No Magic Bullet When It Comes to Water

In this blog entry, Stephanie Kane, author of Where Rivers Meet the Sea, provides her thoughts about the world’s water crisis.

Muhtar Kent, President and CEO of Coca-Cola, and Dean Kamen founder of DEKA Research & Development Corp, televised their plan for sorting out the world’s water crisis on Charlie Rose’s program September 27, 2012. They were followed by Gary White and Matt Damon of who are also working to extend access to potable water. Impressive as all this may seem, I’ve got to spin out an alternative scenario. For a moment, put aside the video image of Africans laughing with pure joy as they fill their containers. Imagine instead, yourself, living in a coastal village in the year 2015, after the Coca-Cola-DEKA plan has been rolled out. All the rivers, wells, wetlands, and seashore have been poisoned by toxic industrial waste and sewage. But no matter! Bring your bucket to the red and white repurposed shipping container emblazoned with corporate logos in the new town square.

Never mind sophisticated energy technologies (solar panels, biofuel converters, batteries) that run the water distillery. All you need to know about are the two hoses: You can take one hose and stick into the chemical waste pond from the local industry that pollutes with impunity and then take the second hose and put your  plastic container under it to collect clean water. It doesn’t matter how poisoned the source is because the new technology is as good as nature, just like water from clouds. And since there is no point fishing anymore (no fish) or farming (rice poisoned by arsenic), you can hang out at the container, watch TV, and recharge your cell phone: a one stop technology center brought to you by corporate beneficence and facilitated by your government and international NGO’s.

Like the proverbial magic bullet, this “slingshot” technology, named after David’s mythically effective use of a simple technology to bring down Goliath, soothes concerns about the aquatic environment. Who cares? We can go on living without guilt because innovation and corporate goodwill have produced a vision of reality that does not require the extension of municipal infrastructure to treat and deliver potable water through pipes into home or to collect and treat sewage. Nor in this vision do we need to sustain healthy ecologies. Water is essential for life and so is the Coca-Cola corporation.

The basic problem is not about the usefulness of this technology. I’m sure it can be useful in many circumstances. Indeed, using corporate distribution networks for the public good is not in itself problematic. (Is it?) The basic problem is the definition of the global water crisis: it is not simply about expanding access to potable water through technology and infrastructure. The crisis, if we want to organize ourselves by this metaphor, is part of the larger, more complex environmental question: how do we transform our ways of life to protect and preserve water habitats, the very water habitats out of which we will draw our drinking water? Are you OK with sticking a hose into a disgusting toxic pit to get drinking water? I’m not. I don’t want an “ecosystem for life” that comes from Coca-Cola. Do you? I want to be a living being surrounded by an ecosystem (wherever I happen to be located on the planet), not a consumer of ecosystem products.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: