Wednesday, August 10, 2016

What IS a Water Ethic? #CleanWaterWednesday

Governor Mark Dayton has declared:
“What we really need is to establish an ethic of clean water practices,” he said. “I urge you, and I ask you, to spend today establishing our ethic: that clean water practices are every Minnesotan’s responsibility. That anything less is unacceptable. And that it’s achievable if all of us do our part.”
Lake Superior north of Duluth
Lake Superior north of Duluth
Photo by J. Harrington
The Governor's Office web site has a page for the Water Action Week held last April. It has lots of links to lots of useful information, but it leaves me feeling that although we've moved, per the Minnesota Design Team graphic below, from the left (No Vision), and are trying to avoid the center (Imposed Vision), we still have a frightfully long way to go toward the Shared Vision on the right, and we're running out of time.


As an "in kind" contribution to this effort, I thought it might help to see if we can reach some sort of agreement on what we mean by an "ethic of clean water practices." There are a number of wise people working on and writing about that question and I've borrowed some basic concepts from their material available on-line. Each of the links will take you to the source from which I extracted (sort of like mining?), or harvested (like farming?) the following framework:

Towards a New Water Ethic

Four important principles for an ethical baseline
  1. Keeping nature alive. [see "The Missing Piece" below]
  2. Human right to water and sanitation.
  3. Responsible Use.
  4. Participatory Water Governance.
Identify the Ethics We Want
[My Minnesota NOTE: implied or explicit priorities?]
  1. Managing Water Ecosystems.
  2. Water for Food.
  3. Water for People.
  4. Water for Industry.
  5. Water Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
  6. Water Governance.
Embedded within this water ethic is a fundamental question: Do rivers and the life within them have a right to water? In his famous essay, "Should Trees Have Standing? Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects," legal scholar Christopher D. Stone argued more than 35 years ago that yes, rivers and trees and other objects of nature do have rights, and these should be protected by granting legal standing to guardians of the voiceless entities of nature, much as the rights of children are protected by legal guardians. Stone's arguments struck a chord with U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, who wrote in a famous dissent in the 1972 case Sierra Club v. Morton that "contemporary public concern for protecting nature's ecological equilibrium should lead to the conferral of standing upon environmental objects to sue for their own preservation. ... The river, for example, is the living symbol of all the life it sustains or nourishes -- the fish, aquatic insects, water ouzels, otter, fisher, deer, elk, bear, and all other animals, including man, who are dependent on it or who enjoy it for its sight, its sound, or its life. The river as plaintiff speaks for the ecological unit of life that is part of it."  (The Ecuador Constitution gives rights to nature.)
"At the Pacific Institute we spend a lot of time looking at water-efficiency potential across the board. In the 1920s, it took 200 tons of water to make a ton of steel. Today, the best steel plants in the world use 2 or 3 tons of water to make a ton of steel. That's a 99 percent reduction. In general, the drumbeat from industry used to be, "Oh, we can't comply with these environmental regulations, they're too expensive." But the reality has turned out to be that they made these industries more efficient, and made the environment cleaner. Everybody benefited. The steel industry would have died a slow, horrible death in the United States. In-stead, it was fundamentally restructured." (There are a growing number of studies supporting the premise that environmental regulation increases the efficiency and competitiveness of industry.)
There's even an organization devoted to Water Ethics that's trying to draft a Water Ethics Charter and, there's Minnesota's own Water Sustainability Framework.

While we're contemplating some of the implications of the preceding, let's weigh them against this definition of a Native American Water Ethic:
"A 'water ethic' simply recognizes the critical importance of protecting pure water for the health of the biotic community. It becomes a Native American ethic when it prioritizes long-tern preservation of water resources over short-term economic benefit. A 'land ethic' helped launch the modern conservation movement and began to shift the mainstream view of the environment from 'commodity' to 'community.' This shift from exploitation to conservation, however, owes a debt to native cultures that retained a reverence for the land and water that sustains all life."
The next time we visit Minnesota's Water Ethic, we'll share some thoughts on how we can better protect what we have and restore what we've soiled.

Wind, Water, Stone


By Octavio Paz


Translated by Eliot Weinberger


for Roger Caillois

Water hollows stone,
wind scatters water,
stone stops the wind.
Water, wind, stone.

Wind carves stone,
stone's a cup of water,
water escapes and is wind.
Stone, wind, water.

Wind sings in its whirling,
water murmurs going by,
unmoving stone keeps still.
Wind, water, stone.

Each is another and no other:
crossing and vanishing
through their empty names:
water, stone, wind.


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