Tag Archives: agriculture

Can Rights of Nature Help End Environmental Genocide on Ponca Lands?

By Movement Rights co-founders Pennie Opal Plant and Shannon Biggs

 

thThe wind blows powerfully in Oklahoma. It is part of the Great Plains and is also home to “tornado alley.” But today the state is known more for a human-made feature, a geological by-product of the petroleum industry: Oklahoma is the earthquake capital of the world. Ask anyone in the state if they had ever felt a tremor before fracking and injection wells became part of the northern Oklahoma landscape in the mid-2000’s and the answer is unequivocally, “NO.” Over Labor Day weekend, Ponca City and nearby Pawnee were the epicenter of the world’s largest manmade earthquake, registering a 5.8.

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photo credit Movement Rights

Rather than address the issue of fracking and its dangers, the Governor and state legislature passed two senate bills banning residents from banning or limiting oil and gas operations.  Movement Rights’ board member, Casey Camp Horinek a Ponca elder and elected Tribal Council member spoke at a 2015 Senate hearing, explaining how the Ponca people—who are concentrated on the south side of town where the refineries chemical plants and injection wells are largely sited—are being fracked to death:

“We’re now having a funeral a week from cancers and autoimmune diseases. In 2015 we had 907 quakes of a 3.0 magnitude and above. If the governor won’t call for a stop to fracking, the sovereign Ponca nation will.”

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Ponca Business Council members with Movement Rights co-founders and Tom Goldtooth of IEN following our presentation.

Movement Rights co-founders, Shannon Biggs and Pennie Opal Plant, along with Michael Horse, traveled to Ponca City and the Ponca Nation from October 14-16, 2016 to introduce Rights of Nature to the Tribal council, members of the Ponca Nation and non-native residents as a way to ban fracking and injection wells on tribal lands. Our trip there was full of joy and tears, inspiration and devastation.  Fracking sites and injection wells dot the landscape, and the telltale signs of leaking well pipes are easy to spot.   The tips of wheat fields are black-tinged, and there are dead areas in farm fields where nothing grows.  The day before we arrived, the Governor had proclaimed an “official day of prayer for the oil industry and the oil fields.” We were not sure what to expect when we arrived or how our visit would be recieved.

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Oily muddy water like this bubbles up from the ground all over Ponca City likely indicating pipe leaks below the surface. Photo credit Movement Rights.

While most Americans have now heard of fracking and its seemingly endless harms to the air, soil, water, climate, property values, human health and all life—injection wells are often less understood. Essentially it’s this: the millions of gallons of toxic fluid used in fracking, plus radioactive materials and metals found in the deep shale brought to the surface by the fracking process are too dirty, too dangerous to pour into rivers, aquifers, on to leave on land (though all of that happens). Injection wells cram that toxic stew back into the earth as storage, causing a slew of problems not the least of which are earthquakes. In 2015 Oklahoma even received 2.5 million barrels of injection wastewater from other states that deem it too dangerous to site.

In 1877, part of the Ponca Tribe was forced to leave their ancestral home in Nebraska on foot, to be resettled in northern Oklahoma.  About 20 years later, the City of Ponca, OK developed around the tribe, and today is home to 26,000 people including 3,500 members of the Ponca Nation. Over the next hundred years the economy of Oklahoma would be shaped by the boom and bust cycles of the oil industry.  The Ponca tribe has not benefitted from oil. They don’t have oil leases, and there are no oil jobs for the Ponca people despite being surrounded by oil infrastructure. Racism and harassment against the Ponca Nation is an open secret in the town that bears their name, with some businesses refusing to serve Ponca people, while welcoming other tribes who are invested in the oil industry.

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Pennie Opal Plant, Suzaatah Horinek and her daughter Lola, who were part of the 30 person organizing team making signs, handing out campaign shirts and other preparations for the prayer walk and the community event.

Despite this background, the Ponca Nation and local allies of the Nation were welcoming and interested in what Movement Rights has to offer, which is a way forward to stopping the devastation by recognizing the Rights of Mother Earth—the right of the land air, water and all life to be free from the toxic infrastructure.   Movement Rights’ board member and Ponca Tribal Councilmember, Casey Camp-Horinek, took us on a toxic tour after our presentation to the Ponca Business Council.

