There’s a bit of irony about my post today. One of the main characters is blocking me from posting it. It’s not because I am so important or they fear my two dozen faithful followers, but it’s because they fear everything that my little ole blog, the internet, and the subject matter represent: a freedom of information and opinion. The subject today – as this is Blog Action Day 2010 – is water.
I’m traveling in China and have spent much of the last couple years in Southeast Asia. Water is a big, big issue. The topic of running out of it, the idea of it becoming as precious as crude oil, has been tossed around in sci-fi books and movies for a long time. Most recently it played a role in a Bond film. Watching a bit of the goings on in Asia, I see it becoming a reality in our lifetime. I’m no proper analyst with a PhD but I can see clearly what the degreed folks are talking about.
This year Thailand and Laos have been stressing over drought conditions. What will become of the rice crop and the politically simmering Thailand if a drought ever deals a death blow? The Mekong River runs along Thailand’s border and touches Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam as well on its way to the sea. Mekong means “mother of waters” in Khmer yet the mother isn’t feeling so well. Water levels are lower threatening transportation, irrigation, drinking water supply and even the salinity of the fertile Mekong Delta in Vietnam, supplier of more than 40% of that nation’s rice crop. And China currently has 4 hydroelectric dams on it with plans for 4 more. Some sources in the nations downstream are blaming these dams for the sudden drop in water levels. China says it is only due to a drought, but their lack of transparency leaves many doubtful.
The river’s source should surprise none: Tibet. The glaciers — the ones that are gradually disappearing due to the climate change that isn’t happening or in no way could be caused by nearly 7 billion people stuck in wild consumption mode and reluctant to make even minor changes in industry or lifestyle – those glaciers supply the water for that mother river. Those glaciers provide drinking and agricultural water for a hefty portion of China’s population and the flow is being blocked for internal needs. That same thirsty giant is blocking me from my blog while I am inside Chinese borders. They are also blocking searches for terms such as “Tibet.” I am emailing this out to be posted by someone else.
China is pretending. Pretending people don’t know things or don’t care. Pretending that its mission to create a greater society for its massive population requires suppressing information and opinion. It’s easier to herd a herd. But sooner or later the Great Oz has to come clean; the man behind the curtain can’t keep everyone snookered in la-la land. That’s a helluva dragon to have by the tail.
Thailand (and I feel pretty comfortable guessing the rest of Southeast Asia) is also pretending. Wasting water isn’t even considered wasting. From the little stuff of leaving taps running to larger industrial concerns and the practice of dumping so much pollution into the canals and the Chao Phraya River, everyone plays a part in what is going to be an eventual rude awakening.
And keep zooming out; it’s not just these “other” countries. They don’t deserve our finger wagging and criticism any more than Western nations do. The United States may not be blocking the internet but a stone wall of selfishness and greed on the corporate end is shored up by a confederacy of dunces that have self-censored. Mark Twain said that those who have the ability to read great works but do not, have no advantage over the people who cannot read at all. Functionally illiterate. But Twain hadn’t addressed the idea of people choosing to read only what they want to believe while a few other people sell them misinformation to support their own gains. In China, information is not free. In other places, the free information on the future of water isn’t exactly cheery, feel-good news, and the truth is people everywhere really need to confront these matters before they become unmanageable.
The dry Southwest of the US has tried to make deals for getting at some of the fresh water of the Great Lakes. Requests for access were denied. My state of Wisconsin borders two of those lakes and low lake levels have raised concern. Damming the Mekong might not be directly relevant to Phoenix or Milwaukee, but the future of water is a universal matter.
Commissions address the issues in the Great Lakes just as the Mekong River Commission is involving all of the river’s nations in seeking solutions to water control issues. Conservation and a plan for sharing water resources are critical for averting what will otherwise become not just an environmental disaster but a humanitarian one as well. Can you imagine war to control water? BP drilling for artesian wells? You may not have to.
Sign a petition that supports UN efforts to bring safe drinking water to many who need it around the world.