“The time has come for all good men to rise above principle.” Huey Long
In September 1999, the government of Bolivia relinquished control of the water of the city of Cochabamba to a business venture, Aguas del Tunari. Part of the contract required the building of a dam (a long desired vanity project of the city’s mayor, Manfred Reyes Villa) so in order to raise the capital, the price of water was raised by an average of 35%. In blissful ignorance of the workings and realism of Bolivian income and earnings, it was stated that “if people didn’t pay their water bills their water would be turned off.” Massive demonstrations began in early 2000 as the water rates took their toll on families and businesses. The Bolivian government declared a ‘state of siege’ and the demonstrators were met with brute force, warrantless arrests, limited travel and, almost inevitably, the death of protesters and soldiers. It was perhaps the televised recording of the lethal shooting of student Victor Hugo Daze that heralded the end. The business executives were no longer safe and fled the country. The government terminated the contract and demonstrators were released. While hailed as a victory for the people, half of the citizens of Cochabamba remain without water.
Nature provides us with living conditions that humans would be virtually incapable of replicating.
It has for some time now been the topic of debate, as to whether we should put a value on nature or not. How can nature actually be valued, given a price? Nature provides us with living conditions that humans would be virtually incapable of replicating. Various institutes have tried to and the values can vary enormously. A report by The Economics of Ecosystems & Biodiversity suggested though that an annual investment of $45 billion could protect ecosystems worth about $5 trillion.
It’s like sitting in your armchair at home, watching a burglar sneak into your basement, leaving with a big bag of loot then knocking on your door the next day to sell your own items back to you.
But all of this still takes us away from a fundamental issue. Why is it that nature represents no value to us as a society or a civilisation or indeed as a species? Why is it that the rest of the species of Earth are able to live in harmony with nature and the environment? We use and deplete the planets resources with complete disregard for ourselves. It’s not that we don’t know we’re destroying our home by our actions, we do know but we can’t help doing it. We sit idly by while corporations use up the “natural assets” given to them by our elected governments and sell them back to us. The infamous footage of Nestle CEO Peter Brabeck declaring that access to water should not be a public right has been well viewed by now. The problem is that it hasn’t made a blind bit of difference.
Nestle Waters currently extracts approximately 230 million litres of fresh water from the aquifers of Canada’s Fraser Valley in British Columbia every year, for free. As of 2016, the cost will be $2.25 per million litres, not that the money is likely to be returned to the region. Meanwhile, Nestle Waters then goes on to sell this same water for about $3.99 a litre. It’s like sitting in your armchair at home, watching a burglar sneak into your basement, leaving with a big bag of loot then knocking on your door the next day to sell your own items back to you. And elected governments with environmental manifestos stand by, the expected profit and financial donations keeping them in business.
This is why some will say that nature needs to be given a value. Is it really because there is no value attached to nature that we have no problem with consuming it and then discarding it at the rate which we do? This argument and reasoning is misplaced and completely disregards human attitudes. The idea that companies and corporations and therefore humanity will act responsibly just because an acre of trees now has an ecological value is beyond the scope of realism. Just because there is a price tag, it doesn’t mean someone isn’t going to steal it.
And who will protect us from the theft of the natural world, our world? Our governments?
The valuation of nature would leave companies and businesses rubbing their hands together and probably even drooling in anticipation. Values mean profit to them. We have learnt from bitter experience that the relentless pursuit of the ever bigger bottom line simply does not have a moral compass. Corporations will pass their burdensome externalities onto the public purse and then proceed to charge that very same public for the privilege of drinking the water that runs through the Earth naturally. And who will protect us from the theft of the natural world, our world? Our governments?
The Australian government is currently seeking to disband the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and has banned it from investing in small-scale solar projects and existing onshore wind farms. Meanwhile the Australian Minster for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, has recently announced that the government will partner up with the likes of Coca-Cola to distribute medical aid as part of an effort to focus on the “economic security for the recipients of our aid.” Why is Coca-Cola better equipped to reach isolated areas than governments? Coca-Cola Amatil apparently donated $55,000 to the Liberal National Party (the current government of Australia) in 2013-14.
The truth is that while valuing nature might give people something to think about, the likelihood is that it wouldn’t stop corporations from doing what they already do to everything that they get their hands on. Our governments can’t be trusted to do the right thing when lobbyists wave fists full of money in front of them and large swathes of the population simply don’t care. Valuing nature won’t do any good. Educating people about its necessity to our survival would perhaps be a better step. But this is a debate that won’t be resolved soon. And in the meantime, while you and I get fined for littering on the street, the corporations continue to pollute the air we breathe, contaminate the soil beneath our feet and steal the water from under the ground unabated.