtration and distillation tech ("just fulfilling our community obligations to provide a decent clean up service, sir..").

A little bit down the road someone sure is gonna be holding all the cards on sellin you sometin t' drink at whatever price they want.
posted by Ahab at 10:48 PM on May 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


This completely and unabashedly biased report by Corporate Accountability International on why public water is a public good presents some really great arguments for the long term social and environmental benefits of investment in public water resource development and infrastructure while at the same time also discussing the economic benefits, especially with respect to job creation.

But to me the most compelling argument against privatization and commodification of drinking water is that the profit motive can lead to really egregious behavior and totally undermine public health protection. The Corporate Accountability International report gives a few anecdotes about how some private water companies have sacrificed public safety to save money. Of course this can happen in the public sector too (see Walkerton - Five Years After--Lessons learned in the aftermath of Canada's worst E. coli Contamination):
"Given the right conditions of inattention, mismanagement and lack of understanding by those in charge, a hazardous outbreak could be visited upon any community. As would be expected, the public health tragedy that occurred in Walkerton still haunts the town. Yet, much was learned, both by both by Canadian water officials and municipal water facilities operators and managers across North America. One message, perhaps above all else is made clear by the events of 2000: our public waters are our most valued and vulnerable public resource. Investment in keeping them safe and secure needs to be a community's first priority."
posted by gubenuj at 11:04 PM on May 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


This is not about drinking water. Water is primarily used for irrigation and generating electricity; domestic use is less than 10% and drinking water is a small fraction of that. I don't know how I feel about public vs. private water in general, but framing a water rights battle in terms of thirsty people is dishonest and manipulative.
posted by nixt at 11:25 PM on May 23, 2013 [12 favorites]


One word: Chinatown.

Background
posted by eye of newt at 11:42 PM on May 23, 2013


A good while back, Martin Wolf of Financial Times wrote a very interesting post* on his FT blog about how a shift from from Classical economics to Neo-classical economics involved a dubious erasure of the distinction between capital and (natural) resources -- this lack of distinction now built into the present neo-classical orthodoxy presumably being what makes this sort of Wall Street push viable. The post is now behind a registration wall (I will probably register because I get the impression that Wolf's blog is excellent), but I found a copy of it here.
Another reason may have been political. Henry George argued that
resource rents are not a reward for the efforts of the owners, but
the fruit of the efforts of others. It would be both just and
efficient to socialise rents, he argued, and then use the proceeds
to finance the infrastructure that makes resources valuable. But
the powerful owners of natural resources wished to protect their
unearned gains. In practice, therefore, the tax burden fell on
labour and capital. Economics, one might argue, was pushed into
supporting this way of organising economic life.

Yet it would seem to me that this way of thinking by economists is
no longer sensible, if it ever was. Land must again be treated as
separate from labour and capital.
posted by Anything at 12:25 AM on May 24, 2013 [8 favorites]


Avenger, you CAN say that in, of all places Arizona, where they recognize that access to water can literally mean the difference between life and death. There used to be a commercial when I was a kid the catch phrase of which was "Where water is life, every drop counts."
posted by evilDoug at 12:37 AM on May 24, 2013


There used to be a commercial when I was a kid the catch phrase of which was "Where water is life, every drop counts."

There used to be a comedian when I was a kid and I am reminded of the late Sam Kinison's admonition to people starving in the desert which I can paraphrase for this purpose as: STOP SENDING THEM WATER. Send then u-Hauls. There is no God given right to live where there is no water and expect other people to provide it for you.

That some farmer bought 5000 acres in Arizona or Texas or Southern California or in some other desert during a particularly wet period now has to irrigate his fields with water from a hundred miles away is a problem for private commerce, not public investment.
posted by three blind mice at 12:55 AM on May 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


Capitalism will not be satisfied until it is indistinguishable from the state.
posted by wemayfreeze at 1:17 AM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I will have no sympathy at all if a CEO gets killed over doing an Enron with the water markets.
posted by jaduncan at 1:30 AM on May 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


The U-haul joke is only funny if there's somewhere to move to with water and food and jobs trivially available to thirsty, hungry and poor migrants. Millions of them.

Can you honestly name such a place?
posted by seanmpuckett at 3:35 AM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


"At Juli Williams' house, you have just three seconds to wet your toothbrush. A shower can last no more than 10 minutes. The dishwasher may be operated only with permission. Even with these austerity measures, Williams' monthly water and sewer bill runs as high as $423, more than most car payments. And for that money, Williams says, the bathtub is stained brown from water that comes from community wells operated by Aqua North Carolina."

