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''Drinking rocket fuel''

By Paul Harris


(YellowTimes.org) Well, maybe not rocket fuel but perhaps the juice that powers your SUV and those obnoxious jet-skis.

Environmental, social justice, anti-globalization groups around the world have been active in trying to prevent the privatization of water. Perhaps (to use a word coined by President G.W. Bush) I am misunderestimating them, but I think they are missing one of the crucial driving forces that is moving the privatized water crowd so eagerly forward.

Those folks who protest at World Trade Organization meetings or who think the International Monetary Fund (IMF) minions should be turned into compost are largely right. Governments all round the planet have managed to sell their collective souls to international businesses which are almost inevitably beyond their control, or anyone else's control. And we have developed treaty after treaty giving the corporations the legal right to empty our pockets while filling their own.

Control of water is rapidly becoming the latest attack upon humanity and a time is very nearly approaching when only those with sufficient cash in their pockets will be able to obtain this most important requirement of life. According to Fortune magazine, the annual profits of the water industry are about 40% of those of the petroleum industry. At this stage, those companies only control about 5% of the world's potable water.

Wait 'til they get the rest of it.

Fortune also noted that the World Bank and the IMF are increasingly forcing Third World countries to abandon their public water systems and contract with the giant corporations in order to be eligible for any sort of debt relief. Essentially, international business is buying up the very lifeblood of the world with the cooperation of the world's governments.

Now it is surely obvious why corporations want to own all the water … it just isn't acceptable to have people out there drinking stuff where there is no built-in profit margin. And since water is such a basic human, plant, and animal need, it is best to get it out of the hands of the people and into the clutches of corporations who can properly manage it and market it, who can price it as they see fit or withhold it from whomever they wish. In short, it is the world's most powerful bargaining chip.

But it's more than just drinking water and we may be overlooking another major motivation behind this global onslaught … it's parked on your driveway.

As we are busy watching yet another war for oil parade its ugly face across our television screens, we keep hearing these hints and promises of a clean and abundant fuel that comes right out of our taps. There seems little reason to doubt that water will provide a substantial amount of future power in the form of hydrogen energy. The science is already in place; the manufacturing and design is well under way. There are lots of test vehicles proving that this works and works well.

So, what's the hold-up? What's missing is the control of the fuel source.

At present, we are all slaves to the oil companies and the oil-producing nations. We know in our hearts the bankers control the governments which control the oil companies which control the armies of the world in a Möebius-like configuration. Our gas-guzzling, Western nations can no longer function without an abundant supply of fuel and that dependence on oil led to a lot of the history of the past century and, so far, this one as well.

So what happens if hydrogen power replaces oil dependence? Well, suddenly the oil companies lose relevance, the source of fuel shifts away from desert sands and into the oceans and lakes and rivers. The sky might get cleaner because hydrogen is supposed to be significantly more environment-friendly. The need for wars fought over oil would end (as if there ever really was a need); instead, we can fight over water.

But without major changes in the corporate sphere, the economy tanks. Hence, the rush to buy up and privatize all the world's water. It isn't just that we need to drink it or use it in manufacturing or growing stuff or flushing our toilets; we are going to need it to power our vans and trucks and snowmobiles.

Picture this, however: against all odds, the nations of the world come to their senses and realize that there are some basic human needs that they need to provide to their citizens. Water would seem to me to be the second most basic after air and, so far, they haven't figured out how to tax my respiration (if they ever do, hopefully there will be no difference in pricing for various qualities, like leaded or unleaded air). So government realizes that it needs water for its people to drink and, as science progresses, to allow the wheels of industry and the wheels of vehicles to keep on turning. And in a leap of clear thinking, those governments realize that it had better be they that control this stuff rather than some foreign corporation which is really indifferent about whether this government's citizens even stay alive.

I have been advocating for some time, along with many far more knowledgeable and far more intelligent people, that water should be universally recognized as a basic human right. That doesn't mean it comes without cost, but it should mean that citizens determine those costs and how the resource is used; not Coca Cola or some other conglomerate.

But let's be very clear here: control of water is far beyond just the issue of drinking water. As it stands right now, in many jurisdictions control of water has already passed into private hands and our basic human right is now being sold back to us. It should have been the other way around; if industry wants to use water, for whatever purpose, it should be buying it from the people. As the replacement of oil in our transportation sector moves ahead, you can expect to see the onslaught on the world's water supplies grow ever stronger. And we already know that the nation most eager to fight wars over oil has epidemic water shortages in some areas.

It is of paramount importance that citizens force their governments to hold water as a public resource; in places where it has already been sold off, take it back … steal it if you have to, but do not let it remain in the clutches of corporations. This may be the most critical decision citizens will ever have to make.

I guess the one positive we can consider here is that when those big ocean-going tankers spill their cargo of water, at least it shouldn't leave slicks on the surface.


[Paul Harris is self-employed as a consultant providing businesses with the tools and expertise to reintegrate their sick or injured employees into the workplace. He has traveled extensively in what is usually known as "the Third World" and has an abiding interest in history, social justice, morality and, well, just about everything. He lives in Canada.]


Paul Harris encourages your comments: pharris@YellowTimes.org


YellowTimes.org is an international news and opinion publication. YellowTimes.org encourages its material to be reproduced, reprinted, or broadcast provided that any such reproduction identifies the original source, http://www.YellowTimes.org


Copyright 2004 West-Art, Prometheus 92/2004


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Copyright 2004 West-Art

PROMETHEUS, Internet Bulletin for Art, News, Politics and Science.

Nr. 92, Summer 2004