Pennie Opal Plant and Michael Horse live near the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California.  They are accustomed to occasionally smelling toxins come from that refinery and the other four refineries along the San Francisco Northeast Bay.  Shannon Biggs has traveled the world visiting toxic sites from South Durban South Africa to the oil and gas fields of North Dakota and Pennsylvania, but nothing prepared us for what we witnessed.  Driving past the Conoco Phillips refinery on the south side of Ponca City was an entirely different experience.   When the pungent and toxic smells hit us we immediately rolled up the windows on the car.   We could taste the toxins as they hit our systems and some of us had difficulty breathing.

There are homes and a park where children play directly across the street from this refinery.  And, of course, people of color and the working poor are the residents of the homes on the south side of town near the refinery. We saw uncountable fossil fuel holding tanks, more than any we had seen along the refinery corridor in the Bay Area.   Acres and acres—and acres—of huge tanks.

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DANGER Pipeline! Cows graze and drink polluted water. Photo credit Movement Rights.

We stopped at several injection well sites, mostly those that were the easiest to access just off the side of the road. Getting out of the car, the smell of chemicals curled in our noses, instantly shooting  into our heads like a toxic-ice cream headache. We witnessed the “produced water” leaking around the injection well machinery at every stop.  Produced water is a by-product of fracking which has undisclosed toxic chemicals, salt and radioactive materials  from the natural radiation and metals that live in the deep shale two miles below the ground surface.   We saw injection wells in agriculture fields of wheat and soybeans, onions and crops that are in many of the food products that we eat and assume are not poisoned.  We stopped at the place where the lower leg of the Keystone pipeline flows in the ground under where cattle graze, and drink from the open pits of toxic water above the pipeline.

14702432_1140644946021111_1678195815010591114_nOn Saturday, October 15th, we participated in a prayer walk, led by Casey Camp-Horinek, from a local park to the Conoco Phillips refinery.  About 60 people joined us—we were told this was the first direct action at this facility.  We circled up in front of the refinery for prayers for the community members, the refinery workers, the air, water and soil.  There were many families with children who participated and one woman came out of her home to join us.  Another women told us she keeps her pool filled with water (even though most pools are earthquake-damaged) to help out the local deer, coyotes and foxes who know not to drink from the rivers anymore.

People driving by honked their support and the Ponca City News gave us small but favorable  front page coverage. Yes, the time to shift the system from devastation toward health has arrived and we can’t assume that anyone is against us.   Even in this town with so much fossil fuel infrastructure there was a lot of support.  As we left, every single person on the prayer walk shook the hand of the police officer who was there to monitor us and to keep us safe.

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The Brown family farm, red circle indicates the field with an active injection well, one of 4 sites you can see from their porch. Photo credit: Movement Rights

A former oil worker, James Wesley Brown took us to his family homestead which has supported four generations of Brown farmers.  His daughter, Temperance, played on the swing about 100 feet from an injection well in the middle of their onion field.  “This land is not a wasteland, and I hope someday my daughter will farm on this land.” But right now he acknowledged, it’s a toxic mess.

He cranked some water from the hand pump next to the swing and suggested we cup our hands for a sip, laughing, He took a mouthful and immediately spit it on the ground. “They say it’s safe, but you can smell the gas in it, and some days you can light it on fire.” 

The members of the Ponca Nation and allies make many connections to the water protectors and land defenders at Standing Rock.  Casey Camp-Horinek’s family members have also been very involved on the frontlines in North Dakota.  Many of the homemade signs on the prayer walk were in support of the people protecting the water along the Missouri River.

After the prayer walk was the Movement Rights presentation at the community meeting at the Ponca Nation community center.   Native American actor, jeweler and artist, Michael Horse, most well-known for his role as “Deputy Hawk” in Twin Peaks, was the Master of Ceremonies.   Shannon spoke first about fracking and injection wells, their impacts on living beings, the earth, air, water and soil, as well as the effects on climate change and spoke about rights of nature as a legal tool.  Pennie spoke about the origins of the Rights of Mother Earth, Indigenous people’s original instructions on how to live within balance within the sacred system of life, as well as the importance of an immediate transition off of fossil fuels.  She shared examples of Native American communities which are working on renewable energy solutions on their territories such as the Firsts Nation’s Lubicon Solar Project and The Solutions Project which has the data which shows how each State can transition off of fossil fuels and on to renewable energy by 2050 while creating jobs that last 40 years.

Throughout our visit the sun was strong, and the wind blew mightily, iurreminding us that there are clean renewable options for Oklahoma. The state blows 6th highest for wind potential in the United Sates, offering a lasting economic energy strategy for the state. Even other states are investing in Oklahoma wind power.

