Pushing the Limits Interview with Maude Barlow.
Maude Barlow is a warrior who has taken on everything from NAFTA to the privatization of water in Canada and around the world. She is the recipient of the Right Livelihood Award, often referred to as “The Alternative Nobel Prize.” Not surprisingly, Maude has much to say about our precious fresh water, the role of corporations, and the WTO when it comes to the limits we face.
In your book Blue Gold, you say that China faces severe grain shortages in the near future. How likely is it that we will have difficulty securing food supplies?
I think there is both a food and water crisis coming and it is already here in certain parts of the world. Tragically, China has [a year ago] declared that it is going to take Tibet’s water to make up for the way that it has devastated its own water resources. This is really a tragedy because we have no international legal framework for water that would say that water belongs locally and it should not be stolen. In the near future, we are going to have water wars around the world. This will affect the growing of food.
What’s happening in the United States is unsustainable, for instance: in the Midwest and the Southwest, where they are growing cotton and alfalfa in the dessert, where they are building so fast, where they are creating these huge mega-farms using massive amounts of flood irrigation when they could be using drip irrigation. They are using chemicals, fertilizers, nitrates, and so on. Not only using too much water but damaging tremendous amounts of water. Corporate unsustainable industrial agriculture based on chemicals is the leading cause of water destruction in the world today.
Canada is probably safer except that the US is probably going to come calling for our water when it realizes it is out, and that makes me nervous. There will be huge demand for our water, water that we need now for our own production, whether it is for agriculture or for oil production. We’re in a situation where our water could become what our oil and gas has become and that is a North American shared resource which we have no control over. In fact, if we try to reclaim control over it, we will find ourselves in violation of NAFTA. That’s why I am also opposed to the commercial export of water.
What could the federal government realistically do?
We need a National Water Act that would do several things (starting with creating a knowledge base of our water resources). We have no idea where our groundwater resources are, so we don’t know if we are sustainably using them. In the tar sands for instance, I can’t prove we’re over-mining, because nobody knows.
Second, the Act would protect water quality, and set drinking water standards across the country. That would force industry and agriculture and all the rest of us to conform. I look to northern Germany, which has such strong drinking water legislation. Their standard is that it has to be clean enough for a baby when it comes out of the tap. That would mean that we have to stop polluting our systems and start reclaiming polluted systems. That would also mean funding for infrastructure to repair rusty pipes and so on because a lot of water gets lost in cities, even in the so-called “First World,” through aging infrastructure.
The third component would be to protect that water politically. We need a ban on the bulk export of water for commercial purposes and a ban on the corporate control of water in Canada.
What is the role of the private sector in creating a sustainable society?