Culture, World

Private Water And Nestlé

Hey.

Water is, simultaneously, the most precious resource for sustaining human and all life, and the most wasted. Every day, 2 million tons of human waste are disposed of in water courses. Over 80% of wastewater is not collected or treated worldwideHalf of the world’s wetlands have been lost since 1900. In developing countries, 70 percent of industrial waste is dumped untreated into waters where they pollute the usable water supply.  At the same time that water is wasted, nations are fighting over it, and the use of invasive methods for obtaining water is transforming the world. Beijing is sinking at an average of 4 inches (around 10 cm) a year, as the water in the giant aquifer below it is pumped. “Parts of Shanghai, Mexico City, and other cities are sinking, too. Sections of California’s Central Valley have dropped by a foot, and, in some localized areas, by as much as 28 feet”. The United Nations predicts a global shortfall in water by 2030, and running short of water will inevitably cause a decline in economic growth.“(…) food prices will spike, raising the risk of violent conflict and waves of large migrations. Unrest in Yemen, which heavily taps into groundwater and which experienced water riots in 2009, is rooted in a water crisis.” – National Geographic.

Nestlé is worth $200 billion and has 6,000 brands to protect – it’s the biggest food company in the world. But it’s also been through a series of PR nightmares and controversies, some of them intimately connected to the topic of privatization of water. From draining aquifers, sourcing water from certain places without permission (like San Bernadino), exceeding water pollution, taking the only accessible clean water from communities who don’t have access to it (so they can sell it back to them in the form of Nestlé bottled water) and selling suburban well-water and claiming it’s “100% Natural Spring Water”, to using cocoa beans from plantations that profit from child slave labor and selling breast-milk formula as an essential baby development aid in developing countries, Nestlé seems a lot less sweet. But the cherry on top is the fact that its chairman says water isn’t a universal right. On an interview, Peter Brabeck, the man in question, claimed that declaring water a public right, and having the right to water as a human being, is an extreme solution. Around the world, Nestlé is bullying communities into giving up control of their water, and promoting bottled water as a status symbol, since safe water becomes a privilege only affordable for the wealthy. Every year the company pumps out millions of cubic meters of water, for transportation in road tankers to huge bottling factories. “In the United States and Europe, the company sells mainly spring water with a designation of origin. In developing countries, however, the corporation pursues another concept – namely Nestlé Pure Life. This product is purified groundwater, enriched with a Nestlé mixture of minerals.

A lot of companies are moving towards the privatization of water in certain areas, and it has some support. “It is argued that it has increased investment and has contributed to expanded access. They cite Manila, Guayaquil in Ecuador, Bucharest, several cities in Colombia and Morocco, as well as Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal as success stories.”. And, without a doubt, there have been cases of improvement, and there are positive aspects, which should not go unnoticed. “Access, quality of service, operational efficiency and tariffs have evolved under 65 public-private partnerships for urban water utilities in developing countries. (…) A World Bank study argues that the most consistent improvement made by public-private partnerships in water supply was in operational efficiency. (…) A study of household water expenditures in cities under private and public management in the U.S., however, concludes that ‘whether water systems are owned by private firms or governments may, on average, simply not matter much.'” But what are the risks?

