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🗣️ "What Kind of Thing is Water in 2040?"

Water Foresight Podcast

Photo by Drew Beamer / Unsplash

Table of Contents

Host: Matthew Klein
Guest: Dr. Christiana Zenner | Associate Professor of Theology, Science & Ethics  Fordham University
Category: 🗣️ Opinion

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[1:56] “I think that […] that economic value paradigms coupled with infrastructure realities, and political climate, are shaping how water is provided to different people. And it's impossible to speak about that in a totally uniform way. But let's try. What kind of thing is water in 2040? In a few words, I would say it is it remains and always has been essential. It is contested, geopolitically in terms of infrastructure control, and in terms of the value paradigms that govern its distribution. And I would say that […] water in 2040, freshwater in particular, is a central, social, political and economic issue in a way that is the primary vector for conversations about climate change around the world.”

[4:33] “I think that what freshwater can be referred to in the singular with regard to this life-giving essential substance that undergirds the possibility of biotic life on Earth, ecosystems and civilizations. At the same time, water is not only H2O. It is not only an economic commodity. It is not only something amenable to property rights regimes. It is not only a substance, revered in some cultures and used as a ritual substance in others. Freshwaters are all of those things in various combinations, depending on the culture, the historical time period, the political economic regime in which people live, as well as the hydrogeology and climatological realities that are obtained in a given moment.”

[5:37] “One of the things I noticed when writing my dissertation, which was called “Valuing Freshwaters”, was about how in the mid 2000s commentators in the media especially, were talking about the global freshwater crisis. […] And we still talk about this, the water crisis, as if it's the singular thing. […] But there is no singular water crisis. And there is no singular solution. Because all water contestations issues and crises exist at multiple levels of scale with multiple inputs that make single solutions impossible. […] But when you say freshwaters are always plural, we have to pause for a moment and think about some of our implicit assumptions about what sort of thing freshwater is.”

[8:16] “In an era where the language of value is really prominent for freshwater now. […] The baseline dominance understanding of freshwater’s value of present is an economic value paradigm. And that's obviously important and persuasive to many folks and guides a lot in terms of water management in the present day. But I think that if economic frameworks are our entire or exclusive measure for moral language about water, then our moral language is really impoverished. And so part of what I try to do is […] to say what other values are associated with water and how can that interface with and inform the reality that we're inhabiting in this global economic and policy making series of scenarios?”

[10:13] “It's also the case that water has so many market failures endemic to it. It’s bulky, so hard to transport. It's a natural monopoly, that is, it's not necessarily something that when you're talking about municipal water or sanitation infrastructure, it's hard to have a number of competing actors offering their services in a way that would conduce to free market principles. The discount rate for water in my view is generally pretty ill calculated and discounts the future at the expense of economic profit in the present instead of […] the long term good of a clean, sustainable fresh water supply. So there's a lot of market failures built into water, and so on the question of what sorts of values can be assigned to water, I think we also need to recognize that while economic language and practices and forecasting are very powerful, they are imperfect. And that creates a really important space for talking about other ways of valuing water that may also be imperfect, but have information that can shape the way that people invested […] in water can think of it and work with it.”

[18:57] “People have, for a long time, obviously, been concerned about where water comes from, who gets it and why. But as a set of conversations among policymakers, social scientists, humanities, folks, philosophers, ethicists, like myself, it's a much newer phenomenon. And I would say that this […] tracks on in some ways to a rising sense of global and planetary freshwater scarcity that happened around the turn of the 20th century, where it became clear that the presumption of stationarity that is, in hydrological speak, the idea that water is infinitely renewable, that that's not actually the case.”

[19:56] “Another thing that happened around the turn of the 20th century is […] the rise of this idea that water is a human right and that that is an obligation owed to human beings. And the third thing that I would say that has happened, at least in scholarship is a recognition that science and policymaking, while rigorous, are not always neutral. And that various communities and discourses had been excluded from policymaking procedures intentionally or otherwise. […] And philosophizing about what kind of thing water is that [it has] many more dimensions and unintended consequences than had previously been understood.”

[25:21] “My hope is that long term, downstream consequences, on the one hand, and equitable access, on the other hand, are at the foreground of so many decisions pertaining to water.”

[51:16] “I would say that decolonizing water means bringing in value paradigms and experiences for fresh water, that have not been the dominant modes of valuing and distributing water in industrial economic modernity. […] Listening to and making decisions with, and based on people, communities and value systems that have been excluded from the development of hydrological modernity and to have different ways of valuing and relating to fresh waters in order more fully to understand and sustain certain forms of ethical relationships over time.”

Rating: 💧💧💧

🎙️ Full Episode: Google | Spotify
🕰️ 1 hr 8 min | 🗓️ 08/25/2021
✅ Time saved: 1 hr 6 min

Additional Links:
Book: Just Water (Dr. Christiana Zenner, 2018)