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Water for Profit: Seizing Climate Change as a Chance to Corporatize the Commons

“Not enough people are thinking long term of [water] as an asset that is worthy of ownership,” says one executive

- Andrea Germanos, staff writer

As the effects of climate change continue to ripple throughout the planet, some groups are acknowledging that the warming planet means big money is to be made on a resource more precious than oil — water.

“If you play it right,” says one hedge-fund advisor, “the results of this impending water crisis can be very good.” (Photo: On the Commons/flickr) In an article titled "Investors Seek Ways to Profit From Global Warming," Bloomberg Businessweek provides a revealing quote from the corporation Water Asset Management, for whom "drought is helping spur business," and for whom climate change will help them profit from water as a commodity:

“Not enough people are thinking long term of [water] as an asset that is worthy of ownership,” says Chief Operating Officer Marc Robert. “Climate change for us is a driver.”

Maude Barlow, National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians and founder of the Blue Planet Project, has described the kind of water rights buy-ups Water Asset Management capitalizes on as "creating a new wave of invasive colonialism," saying:

Knowing there will not be enough food and water for all in the near future, wealthy countries and global investment, pension and hedge funds are buying up land and water, fields and forests in the global South, creating a new wave of invasive colonialism that will have huge geo-political ramifications. In Africa alone, rich investors have already bought up an amount of land double the size of the United Kingdom.

And as the non-profit organization GRAIN has documented, behind every land grab is a water grab.

But Water Asset Management is not the first to see profits in water crises.

Scott Edwards, co-director of the Food and Water Justice project at Food and Water Watch, has pointed to "an insidious shift underway in our nation’s water policies that can only mean disaster for the most precious resource on the planet." He continues:

As populations grow, water demands increase and industry seeks workarounds from our environmental laws, the Wall Street investment industry is looking for new ways to profit. And what’s the best “commodity” for any investment banker? As Goldman Sachs puts it, “As a necessity for life, there is no substitute for water. It is the only utility you ingest….” For the investment banking industry, water-related death, drought and degradation aren’t calamities; they’re profit opportunities. “If you play it right,” says one hedge-fund advisor, “the results of this impending water crisis can be very good.”

The State Department, too, has laid out how coming water wars will be a chance for the U.S. to capitalize on other nations' water scarcity.

But for water justice advocates, water cannot be seen as a commodity.  As Barlow has said, "We cannot buy our way out of the global water crisis. It will require refocusing on respect for nature and respect for each other."

If water justice is to exist, a "radical rethink" of the resource is necessary, one in which water is not a profit opportunity, a fact sheet from Our Water Commons asserts, and states that

Climate solutions cannot be successful without stopping water abuse. Sustainable and democratic water governance is a must for achieving climate justice!

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