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Water under the bridge
by Thanos Kalamidas
2015-08-29 12:06:23
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water01_400Since Facebook has become the field for contemporary activism, perhaps it is the best way to give an example. Imagine a personal page, known for its environmental stands and social media activism, to add a post saying “no to privatization of the water”. More than eighty percent of the “friends” will react with a “like”; another five percent will make a humorous or a supportive comment and the last fifteen percent will pretend that they never saw the post. Actually even the fifteen percent who didn’t act were supportive to the owner of the page – out of respect, friendship or lack of arguments - with not commenting or expressing perhaps personal objections. Few days later the owner of the page in another post expresses shock on how the governments don’t listen the overwhelming 90% which is against the privatization of the water.

This was a simplistic, even though very realistic, example on what’s going wrong with the environmental movement and activism at the moment. Another more painful example is what happened in Stockholm this week with the World Water Week. A very important congregation in its essence since they are talking about water management, which has failed for one more time to publicize its message for the simple reason that it has become a gathering among “friends” who share the same objectives, their “likes” with their arguments only for the faithful. Furthermore like most of these environmental gatherings today, it has become one more chance for the public to project its stereotypes about environmentalists and environmental organizations.

But it is not only the public that projects stereotypes, it is also the participants who venture their own stereotypes. In a gigantic area in the centre of the Swedish capital, that covered three conference buildings and a park, tens of environmental organizations kept focusing on the water problems of the third world intentionally or unintentionally, ignoring the fact that the water problem is global. It’s not only central African or South Asian countries that deal with water problems but also countries of the developed world and some in the centre of the European Union or the North American continent. But focusing the problem in the third world where statistics about poverty or human rights issues are devastating makes a better effect, sadly it sells better. The picture of a child in tears, hungry and dressed in racks in front of dirty water sells better than a picture of a child in a contemporary western city drinking from a glass water full of chemicals in a housing hostage to private companies that bottle water. Bottled water that they sell and promote as the only alternative for clean and healthy drinking.

As long we don’t realize that the issue “clean water for all” is a global problem, it will always look like a problem that doesn’t really touches us, like something happening far away from us. It will never take the dimensions of seriousness it deserves and big part of the responsibility for this failure falls on the environmental organizations. So what’s wrong with these organizations? I think their major problem is extreme political correctness that veils the real issue which is money.

aware_00001_400Non-governmental or intercontinental environmental organizations are non governmental as an euphemism and to the point that governments and political agendas don’t influence their strategies, their activism, their reports or their actions. Also governments have no saying on who directs them, whom they employee or how they distribute their actions. But - and this is a huge BUT - governments fund those organizations. Actually very few of these organizations would be able to survive a day without governmental and intergovernmental funding. So this creates a kind of dependency expressed from the side of their organizations – in their non-governmental role - with their political correctness. They must do nothing that will provoke any of the funding countries and the same time if they have something that should be said they have to do it in a very proper and political correct way so they will not insult anybody and funds keep coming. The obligations most of these organizations have in offices all around the world, employees, promotion/information material and lobbying is huge; so huge that for some of them their budget can be easily compared to the budget of small countries. Bottom line, most of these organizations spent most of their time and resources to safeguard their political correctness that will guarantee their existence.  Actually unintentionally they have become part of the political system lacking the motives that excused their presence as protectors of the environment.

Therefor they have been staffed by bureaucrats who protect the organizations and not the environment. It gets even worst with the lobbyist organizations, governmental and non-governmental, who have turned the whole activism into a political game where connections and political exchanges in the form of negotiations is their raison d'être.

Of course the governments know all that; they are made from politicians after all with agendas. That’s why you get drilling in Alaska, that’s why Poland ignores all kind of emissions cuts decisions and that’s why Turkey is building new dams to control the flow of Euphrates, politically blackmailing Syria, Jordan, Iraq even Israel and most of all the Kurds. Actually Turkey is using water as a weapon (I try hard to avoid the identification weapon of mass distraction) to establish dominance in the area. Which water organizations have been talking about it? None. They are limiting themselves into talking about intergovernmental negotiations that with certain compromises from all sides will satisfy everybody. How political correct!

Acting like that – in an extreme political correct way – most of these organizations have manage to fail their objectives, to fail the environment, therefore fail all of us and finally become exactly what they should have avoided, a weight for most of the governments’ annual budget and a prominent cut in front of the financial problems. Because politicians don’t see their usage anymore.

That’s why most of these organizations are stuffed nowadays by bureaucrats, lawyers, accountants, marketers, professional lobbyists and sadly a whole generation of iPad-Channel-hippies or prominent politicians who see their service in an NGO as a good addition for their future CV. That’s why Green Peace and WWF have often been critical for these kind of gatherings. That’s why they left a similar gathering in Poland in 2013. The irony of that gathering was so obvious that it became insulting to the whole environmental movement.

Please don’t think that my cynicism dismisses everything. There are people who actually believe and act. They follow the principal that the only way to change the system is from inside the system and if that means compromising occasionally then the wishful result might make it worth. Sadly the road to the most catastrophic results is paved with good wishes and in this case compromises. After three decades of compromises (after the Kyoto protocol) there is little left and the only way to resurrect the environmental movement is to return to basics. A good move would have been the end of the polymerization of the movement. It becomes a joke the fact that this moment there are so many non-governmental and intergovernmental organizations with the same objectives. Most of them with multimillion budgets. That would strengthen the movement, give them the chance not to be so extreme in their political correctness and at last say some truths as they are and not veiled.

As a conclusion something from the water week in Stockholm. The decadence of the gathering has reached such levels so amazingly among the participants there were private companies promoting from bottled water to pumps for clean water. I found that at least insulting and hypocritical especially when the focus lies on the no to privatization of the water.

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