18 January 2007

The Sacred Tragedy Of The Commons

Belated word comes from Canada that it is a sin to drink bottled water. The United Church of Canada (L'Eglise Unie du Canada) has decided that water is a human right and thus must be protected from profiteers and the United States:
Avoid those purchased water bottles--where possible.

The United Church's 39th General Council voted August 17 to discourage the purchase of bottled water "starting within its courts and congregations."

Meeting in one of its three decision-making commissions, the Council also voted to boldly affirm its conviction that "water is a sacred gift that connects all life," and the privatization of water must be avoided.

"Its value to the common good must take priority over commercial interests," said the Council. "Privatization turns a common good into a commodity, depriving those who cannot pay and further threatening local ecosystems."...

It voted to "firmly call upon our federal government to declare water as a human right, support municipalities in keeping water in public control, and resist any attempts by the United States to increase exports of Canadian fresh water under the energy proportional sharing provisions of NAFTA."...

The Council voted to receive for information the report "Water: Life before Profit."

[Emphasis added]
Yes, one can readily see how the decommodification of water will be a boon to the poor everywhere.


pj said...

If you understand "common good" to mean "the good of leftists," then it's not clear they care about what decommodification of water would do for the poor.

David said...

I assume that what's really going on here is that they don't understand what it means for something to be a "commodity," and thus don't understand that they're asking for water to stop being cheap and readily available. Of course, that they are so ignorant of a topic that they feel competent to lecture the rest of us on is what makes them leftists.

Peter Burnet said...

The United Church is the result of an alliance between mainstream Methodists and Presbyterians back in the 20's, mocked by Robertson Davies as one of the greatest land grabs in Canadian history. It was my church as a kid and they used to be pretty straitlaced types who railed against alcohol and tobacco, but since the sixties they have been known as socialists-at-prayer and jump on every leftist wingnut idea that comes along. They used to be number three in the country after Catholics and Anglicans, but their numbers have plummeted and their dwindling congregations are very grey.

Water enjoys a near-mythical role in Canadian environmental rhetoric and you often hear complete gibberish that nonetheless plays well with the crowd. We hear things like "Sacred gift", "stewardship" "lifeblood of the Arctic",etc. all the time. My theory is that if you have 0.5% of the world's population and 10% of its fresh water that you don't want to share with anybody, you have to get your poets working overtime.

BTW, we have been warned regularly for decades that the rapacious Yankee trader has wasted and polluted all his sacred gift and is coming up soon with huge pipelines to suck out ours. Any idea when that might be? My wife and I want to throw a party.

joe shropshire said...

Robert Schwartz is putting the final touches on the invasion plan even as we speak, Peter. You and the missus just sit tight and keep your heads down. When it's all done we shall invite you over for a beer and a soak in our new quarter-acre hot tub.

Anonymous said...

I wonder what the Canadians thought of that movie "V" where the lizard aliens come down to steal our water.

Oroborous said...

My guess as to the timing of the "huge rapacious Yankee pipelines for sucking good Canadian water" is between 20 - 40 years from now.

It's pretty clear that 21st century America will have to either suck up Canadian water, or build a lot of expensive water-purification plants. Or grow less food.

Why do Canadians recoil in horror at selling actual water to America, but slaver over selling us wood & wheat, which are largely just processed sunlight & water ?

Peter Burnet said...


Probably because no one "owns' water and we simply can't conceive of towns and citizens making a living out of hocking it. Solve that one and bob's your uncle. Also, the occasional American promoters that comes along to talk about pipleines from the Great Lakes to Arizona, redirecting rivers or huge ships towing icebergs up and down the Pacific coast tend to scare the heck out of everyone with their 1950's style hype. You'd be much better off talking about a trickle here, a trickle there with a promise to shut everything down the moment a beaver dam is threatened.

pj said...

It sounds as though if we can only genetically engineer beavers who will divert Canadian rivers of their own accord, we can have all the water we want.

joe shropshire said...

There is something about this that puzzles me. Why are we talking about precious Canadian water when we've got so much good old Illinoisan water? Last I looked Lake Michigan extends all the way down to Chicago. And the Great Lakes are all interconnected, right? I say we drain the sucker, and let our good friends to the north refill it for us.

Peter Burnet said...


Nice try. Lake Michigan flows north. Ha ha!

