There is no question that providing fresh water for a population that is growing in not only numbers but civilization is a pressing problem in the twenty-first century. What are the best means to provide this precious resource to the masses? The government can, through private infrastructure. Or, corporations can take over the job and the private sector can be in charge. Sometimes, there are ways in between.
“Blue Gold” is an environmental manifesto which argues against corporate takeover of this vital resource. Written by Canadian activists Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke, the authors make a plea that private enterprise would be the worst means possible for the distribution of this essential resource. Their argument is simply this: water belongs to the commons, and it should remain in the hands of all.
This seems to be a simple enough conjecture. No one really can argue that all people need water. The problem comes into how it gets to everyone, and what industries are considered to be more vital to capture the bounty than other ones. Barlow and Clarke make a common conjecture amongst many liberal activists. Big business hogs too much of things, in this case water, at the expense of the little guy, especially if he is poor, rural, and living in the Third World.
The problem this book runs into is that this is as far as it goes. Most of the book is full of big business screws up and here’s how. The diatribe then goes off and takes us to the WTO and various mergers between transnational corporations who have designs on the world’s water supplies. In addition, these corporate behemoths dam up all the rivers for their own gluttonous needs at the expense of the indigenous. In short, this book becomes a book stating who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. It doesn’t take much insight to realize that Suez and Bechtel are not the heroes of the story.
This book is great if you think corporations are psychopathic identities looking to screw the little guy. You will certainly find advocates of your position by reading this. Likewise, if you believe private enterprise is the best way to go, you may be annoyed at hearing how business consists of nothing more than a bunch of lust-hungry vultures. What you will not find too much of is what we should do to protect our water supplies. I learned more about the intention of activists at World Trade Organization gatherings and how corporations can act with impunity outside the law than anything about water. As almost an afterthought, the last two chapters finally get around to what a person wants to do if he or she wants to protect watersheds or national water supplies. By then I was so glazed over from all the initials that I could barely pay attention to their advice.
As a last point of irritation, the authors attempt at temperature conversion baffled me. Everything seemed to be configured to 0 degrees Celsius as being freezing. Here’s what I mean: the authors claim that scientists the temperature of the Great Lakes will rise 9 degrees Celsius in the next hundred years. Apparently, the Fahrenheit approximation of that is a 48 degree increase. In addition, they claim that the IPCC has said that global temperatures have risen .6 Celsius since pre-industrial times, which in their calculation translates into a 33 degree rise. Anyone with a half an ounce of common sense will know that this kind of calculation is patently absurd, and probably not what the authors meant to say. This may have been some kind of massive computer glitch in the editing phase, but errors such as this do not help those who want to prove to skeptics that global warming is a real threat to humanity. It also comes across that the authors were too sloppy in their research to catch a basic mathematical error, and would make you wonder what else got skimped over in the research process.
“Blue Gold” is an anti-corporate treatise which is big on rhetoric and short on solutions. If the authors had chosen to interlace their opinions with solutions as they went along, it may have at least been a liberal how-to for teaching the little guy to capture his water back away from the big bully transnational. But to me, this book seemed like a rant and nothing more. They could have said what they said in an essay as long as this book review. This is one of those books that comes off preaching to the choir while indifferent to how the outside takes it. If you are one of those in the choir, this is the book for you. If not, there is not much for this book to offer.