“Thousands have lived without love. Not one without water.” W.H. Auden
Water is the most precious substance on Earth. There is nothing else like it in the universe. Without water, there is no life; with water, life is everywhere. Indigenous people know water is life, and they are putting their lives on the line to protect water from the profit-driven machines polluting and destroying it.
For capitalists, oil and minerals are valuable, but water is worthless until you put it in a bottle to sell. For people and other living things, the opposite is true. Along with climate, water protection is the battle of our lifetimes, a huge part of the struggle to keep a livable world.
What happens without water
According to Science Daily, water shortages already affect about 2.8 billion people each year. They report, “Water scarcity is being driven by growing freshwater use and depletion of usable freshwater resources.” IOW, water is being wasted and polluted, while conditions such as climate change and deforestation decrease the amount of fresh water available.
When people do not get enough water, our bodies do not function. Water has the unique ability to dissolve everything our body needs — e.g. foods, proteins, hormones, and waste products — and move them in and out of our cells and bodies. About 60% of a human body is water, and while we can survive with percentages as low as 45%, going too low is unhealthy and sometimes fatal.
All plants and animals we eat depend on water to grow and live. So water scarcity leads to food scarcity. Sometimes, water gets polluted with chemicals or metals or with too much organic waste from farms or cities. Plants, animals, and humans can no longer use polluted water. Yet industry and big agriculture continue to treat water as a free waste dump and a free resource for their machines. They can do this because our governments, which they control, allow them to.
Ways capital wastes water include:
Oil and gas are the biggest threats to water. Oil coats the surface of water and poisons creatures who live there. Domestic oil flows through pipelines that often leak, damaging whatever land or water they occupy. But the people whose water and land is being polluted get no benefit from the oil. These people are often the indigenous residents, and they are the leaders in fighting to protect water for all of us.
In 2016, the Standing Rock Sioux and supporters from around the world fought a year-long struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline that Energy Transfer Corporation was building through their land and under the Missouri River. Police beat and arrested the water protectors, but they stopped the pipeline until President Donald Trump took office and ordered construction be completed.
More pipelines are being built, and indigenous people are still resisting. Currently the pipeline to stop is called Line 3, built by the Enbridge Corporation. Line 3 will cross 227 lakes and the Mississippi River. A movement is growing to stop it, but the pipeline keeps growing, its owners ignoring treaty rights and attacking water protectors.
Hydrofracturing (“fracking”) means injecting large amounts of water, sand, and chemicals, under high pressure into underground cracks containing oil or natural gas. Fracking expands the cracks, allowing extraction of the gas or oil.
Fracking also permanently pollutes the 2 to 10 million gallons of water used each time a well is fracked. (Most wells need to be fracked many times.) It’s a straight-up trade of water for oil, but water is needed for life. Oil isn’t.
Industry groups say water used in fracking will not contaminate drinking water, but according to this article in Scientific American,”the entire groundwater resource in the Wind River Basin (in Wyoming) is contaminated with chemicals linked to fracking.”
Livestock in areas surrounding wells have died. As with pipelines, the affected people don’t benefit. The fracked fuel is transported by pipelines, usually to some port from which it is sold to Asia or Europe.
Deep sea drilling
There’s a lot of oil under the ocean, but because it requires miles-long extraction pipes, and leaks cannot be easily repaired, deep sea oil is extremely dangerous to extract. That doesn’t stop the fossil fuel companies, who create spill after spill, poisoning fishing waters for everyone.
The inevitable results are disasters like the British Petroleum Deepwater Horizons explosion in 2010, which killed 11people, polluted the northern Gulf of Mexico and the marshes of southern states for years. Even now, according to an article in Nature, fish in the Gulf are contaminated. Meanwhile, even deeper, more dangerous undersea wells are being drilled.
Other forms of pollution
Companies pollute water with products other than oil and gas. Mines, chemical, and manufacturing plants toxify the water of millions. Plastic in water kills fish, marine mammals, and sea turtles. Other major sources of non-chemical pollution are factory farms, with their tons of organic waste that create life-killing harmful algal blooms (HABs)in the water exposed to it.
Who protects water? How can we help?
How can we protect water, which means protecting life itself? We have leaders. We need to follow indigenous leadership and relearn our connection to the world. Earth and all living things are our relatives. Only when we see water as sacred will we care enough to risk everything to save it.
Some indigenous water protectors looking for help:
Stop Line 3 is organizing people to come to the Great Lakes area and put themselves on the line.
Honor the Earth seeks to protect the Great Lakes from pipelines and mines. They invite people to come and block pipeline construction or to get involved in other way.
Some good groups that support indigenous resistance with advocacy and financial help:
The Water Protectors Legal collective “provides legal support and advocacy for Indigenous people, the Earth, and climate justice movements.”
Cultural Survival brings together indigenous people and their supporters from around the world.
The Seventh Generation Fund “protects the Rights of Mother Earth through Indigenous stewardship and traditional knowledge while advancing Indigenous Peoples’ right of Free, Prior and Informed Consent.” Most of their support is financial.
Survival International “fight for tribal peoples’ survival. We stop loggers, miners, and oil companies from destroying tribal lands, lives and livelihoods across the globe.” They have won some amazing victories over industrial giants.
The Red Nation and their book The Red Deal: Indigenous Action to Save Our Earth have a 2-point program to repair the climate crisis.
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