Seriously, guys, this is no game for market conservatives. Here is my prediction of what is likely to happen if anybody ever gets real about this:

A group of American promoters (backed by a consortium of twenty-two major banks) approach the Canadian government with a plan for some grandiose, multi-billion dollar mega-project on water transfer. Officals from our Treasury Board and Department of Finance can't control their excitement about the Eldorado--we just might pay for that universal daycare yet. After weeks of carefully denied rumours, an announcement is made by the Canadian government, which assures everyone nothing will be done without the strictest environmental controls and extensive community consultaion. All hell breaks loose in the media. Our sacred gift? School children start writing leters, provinces and mayors promise to do everything to stop it and the UN declares Canadian water "one of humanity's most fundamental assets". American university students march en masse against the rape of Canadian water, disturbed not at all they have only the vaguest idea of where exactly Canada is.

The Canadian Government charges on and reveals a plan replete with deferred taxes and royalties, infrastructure subsidization and all manner of grants for this and that. The plan seems to get renegotiated in the promoters' favout about every six months, even though the project hasn't even started. Big business and government are now locked in, and thus impervious to scientific or market sanity. The original promoters go bankrupt, but that's ok because they have assigned everything to even richer and more visionary souls in Phoenix, Dallas and Tokyo. Washington stands aloof, but intemperate senators make twenty-second clips about Canadian selfishness. Micael Moore makes a documentary on American water imperialism and then shows up at the premiere in Toronto to tell Canadians exactly who they should and should not vote for. A native group gets a temporary injunction stopping a key part of the scheme on the basis that they may have an aboriginal right to the water. Canadian mothers and artists from coast to coast find a mission in life--saving water from...well, anybody. Don Cherry says on Hockey Night in Canada that he is sick to death of whiny anti-American leftists and that we are darn lucky to live beside our good friend and protectors, but neverthless you can never really trust the bastards and he is worried about the trout.

On and on it goes. Environmental hearings are scheduled. They were originally thought to last six weeks, but now it looks like three years because Ottawa has been strong-armed into funding twenty gazillion "community groups" that must be heard--and of course they must pay their lawyers. Finally, a few backbenchers defect from the government and everyone's on the defensive.

In the end, the American promoters all go away somewhere and the Canadian government falls. Although no one has been listening to him, the Governor of Arizona insists he has found a far more rational way to solve the water problem. Post-mortem academic conferences are held at which everyone agrees it was blindingly obvious from the beginning the scheme never made a darn bit of sense in the first place.

So, can't we start with a few hundred truckloads from Sarnia to Detroit and take it from there?

Oroborous said...

[T]he Governor of Arizona insists he has found a far more rational way to solve the water problem.

There is of course a completely rational way to solve America's water "problem" - don't let any more people live in the Southwest, and quit raising so much beef.

There's plenty of water in America, it's just not where we most want it to be.

But it's easier to buy water than to give up freedom of movement and red meat.

Duck said...

If you think Peter's crazy, cognac-fueled paranoid fantasy scenaro is just so much Canadian defeatist blather, you really gotta read "Cadillac Desert". There was a time when Texas lawmakers lobbied for a federal water project to pump Mississippi water 500 miles uphill to turn west Texas into another Imperial valley.

Seriously, it is a fascinating read.

Duck said...

The problem with clergy is that they really have no practical role to play in society except to recite some canned liturgy twice on Sunday and then to answer angry letters during the week about where all the collection plate money is going and counsel some overwrought parents that their adolescentson Johnny probably isn't going th Hell because he spends too much time in the bathfoom. So they drum up these harebrained ideas to give their vocation some relevance.

There was a priest in my parish back home in RI who believed God called him to bless the Scituate reservoir so that we could all have Holy Water on tap.

joe shropshire said...

Peter: nice try indeed. Water flows downhill. Hah! But if you are right, then we still have invasion and conquest as the low-cost option.

Peter Burnet said...


Cognac-fueled fantasy? Nice guy. All I did was give you an account of the history of oil and gas development in the Canadian Arctic.

Duck said...

I'm just joking, Peter. Sorry! :(

I thought of using gin-soaked, but I knew you had classier tastes than that.

Duck said...

This shows that I shouldn't be blogging when I'm stoked on cheap homemade beer.

Hey Skipper said...

Nice try. Lake Michigan flows north. Ha ha!

At its current level, that is.

Should the US drain Lake Michigan sufficiently to lower its level by, IIRC, about 30 feet, then that flow would reverse.

Keep in mind, again IIRC, Lake Michigan is by far the deepest of the Great Lakes.

So there is plenty of room to let gravity do our work.

Oroborous said...

But don't forget, wars are started over such bald-faced resource grabs, especially over water...

Oh, wait, it's Canada. Carry on.

Peter Burnet said...


You know how the Swiss have mined all those mountain tunnels? Can you guess what we've got under Lake St. Clair? Here's a hint: "How long can you tread water?"