Georgia Drought: You Don't Miss Your Water...
Crumb-dry lake Lanier.
Although we’ve gotten some rain in Georgia over the past week, 2007 narrowly escaped being the driest year on record. Linked to the La Nina weather cycle in the Pacific, next year is predicted to be even drier. In November, our good ol’ boy governor Sonny Perdue made headlines by organizing a public prayer for rain – reinforcing the mindset that separates apparent “acts of god” from the ecologically suicidal lack of planning inherent in capitalism. (Mike Davis explored the social dimensions of drought in his excellent book Late Victorian Holocausts, which details how the British Empire’s response to an 1870s El Nino drought killed tens of millions in India, China and Eastern Africa.)
Of course, to the extent water issues appear in the media at all, the proposed remedies tend to center on moderation of personal use. Certainly the (over)use of water in sprawling residential areas plays a role in the shortage: in November we learned about an enormous house in suburban Cobb county that used an incredible 440,000 gallons in October, or 14,193 per day, for example.
[Bottled water, one of capitalism’s great swindles, deserves an entry all its own. For now, I recommend “Despite the Hype, Bottled Water is Neither Cleaner nor Greener than Tap Water” from E Magazine, reprinted on CommonDreams.org]
Revolutionary socialists have plenty of understanding of a market-based economy tendency to produce crises: economic depression, inflation, wars of conquest and imperial competition. The idea of eco-socialism, which Solidarity explored at its 2007 summer school, added the specter of ecological disaster to the list. Clearly Atlanta is an ecological disaster in the making – I’ve just listed some of the more sensational water-related symptoms. And sure, much of the crisis can be subdued with even simple reforms to the market (for example, legislation that demands major industries take concrete steps to curb use, penalizing water misuse and requiring the installation of water-saving devices.) However, we also have to raise consciousness around the incompatibility of a system based on unlimited growth with a planet that has absolutely finite resources.
For those of us who consider the process of democratic, “from below” social transformation equally important as progressive change (which is often achieved through back-room deals that don’t fundamentally challenge the uneven distribution of decision making power in society), another question is raised. How can we bring an ecosocialist agenda into the activist work we already do? On a programmatic level, it seems easy. For example, ignoring the social backwardness in many building trades unions, those organizations could advocate environmentally sustainable construction. Infrastructure improvements practically require massive public works employment (the city of Atlanta had to abandoned a disastrous experiment with privatizing the waterworks a couple years ago after United Water totally screwed up the system.)
But on a day-to-day level, I’m at a loss. Bottling plant workers for water conservation? Power plant engineers for solar energy? Teamsters against climate change? Almost ten years after “turtles and Teamsters” were united on the streets of Seattle, that unity is as urgent as ever...