Thursday, July 16, 2009

Flow - For Love of Water

Irena Salinas' documentary is about the global crisis we face as Earth's fresh water supply constantly diminishes. The film presents top experts and advocates to show us that every aspect of human life is affected by pollution, wastefulness, privatization and corporate greed as it relates to fresh water--a natural resource more valuable than oil. The film shows in no uncertain terms that if we continue to abuse our water supply, Earth will become uninhabitable and humankind will become extinct. The investigation points fingers at water companies such as Nestle, Vivendi, Thames, Suez, Coca Cola and Pepsi. This is an extremely important must-see documentary!

From the documentary’s opening moments, director Salinas engages us with a beautifully photographed montage of babbling brooks, rushing waterfalls, melting icebergs and surfer-worthy ocean waves. Over the refreshing images and soothing audio, the title FLOW quickly appears on the screen, followed by its expanded version For Love Of Water. We are then reminded that water is essential for human life and well-being, and we are informed that millions of people--babies, in particular--die from lack of fresh water every year.

Salinas takes us on a worldwide tour of water-related disasters, every one of them the product of human abuse--pollution, privatization and corporate greed, inexcusable wastefulness and, to put it in terms that are simplistic but true, lack of respect for mother nature’s grand design.


cinndave said...

Not too keen on this one. There's some info, but there's that anticapitalist anticorporate crap that's been building up in the environment movement.

There's some serious misunderstanding of the IMF in Bolivia there. The privatization WAS NOT FORCED! It was a negotiation. They agreed to the IMF's conditions for financial assistance, which was necessary in part because of their fucked up utilities that keep losing money for the state. Note that they didn't tell the epilogue of Bechtel's ejection: The country went back to the broken subsidized corrupt state-run system that helped cause their financial woes in the first place, which continues to lose money day. Rigid management keeps it inefficient. The artifially low price and the lack of revenue for the utilities discourages new investment. The water is as filthy as ever. People have to schlep the water long distances, but at least it's "free".

I'm sick of these. Scaremongering futurists have been saying for over a decade how "We're fighting wars for oil now, but in the future, we'll be fighting wars for water! And you can't live without water, Noooooooo! It's more valuble than oil!" Wrong. The planet has the same amount of H20 as ever. It's just a matter of cleaning it and bringing it to where it's needed. And that takes energy. Which comes from oil. Yeah I think we'll just keep fighting over that instead, mkay. Goddamn that whiner at the beginning is so full of it. Chill out. There are plenty of products on the market where there is no substitute, like insulin.

In spite of the water dispute and the seething enmity over Zionism, Jordan and Israel are still getting along just fine, just like they have for 40 years.

cinndave said...

The anticapitalist agenda which is coloring the environmental movement is a big problem here. The best way to look at this issue is not water as a good, but water as a service in the postindustrial sense. The delivery of clean water is a service that costs money.

T Boone Pickens wasn't kidding. See what happens when you make water free because of a philosophical argument that water is somehow different from other liquid commodities you can buy. Socialist countries like Bolivia can have a tragedy of the commons. Capitalist countries on the other hand are extremely dynamic, and can shift to cope with scarcity in many ways. You'll notice Australia isn't in the kind of dire trouble that Bolivia got themselves into despite their drought. Hate to break it mister pinko at 1:01:00, but the way to prevent water shortages is to enforces property rights of the water, so the owners of the water sources are responsible if it runs out and causes trouble (like the way T Boone Pickens owns the rights to the aquifer in Texas. They have an incentive not to ruin it by overexploiting it. That way, we wouldn't have the tragedy of the commons you see in the Coke-vs-Indians spate, where it's a freeforall where whoever can drain out the water first gets to use it. Lawful ownership works. Deforestation doesn't happen much in countries that have private ownership of forestland; it happens in socialist countries where nobody owns the land, anybody can burn the forest and no owner is there to defend it; or in weak countries that cannot enforce the property rights against illegal loggers. Once water is a capital resource, Adam Smith's invisible hand works its magic, where free markets allocate resources to wherever they can be best put to use. Now you have incentives to do some resourseful management. Personal use only takes up a small percentage of humans' water consumption. 2/3 of it is agriculture. Cutting back on agricultural use through new efficiencies can free up more for personal use. Here are just some ways to adapt, courtesy of elastic demand:

*Switch to crops that use less water.

