The Commodisation of Water and Life Itself

The commoditisation of life – humans as ‘work units’, as mere ‘things’, land as capital, produce as lifeless ‘pork units’ etc.  All the meaning reduced to the most basic measure; weight or volume or cost, at its worst undifferentiated by any quality or moral perspective that presumes there may be a moral obligation.  All the connection reduced to an ‘object’, an ‘other’, outside ourselves.  The objectification of life.

Commoditising life

Sarah Lazarovic

We have to reimagine our world before the mechanics in corporate offices and in our own Treasury completely destroy the essence of life they cannot even conceptualise in their own mind.  What you cannot see, you unwittingly destroy.

And then we have water …. we ought to reject any suggestion of commoditising it.  Listen to the indigenous philosophers – including the old European indigenes before Modernity burnt them at the stake – not the corporate traders or the neoliberal economists.  Reject completely the ideas of Nestlé chairman and former CEO Peter Brabeck-Letmathe that evil-begins-pratchett.jpgaccess to water should not be a public right,” in justification for Nestlé’s attempts to control aquifers around the world.  Commoditisation and any semblance of a moral worldview (and I do not consider today’s dominant economic utilitarianism as a relevant ethical base for governance in any way) are not easy bedfellows, especially where there is a combination of power and the pursuit of personal gain.

I made this very point about never treating water as a measured ‘thing’ for ‘sale’ at a recent Forest & Bird candidates meeting.  Neither commoditise, nor sell.  If you sell, ownership will likely concentrate to the powerful, and that natural system to which we belong is lost to us.

Rather, assess those that apply to join our community, into our ‘common’, into our own common vessel that is all that water is and does.  If they pass the test, give them the right to be part of our water story for a time if they demonstrate the right morals as virtues or duties of care and belonging (never mind their money or measured financial ‘utility’), even levy them for the use, fine.  But never commoditise and sell.  It is that approach that is the basic of commons thinking around the world.Water Sale

But keep your filthy Neoliberal hands (to paraphrase Roger Waters) off our water.

Commoditisation of water is based on a way of seeing the world that is completely false.

It is based on a 400 year old Western myth – Modernity – that has been blown to bits throughout the 20th century though used by all the ideologies of the day – Cecil Rhodes’ Colonialism, Il Duce’s Fascism, Hitler’s National Socialism, Stalin’s State Communism, Thatcher/Reagan/Douglas/Richardson/Keys’ Neoliberal Market Liberalism.  All essentially heartless and mechanical, oh so Modern constructs of life and policy.

All are ideologies based on untrue mechanical, reducible and deterministic fallacies.  Life as a machine.  Even people as ‘other’, categorised into simple dichotomies; black and white, good and bad, etc.


Resourcism – It’s running out fast

Such ‘resourcism’ thinking will kill us all unless we change, because it is based on no understanding of life as it is; its complexity, uncertainty, feedbacks, thresholds, etc.  It sees only measured cogs in their factory view.  It will tip us over all thresholds – social, economic & environmental because it is too busy operating the machine to look up and see the bull charging.

This deep set philosophical debate is at the very heart of our future; the return to philosophies of belonging and an ethics that rejects dollar measures of ‘utility’.

Dame Anne Salmond says it so well.


“To treat freshwater as a commodity is to treat it as an object, based on a Cartesian split between mind vs matter that has been undone by brain science; subject vs object which has been exploded by quantum physics; and people vs environment which is confounded by the findings of the environmental sciences.

This is old, dead science, and non-adaptive.ANNE-SALMOND-350.jpg

Treating freshwater as a ‘resource’ providing ‘ecosystem services’, as though water was created for human purposes, echoes ancient myths in which men and women were ‘given dominion’ over the plants, birds and fish, and commanded to ‘subdue the earth’ (e.g. Genesis).

Like the old geocentric cosmos, this kind of anthropocentric thinking has no scientific basis.

We need to catch up with the insights of contemporary science, and see that freshwater is a vital element in an array of complex systems, human and non-human. To degrade and pollute freshwater puts those systems at risk, with severe impacts on human health and prosperity, among other negative consequences.”  

Anne Salmond


Simply put, if we “subdue the earth,” we subdue ourselves.

And if we commoditise and sell our water, we sell ourselves.

Chris Perley

Chris Perley has a background in the field, in management, policy, consulting and research relating to land use, the environment, provincial economies and communities.  He is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability.


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