What is happening in Ponca, Oklahoma and at Standing Rock, North Dakota is a SIGNAL, not simply a symbol.  It is time for all communities to stand for the protection of the Earth in the places where they live.  As Indigenous people rise up to protect the sacred system of life they are serving as a beacon to all of those who have been complacent while Mother Earth has suffered grave violations by members of our human family.   These violations are threatening the sacred system of life that is necessary for life to continue in any way close to what those alive right now have experienced.  There is not a moment to waste in our protection of the air, water and soil.  It is time to heed the call to action to preserve life as we know it.

I am River & blogAs Movement Rights travels to Maori territory in New Zealand next week we will be exploring a ground-breaking law to protect the sacred Whanganui River.  Keep an eye out for our next blog which will be full of inspiring stories of how the Maori people, working with the Federal Government of New Zealand, have not only recognized the spiritual and holistic rights of the River and the life within and around it to exist in a clean and healthy environment, but have also recognized the sacred rights of the River.


In memory of Betty Lee Brown who passed away on the family farm we visited on October 27 with her grandson, Wes Brown. 

MovementRigts-Colour-sq-ncMovement Rights assists communities confronted by harmful corporate projects to assert their right to make important decisions that impact them by passing new laws that place the rights of residents (and nature) above the claimed legal “rights” of corporations. At the heart of our work is the belief that asserting our right to create the kind of place we want to live and reining in corporate power is the next evolution of the civil rights movement. Over 160 communities across the United States have already asserted their right to local self-government and stopped unwanted harms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What would the Delta Say? Putting California’s Twin Tunnels on Trial

BARONA logo BARoNA-logo

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 22, 2016

Contact: 

Shannon Biggs, Movement Rights (415) 841-2998 shannon@movementrights.org

Linda Sheehan,  Earth Law Center (510) 219-7730 lsheehan@earthlaw.org

 Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Restore the Delta(209) 479-2053, barbara@restorethedelta.org

BAY-DELTA TRIBUNAL PUTS STATE & NATIONAL LEGAL SYSTEM ON TRIAL

California’s Proposed Twin Tunnels Case to be Heard


 th-1Antioch, CA – “What would the San Francisco Bay-Delta ecosystem say?” is the question a panel of judges will consider when examining a case brought before them in the first-ever Bay Area Rights of Nature Tribunal based on an international rights of nature tribunal held in Paris during the climate talks last December. It’s a question gaining ground as dozens of U.S. and international communities and a handful of countries have begun recognizing rights and legal standing for ecosystems as a new framework for environmental protection. The tribunal will be held on April 30 at the Nick Rodriguez Community Center in Antioch, CA 9:30 AM-2 PM.

iur  The case being brought before the tribunal address nature’s, community, and human rights violations presented by Governor Brown’s water policies, and particularly his proposed Twin Tunnel plan, which would significantly reduce flows needed for Delta waterways and fish. The tribunal is being put on by the Bay Area Rights of Nature Alliance (BARONA) —a network of organizations seeking to explore how recognizing legal standing for ecosystems can put new governance tools in the hands of communities.

save_the_delta_-_stop_the_tunnels_1In addition to detailing rights violations, Tribunal witnesses and experts will also offer solutions to water flow and economic development challenges that protect, not injure, human and nature’s rights. “We are pleased to work with BARONA to make the case for the San Francisco Bay-Delta,” says Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director for Restore the Delta, a group that has been working to fight the governor’s plan and support sound water alternatives.“The Delta is an imperiled national treasure — a home for wildlife, fisheries, and human culture. After 30 years of over-pumping, the Delta Tunnels proposal would complete the destruction of the largest estuary on the west coast of the Americas. Those who view the Delta as simply another water source to be drained are in for a fight. The people and wildlife of the Delta will not be erased.”

“The proposed project not only violate nature’s rights and human rights, but also illustrates that our laws legalize such harms,” adds Linda Sheehan of the Earth Law Center. “This Tribunal is about confronting a system of laws that places people and nature in harm’s way, and demonstrating a new way forward.”

Judges for the tribunal include: renowned eco-philosopher Joanna Macy, governmental liaison for the Winnemem Wintu tribe Gary Mulcahy, Movement Rights director, Shannon Biggs and others to be  confirmed.

