New book on water security

A recent publication on water security from Routledge looks interesting. It is edited by Bruce Lankford, Karen Bakker, Mark Zeitoun and Declan Conway and has quite a few other recognizable names as contributors.

Water Security
Principles, Perspectives and Practices9780415534710

The purpose of this book is to present an overview of the latest research, policy, practitioner, academic and international thinking on water security—an issue that, like water governance a few years ago, has developed much policy awareness and momentum with a wide range of stakeholders. As a concept it is open to multiple interpretations, and the authors here set out the various approaches to the topic from different perspectives.

Key themes addressed include:

  • Water security as a foreign policy issue
  • The interconnected variables of water, food, and human security
  • Dimensions other than military and international relations concerns around water security
  • Water security theory and methods, tools and audits.

The book is loosely based on a masters level degree plus a short professional course on water security both given at the University of East Anglia, delivered by international authorities on their subjects. It should serve as an introductory textbook as well as be of value to professionals, NGOs, and policy-makers.

New Book: Contested Water: the struggle against privatization in the US and Canada

From MIT’s website:

Contested Water

The Struggle Against Water Privatization in the United States and Canada


Attempts by local governments to privatize water services have met with furious opposition. Activists argue that to give private companies control of the water supply is to turn water from a common resource into a marketized commodity. Moreover, to cede local power to a global corporation puts communities at the center of controversies over economic globalization. In Contested Water, Joanna Robinson examines local social movement organizing against water privatization, looking closely at battles for control of local water services in Stockton, California, and Vancouver, British Columbia. The movements in these two communities had different trajectories, used different tactics, and experienced different outcomes. Robinson analyzes the factors that shaped these two struggles.

Drawing on extensive interviews with movement actors, political leaders, and policymakers and detailed analysis of textual material, Robinson shows that the successful campaign in Vancouver drew on tactics, opportunities, and narratives from the broader antiglobalization movement, with activists emphasizing the threats to local democracy and accountability; the less successful movement in Stockton centered on a ballot initiative that was made meaningless by a pre-emptive city council vote. Robinson finds that global forces are reshaping local movements, particularly those that oppose neoliberal reforms at the municipal level. She argues that anti–water privatization movements that link local and international concerns and build wide-ranging coalitions at local and global levels offer an effective way to counter economic globalization. Successful challenges to globalization will not necessarily come from transnational movements but rather from movements that are connected globally but rooted in local communities.

About the Author

Joanna L. Robinson is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Glendon College, York University, Toronto.


“All organizing is local, it is often said. But in our neo-liberal world, local activists often confront multinational antagonists with global reach. At first glance, such struggles may seem hopelessly unequal. Contested Water shows us to look again at the possibilities for local democracy in a global world.”
Frances Fox Piven, Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Political Science, CUNY Graduate Center

“Joanna Robinson reminds us that the water wars have escalated in rich countries as well as poor. The activist campaigns against privatization of water in Canada and the United States are important battles in a much larger struggle about the future of public goods. Contested Water provides riveting narrative, insightful analysis, and lessons for future activists. It’s essential reading for making sense of the battles over neoliberal reforms that will define the next decade.”
David S. Meyer, Department of Sociology, University of California, Irvine

Contested Water provides an orientation toward water resources that is badly needed in social science literature. It departs from the general pattern of overly technical water books. Instead of embracing a one-size-fits-all integrated water management framework, it recognizes that context matters and provides sophisticated analyses of important contextual considerations.”
Helen Ingram, Research Fellow, Southwest Center, the University of Arizona; coeditor of Water, Place, and Equity

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).

Recent GMO research and the (ongoing) controversy

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been controversial for some time. In a recent set of articles, Keith Kloor has been arguing that the concerns over GMOs in food production are overblown (see here and here). In particular, Kloor and others argue that some of the initial reports of massive suicides among farmers in India are incorrect; these are claimed by Vandana Shiva and others to be connected to the changes in livelihoods that ensue when GMOs are introduced and big corporations start running the supply chain.

I don’t aim to settle the debate, which is often positioned (like most debates) by opponents that disagree about how to frame the issue to begin with.  I had initially planned to do my graduate work on GMOs since, for several years, I worked in custom agriculture and have probably sprayed more chemicals (by several orders of magnitude) than most people.

Anyhow, I’d like to point out two new publications on the topic. One, a book, the other an article.

(1) The book is by Emily Eaton and is titled: Growing resistance: Canadian farmers and the politics of genetically modified wheat. Here is the description from the publisher’s website:

“In 2004 Canadian farmers led an international coalition to a major victory for the anti-GM movement by defeating the b836bbe16d65d27b2e1f575a1352e73ca7f6bdf0introduction of Monsanto’s genetically modified wheat. Canadian farmers’ strong opposition to GM wheat marked a stark contrast to previous producer acceptance of other genetically modified crops. By 2005, for example, GM canola accounted for 78% of all canola grown nationally. So why did farmers stand up for wheat?

In Growing Resistance, Emily Eaton reveals the motivating factors behind farmer opposition to GM wheat. She illustrates wheat’s cultural, historical, and political significance on the Canadian prairies as well as its role in crop rotation, seed saving practices, and the economic livelihoods of prairie farmers.