The risks

  • Privatization has an impact on key factors, like access – water privatization can hinder the accessibility of water. When for-profit companies invest in the water system, the desire to make returns on the investment can create a top-heavy distribution system. In this scenario, the desire to supply poor districts decreases because the poor are unable to pay the tariffs -, quality – multinationals have the opportunity to alter the water they provide to benefit the consumption of certain products or treatments they provide or provided by business partners – , tariffs, and efficiency.
  • Private water is no one’s responsibility: by privatizing water and sewer systems, local government officials abdicate control over a vital public resource, and multinational water corporations are primarily accountable to their stockholders, not to the people they serve.
  • Input, control and transparency: the public has an input on who controls water through elections, by choosing the public officials who manage it. When proper communication between those officials and the people fails, or when those officials fail to respond to opinions about the operation of their water systems, the community can vote them out of office. The same doesn’t happen with the private sector, which tends to separate itself from public opinion, and lacks the mechanisms to accommodate it. Also, the public sector works with a lot more transparency, whereas companies tend to restrict the public’s access to internal essential information. This lack of transparency is intrinsic to the very structures of privatization, and fosters corruption.
  • Profit and restricted access: companies usually strive and strategize to maximize monetary gains, and water would be no exception. So, those same companies would focus on providing water services to those who can afford them, purposely ignoring poor areas or neglecting the service to those areas.
  • Private operation is not more efficient. Empirical evidence indicates that there is no significant difference in efficiency between public and private water provision in developed countries.
  • Privatization can worsen service as a way to reduce expenses: when private operators attempt to cut costs, practices they employ could result in worse service quality. They may use shoddy construction materials, delay needed maintenance or downsize the workforce, which impairs customer service and slows responses to emergencies.
  • Unemployment: as another attempt to cut costs, having fewer employees to make repairs and respond to customer service requests is definitely a budget saver, but at the expense of quality service.

How the private sector can help prevent a global water crisis

“From developing new technologies to providing construction crews for new treatment plants, the private sector plays an important role in protecting our water resources and finding innovative solutions to the water crisis. Although the public and private sectors work well together in many areas, businesses should not operate, manage or own public drinking water or wastewater systems. Those duties should fall under the purview of local governments, who have a responsibility to ensure safe and affordable service for all.” – here.

My concerns aren’t that privatization might not work (because there are cases of it working), it’s that it gives companies the potential to promote ulterior economic motives. Ultimately, privatization is risky because it subjects us to very volatile financial and stock market fluctuations, since these will have an impact on how those companies operate and on our access to a basic human right. At an average cost of $1.22 per gallon, consumers are spending 300 times the cost of tap water to drink bottled water – so, would you trust your tap water to the companies that sell you bottled water? 

The problem, in my opinion, is that, from the moment we’re born, we’re not people – we’re consumers. Multinationals nowadays are present in and control most aspects of your life – basic needs and actions are seen as ways to give someone money, so we’re monetized, bought and sold – and brands are represented everywhere and represent everything. But, while you still have (in some places) the choice to eat something you or a local source produced, without it having gone through transformation processes by companies, and without it being a profit source for some corporation, toying with water and the people’s access to it is very dangerous, especially on these terms. Because those with this mentality of capitalism and greed won’t stop their control over us at food, clothes, furniture and services – they’ll try to monopolize every aspect of our lives so that everything that’s human and necessary brings some kind of profit. It sounds twisted (because it indeed is), but you can only be sold  what you need or think you need, so it’s essential for multinationals to create that need, and develop very solid marketing strategies. The companies that create antivirus software are the same ones that develop the viruses, the ones that grow our food are the ones that create our vaccines, and, now, the ones that control our access to water are the ones that bottle and sell it.

 

S.

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Philosophy

imagine others complexly

imagine others complexly

I was recently introduced to this concept by the vlogbrothers, an amazing YouTube channel. More specifically, John Green (one of the vlog brothers), introduced me to it. It’s sort of become a philosophy of mine, and it’s something I wanted to share with you.

