Waterlogged: Canadians out of touch with precious resource

I’m wondering how many Canadians were aware that last week was National Water Week (after all, this post is a little delayed). Lately I’ve been noticing more talk in the news about access to clean water. For example, according to some recent articles, a forthcoming global water shortage will fuel conflict, but Canada will benefit from it. People are sitting up and taking notice of what is developing into a real environmental and humanitarian crisis.

I know. We already have enough to worry about with climate change and oil and all that. But the global economy is a shit storm and our whole planet is pretty much suffocating. So what’s another huge threat to our existence, right?

It doesn’t look like the public is quite up to speed on this issue, which obviously has something to do with the fact that we Canadians have access to a hell of a lot of fresh water so we don’t even realize how fortunate we are. Just what are Canadians’ views about fresh water? Interestingly, Royal Bank has been polling Canadians about this since 2008 as part of their Blue Water Project. Their 2012 Canadian Water Attitudes Study found that 40% of poll respondents believe that fresh water is Canada’s most valuable resource. A shocking 21% said oil is our most valuable natural resource.

Wait – what? 21% believe oil is more important than water? I’ll grant you that our society is highly dependent on fossil fuels. It’s a parasitic relationship that, like it or not, affects and involves all of us in some way. But our planet has existed for billions of years and humans have existed for tens of thousands of years without petroleum. Without water, our planet as we know it wouldn’t exist. This basic lack of knowledge about the world we live in is an alarming indicator of how disconnected we have become from nature. Because to understand nature as in any way separate from or subservient to us is to forget how to live. How to survive.

This is not just a case of undervaluing what’s abundant. That same survey revealed that the percentage of people who believe arable land is the most valuable resource was pretty much negligible. Surely we need arable land more than we do oil?

How did we get so screwed up? Within this capitalist system, when we talk about value, whether it’s something naturally occurring or anthropogenic, we automatically think dollars and cents. What is the value of x? Well, it must be the perceived economic benefit, right? How do we measure it?

Numbers. They can tell us important information, but they don’t lend comprehension to everything. There’s no possible way to know that the number values we assign to some things have any meaning at all. This is most blatantly true when it comes to natural resources. Capitalism dictates that natural resources should be assigned a monetary value and thus exploited for profit. Would you drain your own blood and sell it if someone offered you a small fortune for it? Somehow, we don’t realize that this is exactly what we do when we privatize natural resources. The fact that we think it’s acceptable – and desirable – to do so tells us everything we need to know about where we’re headed.

I don’t see the point in drowning you with terrifying statistics. It’s never the numbers around poverty, pollution and the like that bum me out the most anyway. It’s the fact that in a ‘free’ society, so many people are fundamentally and purposefully ignorant. Until a significant proportion of the population becomes more realistic about the kind of life this planet can support, governments and corporations will continue to turn whatever they can into commodities. Even things that have no real value whatsoever. Like pollution, for example. How insane is it that you can buy the right to emit carbon dioxide? Imagine what their appetite for water will be when we really start to run out.

Update: Just like the alternative media has been reporting on land grabs quite a lot recently, another issue of growing importance is water grabbing. Check out The Global Water Grab: A Primer.

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Filed under Canada, Health & Environment, Politics & Society

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