Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World’s Water by Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke

Blue Gold book cover

Recommended (sort of) by Doug Braudaway

Blue Gold is a depressing book. Do not read this book unless you would like to learn another way our future is not looking so good. The book refers to the world’s population as a “water bomb” about to go off (page 56). The text of the book shows all kinds of shrapnel that will rip through society as it goes off.

The book has three sections. The first section is depressing; the second section is even more so. The first section offers seemingly endless examples of water supplies being depleted. When water hits pavement rather than soil, it is not absorbed into the water cycle. Instead, it flows down rivers and into oceans, converting fresh water into salt water. The water table near Phoenix has dropped 390 feet. Mexico City sinks 20 inches every year as water is drawn from the soil beneath. It takes 105,000 gallons of water to make a car. Even places with clean water are under threat; in 1991 a Chinese ship at Lima, Peru dumped its sewage into the bay causing cholera up and down the coast. And the American government pays farmers to waste water; “farming the government” the book calls it (page 47).

At the beginning of section two which is about the corporate world looking at the water as another commodity, the authors ask the reader “If water is so essential to life itself, then is it simply a basic human need or is it a fundamental human right?” There are a great many companies who count it as a need, which means it is something that can be bought and sold. And if governments resist their efforts to commoditize water, they will get hit hard.

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund require countries receiving loans to privatize their water systems, meaning to sell water resources and water distribution systems to multinational corporations, of which there are now many interested in the business of water.

• “Water promises to be to the 21st century what oil was to the 20th century...” (a quote from Fortune magazine on page 104).
• “[the CEO] would not rest until all the world’s water had been privatized” (a quote from a water company CEO on page 118).
• “Water has moved from being an endless commodity that may be taken for granted to a rationed necessity that may be taken by force” (another water company comment on page 130).
• Coca-Cola owns Dasani, and PepsiCo owns Aquafina, but both of them seem to be dwarfed by Nestlé which owns 68 different brands of water.
• “Water is more precious than gold” (California Governor Gray Davis on page 94).
Water is a serious enough and complicated enough topic that one of the recent James Bond movies, Quantum of Solace, addressed the issue water resource privatization in the storyline.

The last section of the book gives examples of people who are fighting back against the privatization of water. This section, however, is much smaller than the other two. To be perfectly blunt, I do not see a solution to the problem short of revoking the twentieth-century. I have no idea how the authors were able to categorize all the problems. In the fight between “profit maximization” verses “long-term sustainability” (page 89), there is no compromise, and someone will have to lose, and lose badly.

The book is worth reading, but it is a harsh look at the world and the future.