Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

Water: the next oil


I’ve known this intellectually for at least 10 years, if not longer – what this earth is going to run out of first, and what will limit life on this planet first, is water. Drinkable water.

I read “Price of Fire” recently, and went to a talk by the author, Ben Dangl, last week. We watched a short documentary on one of the issues the poor people of Bolivia have fought – the right of access to potable water. This particular documentary featured the fight against Suez. A few years back the people fought against Bechtel.

Here’s how it works – the people have a certain amount of access to water, often from wells they dug themselves, and pipes they laid themselves. The IMF comes in and tells the government “privatize the water, or you’ll get no more money from us.” So the Bolivian government does. Actually, this kind of thing has happened all over Latin America. Neoliberalism experimenting with the lives of people. Real people who really are dying of water-related health issues now that the private companies have come in, claimed that they own the access to all water sources, including the wells that were built by the people themselves. The cost to access the water is so high that, for people who make an average of only $2/day to support their whole family, many can’t afford to hook up to the now-expensive water from the private company that doesn’t care about the people dying right outside their plants.

Nice show of humanity, that.

I devote the majority of my time to Animal Rights, and when I learn about these social issues, it is hard to not feel like limiting myself to animal rights is perhaps a concern that only people in privileged situations have the luxury of spending their time on. That thought didn’t come from me, however. It is a relatively common critique of animal rights movements. How can we focus on what humans are doing to animals when what humans are doing to humans is just as big of an issue? But then I think about it a bit more, and I realize that not only is it all connected, veganism is the key on many levels to getting a handle on changing the world so that these survival issues are given the proper attention. I can’t directly affect what happens to the people in Bolivia, but I can directly impact my own water usage. Veganism is an obvious and drastic water savings. That isn’t all i should do, but it is a great starting point. Taking it further, advocating for animal rights has an inherent human rights element. Humans are animals, after all, but that is only one part of the issue. Veganism is all-encompassing, or should be.

Water will be the next oil, the next resource that wars are fought over. If we go vegan, we’re lightening up that demand, and that is no small thing. If the IMF is driving the privatization of water resources in Latin America and pure profit is driving the privatization of water in the U.S. (Detroit is fighting this right now), lessening the demand will help the people of Bolivia, indirectly. It will help the environment directly and immediately. There is more we can do, but considering the huge difference it makes in water consumption to produce plants as opposed to exploit animals, having a water-saving toilet is meaningless if you aren’t also vegan.

Something that humans have a tendency to forget, also – if we’re ruining the water supply for ourselves, we’re ruining it for everyone. The non-human animals have as much of a right to that water as the humans do, and when access to water is limited for the humans, it is limited for the non-humans. We do not have the right to do this to others, pure and simple. Water is necessary for survival, and we do not have the right to limit the ability of others to live, to survive. It doesn’t matter if they’re human or not, rich or poor, every being that has an interest its own survival, that is sentient, should have the right to live its life. Polluting the water, limiting the access to water, making water a privilege instead of a right goes against animal rights and human rights.

In addition, when we pollute the water, we hasten the extinction of our own species. The pollutants are in the animals, the plants, the water, the air, the earth. Most likely the earth will survive the human species. The question is whether humans can survive the human species.

flowers in dc


9 responses to “Water: the next oil

  1. rjtorres April 30, 2007 at 7:46 pm

    I teach the sociology of development precisely because it gives me the opportunity to talk about injustices such as these. When I teach, I encourage my students to think of neoliberalism and the Washington Consensus on development as structurally violent; these processes are human-driven and purposive, and they directly hurt people, but they do it at a remove.

    With that said, I like your meditations on veganism. For me, veganism is just another part of living a life that is not reproducing the problematic of hierarchy. Certainly, as you describe it, it also is cognizant of resource use, which is a nice bonus.

    Anyway, this is an excellent entry. Thanks.

  2. Deb April 30, 2007 at 8:24 pm

    Yes, I’ve been thinking of resource usage a lot lately because I’ve been reading about it a lot. And spending time with people who focus on that particular aspect of either human rights or animal rights. It is hard for me to fully express these things, because veganism really does seem to be all-encompasing to me. I can focus on the resource usage aspect of veganism, but know that I’m also making a stand against speciesm as well. My vegan focus seems to revolve depending on what I’m reading focuses on.