Rights of nature is a global movement that has been named one of the Top Ten Grassroots Movements Taking on the World by Shift Magazine. International Tribunals in Paris, Lima and Quito have recognized nature’s rights, as has the Pope and other leading figures. “Rather than treating nature as property under the law, rights of nature acknowledges that the ecosystem—in this case the Delta itself—is a rights-bearing entity,” concluded Shannon Biggs, Director of Movement Rights, a group that assists California communities pass laws that place the rights of communities and ecosystems above corporate interests. “Mendocino County and Santa Monica have already recognized these rights in order to ban fracking and develop sustainability initiatives.”

This event is free and open to the public, but will require an RSVP. Donations encouraged. Please mark your calendars and join the growing movement for nature’s rights

 


MovementRigts-Colour-sq-ncMovement Rights promotes community, indigenous, and nature’s rights. Movement Rights is a fiscally sponsored project of the Oakland Institute. We are supported by individual donations and small foundation grants.  Please consider supporting our work and joining our list serve to keep up to date on the movement for rights-based change.   Thank you!

Are California Communities Running out of Water – or Democracy?

  By Javan Briggs041815_1163

Javan Briggs is a mother, educator, and experienced community organizer who has recently joined the Movement Rights team.  She currently splits her time living in the San Joaquin Valley of California, where her own residential well has run dry, and Los Angeles. She became involved in rights-based organizing while leading a Pennsylvania community group in leveraging their local Community Bill of Rights ordinance to successfully resist a natural gas pipeline threat.  Javan brings many years experience leading community groups and nonprofits nationwide, primarily in the areas of environmental and education issues. A native Californian, she is pleased to continue working with communities back ‘home.’ 


 

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Crop flooding in San Joaquin Valley adjacent to residences with dry wells. Photo by Javan Briggs

Water. It’s a big topic for small town talk all around Central California. Madera, some 30 miles west of the state’s geographic center is a hot and arid farming community in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley.  At a run-down neighborhood convenience store situated at the corner of two dusty farm roads surrounded by modest homes and lush crops, after-work chit chat inevitably turns to water. Locals shake their heads while remarking that this area has always been known for easily accessible groundwater.

Yet everyday, new residential wells are going dry while large corporate farms continue to drain groundwater at breakneck speed to keep water-rich mega-crops including almonds and grapes flourishing—or to sell to the highest bidder.

The question in Madera and every Central Valley community: Why are corporate profits trumping our communities’ right to water? Shouldn’t the residents most affected by corporate misappropriation of community groundwater resources be the ones to decide their water future?

Water Rights, or Right on the Money?  

So commonplace are dry wells, residents are forced to devise extreme measures to supply water for for basic cooking and hygiene. Once unthinkable, hoses run through windows between neighbors’ homes. Pumps rumble water into homes from large storage tanks filled by trucks. Still other families have to rely on store-bought bottled water or hauling gallons home in the back of their pickups. Most families cannot afford the $13,000-25,000 price  tag to drill a new well. But even for residents with means, wait lists for residential well drilling are 6-12 months long, in part due to competition from corporate farms who bring in the higher paying well drilling jobs.

Javan's "new" water pump in foreground next to her dry well hole.  Behind is the old pump, also dry. Photo by Javan Briggs
Javan’s “new” home water pump in foreground next to her dry well hole. Behind is the old agriculture pump, also dry. Photo by Javan Briggs

The cost of well drilling has not slowed large-scale corporate farms from drawing increasing amounts of groundwater— or profits. Agricultural wells, which are deeper than residential wells, can cost $500,000 or more, but even at that rate, cash crops for export like almonds still remain money-makers. Bob Smittcamp, CEO of Lyons Magnus, a corporation that grows and processes agricultural products as well as manufactures food packaging, shelled out $1 million to purchase his own well drilling rig to supply his own crops— and cash in on the drilling boom. Other agribusinesses too, are making money hand over fist in the new drought economy through ‘groundwater mining;’

With water scarcity comes higher prices and profiteering — over 60 billion gallons of Central Valley groundwater may be sold for profit, according to a recent report.  

“If you own property, you can dig a well and you can pump as much groundwater as you a want,” UC Irvine hydrologist Jay Famiglietti told KQED, “even if that means you are drawing water in from beneath your neighbor’s property into your well. So it’s not unlike having several straws in a glass, and everyone drinking at the same time, and no one’s really watching the level.”

