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Reflection Essay 2- Collin Clark

Collin Clark    

Reflection Essay #2-Blue Gold

 

            The film, “Blue Gold World Water Wars”, was a very good representation of the current situation of water access, privatization, and quality. With that being said, I did find some examples or arguments to be a bit biased or more or less speculation. Blue Gold began with the different forms of water usage such as agriculture, which uses the most, and then industry, the most environmentally harmful water usage. The film then discussed the most polluted river in the U.S., the Rio Grande. This was a very eye opening example. I felt that it “brought the issue home”, the fact that this river can be infested with so many industrial, agricultural, and fecal contaminants is astounding. The Rio Grande passes through a very arid region and shows how the contamination of usable water is a very real problem. When the filmmakers interviewed the farmer about the depletion of the aquifers, the farmer explained that due to outdated water laws, a farmer must use as much water as possible for as long as possible or he may lose his water rights. This is a great example of how legislation needs to be updated to better serve the earth. It is just silly that how water conservation unfriendly this procedure is. This, in turn, results in the aquifer being depleted faster than it can be recharged. These laws were created when it was widely believed that water was infinite and before large scale agriculture was introduced and practiced and so have been made obsolete and inefficient. The most interesting example is when they discuss Coca-Cola’s influence on water access and the developing nations. Coca-Cola is a prime example of privatization because Coke is such a globally recognized brand. The film begins with giving background on Mexico City’s water problems. Then states how Vicente Fox, prior to being president of Mexico, worked for Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola evidently had priority access over its citizens for production. The film then changed locations to Africa. Coca-Cola’s bottled (plastic) water Dasani is priced higher than the glass bottled soda. This is just ridiculous. The representative interviewed from Coca-Cola contradicted himself by saying that it wouldn’t make economic sense to switch the water to glass. But if it is cheaper to produce plastic bottles, why is the water more? This is a great example of how privatization fails and how water justice issue is very real in how the people have a right to use water and enjoy water. One of the most upsetting examples in the film was in South Africa. A private company who owned a well of clean water put a meter on the pump. This pumped measured and charged users by the drop. I repeat the drop. This then forces the citizens to use the alternative which is a dirty stagnant pool of water with cholera and other diseases. The company is so worried about a profit that they do not take into account the health and safety of the people which is one of the main arguments made by Maude Barlow in her book, “The Blue Covenant”.  This conveys water justice and the capacity of the developing world to act. When the film started discussing the Bush family and the purchasing of land in Paraguay with prime access to a large aquifer, I felt that it was a very long stretch for an argument. There was more speculation as to why the Bush family had the land and basically accused them for purchasing the land for immoral purposes. Any relation to privatization didn’t really fit in this argument either since they aren’t involved with water corporations. One criticism I have of the format of the film was the cut scene information where it displayed a ball of water and had a statistic like the amount of water to produce a certain food or material. I felt that it was hard to comprehend and was poorly visually represented.  Overall, I found that the film clearly stated its argument against privatization and informed the audience of the issues facing the world in developed and developing nations.

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Reflection Essay #2

April 30, 2013 Leave a comment

I am A Water Warrior

Reading Maude Barlow’s book Blue Covenant was probably my favorite reading for environmental justice. It did a great job laying out the water problems the world is facing and the troubles that lay ahead if the current water system is not changed. From the beginning of the book I immediately connected to what she was trying to say.  Water is the most precious resource on this planet, but yet it is one of the most widely exploited. When everyone first learns about the Hydrologic cycle it seems almost pointless to even study such a topic because everyone knows the earth can never run out of water. Then again grade school never taught urbanization, land use change, and the virtual water trade either. My eyes have been opened very wide by the Blue Covenant, I always knew deep down that water would be a problem in the future, but I never realized how global the problem would be or that it would happen in my lifetime.

