Friday, October 03, 2008

Watch-A-Thon flick 2.5: FLOW

FLOW: FOR LOVE OF WATER—A maddening eye-opener of a documentary
trailer | site
This is a MUST SEE!

Reviewed by WIRED magazine as "the scariest movie at the Sundance Film Festival," FLOW traces the past, documents the present, and cautions on the future of fresh water rights, privatization, and scarcity. In its value as a natural resource, and as a result, in strategic power and influence, it's been called "the next oil," and we can see how dependence on and control of the supply of oil has tilted politics, the economy, and daily life right now, every day.

The film does an excellent job of surveying the state of water pollution and privatization in the 21st century, explaining how industrial interests have used their political power to influence regulation of waste and its disposal, allowing for the pollution and poisoning of the fresh water of not only those unlucky enough to live near factories or refineries, but those living thousands of miles away. Here are some threads/stories covered by the film, what I can recall, at least. Please pardon the vagueness, unremembered proper names, and absence of citations.

A Swedish company produces a particular fertilizer that when dissolved in water has been proven to cause the spontaneous switching of sex in amphibians, and may be connected to reduced sperm count in human males. Once these effects were documented, every country in the EU outlawed the use of the fertilizer. However, in closed door meetings with the EPA, the company managed to win the agency's approval, and the chemical continues to be in use today. The company continues to create and sell the toxic fertilizer to the United States, but it's not allowed to sell it in its own country.

In Michigan, Nestle built a water pumping and bottling facility that was removing fresh water from a source at a monstrous rate, reducing once rolling rivers and deep lakes to shallow creeks and mud flats, essentially stealing the flow of water from lands that thrived on it for millennia. Local farmers, business owners, and citizens came together to fight this theft, and after an extended legal battle, beat Nestle and shut down their pumping operation. When Nestle appealed the decision, they requested that they be allowed to resume pumping until the appeal was resolved. They were allowed. Ultimately, they original verdict was overturned, and the factory resumed pumping at full capacity. The Michigan citizens have appealed Nestle's appeal...

In a town in India, inhabitants faced down a similar challenge, presented by a Coca-Cola plant that was tainting their water and poisoning their environment. Although Coca-Cola denies any wrong-doing, even after attempting to play the benevolent enterprise by offering locals free fertilizer for their crops, touted as nutrition-rich by-products of processing, but actually toxic waste products, after two years of vocal protest, the townspeople succeeded in having the plant shut down.

But it's not all doom and gloom. Just mostly.

There are signs of hope, found in both tradition and technology. For some communities, a return to old ways may spell relief. Traditional irrigation and natural farming techniques can revitalize lands ravaged by the use of the water-thirsty chemicals of modern industrial farming. And ages-old strategies for trapping, storing, and rationing rain water are still sound.

Applied technology, such as a UV irradiator used to kill the bacteria in a community's tainted water source, can be implemented in simple and cheap ways, allowing even the poorest communities to become self-sufficient as far as a clean water supply is concerned. The benefits are quickly seen in health and savings. For instance, water that is safe to drink cuts down on disease and illness in both humans and their livestock, which cuts down on the cost of drugs to treat them.

Other cheap services and tech can be used to allow communities to own their own water supplies. Play pumps are groundwater pumps that are powered by merry-go-rounds! Children play on them, spinning the wheel, which provides the mechanical energy to draw the water out from underground and into pipes and storage. Charity:Water is a service that installs wells and pumps in remote locations inexpensively. Both of these are solutions to freeing poor and remote communities from the tyranny of corporate privatized water distributors.

So, there's some hope, but frankly, there's a whole lotta concerted Bad going on in the world when it comes to water. I just can't touch on everything here, but I hafta say that the IMF and World Bank are once again so the Evil here.

Sad to say, I ended up catching FLOW on the last night it played in Boston. Check the movie's website to see if it's coming to your area, and if it is, DO NOT MISS IT! Also click around the site to learn more, and consider changing your personal habits or getting involved in raising awareness or influencing policy and politics if you can. Before you can't.

* October 4, 2008. Note that I changed the title of this post from "Watch-A-Thon flick 3" to "Watch-A-Thon flick 2.5." By the rules of the Brattle WAT, films screened at the Brattle count as 1 movie, while those screened elsewhere count as half.

Keep on keepin on~

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