Colbert slams Nestle’s new bottled water brand “Resource”

Crass and unapologetic, Colbert gets it right on this one:


Review of Mascarenhas’ “Where the waters divide”

Last December, I mentioned the new book out by Michael Mascarenhas titled,

Where the waters divide: neoliberalism, white41DTGUpKqIL._SL500_AA300_privilege and environmental racism in Canada.

My review of the book is out in the journal Canadian Public Policy and is available here. I am not as enthusiastic as other reviewers (see here or here) although I agree fully that this is an exceedingly important topic on which we need further scholarship and policy.

My main criticism is that the book isn’t rigorous enough. It was perplexing to not find a more carefully constructed argument that situates Mascarenhas’ account in the broader Canadian context. The examples draw predominantly from Ontario and make claims about Canada in general. There is certainly a lot of structural injustice regarding First Nations water rights, and it would have been good to provide the reader with some of the specifics on that front. For instance, the ways that irrigation development in the west was timed to interfere as much as possible with First Nations cultural celebrations. The ways that battles over hydropower in Quebec led to new “modern treaties” or what are sometimes called comprehensive land claims agreements. And so on…

Water in Latin America: after neo-liberalism

There is an increasing amount of attention being given to water “post-neo-liberalism“. Which, in addition to being a mouthful of prefixes to what may very well be a faulty underlying politic in general (I’m no fan of liberalism), also reveals how people are trying to understand what comes after the full push to privatize water falls short.

It is no secret that what has happened in many regions is that the idea of fully privatizing water services was hotly contested. It also turned out to not be that lucrative – many aspects of municipal systems didn’t yield much of a return on investment. So companies started keeping only the profit generating infrastructure and reworking contracts to have public utilities do the rest. Or, in some cases, working out “private-public partnerships (P3s)” to ensure investments yield cash later.

In this context, a conference is coming up on water in Latin America October 14-18 in Quito, Equador.

Here is the information, which I received a request to pass along. The full website is here.

Is Latin America moving towards a “post-neoliberal” water politics?


Venues: International Centre for Higher Studies in Communication for Latin America (CIESPAL) and Yaku Water Museum


Ecuador is right now a key place for the study of some of the most recent initiatives taken to reconsider the role of the State in the government and management of water. The process leading to the new Constitution in 2008 recognized the right to water, limited the participation of private enterprise in the provision of water services, re-established public companies, created a single national water authority, and recognized community water management arrangements and the rights of nature. Ecuador has also headed the rejection of international arbitration for disputes between private companies and national states and some of the proposals for regional integration within the framework of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), which has its headquarters in Quito. What kind of balance can we make in 2013 concerning these initiatives, which have been termed ‘post-neoliberal’? What challenges and advances can we identify? How do these initiatives compare with others in the region? What kind of theoretical and methodological challenges we face for the study of these processes?


Topics that we will address in our meeting

With the objective of strengthening the debate about the challenges that these transformations are posing for the development of post-neoliberal water politics we decided to focus our meeting on the following issues:

1. Are we moving towards a post-neoliberal hydrosocial metabolism in Latin America?

a. Revisiting the notion of water “neoliberalism” (forms, indicators, levels; liberalisms and neoliberalisms; continuities and ruptures, etc.).
b. Capitalist autonomies and heteronomies in Latin America; degrees of “de-neoliberalization”; neoliberal persistence and resistance (neoliberal islands in a post-neoliberal landscape?).
c. Obstacles and opportunities for strengthening a post-neoliberal hydrosocial metabolism in Latin America.
d. Post-neoliberal water government and management; the “buen vivir” and the rights of nature (contradictions, struggles, and challenges to the establishment of these rights and principles, etc.).
e. The reproduction and construction of democratic post- and non-neoliberal hydrosocial territories (basins, transboundary waters; class, gender, and ethnic inequalities, etc.).
f. Preserving and constructing democratic post- and non-neoliberal hydrosocial cultures.

2. Tensions and contradictions of the post-neoliberal capitalist state

a. Revisiting the tension between social and environmental justice in the context of post-neoliberal capitalisms.
b. Mega projects of hydraulic infrastructures with impact on the hydrosocial metabolism.
c. Mega mining projects.
d. Industrial and exports agriculture.
e. The expression of tensions and contradictions in the health dimension (public health, environmental health, etc.).
f. “Natural disasters”: injustice, inequality and defencelessness in post-neoliberal contexts.
g. Confronting water injustice, inequality and defencelessness (struggles, contradictions, alliances, direction of the processes, etc.).