Through interviews with producers, industry organizations, and biochemical companies, Eaton demonstrates how the inclusion of producer interests was integral to the coalition’s success in voicing concerns about environmental implications, international market opposition to GMOs, and the lack of transparency and democracy in Canadian biotech policy and regulation.

Growing Resistance is a fascinating study of successful coalition building, of the need to balance local and global concerns in activist movements, and of the powerful forces vying for control of food production.”

(2) UPDATE JUNE 12: The piece below seems to not be by scientists at all. So take it with as much salt as required.

The second piece is an article in the journal Entropy, it is on the active ingredient (glyphosate) in Round-Up Ready crops – such as the version of wheat rejected by Canadian farmers. If you click the link above you can get a free copy of the article. It is open access. Here is the abstract:

Abstract: Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup®, is the most popular herbicide used worldwide. The industry asserts it is minimally toxic to humans, but here we argue otherwise. Residues are found in the main foods of the Western diet, comprised primarily of sugar, corn, soy and wheat. Glyphosate’s inhibition of cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes is an overlooked component of its toxicity to mammals. CYP enzymes play crucial roles in biology, one of which is to detoxify xenobiotics. Thus, glyphosate enhances the damaging effects of other food borne chemical residues and environmental toxins. Negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body. Here, we show how interference with CYP enzymes acts synergistically with disruption of the biosynthesis of aromatic amino acids by gut bacteria, as well as impairment in serum sulfate transport. Consequences are most of the diseases and conditions associated with a Western diet, which include gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, autism, infertility, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. We explain the documented effects of glyphosate and its ability to induce disease, and we show that glyphosate is the “textbook example” of exogenous semiotic entropy: the disruption of homeostasis by environmental toxins.

New book on territory, water and identity in Quebec

Caroline Desbiens has written a number of excellent articles on hydropower, Quebec nationalism and First Nations. And so I’m greatly looking forward to her new book, which is now out:

Power from the north: territory, identify and the culture of hydroelectricity in Quebec

From the publisher’s website:

About the Book 9780774824163

In the 1970s, Hydro-Quebec declared “We Are Hydro-Quebecois.” The publicity campaign slogan symbolized the extent to which hydroelectric development in the North had come to both reflect and fuel French Canada’s aspirations in the South. The slogan helped southerners relate to the province’s northern territory and to accept the exploitation of its resources.

In Power from the North, Caroline Desbiens explores how this culture of hydroelectricity helped shaped the material landscape during the first phase of the James Bay hydroelectric project. She analyzes the cultural forces that contributed to the transformation of the La Grande River into a hydroelectric complex. Policy makers and Quebecers did not, she argues, view those who built the dams as mere workers — they saw them as pioneers in a previously uninhabited landscape now inscribed with the codes of culture and spectacle.

This dynamic book reveals that drawing power from the North involves not only the cultural erasure of Aboriginal homelands but also rewriting the region’s history in the language of identity and territoriality. To reverse this trend, Desbiens calls for a truly sustainable resource management, one in which all actors bring an awareness of their own cultural histories and visions of nature, North, and nation to the negotiating table.

Caroline Desbiens is a professor of geography at Laval University. She holds the Canada Research Chair in Historical Geography of the North.

Green Philosophy: Roger Scruton on “thinking seriously about the planet”

One of Roger Scruton’sgreen philosophy latest books is Green Philosophy: How to think seriously about the planet.

The book has been getting a number of reviews (here, here and here) regarding its arguments that conservatives are best positioned to be planetary stewards.

I’ve read the book and will not weigh in on it fully here – if only because the book is fairly lengthy and touches on everything from the nature of the person, to territory, economics, psychology, history and environmental thought. And Scruton skips quickly across a lot of terrain (made easier by some off-handed dismissals, such as stating that Heidegger did “armchair philosophy”)

But another reason I won’t put a lot of time into writing about this book is that it starts out by making a set of incorrect claims. Here is one:  Scruton argues that “conservatism” as a political philosophy and “conservation” as a resource management philosophy share the same ethos of conservative thought. And that is flatly not true. The ‘conservation’ of natural resources was situated within an explicitly–and even extended–liberalism.

Those sorts of mistakes are easily avoidable; even a cursory glance at history would suffice. But what makes them more disappointing is that there probably are good arguments to be made from conservative lines of thinking that are lost on these sorts of errors.

These mistakes are also a bit frustrating since finding an alternative to liberalism is a very interesting project. Here is Scruton giving a talk on the book:

From Precaution to Profit: Contemporary Challenges to Environmental Protection in the Montreal Protocol

New book from Yale University Press:9780300175264

The Montreal Protocol has been cited as the most successful global environmental agreement, responsible for phasing out the use of ozone-depleting substances. But, says Brian Gareau in this provocative and engaging book, the Montreal Protocol has failed—largely because of neoliberal ideals involving economic protectionism but also due to the protection of the legitimacy of certain forms of scientific knowledge. Gareau traces the rise of a new form of disagreement among global powers, members of the scientific community, civil society, and agro-industry groups, leaving them relatively ineffective in their efforts to push for environmental protection.

Brian J. Gareau is assistant professor of sociology and international studies at Boston College. As part of his research on global environmental governance, he attended Montreal Protocol meetings around the world, from Montreal to Dakar, from Geneva to Nairobi, over a period of four years. He lives in Concord, MA.