Image Credit: PR Watch http://www.prwatch.org
Image Credit: PR Watch 

Water for communities is being funneled into profits for a handful of corporations as counties continue to issue record numbers of well drilling permits. Corporate farms persist in transforming thousands of acres of old rangeland and vineyards to plant new almond trees, which won’t produce for three years or more– when the groundwater is even further depleted. Already, parts of the Central Valley are sinking about a foot per year as water tables plunge about 100 feet below historical lows as established residential wells get sucked dry by agribusiness.

The regulatory hamster wheel

 When residents call foul, they repeatedly come up against a brick wall of political excuses, good ol’ boy policies, and state lawmaking that protect corporate profits while ensuring that people continue to do without.

“We can’t really use public funds to help a private well owner,” Tulare County Supervisor Steve Worthly recently told NPR. “I really don’t see a place for the government to come in and provide the funds for everybody’s well … There’s going to be thousands and thousands of wells that are going to go out.”

And yet, Worthly continued, “”We’re not in a position to tell farmers, ‘No, you can’t have a permit to drill a well so you can keep your crop alive,’ even though we know it has a collateral impact.”

Stanislaus County Board Chairman Jim DeMartini echoed the sentiment that counties do not have the right to deny well permits— a position that led to a toothless five-year action plan passed by local leaders last week. With a 5-0 vote, the board unanimously accepted the recommendations of a Water Advisory Committee—dominated by agriculture interests—that includes twice-yearly monitoring of water levels in addition to voluntary and confidential reporting of pumping activity. It does not, however, address the rampant issuance of new well permits for corporate crops or groundwater pumping by agribusiness. In effect, nothing changed.

Groundwater management plans such as Stanislaus County’s were recently mandated by equally impotent state legislation. The regulation requires local agencies to create a groundwater management plan, establishes criteria for state intervention, and delays state action where surface water has been depleted by groundwater pumping. Here’s the crux: the legislation allows local agencies 25 years to draft and implement their ‘sustainability’ plans.

With feeble policies failing to secure their communities’ right to water, some hope to find remedy in the legal arena. Two groups, Protecting Our Waters and Environmental Resources (POWER) and the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, filed two lawsuits last year. Represented by San Francisco attorney Thomas Lippe and recently-deceased environmental attorney, Jerry Cadagan, the first lawsuit intended to require a select group of 16 large-scale farmers in nine municipalities to adhere to California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requirements before drilling any new wells.  The case settled out of court when most of the farmers agreed to pay $190,000 toward groundwater studies. Effectively, the community’s inherent right to water was bargained away to agribusiness.

A second lawsuit brought by the same environmental groups against Stanislaus County’s Department of Environmental Resources aims to require environmental reviews before any new agricultural wells are permitted. Even if this case ‘wins’ at the October trial, the ineffectual regulatory hamster wheel persists; the framework of ‘permitting’ effectively provides an official sanctioning to water pilfering for profit.

Image Credit: CalWatchdog
Water ghosts appearing in California. Image Credit: CalWatchdog

Water is a community—not corporate— right 

As groundwater become more and more scarce owing to corporate privatization, people are beginning to realize that that their own communities bear the brunt of the effects. Residents of the Central Valley are increasingly calling out the injustice.

Addressing the Fresno County Board of Supervisors recently, Robert Mitchell called for a moratorium on new almond crops: “My community is surrounded by almond trees which will not produce product for another three years which is 2018, yet in the one small area I live we have lost five wells in a one block area.”

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Gladys Colunga gathering water for her family. Image Credit KQED blog

In nearby Tulare County, Gladys Colunga, mother of six  whose well went dry even while her home is surrounded by water-saturated almond crops noted in an interview with NPR:

“We’re a family, we have children and we need that water. We have the right to have that basic thing. It’s water.”

 But American policy and law protects the rights of property more rigorously that the rights of people and nature. As global water leader, Maude Barlow so eloquently stated: The problem in California, as in so many parts of the world, is that water is seen as a resource for our convenience and profit and not as the essential element of an ecosystem that gives us life. As well, water is more and more seen as a form of private property and powerful forces increasingly resist any attempt by governments to limit their abuse of water.”

Next Steps: California Communities Asserting their Right to Water 

California communities are ready for a paradigm shift. People can say “NO” to the structure of law that preempts local decision-making and forces them to live with the effects of harmful groundwater depletion for profit. By passing local ordinances — like those Movement Rights and their partner CELDF help communities pass —more than 160 communities across the nation have already established local, living democracy, by asserting their right to clean water, sustainable food systems, and recognizing the rights of nature. Our communities should not be sacrifice zones where corporations have more rights than people and nature.