3. Recovering and defending the public role in the provision of essential water services (drinking water, sanitation, drainage, etc.).

a. The challenge of guaranteeing the exercise of the human right to water.
b. Challenges facing the interaction between community and public water management.
c. Inequality and injustice in the post-neoliberal government and management of essential water services.
d. Commodification and privatization of water and water services in the post-neoliberal stage (including the mercantilization of public companies, the consolidation and emergence of regional multinational companies [“multi-latinas”], etc.).

4. X-disciplinarity in research and action to democratize water government and management

a. Deepening interdisciplinarity in research: obstacles, opportunities, examples.
b. Practicing trans-disciplinarity: research and action to democratize water government and management.
c. The interrelation between academics, “non-academics”, and other actors of X-disciplinarity.

Preliminary programme

On Monday 14 we will have a joint meeting of the WATERLAT network and the Water Justice Alliance. This meeting will feature round tables and activities directed at promoting greater interaction between members of both networks.
On 15-17 October we will concentrate the activities of the open meeting of the WATERLAT network, which will include a special conference, paper sessions, workshops, round tables, and a public hearing. For those people interested in participating in our meeting with presentation of papers or other activities, please contact our Secretary. Participation in our meeting is free of charge.


Internal meetings

On Friday 18 October we will have the internal meeting of the WATERLAT network to deal with organizational issues. On Saturday 19 there will be a special meeting of the DESAFIO project. DESAFIO is a new research project led by members of WATERLAT’s Working Group 3 dedicated to the Urban Water Cycle and Essential Public Services.




The Meeting is an activity of the WATERLAT Network. It is co-organized by the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology, and the Institute for Research on Sustainability (NIRES), Newcastle University, UK, and the Institute of Higher National Studies (IAEN), Ecuador.

The organization of the event is supported by the International Centre for Higher Studies in Communication for Latin America (CIESPAL) and Yaku Water Museum, Ecuador.

Water, water, everywhere…

I’ve spent a lot of time in the areas of Alberta affected by recent flooding. I’ve lived in Calgary and Lethbridge and trekked all about the foothills. I also fought forest fires there. Here is a synopsis of the recent flooding event(s) there, which are ongoing downstream. There is sure to be more to follow.

Watershed Moments: Thoughts from the Hydrosphere

*Note: this post was subsequently picked up by, which “features some of the best new and emerging progressive voices in Canada”.

By now you’ve likely heard about the flooding in Alberta. While much of the media focus has been on Calgary, High River and Canmore, flooding has been significant across the province and into Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

To grab your attention right off the top, let’s start with some pics and videos that have been making the rounds on social media:

Most media coverage is missing a map showing all the major flooding locations. This is critical…

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The pedagogy of the oppressed: Chomsky on Friere, education, religion

Why are Canadians getting sick from tapwater? – And some other news too

Lots going on in Canadian water lately. There is a new Act going through the house of parliament on drinking water – an Act that some believe will fail First Nations.41spd6fqg1L._SL500_AA300_ Sean Atleo stated that he doesn’t think the Act is anything different from the government (once again) deciding it knows best and enforcing its will on First Nations.

There was also a recent book put out by Chris Wood and Ralph Pentland titled: Down the Drain: How we are Failing to Protect Our Water Resources

The book has been getting some coverage over at The Tyee. And Chris Wood was speaking on CBC’s great show “The Current” yesterday. You can hear that conversation or read a description of it here.

These are all pretty timely given the large spill of “produced water” (which is the wastewater from energy extraction) last week in Northern Alberta.

Yesterday, Alberta announced a voluntary agreement to increase water use efficiency.

And, in addition to the Rosenberg Report on the Mackenzie River Basin last week, the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives issued a report on that makes the case for improved water use reporting in British Columbia (PDF).

An Economic Ethics for the Anthropocene

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In the video below Katherine Gibson (one half of the amazing JK Gibson-Graham feminist economic-geographer duo; unfortunately Julie Graham died in 2010) delivers a powerful and insightful plenary lecture entitled, ‘An Economic Ethics for the Anthropocene‘ (2011), sponsored by the Ethics, Justice, and Human Rights Specialty Group, of the Association of American Geographers.