To imagine complexly is no easy task, especially when it comes to others. To imagine that all the bodies you encounter everyday contain multitudes, that there’s a background to every set of eyes, that what you know of others is only the shell of their being, is extremely strenuous, and, most of all, requires that you dedicate yourself to others the same way you dedicate yourself to you. Actively reminding yourself that, the same way you go through hardships, happiness, love, sickness, or a simple bad day, others do too, is a constant battle. It’s a battle between your main instinct, which is to think of yourself first and disregard others’ experiences and feelings, and your humanity and sense of compassion. It’s much easier to not help a neighbour carry something, or stop by the grocery store to buy something for a friend – after all, why should you, of all people, do it? But, think about it: if everyone thinks like you, who’s going to help? Imagining others complexly is another form of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, and that’s an important philosophy of life for anything you do in your time. It takes taking a step back and reminding yourself that your neighbour might have back pain, or that your friend might be feeling tired or sick, to find the will to do these small gestures that will brighten someone’s day. In another example, you might want to comment negatively on someone’s looks, but if you put yourself in the position of the receiver of that comment, would you like it? Better yet, imagine you feel especially self-conscious about that particular aspect of yourself – would someone’s judgement of your looks make you feel better? I think it wouldn’t, especially not since our society is so focused on looking a particular way, instead of embracing our diversity. Complexity is actually quite simple when people respect each other’s integrity and depth.

Also, imagining others in all of their complexity will help you avoid pedestaling. I think we’ve all had that experience of knowing or meeting someone who we admire incredibly, and doesn’t seem to have flaws. But putting others on pedestals is ultimately detrimental to your relationships – no one likes to be seen as perfect. That builds up a huge pressure to always succeed, and makes people afraid of showing an unfiltered, flawed side of themselves – a human side. When you imagine people, imagine that there are flaws to them, and, rather than using those same flaws as a way of degrading their value as people, use them as a way of celebrating the common bond they are. Walt Whitman showed us that humans, in their core, are “flawed, contradictory and imperfect”, that “each of us contains different parts of our personality that come out at different times, and Whitman emphasizes being okay with that, embracing that part of ourselves, and loving ourselves for who we are.” – here. The same goes for embracing that part of others, and loving others for who they are, and notfor what is hidden by the simplicity of their appearance or actions.

I don’t mean, though, that you should devote yourself to others’ personal landscape of emotions, or that the eventuality of others’ needs or problems are what you should live for. There’s a fine line between disregarding those who surround you and acquiescing to their complexity, for fear of being unfair, and the balance between these two extremes is something hard to find, whether throughout your whole life, or just on a day-to-day basis. Mistakes and misteps are an essential part of our condition as humans, and sometimes others aren’t the only ones having a bad day. You’re allowed to have your bad days. But, from my short experience in this world, I’ve found that people strive in environments of balance and respect for that balance, where complexity is celebrated because it’s part of our nature.

S.

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Culture

Racial Tensions & The Role Of Hip-Hop Culture

Hey.

Nowadays, the spread of music and the public’s contact with it is really standardized. What I mean by this is that, today, everyone listens to music daily. We shut it down on our alarm clocks, we listen to it on the way to work, we hear it on elevators and commercials, we work out to it, and so on. But, around the turn of the century, our attention shifted from the lyrical depth of music to beats and catchy choruses. This happened especially in Hip-Hop and Rap, where most artists started to create to sell. When commercialization became the priority, the cultural and social aspects of lyrics were pushed back, overpowered (but not replaced – some artists in the music scene stayed true) by lyrics of sexual nature, or about drugs, alcohol, partying – you name it. Hip-Hop, by origin, is very political, and it’s purpose is to shed light on and educate the youth in the projects. So, themes like police brutality, guns, and gang violence, which are still very much alive today, were an essential part of this music style. Somewhere, somehow, that essence was suppressed – but, it’s coming back.

In 2015, Kendrick Lamar released an album called “To Pimp A Butterfly” (one of my favorite albums ever). It’s an incredible album, with songs like “The Blacker The Berry”, that gives us an unfiltered and raw look at a small fraction of how black people experience race, and the way they’re seen by society and themselves. Songs like “Complexion”, where Kendrick explores how the colour of your skin means nothing when it comes to your value as a human being, and continuously says “it’s Zulu love”, referring to the Zulu tribe in Africa, who welcomed a white man to live among them. It’s an album that brings back those meaningful lyrics so connected to Hip-Hop. And, recently, police brutality and race have been recurring themes in the music scene, with Lil Bibby’s “Can’t Trust A Soul”, Ty Dolla $ign’s “No Justice”, Lil Durk’s “If I Could”, Vic Mensa’s “16 Shots”, Nyck Caution’s “What’s Understood”, and many more. This is because the rise of racial tensions and police brutality can’t be ignored, and music has always been a really powerful weapon of social action against oppression.

