Found at www.Filterwaterdirect.com

Today, you can own almost anything. Anything. You can own it. If you or I were to talk with our great-great grandparents, they wouldn’t believe just how much someone in today’s world can own.

I’m not speaking so much about material goods; so much as I’m speaking to the wide breadth of ownership we experience every day. It’s not just land and goods anymore. You can own ideas, pictures, slogans, and even living organisms.

This ability to own things is known as privatization. Privatization is the tool which makes capitalism work. It brought us out of the dark ages, and produced our world today. But is making things “ownable” always good for society?

Many people think so. Members of the Fraser Institute, are some of them. In the documentary “The Corporation”, the president of the free-market powerhouse tells us that if we could find a way to privatize our air, we wouldn’t have any more pollution. Just like when someone owns a house or a car, the air would become the owner’s responsibility. They would care for it, and see that it isn’t polluted. Seems like a good idea, right?

There’s another part of privatization that needs to be talked about. Owning a house for instance means I can put up a fence. I can keep people out. If I wanted to, I could even keep you out!


Image from the India Resource Center

Over the weekend, I caught a story about a company who put up a big fence. The story is about a village in India. The village’s water wells have been privatized, and are now owned by Coca Cola. Coca Cola uses the wells to supply water for its Dasani bottled water product, which is enjoyed by thirsty people all over the world. That is, it’s enjoyed by thirsty people who can afford to buy it.

It seems that no matter how thirsty the local villagers become, Coca Cola’s financial fence keeps them out. Can’t afford this water? Too bad! Villagers have taken up strong protests against the bottling company. Rioters broke down a police blockade and protested the factory in the hope of soon quenching their thirst.


This picture can be found at City of Tulsa Water ServicesA similar story took place in Bolivia back in 2001. Like many countries during that time, Bolivia was struggling to develop its economy. Just like anyone who’s starting to develop a business, Bolivia needed a loan. And so just like a businessman, Bolivia went to the bank….the World Bank. The World Bank agreed to loan Bolivia money, but there were a few conditions. These conditions were called “Structural Adjustment Policies”. The World Bank wanted to make sure it would get repaid, so it required Bolivia to privatize many of its state-run services. All of a sudden, everything in Bolivia was for sale! Roads, hospitals, energy…… and water.

Bechtel, a US company, was awarded the contract to manage the water in Cochabamba, Bolivia’s third largest city. As part of the contract, Bechtel was promised a certain return on its investment. That money had to come from somewhere, and so Bechtel raised the rates. Copies of water bills show that household water bills increased by 60%! Almost instantly, water began to cost a lot than most could afford. The strain was too much, the people rioted, and one boy was killed and hundreds others wounded.


Stories like these lead me to believe that privatization may not be the golden answer to all our problems. There are some basic necessities to human life that we simply cannot fence. What if being poor meant you couldn’t breathe because you couldn’t afford air? What if it meant you couldn’t drink because water was too expensive? And when it comes to health care, food, basic shelter…well the answer is hard to say. Privatization may have brought us out of the dark ages, but can it also put us back in?

Where do we draw the line?

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An important piece of Northwest culture may have a bleak looking future. Both the New York Times and NPR reported today on the potential collapse of the salmon fishing industry along the west coast. Phil Anderson with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife told NPR the current level of salmon is the worst he’s seen in 35 years. Scientists are blaming lower salmon counts on dead zones throughout the ocean which have been deprived of nutrients. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time history has seen an ocean species struggle…..

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Before supermarket salmon fillets and sushi crazes, most of the world’s seafood came from the Atlantic cod. And it was everywhere. The fish in “fish ‘n chips”. Salted snacks on long sea voyages. Cod was responsible for the frozen fish stick craze of the 50’s and 60’s. The fish was even the inspiration for nations to expand their borders into the ocean to protect fishing rights.

Cod has been the central part of a lot of cultures – but don’t bother trying to find it in your supermarket today. Atlantic cod was fished nearly to extinction years ago, and it has yet to make any comeback. Current counts show the Atlantic cod population is 1% of what it was in 1977.

Blaming fingers point the cod’s near-extinction in many different directions, but there’s one that most seem to agree upon. The modern fishing trawler.

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For a moment, imagine raking your front yard in the fall. Your rake picks up most of the leaves, but also grabs pinecones, seeds, and any toys not already chopped up by the lawnmower. If you rake hard enough, you may even pull up some live grass, leaving a thin patch in the yard. The same happens in the ocean with large fishing trawlers. Fish are picked up in trawler nets, but so is the rest of the ecosystem. After years and years trawling, we begin to see dead-zones in the ocean…just like we see dead patches in our front lawn.

Fishing with trawlers yields high amounts of fish, but also leads to overfishing. If nothing stops the ocean trawling, the fish become near-extinct. For now, the Federal government has decided to limit the amount of trawlers fishing for salmon this season. But a one season limit is just a drop in a very big, empty bucket. If the Northwest truly wants to keep salmon from disappearing, fisherman are going to have to change their open water habits.

Images from: http://www.mongabay.com & http://www.greenpeace.org

If you’re like me, it takes a good cup of coffee to get your morning started off right. And if you’re even more like me, you might think about the impact your coffee habit may have. By now, a lot of us coffee drinkers have heard about things like Fair Trade, organic, and shade grown coffee. Good news! Corporate and local coffee houses are offering these environmentally sound choices to us more frequently. Chances are, if coffee that’s environmentally friendly is offered, you’ll take it.