*When the price of water gets high enough, it becomes viable to invest in new irrigation methods and technology, such as underground seep pipes that leak water straight to the roots, cutting water usage by 50% since none of it evaporates on the surface. (You can't do these things unless there's a market price for water; that's why there MUST be ownership rights to production)

*Irrigate with water pipes instead of open ditches that lose water along the way. Help the 3rd world farmers afford this via microlending, and the investment will pay for itself.

*Invest in desalinization, or other more efficient ways to make water usable.

*Water the crops with partly treated sewage instead of drinkable water. that saves work at the water treatment plant so they can make more clean water for the people.

*If all else fails, give up farming completely, use the water for yourselves, and import your food from some other country that can grow it better. A global free market allocates goods to where they can be used most efficiently, including water usage. And international trade promotes world peace. The more nations trade, the more people stand to lose by going to war. With improved globalization, water wars won't even be worth the trouble. Peace!

The Indian gentleman at 0:28:25 and nailed it. The problem isn't privatization. It's that the IMF and the private sector went about it the wrong way with their large-scale projects. Managerial capitalism like blue-chip multinationals isn't the same as smaller-scale entrepreneurial capitalism like what he's talking about. That's where the localized practical solutions like UV light will come from. You know, India really has a lot of that canny entrepreneurial spirit. Just listen to Rajendra Singh talk about growing his town. Small wonder that so many successful American entrepreneurs nowadays are immigrants from India.

cinndave said...

There's another problem at the root of 3rd world water woes: overpopulation. When people multiply like bacteria, the population rises faster than utilities can cope. Abortion is outlawed in Bolivia, and the rest of south America for that matter. Thank you Catholic Bishops for cockblocking access to contraception in Latin America so they continue to overtax natural resources that support them.

Scott said...

Thank you for you comments Cinndave. As always, you are prepared to back your position with logical, well thought out observations.

We all need to look deeper into why we believe what we do...the unexamined life is not worth living!

Anonymous said...

In response to cinndave:

Free Market Capitalism is great if there's perfect information, perfect competition, no externalities, enforced property rights and no corruption. Unfortunately the real world isn't like that.

The debate shouldn't be about socialism and capitalism as you seem to frame it. It should be about what policies work in the real world for each individual country. And in this regard, I think "Flow" describes the reality on the ground more accurately than you have. I wouldn't personally be as dismissive towards market oriented solutions as "Flow" but nor would I take free market capitalism as far as you do.

Some points:

1. Regardless of whether the IMF "forces" or "negotiates" the structural adjustment programs, the fact remains that the "results" of those programs have widely been condemned as encroaching on state sovereignty, promoting inequality and stifling economic growth (see east asian finacial crisis and thier savings rate sky rocket to avoid ever having to deal with the IMF again).

2. The planet has the same amount of water, but not accessible FRESH water. If only "cleaning and transporting water" were as easy (ie. inexpensive) as you make it sound. I have no doubt developed countries will be just fine adapting to the depletion of their fresh water reserves, but I don't share the same optimism for the poorest countries who's citizens live on <$1/day. I doubt they can afford a desalinasation plant, not to mention how environmentally destructive they are.

3. Privatizing water (commodification, property rights, etc) in a poor country with a weak legal system / government is just opening the door for monopolization of the water supply. What good is coming out of letting multinationals like Coke or Pepsi drain a country dry from under the feet of the poor for something like bottled water. How is this the efficient use of a scarce resource? Some sort of resource management is needed. What mix of private and public involvement is the problem each country will have to figure out.

4. If your solution is a global free market than the first thing you should probably note is that the agricultural sectors in developed countries receive enormous subsidies that hurt poor countries (where agriculture is their main source of income). There's no such thing as free trade.

Anonymous said...

Well said Scott!

Having a voice, literacy, and a venue allows us luxury of untested ideals.

Walking in another's shoes is the only truly respectable basis for any ideal that those-that-have insist on for those-who-don't-have.

I lived with contaminated water for 1 week. No, bottled water. No antibacterial soaps or cleaners. No doctors or pharmacies.

Once my anus started to bleed from the very frequent bowel movements I discovered how blind I was to my assumptions. I'm just glad to be alive.