While there’s still a debate as to whether or not police brutality is in fact on the rise, or if there’s just more coverage of it on the media, that shouldn’t really be the point – the simple fact that it happens, that, in 2016 alone, the police killed at least 790 people, should be enough for us to consider this a problem in the modern American society. And it’s terrible that it happens, but it’s even worst how little punishment (or, often, none) there is for the officers who take people’s lives. The truth is, there is such a thing as institutionalized racism, and it’s deeply rooted in America and its people – the country itself was built on the genocide of native americans, and the work of slaves – and we can see it in how religious, medical, judicial, political and police establishments function. But there are a number of ways to combat this – it just takes a conscious and joint effort to move forward and past that, into an accepting society. It’s no easy task, so, for now, we have music to guide us.

 

S.

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Culture

Guest Post – The Empowerment Seesaw

Just Call me Elm Or Something

Hey everyone! Today, I have a guest post from the wonderful S, from Element of Honesty. This blogger sent me one of the most lovely emails I’ve received in a while, and is a kind person overall. This post is one of the most amazing ones I’ve read in a long time.

Hey.

These days, we’re witnessing the peak of empowering movements. Whether it’s women, LGBTQ+, body image, race and ethnicity, or social class, the world is slowly moving towards empowering those that a typical society looks down upon. But, at the same time, a new phenomenon is surging, what I like to call The Empowerment Seesaw (which is, by no means, a recognized technical term).

The Empowerment Seesaw is what happens when, in order to uplift a certain group of ostracized individuals, we tear another group down. For example: when, in order to empower someone who has a…

View original post 311 more words

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Feminism

Hero And Sidechicks

Hey.

This morning, I was reading Sex Object, an amazing book by Jessica Valenti, and reflecting on my experiences with the objectification of women, when a switch turned on in my mind and I remembered something my younger self always wondered about: why don’t heroes stick to just one girl?

Growing up watching tv and reading, I was always exposed to this kind of objectifying mentality. I watched James Bond, I read Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, and little me, who had yet to experience first-hand objectification, couldn’t grasp why Langdon and Bond both had a new romantic or sexual interest in each movie/book. This was, I now realize, because I was also exposed to an opposing mentality: the standardization of exclusive relationships. In both movies and real life, little girls get the message that they should have a monogamous, closed relationship, with the intent of getting married forever, when they like someone. So it confused me that women had to get married, but those heroes could go through girls like they went through bullets. Of course, at the time, I didn’t see it as a gendered issue – the thought of women and men being seen and treated differently was unfathomable in my innocent young mind. But that question stuck with me for years and, as I became aware of how each gender is perceived and expected to act, I just felt like even tv had been spoiled for me. Learning about how women having multiple partners was shameful, but men doing it was encouraged and even praised, really hit me hard, and, slowly, made me start resenting art in all forms, realizing that underlying misogynistic messages and indoctrination of submissive and objectifying behaviours were everywhere, even in my favorite cartoon, or children’s song.

