How much would you pay to stay alive? As climate change makes the planet less hospitable for human life in numerous well established locations, a major push is taking place by transnational corporations to secure claims on the most valuable commodity on earth – water. While privatizing and commidifying water supplies has been a neoliberal project for some time, the stakes and opportunities for profit have risen dramatically as a changing climate shifts water resources around the world.
Taking the world’s water supply hostage is a businessperson’s dream. No need to create artificial demand for this product, if the customer does not buy it they die, painfully. So it should be no surprise that Wall Street sees water as the next boom market and wants in.
The latest campaign to privatize and commidify water is being led by Peter Brabeck, the Chairman and former CEO of Nestle, the largest food company in the world.
In [Brabeck's] view, citizens don’t have an automatic right to more than the water they require for mere “survival”, unless they can afford to pay for it. For context, the World Health Organization sets such “survival” consumption levels at a minimum of 20 liters a day for basic hygiene and food hygiene – higher, if you add laundry and bathing. If you’re reading this in the United States, the odds are that flushing your toilet consumes 50 liters of water a day…
But Brabeck probably isn’t the best standard-bearer for the cause of responsible water management, by any stretch of the imagination. Consider the fact that as the drought has worsened, Nestle’s Nestle Waters North Americas Inc division – the largest bottled water company in the country – has continued to pump water from an aquifer near Palm Springs, California, thanks to its partnership with the Morongo Band of Mission Indians. Their joint venture, bottling water from a spring on land owned by the band in Millard Canyon, has another advantage: since the Morongo are considered a sovereign nation, no one needs to report exactly how much water is being drawn from the aquifer.
Water restrictions for thee, but not for me? As the corporate world increasingly captures the water supply expect more of those stories. Soon they can start bribing politicians with water to get land variances.
If water becomes a pure commodity as Nestle and other members of the corporate overclass wish it to be and supplies become significantly strained due to climate change, then being rich won’t just mean having a better life, it will mean having a life at all. Let the transnational elite do to water what Enron did to energy and see what happens next.