Knowing that there is a global water crisis on our hands the first response to the problem is not to privatize water. The only “good” that will come from privatizing water in the global south are fatter wallets for the companies taking advantage of the already poor people of the world. Is that really the best choice for the people that need water in order to survive? The answer to that question is no, but big rich corporate companies obviously do not care about the well being of the people they are “serving”.  Then I came across this quote, “The ultimate goal of private companies is to make a profit, not to fulfill socially responsible objectives such as universal access to water”. If this was going to be the ultimate outcome from privatizing water, then it should not have been done in the first place I feel like the World Bank could have seen this coming. Why couldn’t have the private companies use some of their wealth to help third world countries for the greater good, instead of being greedy?

The worst part of the global water crisis is the environmental justice issues that engulf the crisis. Distributive justice is the most obvious in the case for water because people in the global south plain and simply do not have access to water. The distributive issues from water stem from the participatory injustice. Once water became privatized citizens no longer had the opportunity to voice their opinions about their water. Decisions were made by the private corporations for the lives of people that they do not actually care about.

There are overwhelming amounts of environmental injustice surrounding the global water crisis. From reading the Blue Covenant it has motivated me to want be a water warrior and stand up for water conservation and water justice so that the world truly will not run out of clean drinking water. If people don’t change their view that the earth will never run out of water, then it just might.

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Privatization and Water Justice

Water is viewed in many different ways across cultures and governing bodies, but its privatization is where the largest justice problems with water are mapped out. The book “Blue Covenant” first describes the views of water itself throughout countries of different socio-political and socio-economic classes. Developed countries often treat water as a human right, while developing countries (namely indigenous peoples) define water as not something that cannot be owned. Water justice emerges not only between the cracks of each country, but within the countries themselves; it is intertwined with this commodification of water, because where access is unequal so too is justice.
Maude Barlow begins her book with the scientific aspect of our global water scarcity problem described through humans’ interference of the hydrologic cycle, but her subsequent chapters are what frame the unequal access and participation. This book is a very important piece of reflection on water issues in my opinion, because it describes the inherent problems with water privatization from a socio-political and cultural perspective. Water privatization is a model entrenched culturally in the “Global North” which assigns a value to water that can be monetized. The most striking aspect of water privatization in all countries is how well it covers up participation in the decision making process though. Access to water in developing countries is often non-existent due to being too expensive, lacking public infrastructure, or is at best accessible but contaminated; all stemming from the limitations in recognition and participation that the privatization of water creates. It is alarming to me that such an obstacle to equal water supply can be so widespread and virtually unopposed.
The root of this denied access to the decision making process of privatization is made clear by examining the vested interests, namely those global organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. These global organizations have several leaders from the top earning water companies, such as Suez and Vivendi (Veolia), which serve as board members and advisors. The international governing structures for funds are corrupt by shaping their plans around privatization; funding will not be allocated to countries unless they contract their water systems to private companies. When the governance intended to regulate and oversee the fair processes of resources are in bed with corporate partners, either for profit or by financial leveraging, it’s not difficult to see the lack of recognition towards the people most affected by privatization.
The global water crisis as described by Barlow is then outlined by the major players that pursue technology as the solution to commodify more water, or as she names them “water hunters.” In addition to the global partners that make privatization ubiquitous, water hunters like the bottled water industry, nanotechnology, and desalination firms fail to address the root problem in access to clean drinking water and the decision making process that regulates it. The problems do not start with inefficient allocation of water, but extend from the inability of people to purchase expensive water to having no representation at global water meetings that directly affect how their water systems are governed. This obstructs not only distributive justice, but fundamental participatory and recognition justice of people all over the world as well. The simple question that can identify whether or not people are being treated justly in water discussions is: who is not participating in the dialogue?
As the outlook for water justice is influenced most by governing bodies, an effective way to include people from the “ground up” is yet to be seen on a global scale. When public hearings are few and far between, and when voting for access to the most basic right to live is unheard of, the current situation of our global water crisis will continue to worsen. However, if governments and global funding organizations can examine Maude Barlow’s framework of looking at the underlying issues of water scarcity and ask themselves who is not at the table of these discussions, then will water justice move closer to becoming a reality.

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Op-Ed

April 30, 2013 Leave a comment

Ignoring the Locally Vulnerable in the Quest for National Energy Security 

            If Secretary of State, John Kerry accepts the Keystone XL pipeline project, vulnerable communities neighboring the pipeline will be the ones to bear the environmental costs. The proposed Keystone XL is the fourth phase that will expand the existing pipeline to carry tar sand’s crude oil from Alberta, Canada south through the Great Plains to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. Pipeline advocates have ignored the human health costs that minority communities will have to pay for supposed “energy security” and “job creation”. This outlines an approach in which smaller populations of people are being disregarded for the greater good of the nation. An attitude that today is far too often applied by our national leaders.

            Tar sands oil extraction, and the crude oil to be sent through the Keystone XL Pipelines  erodes the human health of communities living around the region. One study published in the Open Conservation Biology Journal in 2009 found that chronic exposure to tar sands extraction caused cardiovascular disease, increases in respiratory disease, and lung cancer. The tarlike fuel will then be shipped down into the U.S. where it will be refined and release vast quantities of toxic chemicals into the surrounding communities.

            Heading south, the land projected to be effected by the pipeline’s construction and operations is 95% privately owned land and is also home to a number of Native American communities and reservations, including various Sioux groups located in Nebraska. These communities located adjacent to the proposed pipeline route will be exposed to future leaks and spills that would ruin the land and ecology for which they subsist and depend on. The negative effects of a potential spill are all too familiar for the people who reside along the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, which became the site of one of the largest inland tar sands oil disasters in US history when the Lakehead Pipeline 6B ruptured. A resident of the region interviewed by The Canadian said that the health effects she has suffered since the spill include migraine headaches, burning eyes, a constant sore throat, and a “cloudy brain” condition that she half-jokingly labels “Oil Alzheimer’s”.

            The proponents of the Pipeline have not been shy about expressing their support for the plan. They see it as a solution to all of America’s problems, a solution that in their minds has no negative effect on anyone if it is not negatively affecting them. The creation of jobs and energy security are two positive results of the pipeline that are voiced repeatedly. First, the purported massive jobs-creation project is temporary, with only left to be employed during operation.  Second, Canadian tar sands oil still represents a foreign source of oil.  I am not sure how we will be secure, when we will still be receiving and depending on oil for another country. Indeed, Canada has increasingly started to do more and more business with China, making Canada less dependent on US demand.

            In conclusion, this pipeline will have adverse results on small neighboring communities, such as health problems that arise at the point source location in Canada and persist all the way down the pipeline to Texas, and the risk of home and land destruction with pipeline breaks if construction on it is not rejected by Secretary of State Kerry. Simply put, the nation as a whole will never be bettered if individual citizens comprising it are overlooked. 

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Reflection Essay

April 30, 2013 Leave a comment

Before this class, the concept of environmental justice was an obscure topic that I failed to give much consideration too.  I was aware of some issues associated with it and could see their relevance when they were brought to my attention but, more often than not, I placed them at the end of the long list of problems that the world is facing.   The complexities of the subject became diluted amongst more mainstream matters causing me to fail to see environmental justice as an equally important problem that deserves as much independent attention as other environmental issues.  Ironically, I have come to realize that environmental justice is in essence battling against the same discrimination and misrepresentation as the people that it is trying to protect.

In his book Environmental Justice: Concepts, Evidence and Politics, Gordon Walker introduces a number of justice theories that disadvantage people face during the unfair exposure to environmental harms.  One of these issues is distributive justice which he defines as justice “in terms of the distribution or sharing out of goods (resources) and bads (harm and risk).”  Instances of distributive injustice have been seen in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans after hurricane Katrina where people of low socio-economic class were discriminated against in state funded rebuilding programs.  Another example occurred in Cochabamba, Bolivia, a city where water privatization unfairly allocated water and the profits that it produced to wealthy households leaving residents in poor neighborhoods with a severe shortage.  When one steps back and compares the lobby for environmental justice to other environmental problems many similar distributive justice issues that affect these underprivileged people are observed.