Objectification can come in many, intimately connected, forms: sexualization of a person’s body through the removal of their head or any other way of stripping them away from their identity; use of the body as a replacement for an object; affirming the idea of violating the physical integrity of a person by representing them in incapacitated positions in relation to someone of the opposite sex, therefore perpetuating polarized dominance; suggesting sexual availability, and presenting it as a defining characteristic of the person; use of someone’s body as a canvas.  In relation to this, there’s a generalized tendency in publicity to cut women up in pieces and use their body parts as advertisement for products, so the female body itself becomes a product, available for purchase. It’s blatant in movie posters, for an example, where a woman’s body is sold as a symbol of sexuality and desire to appeal to the public. The posters for the movies Kingsman, Dirty Grandpa, The Comebacks, Secretary and Suicide Squad all feature the same thing: a woman’s butt and legs. The Wolf Of Wall Street features a woman in her underwear wrapped in money. And, not only is this objectification of women important to point out, but it’s also pivotal to note the lack of female leading roles. In 2012, out of the 67 top films of the year, 55 of them were starred by a male.  In order for us to combat a huge industry, criticism is, well, critical. It’s also crucial to note that, although this is a recurrent problem in our society and culture, it’s a lot worse in mass and social media and Hollywood, because the attempts at perpetuating male dominance are so flat-out obvious, and because of the importance and impact these industries have in forming young minds. Everyone is exposed to newspapers, magazines, movies, tv series, talk shows and cartoons, but those five-year-old boys are looking up to James Bond, while the girls can’t identify with a female role model who saves the world. Yes, there are movies where women take center stage, and the industry is changing, but female dominance in a positive light is still seen as abnormal, and this is one of those instances where representation and the feminist movement pushing it forward are of extreme importance in educating the next generation.

One thing I deeply believe in is that the defining meaning of feminism is no longer one of conquering the same rights for the sexes. Truly, the new wave of feminism is not just about equality in a sexual context, but it’s about equality in general, and that means that any form of oppression is condemned and that any oppressed group is uplifted. In the book The Lenses of Gender, the great Sandra Bem explores just that. She dissects, among other things, how the oppression of women is deeply connected with the systemic discrimination of people based on gender and sexuality, because their gender-subversive identity defies and violates the androcentric, gender-polarizing, and biologically essentialist definition of a “real” woman or man. So, issues related to the oppression of women are intimately related to other forms of oppression, and, therefore, it’s up to feminism to empower all sexual minorities and genders in their battle, just like it does to women.

Finding frames through which to view these people in all of their complexity in humane ways is essential in battling the established and institutionalized propensity to objectification. Roles where women and minorities play parts with emotional depth, rather than being one-dimensional mannequins, along with actively listening to them, and focusing on eliminating the stereotypes that surround the “proper” characteristics and roles of each sex and gender, are imperative steps towards equality.

That bitterness is now gone, in part because I’ve grown accustomed to double standards, but also because I found that the message is starting to come across a lot more. Fair representation is something so simple, yet so powerful in shaping young minds. Girls and boys should be able to learn that the position of women in society shouldn’t be one of disposable sexual organs, who serve to please a man who saves the world, but rather one of equality and freedom. Both men and women can be in monogamous relationships, just like both can save the world and have tons of sex.

S.

 

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Life

Judgement Of Exposure

Hey.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about our fears as humans. Living in society, other people’s judgement of who we are or appear to be is a key factor to our relationships. But, when meeting someone new, we choose what we want to expose about ourselves, in a way that we build our best image. And this seems quite simple and normal, but, if you think about it, is it really? Some who’s new in your life doesn’t expect you to expose your deepest core to them, but expects honesty. Honesty, I think, is the mild version of exposure. To be honest about yourself, about your identity, about what makes you you, is, in theory, the basis for a good relationship. So, where does exposure come into play, and why do we fear it so much?

By definition, exposure can mean experience (the fact of experiencing something or being affected by it because of being in a particular situation or place), attention (the fact of an event or information being often discussed in newspapers and on the television) or being made public (the fact of something someone’s done being made public). And, here, you have three cases of exposure: 1. Experience – revealing some experiences you had during your life is something completely normal when you’re talking to someone. Revealing past trauma or bad personality traits is unthinkable if you just met someone, but telling them something as simple as “I had a dog” is usually fine; 2. Attention – Exposing yourself is especially hard because of how unpredictable others’ reaction is. This is why we tend to only reveal ourselves to people we know best – people whose reactions we can somewhat predict; 3. Public eye – The unknown is scary. So, thinking that people you don’t know anything about know a deep secret of yours is bound to make you uncomfortable.

