National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians, and international best-selling author, Maude Barlow, had an exclusive interview with the Arthur about her final book in the Blue trilogy, Blue Future: Protecting Water for People and the Planet Forever during her book tour in Peterborough. She spoke with us about how her fight to protect these precious resources started, and about she’s included everything that readers need to know about the global water crisis.
In one sentence, could you please describe what the title, Blue Future: Protecting Water for People and the Planet Forever, means?
It means that we have to work very hard to ensure that we have a good future, and [introduces the fact that] there are certain things we have to do and principles we need to follow in order to guide us there.
But interestingly enough, I almost called it A Blue Future? with the question mark because I see two possible futures. One is where we don’t do the things we need to, so we really start to run out fast, and there are terrible wars over water. But in the end, I went with [the second possible future]. I decided that I am going to think about it positively. There are different possible futures that we need to be aware about, though!
What is the influence you want your book to have on your readers?
I want them to understand the nature and the depth of the global water crisis, both ecologically and from a human rights point of view. I also want them to change their attitude towards water, and to become more reverent around water, understanding their own responsibility and their need to take action.
What is the lesson they need to learn from the book?
They need to learn that we have to unlearn the first thing we ever learned around water which is that the specific amount cannot be destroyed. We were taught that there is hydrologic cycle where water goes around and around and we can never destroy it. We need to unlearn that lesson, what I call the myth of abundance. It is just simply not true anymore.
Why is it important that people read Blue Future?
Well I think that if people don’t understand the depth of the crisis that we’re dealing with, then we’re going to find that we have hit the lack-of-water wall. And I would like for us to try to understand before it happens. We have already hit the water wall in many parts of the world, for example, China. [Since] 1990, half the rivers in the country have disappeared. It is not that they are just polluted, but they’re actually gone, and this is to feed the so-called economic miracle that all our leaders, business leaders and politicians say is the right way forward.
But it is not the right way forward, it is the wrong way. It is destroying land and air, but especially water. I feel a sense of urgency to get people to really understand the depth of what we are dealing with.
How did Blue Future start for you in the first place?
Very first place was that I noticed water was included as a tradable good in a trade agreement that I was fighting. We were really concerned about economic globalization and the way these trade and investment agreements cut down on the amount of democratic space governments had. And I thought to myself, “how could water be a tradable good?” I mean, it’s water, and everybody needs it! So it set me on a journey of exploration around who owns water, and to my knowledge, I wrote the very first report on the ownership and politics of water, as opposed to the science or environmental aspects of water.
What was the inspiration which set you on this journey?
I kind of lead a women’s movement. When I got involved in fighting these free trade agreements and globalization, it was because of my concern around women and other less powerful groups at the time. Getting into water was a very nice, easy next step because particularly in the global surveys of women’s issues, women are responsible for going to get water. If their daughters go with them, then they aren’t going to school, so it becomes an inequality issue there. It is very much [combined] here with the works I have done on women’s rights.
What was your main goal at the time for your initiative?
Really at that time, it was to sound the alarm off around the growing private control of water that I could see. The corporations and private sectors had figured out that the world was in trouble, [water-wise]. They were moving in to start taking control of the water sector, delivering it for profit basis, bidding into water trading, water selling, and all that.
And I was deeply opposed to that. I felt we just had to build a movement to stop it. The next step of that then became the move to have water declared as a human right. It was a kind of step-by-step movement that took place.
Has your “blue journey” engendered any changes?
Oh, many! One that comes to mind right away is that we have built a movement against the privatization of water services, and have documented in a book how many municipalities are actually kicking out the private companies and going back to the public system. In France alone, over 40 municipalities, including Paris, have re-municipalized their water service, so that is one huge victory.
We have also had a huge win in getting the human right to water and sanitation recognized by the UN, and now more recently, a number of countries have changed their constitutions, and I would say it’s a big win to have built a movement around the world of water justice.
What does the final book in the Blue trilogy mainly talk about?
This book is about solutions. The first of the trilogy, Blue Gold, was basically to sound the alarm around the corporate assault on our water. The next one, The Blue Covenant, was to really talk about the movement that had been built, about what we had done, and what we needed to do. Blue Future is really about the principles upon which we have to build a water-secure future, and I am arguing in it that if we don’t adopt certain fundamental principles, then we won’t be able to save the world’s water, and therefore the human species.
So we have to take better care of our water and share it agreeably. These are absolute determinants for whether or not we are going to have a water-secure future, or a blue future, at all.
What are those principles?