    Interestingly I started reading “from yale to jail” tonight, about/by Devid Dellinger. He touches on some of the analysis done in the 30’s with regards to capitalism and the “new deal”. I have never felt like I have understood what capitalism is. It has always seemed to be the thing no one is allowed to talk about with any level of criticism. It is what it is, and to look too closely gets you labeled “unamerican” or something stupid like that. I like to think that if I’d gone to the school you teach at (and if you were more than a couple years older than me and would have been teaching when i was an undergrad) that I would have been smart enough to take some of your classes. I think I might not have been, too busy taking my biology/chemistry/physics and german classes.

    Anyway…thanks as always for your input!

  3. cherie May 1, 2007 at 8:12 am

    It’s very disconcerting to think about, that we will run about of freshwater, one of the most basic human and non-human animal needs, but I have a feeling it’s kind of like global warming – people don’t WANT to think about it RIGHT NOW; it’s an issue for “another” time or their children. Thanks for this post!

  4. Deb May 1, 2007 at 10:00 pm

    Yes, I think many people think that it is something they can afford to put off worrying about until later, but it should be even more obvious to them than global warming is that there is no more time to waste – the water crisis is starting already, and it is affecting hundreds of thousand, if not millions, of people already. (and an uncountable number of animals) And not just in far away places like Bolivia….Detroit is fighting a water battle right now! You can’t get much closer to home than that for people from the u.s… And that’s not even taking into account the illnesses that happen in this country due to contaminated water. Hopefully people will take action in their own lives soon!

  5. cheriej May 2, 2007 at 6:45 am

    There’s a billboard in Philly that is mostly white, and then with black letters, it says, “Think about (or maybe it’s not ‘think’) global warming” and then a box to check, and then right underneath, “Cross fingers” as the alternative and a box to check. It’s very powerful.

  6. Deb May 2, 2007 at 6:11 pm

    That does sound cool. I always wonder though – is it powerful for the people not already inclined to think about the issue? I wonder if there is any information on people’s reactions to it!

  7. Neva May 3, 2007 at 10:22 am

    Thanks for this post. Veganism is a powerful way to limit our water consumption, because so much water goes into animal agriculture. But I’m terrified for the world. I don’t understand how people can just think this is something for their children to worry about. How can someone just not care?

  8. Deb May 3, 2007 at 5:21 pm

    Neva, in “Price of Fire” the author interviewed some of the rich people in the Santa Cruz area. There was some comment, along the lines of “the people of El Alto…some of them don’t bathe regularly. They say they can’t afford the water.” This is not true of one or two people of El Alto. There are 100,000 people without access to water in El Alto! And yes, they are desperately poor, and yes they can’t afford to bathe regularly, and yes they are dying from having no potable water to drink. Yet people in their own country, people living a handful of miles away, turn their noses up in disdain rather than look at the reality of the situation. You almost got the feeling that they didn’t even see these suffering people as human beings, they were that far removed.

    I’m terrified for the world as well. As long as people can ignore what is literally in front of them, it seems that they will.

    I was at talk recently by Charlie Hardy, author of “Cowboy in Caracas”, about the Venezuelan Revolution. He has been living among the poor, in the barrios, of Venezuela for 22 years, approximately. There was a young woman from Venezuela there. She had never been into the barrios, and for some reason I find it amazing that this Venezuelan was in Baltimore hearing from an American from Wyoming about the realities of the people living in the barrios of her country.

    Yet as we were leaving, I was informed that I shouldn’t “cross MLK Drive”. I can’t put it into words very well yet, but I think that these perceived dangers give us the easy excuses for not seeing for ourselves what our neighbors might be suffering from.

    There are a lot of excuses like this built into our society. I grew up believing that as long as you worked hard, you’d be “okay.” It isn’t that easy, but when you’re brainwashed into believing that, it becomes natural to blame the victims themselves for the poverty and ill-health they suffer from. and that allows us to ignore the fact that access to potable water and food and shelter should be a basic human right, not a privilege.

  9. cherie May 4, 2007 at 6:48 am

    That is a good question. Unfortunately (or fortunately, as it were), most of my friends are vegan or at least vegan-friendly and environmentally-concerned. I’ll ask one of Rich’s friends what he thinks of the billboard. haha 🙂

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