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March 11, 2010, at 3:10 pm — Blogs / / / / /

Water is Life: Privatizing for Profit is Immoral

Leading experts in the water industry claim that water is the next oil. In next couple decades, we will see rampant population growth running headlong into waning water supply. The UN claims that 31 countries are now facing water scarcity issues while 1 billion lack access to clean drinking water. It’s not that the water is disappearing but that it is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Furthermore, the cost of making water safe and clean is no small price. That said, self-interested profiteers are starting to invest in this visibly threatened water-economy to get rich quick. Transnational corporations are privatizing publicly owned water systems, buying water rights and promoting bottling water. While it does cost to clean and maintain water supply, is this really the place for corporations to make a profit off of a resource as essential as water? I definitely don’t think so.

As Americans, it is easy to avoid thinking about water issues because we seem less affected than developing countries. Perhaps this is true, but that doesn’t mean we turn a blind eye to the likes of Vivendi, Nestle and Perrier who want to sell a public good in the US and beyond.

People have a connection with their land and the resources reaped from the land. I would argue that many wars are fought not over political ideologies but scarcity of resources. Privatizing water for profit establishes an unfortunate dynamic which promotes a world where profit is promoted before life, a world where everything and anything becomes a commodity.

I am not suggesting we forget that providing water to residents is not free. It costs money to pump water and provide it to residents. Public utility rate systems in some US metropolitan cities provide incentives to consumers to reduce water consumption, charging more or less depending on use. The point being, these public agencies are more interested in the public good and held to a standard by the federal government to provide safe drinking water. I cannot say that a private company would have the same motivations, seeing as how their primary interest is profit. Perhaps there is a middle way for public and private agencies to work together but in any event, water is life and should not be used as a source of profit.

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2 comments to Water is Life: Privatizing for Profit is Immoral

  • whyohwhy

    Interesting threat. My thoughts:

    1) I believe most of the US Critical infrastructure/key resource (CI/KR’s as they are referred to in govt’ circles) are own privately. This includes most utilites including power & water. Privately owned but heavily regulated (like Nuclear Power Plants are government by NRC). I believe most major cities have moved out of the running public utilities business for years.

    2) Water is plentiful (70% of the Earth landmass is water). Potable water for drinking and irrigation is a problem in parts of the world – especially Africa and Middle east.

    3) There are companies and technologies that are regularly used to create clean water. Small scale desalinazation have been around for decades (in nuclear subs and space program). Multi billion dollar desalization plants are common in the middle east… they’re almots always run by private companies.

    The realiy is these things are EXPENSIVE. They are capital intensive in ways most people can’t imagine the scale of. You have choices – entrepeneurs can raise millions to create companies to invest and start making clean water (or whatever else happen) and make profit for themselves and their business partners (shareholders, venture capitalists, etc). This is the same for Smart Energy efforts, clean coal, you name it.

    Profit is a double edged sword. Gordon Gecko said it best “greed is good” – as it can allow us to invest in and achieve things not imaginable like desalinzation plants size of small cities and well the internet!

  • Jeremy Olsen

    This is the problem with “pure capitalism” and with political viewpoints that espouse it (or anything close to it). The world runs on money. People can’t live without money. But we have no heroes, no soul, no pride, no good neighbors and no standards without morals and ethics. Greed won’t lead you to great achievements any more reliably than going west from California will lead you Taiwan. You can’t deny that individuals lose their moral bearings when greed takes over, and especially when lost in the large-scale anonymity of a big international corporation they have the power to do great harm while achieving “great” things.

    In other words, while I’m not religious, I put some stock in the Christian (and otherwise widely held) belief that we have to take care of one another. I take that to mean that power should have limits. Since money is power, we have to make sure those with wealth (power) equivalent to millions of individuals don’t use their wealth (power) in a reckless or evil way.

    Morality and ethics must be considered. Hence this discussion.

    And hence my belief in the importance of education. It is fairly inexpensive to provide information to people, who can then often make changes for themselves, which helps to eradicate a problem like poverty or hunger or disease while taxing global resources less than by investing in huge, unfocused infusions of expensive technology.

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