There’s another part of your coffee addiction that has a global impact. Your coffee cup. We see them everywhere but almost never give ’em a second thought. But those lattes and americanos that keep us working hard have a bitter environmental impact. In 2006, Americans added an estimated 16 billion coffee cups to our landfills! Think about it – how many cups have you thrown away this month? This week? The waste starts to add up fast, and in more places than just landfills. The entire process is incredibly resource intensive.

Here’s where it gets worse. Disposable paper cups are made almost exclusively from fresh wood from our forests. Once the lumber is transformed into paper, it’s coated with thin plastic and pressed into a cup. That plastic helps protect your hands from hot coffee – but it also condemns your cup to a landfill. Recycling can’t be done effectively on either end of a cup’s life cycle.

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The real tragedy is that alternatives are easy and accessible. All of us have a reusable coffee mug stashed away in our kitchen, it’s just a matter of remembering to grab it on the way to work or school.

Now I’ll be honest. I’m one of those “latte-drinking, Prius-driving, Birkenstock-wearing” types of people. But using your own reusable coffee cup has more than just an environmental appeal. Those smart enough to remember a cup are often treated to a discount at coffee houses. Considering that most reusable coffee cups have life expectancies of 5 to 10 years, those discounts can add up. As an additional bonus, bringing your own cup helps out your favorite coffee house. Disposable cups are one of the largest costs to local shops, and most places would love to cut down on their expensive overhead.

suscup.pngUsing your cup has more personal benefits as well. Reusable cups tend to keep your hot coffee hot and your cold drinks cold. If you’ve ever experienced a winter in Seattle, you know a mocha can go from hot to luke-warm in just a few minutes. Wouldn’t it be nice to enjoy your drink leisurely instead of chugging it down or throwing away the last few sips?

The next time you’re getting ready to leave the house, think about drinking responsibly and bringing a reusable coffee cup. It’s quick and convenient, easy and painless. Not only will you be saving yourself money, you’ll be doing something good for the planet too.

For more in-depth information regarding sustainable coffee cups and disposable cups, please visit www.SustainabilityIsSexy.com

A quick follow-up on my last post….

Seattle’s local NPR station ran a story a few days ago on Northwest farmers.  The rising prices of corn and wheat are beginning to have an effect on which crops farmers are choosing to plant this year.  Seed distributers are running out of corn and wheat seeds, but seem to have plenty of other crops available.  The problem? Farmers are following the money.  Land that once grew beans, alfalfa, potatoes, and bluegrass for golfcourses has been moved over to provide wheat and corn.

Enter: developing agricultural countires.  With such a large hole forming on the supply side of these crops, agricultural industries throughout the world have an opportunity to be competitive.  If ever there was a time to get a toe-hold into US markets, now is the time!

There’s an article from the Economist titled “The End of Cheap Food” which has been floating around my office for a while now. Earlier this week, the article made the front page of Digg. This news isn’t suprising – the article follows up months of gossip regarding the rising costs of food in general. I still remember last summer when Nabisco and Hershey both forecasted rising costs for chocolate.

The price hikes we’re seeing (and will continue to see) boil down to a change in demands. China and India are becoming richer – and with it comes a taste for the finer things in life. Larger portions of meat and grains for a lot of people are increasing demands for food. Additionally, the US is demanding more and more ethanol-based fuel to help with its energy demands. The Economist reported that a third of the corn grown in the US last year went to bio-fuel production.

With food prices rising, it sure is a great time to be a farmer – as long as you’re in the US or Europe that is. Farmers living in these regions are reaping the benefits of higher-than-ever food costs, while still profiting from large government subsidies.

US and European subsidies and tariffs have crippled agricultural economies throughout the world. Subsidies distort the world price of food to the point that many of the world’s farming nations can’t afford to sell their products on the global market. In many cases, it has become cheaper for agricultural nations to import food rather than grow their own. Ultimately, this makes entire nations completely vulnerable to market changes. Even a slight change in global prices can mean the difference between food and famine.

The article insists that if ever there were a time for the US and Europe to eliminate their farm subsidies that now is the time. While they may be correct, this outcome is unlikely to happen. US and European farmers are riding a wave of profits that hasn’t been seen in a long, long time. Farmers and lobbyists have fought long and hard to get these subsidies into place. In the US, a politician voicing any opposition to farm subsidies will likely be unemployed by the next election cycle. It is unrealistic to believe that these farmers/political constituents will readily give up subsidies that kept their industry afloat for so long.

Fortunately, not all hope is lost for developing nations. The US’s increased biofuel demand will doubtlessly lead to a global price increase on corn and wheat while simultaneously persuading US farmers to sell their product domestically. Developing nations who grow corn and wheat may begin to see opportunities to sell their products in international markets that were formally occupied by US farmers.

Countries should also look to the future to find market advantages. As more farmers begin planting corn and wheat, the supply of other crops will began to dry up. A developing country that fills in the gaps left by US farmers will find themselves at a huge advantage over the next 2 to 3 years. Besides making a lot of money, these governments could use their market power to put pressure against US and European tariffs.