Keeping secrets to ourselves and limiting exposure is our way to guard and control the way others perceive us. But, in doing so, it’s easy to get caught up in building a “perfect” persona, for fear of judgement. And we don’t just do this when it comes to our secrets or personality, but in our tastes and passions too. We pretend we love movies and tv shows we never watched, we pretend we don’t like songs we definitely love (the origin of “guilty pleasures” – which, by itself, creates “forbidden” and shameful tastes). Yet, when you get close to someone, you start shedding those layers of parent education, societal expectations, self-guarding, and repression, to reveal a more unfiltered and raw you. So, it gets almost impossible, and definitely tiring, to keep up a pristine and unreal image of yourself. Flaws are human, and that’s scary. It’s not easy dealing with the fact that an honest and close relationship comes with exposure and, yes, a bit of judgement.

My point for this post is for you to be honest and real about yourself. Not only is being something you’re not draining and exhausting, but, in the long run, people will catch on. Don’t be afraid to say you love Justin Bieber, or never watched Star Wars. Don’t be afraid of enjoying watching TLC. Don’t be afraid to show your quirks, to share your story, or to reveal something less positive about yourself to those you bond with.

 

S.

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Life, War, World

Syria Today

Hey.

In my previous post, I covered the Syrian War, the reasons behind it and how its events played out. So, if you haven’t checked that out, I definitely recommend that you do it. But, in this post, I want to talk about the other side of this war. I want to talk about the people, what’s left of the country, the impact the war had, and what’s changing.

The Syrian War has killed around 470,000 people. Around 4.8 million Syrians are refugees outside of Syria, with Turkey hosting 2.7 million of them. Fifty percent of Syrian refugees are women, and a third are children, according to UNHCR data. The percentage of Syrians killed or injured is 11,5%, while 45% of the country’s population was displaced, 6.36 million internally and more than 4 million abroad, fueling the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe. ‘Of the 470,000 war dead counted by the SCPR, about 400,000 were directly due to violence, while the remaining 70,000 fell victim to lack of adequate health services, medicine, especially for chronic diseases, lack of food, clean water, sanitation and proper housing, especially for those displaced within conflict zones.’ – The Guardian. Close to 1 million Syrians have requested asylum in various countries, particularly Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and the European Union. This year alone, around 2.500 migrants have died while trying to flee from the war. ‘Health, education and income standards have all deteriorated sharply. Poverty increased by 85% in 2015 alone.’ ‘Consumer prices rose 53% last year.’ Syria has an inflation rate of 48.09%, and food inflation rate of 57.47%.  ‘Employment conditions and pay have deteriorated and women work less because of security concerns. About 13.8 million Syrians have lost their source of livelihood.’  According to Amnesty International:

  • Gulf countries including Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain have offered zero resettlement places to Syrian refugees.
  • Other high income countries including Russia, Japan, Singapore and South Korea have also offered zero resettlement places.

At least 28,277 civilians have died in shootings and mass killings. At least 27,006 civilians were killed in mortar, artillery and rocket attacks. At least 18,866 civilians were killed in Syrian government air attacks. At least 8,871 civilians were killed after being kidnapped, detained and/or tortured. At least 984 civilians were killed by exposure to chemical or toxic substances.

These are the facts. But these are people we’re talking about, not numbers. Actual lives of people who are terrified, hurt, hungry, dying, being tortured, barely surviving, in fear. These are people who are being taken from the world. So, what’s changing? Well, for starters, in September 12, a cease-fire was announced, after an agreement, between the US and Russia, that all attacks would cease, except those against ISIS and groups affiliated with al-Qaeda. Secondly, ISIS is losing ground on all fronts. Also, a lot of its militants are on the run. But, the thing about war is that it’s unpredictable. No one except for the minds behind it can influence the outcome, but it’s impossible to know what that outcome will actually be. But we don’t have to resign to watching the news, or reading articles about Syria – there are things anyone can do.

 

S.

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