Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Water: from above and below

Charles Fishman deconstructs this ad:

... The world of water may seem calm now, but it is the calm before the storm. Nature does a superb job cleaning and recycling water, but so does GE. Clouds are great, but nothing beats a battalion of white suited technicians, who are respectful enough of the purity of water to cover their hair and wear white gloves. In fact, as the narrator points out, GE water technicians have only one tiny edge over nature -- GE provides water, rain or shine. Water, from GE, "coming down on a sunny day."

The giant industrial conglomerate -- it makes diesel locomotives in Erie, Pennsylvania, jet engines in Cincinnati, Ohio, wind turbines in Pensacola, Florida -- has an ambitious water division, GE Water, with eight thousand employees at fifty manufacturing facilities worldwide and revenue of about $2.5 billion. ...

... The astonishing thing is, in 1999, GE wasn't in the water business. Moving with quiet speed, GE has assembled its water division by spending $4 billion to buy up five existing water companies. Now GE can make the rain fall, and scrub it clean if it turns out to be acid rain. ...

... It's a funny moment in the world of water -- big companies, water-dependent companies, companies with a particular risk or a particular sensitivity are ahead of the rest of us in worrying about water. Companies are cracking open they understanding of how to reuse water or capture the qualities of water, like heat and pressure, that have often been discarded.

That's good in all kinds of ways ... it's good in the simplest terms of all: When the water crises start to break out more routinely, at least someone will be ready.

But it should make us nervous. One CEO of a small water-related company has been watching GE's move into water with a touch of wariness. "It's like a New Yorker cartoon," he says. "The world is one man, dying of thirst, crawling on his hands and knees through the desert. Just up ahead stands a smiling guy in suit, hold the last glass of water, available for a fee. That's GE.

The Big Thirst: the Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water

For a glimpse of how this works out for people at the bottom of the resource chain, see the short article On Water Scarcity and the Right to Life: Bolivia from the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. Access to water is a human right; maintaining that access is a political problem as well as a humanitarian imperative.

I wrote a fuller discussion of Charles Fishman's The Big Thirst in this post.


Hattie said...

A friend of mine says that Hawaii is the Saudi Arabia of freshwater. We certainly do have a lot of it.

janinsanfran said...

Hattie: be on the lookout for companies buying up Hawaii's water. Nestles bought up rights for water that enabled them to keep pumping for bottled water through the drought.

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