Imagine going for a walk in the park with your family, your child runs up to the water fountain and presses the button for some a bit of refreshment. Nothing comes out. At first she’s confused, but sees the coin slot/card swipe that will sell you 15 second of flowing water for just 50 cents. You as a loving dad, pull out your card and swipe it so she can have a drink. Think this image is impossible? Do you imagine this to be something only a mad man would think of, to deprive humans of the right to water? Unfortunately there are interests buying up rights to all clean water sources. People like oil baron, T. Boone Pickens and Nestle chairman, Peter Brabeck see water as a commodity like any other, not a right. The Nestle chairman explains his stance in light of his goal to treat water as a foodstuff and the outrage his views have caused:
“The fact is they [activists] are talking first of all only about the smallest part of the water usage,” he says. “I am the first one to say water is a human right. This human right is the five litres of water we need for our daily hydration and the 25 litres we need for minimum hygiene.
“This amount of water is the primary responsibility of every government to make available to every citizen of this world, but this amount of water accounts for 1.5% of the total water which is for all human usage.
“Where I have an issue is that the 98.5% of the water we are using, which is for everything else, is not a human right and because we treat it as one, we are using it in an irresponsible manner, although it is the most precious resource we have. Why? Because we don’t want to give any value to this water. And we know very well that if something doesn’t have a value, it’s human behavior that we use it in an irresponsible manner.”
When Spaceballs was first introduced as a parody of Star Wars, the insanely ludicrous idea was that the home planet of the evil overlord was running out of air and that they had to breathe it out of a can. Less than 20 years later we are seeing the demise of human rights to clean air and water. There is nothing more essential to human life than breathing. Without it, none of us can live for very long at all, yet in China, a billionaire named Chen Guangbiao is selling fresh canned air to slowly suffocating Chinese city dwellers in Beijing. Fortunately, for the moment, this is only a gimmick to raise awareness of the monumentally horrific pollution levels within the city, but if it proves to be lucrative, might he, or someone else actually sell air as a legitimate enterprise? Is it only a matter of time before people like the Chairman of Nestle claim that people are using their air irresponsibly?
The argument is the same: You have a certain amount of water that you have a right to, but if you misuse what you have, it should be treated as a commodity. If you use more than your ration, you are taking from a precious supply and therefore should pay for it. If carbon dioxide levels continue to climb past their already meteoric levels and air safety is at risk, wouldn’t it make sense to ration the clean air and commodify it as well? If people like Nestle get involved, what more info do they need to prove their ‘foodstuff’, wastefulness and value’ model from what USA Today reports:
“For the first time in recorded human history, levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have surpassed 400 parts per million (ppm), according to data released Friday morning from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. Increasing amounts of carbon dioxide and other gases caused by the burning of the oil, gas and coal that power our world are enhancing the natural “greenhouse effect,” causing the planet to warm to levels that climate scientists say can’t be linked to natural forces.”
If you’re a runner, you could soon be running around with your Nike air tank system filled with Gatorade scented hyper oxygenator technology that will help you maximize your workout. Since you don’t have to workout, you are wasting precious air, which means you should pay.
Of course I’m lampooning the ridiculousness of the scenario, but is it really that far fetched in light of what we’re hearing from the largest food manufacturer in the world? Here comes the quietly creeping concept of the old miners who worked each day to make enough of a wage to always fall short of the cost of living and to owe more to the ‘company store’. It may become the song of every human being, who has to prove they are not a ‘waste of air, or water’. How can this possibly be seen as a beautiful future of promise that Peter Brabeck talks about, wondering why we all are whining when we have all the best things and the most wealth ever?
Perhaps its the fact that not everyone can presently afford food and when water is listed as a foodstuff, we have just put a price on human life, a value that, if not lived up to will result in death. Will we choke on our own noxious gasses and fracked drinking water and be forced to buy air and water from the very people who made profit off of the endless tragedies that brought us to this point? Barring a miracle, I believe it is exactly what will occur as long as we let corporations like Nestle carry on with business as usual.
Oh, Lone Star, where are you now?
Gabriel writes for VICE Magazine, Disinfo.com and Realitysandwich.com and is the author of three books. He is continuing his research at the University of Washington in his hometown of Tacoma, WA.