Dec 26, 2010

The Great Lakes are a commons?

On the Commons and Council of Canadians hosted a landmark gathering of activists from around the Great lakes in mid-November at Council of Canadians in the Adirondacks of upstate New York. Maude Barlow, President of the Council of Canadians, built momentum for the meeting with her rousing keynote address at the Environmental Grantmakers Association in October calling on environmental, global justice and other social movements to unite around protecting the water commons.

"The Great Lakes crisis is part of the global crisis, in whicHTML clipboardh we are quickly running out of fresh water.," Barlow told the group at Blue Mountain. "It's not a closed hydrological cycle like we were taught-- we are losing clean water through irrigation, bottled water, virtual water trade and more.

"Scientists say that the Great Lakes could be bone dry in 80 years," Barlow added, citing the case of the Aral Sea, once one of the fourth largest lake in the world, but now just 10 percent of its former size. "The World Bank says that water demand is outstripping supply by 40%, producing great suffering."

A sense of urgency about the future of the Great Lakes infused the meeting, which was attended by people from Ontario, New York State, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and other places. These five lakes, which hold 21 percent of the world's fresh water, are also losing water due to excessive water diversions for industry and fracking (fracturing rock formations and flushing them with water to produce extract oil and natural gas).

Pollution fears are now heightened as cities ringing the lakes struggle with federal budget cuts and reduced tax revenue, which mean less funds for improvements to make sure sewage doesn't overflow into the waters.

Social justice issues about water are also paramount. Charity Hicks, secretary of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network and board member of the Detroit People's Water Board, said that "two years ago in Detroit, 42,000 people didn't have water. Now there are 72,000. It's like Port-au-Prince but different in that we're sitting on huge water resources."

And the rising threat of privatization, in which corporations take ownership of something belonging to all us, looms large. Sue Chiblow, Environment Coordinator to the Chiefs of Ontario (a coordinating body of the province's First Nations organizations) said, "With gifts come responsibilities.

Just as you wouldn't walk into someone's house and take things, likewise you can't just take from the earth."

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