Ecologists and environmental activists provide eloquent and convincing reasons for the preservation and conservation of pristine natural water in aquatic ecosystems and watersheds throughout the world. Excellent works devoted to water’s rights and people’s rights to water have followed humanity’s journey with water throughout the ages; others have documented our social, political and economic struggles that have impacted water in many ways.
It’s been my experience, however, that knowing and feeling a truth are not the same; one leads to vehement agreement but seldom to action; the other leads to quiet resonance and often to quiet action. Before you act you have to care. A lot.
Some will argue that the best way to solicit an appreciation for something is to give it an economic value. My experience with this argument is that it’s a slippery road. Some suggest that the only way to protect water is to treat it as a commodity—to put a price on it. however, when something is assigned an economic value, its value be- comes relative and compartmentalized; it loses an essential part of its perceived intrinsic value.
Scholar and writer Charles Eisenstein gives us four good reasons to shy away from evaluating anything—particularly Nature and water—economically. First, this view favours competition within a perception of scarcity as individuals seek to maximize self-interest. Second, competition and a perceived need for growth promotes the objectification of Nature as something separate from us, leading to abuse and the “Tragedy of the Commons”. Third, valuing all things in a utilitarian and self-serving frame instills a dominating worldview through a “Conquest of Nature” ethic. And finally, this value system “echoes science’s onward march of quantification by converting a multiplicity of often qualitative values into a single metric of value called money.” It applies a reductionist approach to a holistic phenomenon. When that happens, we lose the meaning of the thing that we’ve turned into an object.
For most of us, perhaps chemists aside, when we think “water” we envision its archetype of liquid flowing in rivers, brooks, gurgling springs and surging oceans. We envision myths from the ancient creation stories to the current thoughts of today or of sacred rituals of which it plays an integral part. We think of its refreshing crystal clarity as the matrix of life. Water is “not a personality but more like a culture to itself, with laws, arts, and a unique history and geography,”8 says science writer Philip Ball in the preface to his book, H2O: A Biography of Water. Water’s “public persona” has co-evolved with humanity through our various cultures and philosophical beliefs, fashion, and political and social change. Yet, throughout the millennia, water has remained water; it is we who have changed.
Water is a catalyst.
A catalyst for change. Connecting with water is connecting with the flow of change.
This article is an excerpt from Water Is… (Pixl Press), Preface.
Nina Munteanu is an ecologist, limnologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.