Sunday, April 14, 2013

Corporations and the Water Supply

Can privatization of water systems lead to sustainability?
by Abby Brinkerhoff
Abby Brinkerhoff, a third year student at Albany Law School, completed her undergraduate studies at Utah State University, where she studied psychology, sociology, and political theory. She is a member of the Albany Law School Interschool trial team and currently interns with the US Attorney's Office for the Northern District of New York.
This paper was prepared for Professor Harrington's International Environmental Law class, Summer 2012.

"Gosh Daddy, I never realized large, monopolizing corporations could be such a force for good in the world," sighs Hope. "Few do," responds her father.

Thus is the explanation from Mr. Cladwell to his daughter about why he has such harsh tactics and high prices in the play Urinetown, a humorous telling of an unsustainable dream and what happens when that dream takes over.

In Urinetown, It's a Privilege to Pee, and one corporation owns all the rights to flushing.  Mr. Cladwell's daughter eventually sees all the pain and suffering of the poorer members of the community and joins the fight against her father to make it free to pee.  She wins the day but quickly realizes that her father may have been right.

Hope makes it free to pee, and eventually the water dries up completely.  After the community gives Hope an unceremonious heave-ho, the narrator informs us that this is the end.

Little Sally, another character in the story, tells the narrator that she doesn't think very many people will come to see this musical.  The narrator replies, "Why do you say that, Little Sally? Don't you think people want to be told that their way of life is unsustainable?"

So is Mr. Cladwell right?  Can "large, monopolizing corporations" be a source of good in the world?  Just like in the fictional Urinetown, water is becoming scarce and our way of life is unsustainable.  It has been estimated that the demand for water will exceed supply by fifty-six percent by the year 2025.  It is clear that our current way of life is unsustainable.

How do we fix it?  Some have espoused the notion that we should let the market fix the problem.  International financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have voiced support for privatization of water supplies.

Will allowing water to be controlled by corporations make it last longer?  Or, as one of Mr. Cladwell's employees’ states, will it merely make "[a]ll those coins that we take from the throng, end up here where all those coins belong."  After all, the point of a corporation isn't to make our way of life sustainable, or to give better access to water to all people.  The mission of a corporation is to make a profit.  Do we really want to hand our future over to an entity whose primary goal is to make money?

Water scarcity is becoming an increasingly pressing issue, and as an international community, we must face this problem and formulate a solution.  This paper attempts to add to the international debate by juxtaposing privatization and centralization and supporting a compromise that may lead to a more sustainable future.
To read the paper, open HERE.