Abstract:  Over Antipode’s 40 years our role as academics has dramatically changed. We have been pushed to adopt the stance of experimental researchers open to what can be learned from current events and to recognize our role in bringing new realities into being. Faced with the daunting prospect of global warming and the apparent stalemate in the formal political sphere, this essay explores how human beings are transformed by, and transformative of, the world in which we find ourselves. We place the hybrid research collective at the center of transformative change. Drawing on the sociology of science…

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New Book: Thinking with Water

McGill-Queens Press has its fall catalogue out and it includes a new book Thinking with Water, which has this companion website describing the project.

Here is the publisher’s description of the book:9780773541795

“An exploration of the relationship between water’s cultural meanings and urgent ecological issues.”

As a life-giving but also potentially destructive substance, water occupies a prominent place in the imagination. At the same time, water issues are among the most troubling ecological and social concerns of our time.

Water is often studied only as a “resource,” a quantifiable and instrumentalized substance. Thinking with Water instead invites readers to consider how water – with its potent symbolic power, its familiarity, and its unique physical and chemical properties – is a lively collaborator in our ways of knowing and acting. What emerges is both a rich opportunity to encourage more thoughtful environmental engagement and a challenge to common oppositions between nature and culture.

Drawing from a pool of contributors with diverse backgrounds, Thinking with Water presents the work of critics, scholars, artists, and poets in an invitation to pay more attention to the aqueous aspects of our lives.

Contributors include: Ælab (Gisèle Trudel, UQÀM and Stéphane Claude, Oboro), Stacy Alaimo (University of Texas at Arlington), Andrew Biro (Acadia University), Mielle Chandler (York University), Cecilia Chen (Concordia University), Dorothy Christian (University of British Columbia), Adam Dickinson (poet, Brock University), Max Haiven (Nova Scotia College of Art and Design), Janine MacLeod (York University), Daphne Marlatt (poet, British Columbia), Don McKay (poet, Newfoundland), Emily Rose Michaud (Artist, Wakefield, Qc.), Astrida Neimanis (Linköping University), Sarah Renshaw (artist, Rhode Island), Shirley Roburn (Concordia University), Melanie Siebert (poet, University of Victoria), Jennifer B. Spiegel (Concordia University), Veronica Strang (Durham, UK), Rae Staseson (Concordia University), Rita Wong (Emily Carr University of Art and Design), and Peter C. van Wyck (Concordia University).

My latest paper just came out: Property and the right to water

This is a co-written piece with Kyle Mitchell, from Strathclyde University and it appears here, in the Review of Radical Political Economics. If you don’t have a subscription, but would like a copy, feel free to email for this or any other papers.

Property and the Right to Water: Toward a Non-Liberal Commons
  1. Jeremy J. Schmidt [at]

    1. University of Western Ontario, London, ON, Canada
  2. Kyle R. Mitchell

    1. University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland, UK

This paper examines the turn to considerations of property in arguments regarding the commons and the human right to water. It identifies commitments to liberalism in political economy approaches to property and human rights and develops a matrix for identifying non-liberal conceptions of the commons. The latter holds potential for an agonistic politics in which human rights are compatible with ecological sensibilities regarding the dynamics of conflict and cooperation in complex systems.

JEL classification: P48; Q25

Where is territory? Rosenberg report on the Mackenzie River Basin

Last fall the Rosenberg International Water Forum met in Vancouver to discuss Canada’s Mackenzie River Basin – the Amazon of Mackenzie-Basin-Graphicthe North. There was some press coverage I linked to here and the promise of a report, which was released two days ago and can be downloaded here (pdf).

The report covers a lot of ground. Perhaps not surprisingly since the Mackenzie is an enormous basin. It is an important step towards raising some of the key issues going forward for the region and it comes out at a timely moment given the Northwest Territories recent ‘devolution’ agreement with the federal government and the role of natural resource development in it. It is also timely given that Canada is now the chair of the Arctic Security council and the report’s linkage between the the fate of the Mackenzie and the challenges of planetary environmental security.

It is also interesting in the way in which the entire report represents itself – the subtitle emphasizes the “transboundary” nature of the basin as it is shared between several Canadian provinces and territories. But this is a VERY peculiar political geography given that the basin is also under several treaty agreements with many First Nations. Some of these agreements were reached under the early treaty system and some are termed “modern” – meaning that they were reached after the 1970s under a different model. It is not that the report entirely ignores First Nations but there is no treatment of even the fact that different kinds of treaties exist in the basin. It does discuss some implications for ‘traditional knowledge’ in the ‘science’ of watershed planning and governance. But the political space – the watershed – is calculated through the territory of the state and not the shared lens of agreements and the need to keep on negotiating over how to share this political space.