 It’s time to change the rules, California. Share this article and your ideas with family and friends– let’s organize for democracy again.


 

MovementRigts-Colour-sq-ncMovement Rights assists communities confronted by harmful corporate projects to assert their right to make important decisions that impact them by passing new laws that place the rights of residents (and nature) above the claimed legal “rights” of corporations. At the heart of our work is the belief that asserting our right to create the kind of place we want to live and reining in corporate power is the next evolution of the civil rights movement. Over 160 communities across the United States have already asserted their right to local self-government and stopped unwanted harms.

Movement Rights is a fiscally sponsored project of the Oakland Institute. We are supported by individual donations and small foundation grants.  Please consider supporting our work and joining our list serve to keep up to date on the movement for rights-based change.   Thank you!

 

CALIFORNIA DROUGHT: A PRECURSOR OF THINGS TO COME

By Maude Barlow

imagesWe are honored to share the following article written by Movement Rights board member, Maude BarlowMaude Barlow is the National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians and the author of Blue Future, Protecting Water for People and the Planet Forever.  She is the recipient of the Right Livelihood Award (‘Alternative Nobel’) for her work on water; has served as the Senior Advisor on Water to the United Nations; and was a leader in the campaign to have water recognized as a human right by the UN, among many other achievements.


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Photo credit: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

On April 1, California Governor Jerry Brown ordered officials to impose mandatory water restrictions in his drought stricken state for the first time in history. The news was carried around the world. “Climate change” was named as the culprit.

While there is no doubt that greenhouse gas-induced climate change has dramatically affected the snowfall in the Sierras, reducing the amount of run-off the state depends on for water renewal, there is another story here that has to be told.

 The true story is that for decades, there has been massive engineering of the state’s water supplies through pipelines, canals and aqueducts to supply a relatively small number of powerful farmers in the Central Valley with water.

Eighty percent of all water in California goes to agriculture, much of it to grow water-intensive crops for export. Alfalfa hay, largely exported to Japan, uses 15% of the state’s water. California produces 80% of the world’s almonds and their production uses another 10%.

Image credit: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
Image credit: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

Absent renewable water supplies, [industrial] farmers have taken to mercilessly mining groundwater to produce their water intensive and lucrative crops. If the rains don’t come soon – and there is no sign that they will – groundwater will be depleted in many parts of the state.

But instead of challenging these practices, the new government restrictions only apply to urban centres and not to the big agricultural producers who hold powerful political sway in the state. For years, there has been a free for all as big industrial farms turned a renewable resource that belonged to the people into a commodity owned and controlled by private interests. Having secured “water rights,” some of these corporate agribusinesses also hoard, buy and sell their water.

6a00d8341bf80a53ef01b7c77a65a3970bThe restrictions also do not apply to the many fracking and bottled water operations throughout the state that are harming and depleting local water supplies. In 2014 alone, California oil producers used about 280 million litres [70 million gallons] of water for fracking.

 

The problem in California, as in so many parts of the world, is that water is seen as a resource for our convenience and profit and not as the essential element of an ecosystem that gives us life. As well, water is more and more seen as a form of private property and powerful forces increasingly resist any attempt by governments to limit their abuse of water.

Global Outlook on Water

It doesn’t help that we were raised with the “myth of abundance” believing that we can never run out of water. Like many myths, this one is wrong.

The UN now says we have 15 years to avert a full blown water crisis and that by 2030, demand for water in our world will outstrip supply by 40%!

Five hundred renowned scientists brought together by UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon said that our collective abuse of water has caused the planet to enter a “new geologic age” – a “planetary transformation” akin to the retreat of the glaciers more than 11,000 years ago. Already they said, a majority of the world’s population lives within a 30 mile radius of water sources that are badly impaired or running out.

More children die of water-borne disease that all forms of violence put together – including war.

So how are world leaders and global institutions dealing with this threat? Very badly and with no plan. When water is discussed at world gatherings, it is as a by-product of climate change.

There is little real understanding that when we remove water from water-retentive landscapes, we dramatically and negatively affect the climate. Cutting down the Amazon forest has led to a perilous drop in rain. For the first time in living history, once water-rich Sao Paulo Brazil is experiencing severe drought.