The four principles are that 1) water is a human right. 2) It is a public trust, part of a commons, and so it cannot be privatized or owned privately, and should not be put up for sale in the open market. 3) Water has rights, too, and we have to start adapting our human laws to the laws of nature so that we are more compatible with the laws of ecosystem and watersheds. 4) Water can teach us how to live together. And as we move forward in a world where the demand is growing faster than the supply, we have to try to determine whether we’re going to see more conflict and violence, potentially a war over water, or are we going to find a way to make peace around the world over our sharing problem? This is a shared, [international] issue that we have.
What was the hardest part about writing this?
The hardest part was hearing some of the stories that came from around the world where all the wrong decisions had been made or are being made, and the suffering that’s taking place as a result.
One example is that millions and millions of people are being displaced from land and water grabs, and this is where you find big wealthy investors or countries coming in and buying up land. They brought up land three times the size of the UK in Africa alone, and they have just displaced villages and indigenous people, the local people who know how to live with the land and all of that. So just actually watching that and chronicling the pain has been very hard.
What did you learn yourself?
I learned a lot. Gloria Steinem says that she writes what she needs to read, which I love. You know I think that if somebody else wrote this book, then “it’s fine, I don’t have to!” But I wanted to, and I had so much inside me, but it’s not that you start off a book knowing everything that you are going to say. It is a journey. You know the big principles, you know the stories you want to tell, but the more you dig, the more you find, and the more you have to challenge yourself to be sure that that your premises are correct. It was a difficult book to write because I really pushed myself very hard on it.
What’re some memorable experiences you had while chronicling the book?
It’s been traveling to the communities around the world that don’t have water and that are in the water crisis, whether it’s in Cochabamba, Bolivia, or fighting Coca Cola in Kerala, India, or going through one of the world’s largest slums in Kenya. It was being with people who’re fighting for their rights, and seeing the dignity with which they comport themselves even in the midst of not having sanitation, water, medicine, or education. And giving you the last drop of water that they have because you are the visitor, right? Discovering those communities has been really important.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
Some of the stories. Sometimes felt like there was somebody inside me writing, and I was just doing the typing, and it was like, “Where did that come from? How did I know that?” Part of writing a book like this was also keeping good files. What I have done since my last book, with this book, is I electronically filed it really well, broken down by issues, countries, topics, so on, so I can dip into something. Doing that made me remember why I saved certain files. That story has to be told. It might be two years old or whatever, but that story has to be told, and sometimes I’d have to do an update on it. It was just like writing a detective story sometimes, following a story or following a bad guy.
I follow a guy named Peter Brabeck, the head of Nestle Group, who is promoting water privatization around the world, and with whom I deeply disagree. I was able to talk about what he says and what his company does, and I enjoyed writing that because I think it’s very important for people to know.
Was it fulfilling?
It was very fulfilling. I was very pleased with this book. I felt very satisfied that I had written what I started out wanting to say. You just mature in life, and I felt that I had come to a place where it kind of all came together in a different, new way in this book that it hadn’t done in previous books. It felt like all the years I spent working on it came together in this last story, and when I finished, it felt like I had nothing else left to say. It wasn’t like, “Oh, I can’t close it because I can’t finish it.” I didn’t feel that at all. I felt, “Nope, that’s it! It’s done, it’s good, and it’s a good book.”
Are there any future books we can look forward to?
My next book is probably going to be on water in Canada, but there are other projects I’m working on. It’s just that I feel like now that I have put forward a vision, it’s hard to see how it would change very much. I feel very strongly that this is the vision that I’ve been working on for a long time and that I’ve been offering out to the world. One might do an update in two or three years, but I don’t see it changing a great deal. I feel that these principles are the right principles, and I hope that they serve a purpose.
Any final note you want Arthur readers to know?
There is a water crisis. It is both environmental and human, and it is very serious. It is coming upon us quickly, so you need to know more about it, and teach yourself about what you can do. People from every part of the world need to bend together to ensure that we have what I call the new water ethics. It puts water at the center of our lives because we are literally robbing tomorrow’s generations of their water heritage. We are pumping ground water faster than it can be replenished, we are emptying aquifers, we are extracting rivers to death, the glaciers are melting, and we have a crisis here.
And if you live in Canada, you need to know that we don’t have the luxury of having as much water as we think we do. We need to open our eyes to the sufferings around the world and start taking care of our water. You need to go after our government for gutting all of the environmental protection around our fresh water. If you care about water, if you care that we are a world running out of it, then you should tell your government that you are not happy, and tell your Member of Parliament that you are really unhappy that this has happened.