Free Water, not Free Market (Americans Use 1,500 Bottles Per Second)

The ‘free market’ doesn’t guarantee access to water (or to anything, for that matter).  Arguments that the private sector can better manage and distribute resources become very controversial when we’re talking about something that is so fundamentally vital to human life.  A lack of government protection opens the door for private companies, like Nestle, to buy up freshwater lakes, like Lake Michigan, and export the water or bottle it up and sell it back to citizens for a profit.

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Currently, the world is in a water crisis.  We are running out of fresh water sources at the same time that population is rising, and we are warming the planet and seriously disrupting the water cycle (see Hurricane Sandy and the Importance of ‘Blue Gold’).  Corporations see Canada, with a great deal of remaining fresh water, as a great potential source of revenue.  Companies are interested in exporting fresh water to countries around the world with less fresh water available –for profit, of course.  Allowing essential resources to be managed by private companies will not help poor people around the world –just like it won’t help poorer people in developed countries– because what should be a public right to life becomes a private pay-for-use good.  Only those with the capital to pay will be able to afford clean, fresh water to survive; creating a sort of ‘water apartheid’.

300px-Lake_Michigan_from_Big_Sable_Point_lighthouse

“By definition, a commodity is sold to the highest bidder, not the customer with the most compelling moral claim. As the crisis worsens, companies like True Alaska that own the rights to vast stores of water (and have the capacity to move it in bulk) won’t necessarily weigh the needs of wealthy water-guzzling companies like Coca-Cola or Nestlé against those of water-starved communities in Phoenix or Ghana; privately owned water utilities will charge what the market can bear, and spend as little as they can get away with on maintenance and environmental protection”, explains Jeneen Internaldi of Newsweek Magazine.

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Furthermore, the amount of plastic water bottles used to sell water or other drink products around the world is astounding.  In America, people use 1,500 plastic bottles per second.  In a brilliantly progressive move, Concord, Massachusetts, has just become the first American city to ban single-use plastic water bottles (see Concord, Mass., is the first city to ban plastic water bottles).  However, it will take some time for the rest of the world to catch on –if at all.  Making sure that we as citizens and consumers demand public control of water resources, and less plastic waste, will be critical for a sustainable and just global future.

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4 Comments on “Free Water, not Free Market (Americans Use 1,500 Bottles Per Second)”

  1. daveclark955 January 7, 2013 at 7:05 pm #

    Americans shouldn’t accept bad water coming out of their taps. If the water is bad, demand better public service, don’t just leave it and let corporations step in.

    • utopiandreaming January 7, 2013 at 7:41 pm #

      Precisely – the public sphere needs to be reclaimed, not abandoned to private interests.

    • Andrew January 8, 2013 at 1:35 am #

      The thing is, the water coming out of their taps is actually pretty good. In NYC, a huge market for bottled water, their water quality is known around the world as a key ingredient in making NY style pizza. Hell, pizza places in the US actually import water from NYC to get an authentic taste.

      It has become a marketing problem more than anything else. People think their tap water is undrinkable or inferior to bottled water, and that’s a failure on the part of the local governments who have to get the word out to people.

      • utopiandreaming January 8, 2013 at 2:00 pm #

        Good point, it’s not all bad, although there certainly are some problem areas. The point is not to hand over tap water management and distribution to companies as well, as they would choose the most economical and not necessarily most effective way to clean drinking water. Trust tap water over bottled, but also ensure that drinking water is a) clean and drinkable, and b) publicly ‘owned’/managed.

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