I've had to caution people who are househunting near where I live to carefully inspect the utilities reports; buying in the wrong development can jack up costs by $4-5,000 a year if the water is privatized.
posted by ardgedee at 3:37 AM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Avenger: "You can't say (openly, in the West) that access to clean drinking water is a human right, because once you say that it's a very short step to saying that access to pure food is a human right, and that is essentially socialism -- therefore "unserious" and forbidden."
Er, what?
Article 25.(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
     —United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Last I checked this is international law by virtue of being the basis for the UN Charter, signed and acceded to by the US and all European nations.
posted by brokkr at 4:19 AM on May 24, 2013


brokkr, the UDHR is generally considered not to be a treaty. A huge chunk of it would most likely be customary law, but that's always complicated.
posted by Lemurrhea at 4:31 AM on May 24, 2013


I don't know whether the article is misleading, or the post is unintentionally misleading - but isn't the guys book about the commoditization and financialization of water, not the privatization of domestic water provision? Those are two very different things. In order for a commodity to act like a commodity its price differences need to be able to be arbitraged. That's what will be your first tell. Ships designed to move water. New Pipelines that aren't adding capacity. Etc. etc.
posted by JPD at 4:32 AM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Read the second half of the John Wesley Powell biography, "Beyond the 100th Meridian". In the 1870s, even, he was saying we had to parcel out land with respect to water frontage, not just nice little 40-acre square plots. Unfortunately, the three years after he wrote that were wet ones, and...land was parceled out in square 40-acre plots. Then the weather reverted to the mean...
posted by notsnot at 5:11 AM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]



Is it generally illegal to drill your own well in suburbia?


I live in a rural area so have my own well so I just pay for the electricity to pump it. Not that drilling wells in suburbia (if there is good water table) is really a realistic thing to do, just wondering if there generally laws already on the books against doing it.
posted by Jalliah at 5:40 AM on May 24, 2013


Yes, it is generally illegal to not take city water if available at the property line. Often because once the city pipes are in, tapping them is easier than drilling. So they force you to pay for a hookup.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:52 AM on May 24, 2013


Also drilling a good well can cost thousands, or tens of thousands. And then there's well and equipment upkeep. They go dry from time to time also.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:55 AM on May 24, 2013


The U-haul joke is only funny if there's somewhere to move to with water and food and jobs trivially available to thirsty, hungry and poor migrants. Millions of them.

Can you honestly name such a place?


Not a perfect fit, in terms of employment availability, but the rust belt comes to mind. Cleveland and Detroit have water, and need people.
posted by jon1270 at 6:00 AM on May 24, 2013


The unemployment rates in those cities are some of the highest in the nation. Every county in Michigan, bar one or two, have negative population growth -- most starkly among those people with post-high school educations -- because there are no job opportunities. Water is not the only incentive needed to attract people.
posted by ardgedee at 6:20 AM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Christ, didn't the Romans figure this out?
posted by Sphinx at 6:50 AM on May 24, 2013


At what point does the killing of industry leaders become self defense?
posted by FatherDagon at 6:59 AM on May 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Every county in Michigan, bar one or two, have negative population growth

that's not true
posted by pyramid termite at 7:23 AM on May 24, 2013


I stand corrected. The state as a whole, though, has seen -0.6% population change between 2000 and 2010 -- more people are leaving than arriving -- and Wayne County (where Detroit is) lost over 11% of its population over that period.
posted by ardgedee at 7:41 AM on May 24, 2013


Is it generally illegal to drill your own well in suburbia?

I don't know, but in some places it's illegal to build rainwater collection systems, since they compete with existing (possibly privatized) water rights.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 8:18 AM on May 24, 2013


"The provision of water by a city is "civilization" itself."

Quoted for Truth.
posted by Freen at 11:57 AM on May 24, 2013


I still distill water from the blood of those who challenge me.
What with those jagoff Harkonnens and all.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:53 PM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


So when do the death camps for the "excess labor" come into play? And who will profit most from them?

Whatever happened to compassion for others and basic human rights? Or was that shit all an illusion that never actually existed? This world gets more sickening by the day.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 11:18 PM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Christ, didn't the Romans figure this out?

The provision of water by a city is "civilization" itself.

Agreed, but...

I don't know how I feel about public vs. private water in general, but framing a water rights battle in terms of thirsty people is dishonest and manipulative.

Also agreed. Let's call it outrage porn.
posted by MoTLD at 2:21 AM on May 25, 2013


Some places the issue is no water. Other places the issue is clean water.
Yes, there is a water problem, and it's going to get worse, between corporate control and climate change, we're screwed.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:00 PM on May 27, 2013


I'm reminded of Assange's comments about the "fiscalization of power" when Kaufman criticizes modern finance's managment of food and water prices. It's like finance provides an excuse for or distraction enabling retarded, corrupt, etc. management.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:12 AM on May 31, 2013




In other news: 1-Billion-Year-Old Water Tastes
posted by homunculus at 2:51 PM on June 18, 2013


'Terrible'

Damn you, edit window, why can't you stay for ten minutes?
posted by homunculus at 2:58 PM on June 18, 2013






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