Today, the conventional environmental problems widely discussed in political debates and among the general public have become extremely polarizing topics.  Because issues like climate change, energy conservation, and defending the natural environment resonate throughout the majority of the population they receive the bulk of the attention in governmental actions and media coverage.  When examined from a broad perspective, the environmental justice field is experiencing the same fundamental distributive justice problems encountered by the people of the Lower Ninth Ward and Bolivia.

Like it was witnessed in the state funded rebuilding programs in post-Katrina New Orleans, governmental funding is allotted to the environmental issues that the public deems most important.  Media outlets that are concerned more about profits than providing legitimate news coverage are in a sense privatizing the environmental challenges that will generate the largest amount of people to tune in.  Getting lost behind these mainstream topics that are receiving sufficient resources to make an actual change for the better is the equally important but less established environmental justice notion.

Fortunately, this class has taught me that the fight for equal representation waged by people being exposed to unfair environmental hazards can be won and success stories like the one seen in the Vietnamese community of Versailles after hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans provide me with a sense of optimism for environmental justice.  The relentless grassroots battle that eventually lead to residents in Versailles prevailing over the more powerful governmental actions can act as a template to combat uneven resource distribution that is given to environmental problems that are currently receiving the majority of attention.  It is clear to me now that environmental justice deserves equal consideration and should as prominent to mainstream America as every other environmental issue. For the environmental justice movement to overcome the disparities it is encountering it should perhaps to turn to and learn from the people which it was initially intended to defend.

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Last Call at the Oasis Review

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I thought that this film was very good overall. It really makes you think about the global water crisis on more than just one aspect. You get to see the crisis from multiple perspectives and it shows you how complex the problem actually is. The movie had a couple of key points that really drove it home for me.

The first was that this crisis still isn’t known about in some societies. The lack of education on this subject was astounding. It also was surprising to learn that the EPA’s hands are tied in most situations. As a citizen of this country I always put too much faith in our government system and it was surprising to see that the system has failed so many people. I hope that a solution and some more progress can be made in order to give these communities some sort of justice for their burdens. I liked that the movie touched on the precautionary principal that the UN has in place and how the US has a completely opposite approach to water. The private and self regulated industry really puts a false sense of security on people that I never really noticed before.

I also find it interesting that people are increasingly scared of their tap water when in most cases it is more heavily regulated than the bottled water they spend so much money on and waste. One of the main areas of study I hope to go into was addressed in this film; how do you “regain” public trust in the water system? Why has it become such a psychological issue for Americans to drink tap water? I really like the idea of using recycled water because I think that it is one of the many ways we can help to reduce our impact on the environment.

Some environmental justice topics were addressed in this film as well. For instance we are all familiar with the injustices and burdens felt by the agricultural families of the Midwest. A lot of these small towns are experiencing an overhaul of their entire way of life because either industry has taken over and is polluting the water supply or there isn’t enough water to make a profit off of the land anymore. Future generations were also addressed in this film with the concern of a grandmother for her grandchildren’s safety. It turns out that their water is contaminated with chromium which is extremely carcinogenic and harmful to developmental stages of children’s lives. This grandmother wanted to fix their water supply so that their grandchildren could live there and have an opportunity to live in a town they grew up in. Las Vegas’ situation also presents an environmental justice issue because they are running out of water from the Hoover Dam reservoir and they are proposing to build a giant pipeline to take a small town of 50 people’s water supply. When/where does it stop? The final environmental justice topic that I noted was in the Jordan river where it has extreme religious significance to multiple religions and it is one of the most polluted and affected rivers in the world. Because of the water’s significance you would think that there would be more regulations because it affects so many people, but people are still going there to be baptized in this extremely dangerous water.

Overall I liked the film; however, I wish it would have touched on more solutions that people could implement and start doing. I’d like to see a follow up film that talks about solutions that will work instead of just disproving why certain solutions don’t work. The film was very well put together and tied everything together nicely while providing a different and more comprehensive perspective. I hope that more people are able to view films like this.

