THE WORLD AS A COMMON
Is water a free and basic human right, or should all the water on the planet belong to major corporations and be treated as a product? According to Chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe the former CEO and now Chairman of the largest food product manufacturer Nestlé, corporations should own every drop of water on the planet. The world that we share, the water, the forests, the atmosphere, the climate, as well as outer space (think the International Space Station), are part of the commons trust that has been overrun and plundered by corporate neo-libaralism set on a suicidal ecocide course. How can we mend our broken relationship with our biotope the world? Earth-dreaming as a common.
In 535 AD, Emperor Justinian gave the first legal recognition of the commons when he enshrined res communes in his Institutes of Justinian body of law. “By the law of nature these things are common to mankind — the air, running water, the sea and consequently the shores of the sea. . . . Also all rivers and ports are public, so that the right of fishing in a port and in rivers is common to all. And by the law of nations the use of the shore is also public, and in the same manner, the sea itself. The right of fishing in the sea from the shore belongs to all men.” (emphasis in original).
This legal principle — that neither the State, commerce nor citizens could make proprietary claims on resources that belong to everyone — has survived in what is known in American law as the “public trust doctrine.” This doctrine formalizes the idea that the State has an affirmative duty to protect natural resources for present and future generations; it cannot sell or give away land, water or wildlife to any private party. The public trust doctrine has traditionally been applied to rivers, oceans and the coastal shoreline, and is invoked to protect the right of the unorganized public to use those waters for fishing, navigation and recreation. Versions of the public trust doctrine can also be found in most legal systems of the world and in many of the world’s major religions. It stands for the principle that certain resources belong to everyone, morally and legally, and that the State cannot abrogate this right.
It is significant that res communes is a separate category from res publicae, another legal category that describes public things that belong to the state. Res communes is not simply “state-owned” property, but a class of property that lies beyond the power of the state. Not surprisingly, heads of state are not generally pleased to have to recognize the commons as a separate sphere of resources with its own moral authority and legal protection above and beyond their control. (David Bollier: Think like a Commoner, 2014: 87-88)
WATER WAR IN COCHABAMBA &
Blue Gold – World Water Wars, USA
1975, 4 min 51 sec
A fragment of this great documentary on the available 3% freshwater worldwide and all problems associated with the use and abuse connected to this resource. This part shows what happened in Cochabamba, Bolivia, when the government gave up the water resources to a corporation who tried to force people to pay 33% of their salary just for access to drinking water. This decision was not accepted and the people rose to resistance and won.
New Mexico PBS USA
2009, 25 min 57 sec
For centuries, Native Americans of the arid Southwest used a system of ponds and gravity-fed ditches (acequias) to grow crops with the little water they had. When the Spanish arrived in 1598, they were quick to adopt this system, establishing a unique tradition of irrigation and agriculture.
HOW RAINWATER HARVESTING CREATED A RIVER
1975, 2 min
The Alwar district of Rajasthan had become a desolate scene in the mid-1980s. A “dark zone”. And sand had replaced water and trees. Then a group of volunteers led by Rajendra Singh took the cue from an old man. They started making johads, earthen dams that impound rainwater. By the hundreds. The result was a miracle, a river, the Arvari. Today, the sands are clothed by wealth, water and trees. Rajendra Singh won the 2001 Magsaysay Award in recognition of his community leadership. See and experience this miracle in the video Arvari: A late twentieth century folk tale, produced by the Centre for Science and Environment.
FURTHER READING & RESEARCH
Buckminster Fuller, ‘Everything I Know’ series’ (1977)
Christopher Miles, Alternative 3 (1977)
Jeremy Rifkin, The empathic civilization | TED Talk (2010)
Richard Buckminster Fuller, Operating Manual For Spaceship Earth (1968)
Peter Barnes, Who Owns the Sky? Our Common Assets and the Future of Capitalism (2001)
Vandana Shiva: Water Wars: Privatization, Pollution and Profit (2002)
Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis (2007)
Eric T. Freyfogle, The Land We Share: Private Property And The Common Good (2003)
Maude Barlow, “Our Water Commons: Toward a New Freshwater Narrative” [report] (2009)
José A. Rivera, Acequia Culture: Water, Land, and Community in the Southwest (1998)
HOW TO GROW YOUR OWN FRESH AIR
Kamal Meattle, TEDtalksDirector Long Beach, USA
2009, 3 min 50 sec
Researcher Kamal Meattle shows how an arrangement of three common houseplants, used in specific spots in a home or office building, can result in measurably cleaner indoor air. With its air-filtering plants and sustainable architecture, Kamal Meattle’s office park in New Delhi is a model of green business.
Kamal Meattle has a vision to reshape commercial buildings in India using principles of green architecture and sustainable upkeep (including an air-cleaning system that involves massive banks of plants instead of massive banks of HVAC equipment). He started the Paharpur Business Centre and Software Technology Incubator Park (PBC-STIP), in New Delhi, in 1990 to provide ‘instant office’ space to technology companies. PBC-STIP’s website publishes its air quality index every day, and tracks its compliance to the 10 principles of the UN Global Compact, a corporate-citizenship initiative.
YOGI LIVES WITHOUT FOOD AND WATER
Reuters Video, India
1975, 1 min 08 sec
Prahlad Jani claimed he was surviving without food and water for the last 70 years. The Defense Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences kept him under surveillance to conduct a study in order to expose the phenomenon behind his claim, concluding Jani was truthful. Neurophysician Sudhir Shah stated Jani’s survival was miraculous. Initial test reports confirmed Jani’s body had undergone a biological transformation due to yoga exercises. Doctors state there were no signs of fatigue or other symptoms of medical health problems. Not much was known about Jani’s background, since he left home at the age of seven and has been wandering through jungles ever since. The studying of Jani and the corresponding results led to a medical highlight in the world of science.
INUIT KNOWLEDGE AND CLIMATE CHANGE
Zacharias Kunuk and DR. Ian Mauro
2011, 3 min 45 sec
Nunavut-based director Zacharias Kunuk (Atanarjuat The Fast Runner) and researcher and filmmaker Dr. Ian Mauro (Seeds of Change) have teamed up with Inuit communities to document their knowledge and experience regarding climate change. This new documentary, the world’s first Inuktitut language film on the topic, takes the viewer ‘on the land’ with elders and hunters to explore the social and ecological impacts of a climate change on the Arctic. This unforgettable film helps us to appreciate Inuit culture and expertise regarding environmental change and indigenous ways of adapting to it.
Exploring centuries of Inuit knowledge, allowing the viewer to learn about climate change first-hand from Arctic residents themselves, the film portrays Inuit as experts regarding their land and wildlife and makes it clear that climate change is a human rights issue affecting this ingenious Indigenous culture.
THE FUTURE OF FOOD AND SEED
Organicology Conference Portland, USA
2009, 59 min 54 sec
Scientist, activist and author, Vandana Shiva, talks about the importance of saving non-GMO seeds and her concept of Earth Democracy. “The desire to save seeds comes from an ethical urge to defend life’s evolution”, says Vandana Shiva. “In India 150.000 farmers have committed suicide in areas where they have to buy seeds every year from Monsanto at a very high cost.” In response to this, community seed banks were created to collect, multiply and distribute seeds according to the farmers’ needs.
She explains what Earth Democracy entails: “It’s a democracy that is related to the earth. It’s practiced best close to the earth, where you live, in your everyday life. We are first citizens of the earth.”