 Maude Barlow, speaking on Rights of Nature to the United Nations, April 27, 2015

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In our world, nature is seen as a form of property, a resource for our pleasure, convenience and profit. The legal systems in most of our countries are not protecting the earth because they are not meant to. In fact, our legal and political establishments perpetuate, protect and legitimize the continued degradation of the earth by design, not accident. Most laws to protect the environment and other species just regulate the amount of damage that can be inflicted by human activity.

… Communities around the world are creating a new form of civil rights movement. They are passing local laws that assert their right to protect their local environment from harmful mining, fracking, pipeline and other invasive practices. What we need to do is restructure the global economy into many local economies based on the needs of the biosphere. When this happens says Shannon Biggs, founder of US-based Movement Rights, “communities will become true stewards of their ecosystems, protecting and upholding these natural rights.”


The solutions to a water secure California and world must be based on some fundamental principles. Water plunder must stop. Governments have to stand up to the industries, powerful private interests and bad practices destroying water all over the world.

Governments must place priorities on access to limited supplies, especially groundwater, and ban private industry from owning and controlling water. Any industry found polluting water must be denied access. Water is the common heritage of humanity and of future generations. Water must never be bought, hoarded, sold or traded on the open market. Water services must be a public service delivered on a not-for-profit basis.

Water is also a human right. In our world, private interests increasingly control water. To add insult, they often pay next to nothing for the water they abuse. Lack of access to clean water and sanitation is the greatest human rights issue in the global South. But lack of access to water is no longer confined to poor countries. In the name of austerity, thousands have had their water services cut off in Europe and many thousands suffer from lack of water in Detroit Michigan because they cannot afford the very high price of water.

Importantly, we must learn a new reverence for water and understand that nature put water where it belongs. We destroy watersheds at our peril.

We need a global plan of action that includes:

  • Watershed protection, conservation and restoration;
  • National and community programs to replenish water-retentive landscapes;
  • Watershed sharing and governance;
  • Models of food and energy production that do not harm water;
  • Strong laws to prevent eutrophication;
  • Consideration of the impact on water of trade agreements;
  • Strong local, national and international commitment to put water protection at the heart of all laws and policies.

 

Image credit: http://www.publicceo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/CA-Water-Crisis-2.-800x400.png
Image credit: http://www.publicceo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/CA-Water-Crisis-2.-800×400.png

Will the people of California take these measures to protect and restore their water? Let us hope so. But there are entrenched and powerful interests standing in the way of good policy in that state and it will take some courageous officials and citizens to call them out.

These same kinds of interests are operating here in Canada too. In their name, the Harper government has gutted every single law that once protected our water. Canadians must not be fooled. California is the canary in the coal mine. There is no place on earth safe from water abuse in a world running out.

 

MovementRigts-Colour-sq-ncMovement Rights assists communities confronted by harmful corporate projects to assert their right to make important decisions that impact them by passing new laws that place the rights of residents (and nature) above the claimed legal “rights” of corporations. At the heart of our work is the belief that asserting our right to create the kind of place we want to live and reining in corporate power is the next evolution of the civil rights movement. Over 160 communities across the United States have already asserted their right to local self-government and stopped unwanted harms.

Movement Rights is a fiscally sponsored project of the Oakland Institute. We are supported by individual donations and small foundation grants.  Please consider supporting our work and joining our list serve to keep up to date on the movement for rights-based change.   Thank you!

 

 

 

California, Drought and the Return of ‘Limits to Growth’?

Photo above: A housing development in Cathedral City, near Palm Springs. Credit: Damon Winter/The New York Times


 

By Suzanne York

limits-to-growth
1972 cover of the groundbreaking book providing the first computer simulation of exponential economic and population growth with finite resource supplies.

It’s shocking, but a mainstream media outlet has actually mentioned the idea of limits to growth and limits of nature.  The New York Times, no less, has run a front-page story on the drought in California, invoking the concept of limits, in an article titled “California Drought Tests History of Endless Growth.”

The drought, now in its fourth year, has prompted the state government to announce measures to reduce water consumption.  That in itself isn’t shocking, given the increasing severity of California’s water situation, but what is surprising is that it took this long to enact serious measures.

A Desert Full of Pools

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the front-page photo by Damon Winters for the New York Times says it all, especially about human hubris.  Swimming pools, big houses run on a/c, greenery on one side, a parched desert on the other. (See more photos and graphs here).  It is a picture that is representative of our society today – humanity giving the finger to nature, as well as to future generations.  We will take what we want today, damn the consequences tomorrow.