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Unveiling the Real Story Behind the Keystone Pipeline

The Keystone XL Pipeline, has been the most publicly misguided energy initiative in politics and the media since its inception in 2008. The pipeline, which has completed most of its construction, travels from Alberta, Canada through the middle of the U.S. to refineries in Houston and Port Arthur, TX. The plan has been proposed by (not surprisingly) a transnational oil company, TransCanada, which has goals of profitability to reach above all else. Despite significant hesitation and opposition to the project from Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and the EPA, the project has completed most of its phases. More important than ignoring important stakeholders mentioned above, there has been a distinct motivation to veil the other side of this project. Thus, the transcontinental project has appeared to bolster the local and national economy, be sensitive to nearby landowners, and wean us off foreign oil. Before continuing, it should be noted these are just a few illusions that political entities supporting this project wish you to believe.

            The clear failure to address the “other side” in this debate displays the lack of recognition and participation by those most affected by its construction and operation. For example, phase Three, which connects the final piece from Cushing, Oklahoma to Port Arthur and Houston, Texas, has financially and physically hurt those living nearby. The displacement of residents and the immoral and illegal seizure of land shows a clear denial of their opinions and rights. Claims of eminent domain by the company often fail to even identify their right to take land, and it is not uncommon that just compensation by law has gone unmet. A project of this size seemingly went through rigorous analysis and specifications in order to pass through such a large area. However, the ambiguity of the environmental impact statement (EIS) spawned a lot of environmental uncertainty. More precisely, significant efforts to hide the eminent domain and EIS trial cases from the media have gone from lobbying congress to bribing local news stations. Specific impacts to local air and water resources were vague at best. To the unveiled eye, people’s health circumstances must be of secondary importance. The Keystone covers a great expanse of one of the largest and most sensitive (essentially made out of sand) aquifers, the Ogallala, yet it has barely been evaluated throughout its construction.

            Advocates for the pipeline have ignored the most basic protocol for construction, yet surely this isn’t true since the project is approaching completion, right? Those in governance roles favor the project in support of the thousands of jobs that it creates, in addition to helping secure our energy independence from the Middle East. Ironically, the project fails to meet even its own two goals though. The U.S. department of State has debunked these myths, as a large proportion of the jobs created by this project have been and will continue to be only temporary throughout the phases. Also, only five to ten percent of the U.S. demand for oil will be met by this new source of supply, thereby sustaining our relationship with the Middle-East. While the impacts to the physical and local environment have gone into limbo, the political-economic impacts have failed to be accurately determined as well.  

            The additional oil to be refined and dumped into Port Arthur and Houston, TX presents a new burden for local residents. Primarily black, poor communities sacrifice their bodies in these locations by inhaling toxic emissions from refinery plants; in some areas  The targeting of big oil companies to put their refineries in such locations, in addition to failing to offer more permanent jobs, was aimed at a group completely void of financial or socio-political voice. As best put by a Sierra Club (NGO) letter to the EPA: “Recent documents indicate that federal housing for poor

minorities was allowed to be built in Port Arthur directly

adjacent to these large polluting facilities with little regard for the health and welfare of those citizens.” Meanwhile, skeptics of this disproportionate burden claim that the residents in this area either moved to the nuisance in the first place and could “vote” by not moving there in the first place or leaving. Incredibly insensitive and ignorant claims as these are what’s barring even the most basic recognition of problems that the Keystone pipeline brings. If anything is to be done to remediate the already lacking protocol of this Keystone project, then it must be to adhere to these people’s minimal requests at least, in order to alleviate already substantial physical harm.

            Since the bulk of the Keystone project has already been completed in conjunction with denying many rights of people involved directly and indirectly, environmental and economic remediation must be completed to compensate those harmed. The misconception of economic growth, environmental safety, and sensitivity to local residents from this project has led to a failure in addressing even the most basic concerns of people in its proximity.  Therefore, it is vital for the justice of people affected by this that the Keystone Pipeline project is engaged by all with an accurate perspective of its environmental, socio-economic, and justice problems, so that compensation can be adequately acquired.

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