 Imagine someone 50 years from now looking at this photo. Surely future generations will ask, “what were they thinking?”

Nearly 40 million people live in California.  Over 20 million people live in southern California in a predominantly arid landscape.  Yet for the last century or more, humanity has conquered it, bending nature to our will.  If you build it, goes the ruling mentality, people will come, and come they did.  And if you need more water to sustain the people, as well as their lawns and swimming pools, take it, from the Owens Valley to the Colorado River to possibly soon the Sacramento Delta.

Questioning the Status Quo

For decades, barely anyone has questioned this model of development.  Perhaps now that the New York Times is raising questions, it should give us hope that humanity is waking up and growing up.

Kevin Starr, a historian with the University of Southern California told The New York Times, “Mother Nature didn’t intend for 40 million people to live here.”  Moreover, Dr. Starr noted that the state “is not going to go under, but we are going to have to go in a different way.”  That is obvious, and it applies not only to California, but also to the world.  Business as usual cannot go on unabated without serious environmental and social consequences.

Even California governor Jerry Brown seems to get it.  Again, from the New York Times:

“You just can’t live the way you always have,” said Mr. Brown, a Democrat who is in his fourth term as governor. “For over 10,000 years, people lived in California, but the number of those people were never more than 300,000 or 400,000,” Mr. Brown said. “Now we are embarked upon an experiment that no one has ever tried: 38 million people, with 32 million vehicles, living at the level of comfort that we all strive to attain. This will require adjustment. This will require learning.” (emphasis added)

Overcoming a Short-Sighted Mentality

 Yes, Governor Brown seems to understand the reality of the drought crisis, yet while he talks the talk, at the same time he is also supporting fracking, a very water intensive extractive industry.

Pennie Sac Frack
Movement Rights’ Pennie Opal Plant speaking at the state’s largest fracking rally in Sacramento 2014.

And one of his major projects for the state is building tunnels to bring water from the Sacramento Delta region to southern California.  He needs to take a closer look at his words on not living the way we always have, because that should mean taking care of our communities today, and thinking of the generations to follow.

droughtfi-resized-600.jpg
Photo credit: http://info.firstcarbonsolutions.com/blog/bid/333194/greenpeaceblogs.org

The water restrictions, for now, are targeted at urban users.  However, the agriculture industry uses nearly 80% of California’s water, much of it from groundwater aquifers that are rapidly being depleted, and much of it for crops that are being exported abroad.  Restrictions are coming, but how much for one of the state’s biggest industries remains to be seen.  But the realization that growing water-intensive crops and particularly those slated for export—is sinking in (not to mention cattle raised for beef, which is the most water-intensive meat).

Where is Nature?

thMissing from most discussions on the drought is Nature. Citizens and businesses might be inconvenienced by having to reduce water usage, but what about the flora and fauna that need it to survive?

According to a 2012 California Department of Fish and Wildlife report “California’s wildlife depends on water, just as its citizens do. With water resources becoming increasingly rare, a domino effect takes place in the ecosystem.” Humans are part of the web of life, not separate, and we have a responsibility to take care of our ecosystem. Supporting alternative concepts such as rights of nature and rights of waterways should be on the table.

Leading the Way

Hopefully the mentioning of limits to growth in the New York Times will lead to more discussion and acceptance of it.  We live on a planet with finite resources. Now, with increasing and unknown impacts of climate change and continued population growth (8-10 billion people by 2050), it’s time to accept some hard truths.

California has been a leader in many ways.  Maybe this time it will be a leader in understanding that there are limits to growth and that we need to live within our means.  Not only for our sake, but for that of future generations.


Suzanne York is a senior writer with the Institute for Population StudiesHer work is focused on the interconnectedness of population growth with women’s empowerment, human rights, consumption, alternative economies, and the environment. Suzanne She is the author of several reports, including Peoples’ RightsPlanet’s Rights: Holistic Approaches to a Sustainable Population and Prioritizing the PHE Approach: Linking Population, Health, and Environment for a Better World. As research director with the International Forum on Globalization, she was a contributing author to Paradigm Wars: Indigenous Peoples’ Resistance to Economic Globalization.  She is a founding member of the Bay Area Rights of Nature Alliance, a wilderness lover, a dog blogger, and a good friend of Movement Rights.