$2.25, or $0, The Bigger Issue at Hand to the Recent B.C. – Nestle Ground Water Sale.

The recent sale of groundwater extraction rights to Nestle by the B.C Government [1] does not simply outline the gross undervaluation of an essential resource but actually goes a step further and introduces a much more complex debate: how or if we should be assigning a price tag to these natural resources.

The current price on groundwater in B.C. for large-scale uses is set at $0, so while the increase to $2.25/million litres is an improvement (¢10/TRILLION litres would be as well), it is still a ridiculous pricing when compared with other provinces.

This undervaluation of natural resources is nothing new. In fact it happens all the time, and everywhere across the globe. It is especially the case in underdeveloped nations that have few working industries but the natural goods and services their environment have, which becomes easier and cheaper for corrupt governing bodies to sell off to the extraction sector than to properly develop themselves. At least in Canada, and other developed nations, we have the resources and institutions to make these extractive processes less damaging and more accountable, i.e. the Environmental Impact Assessment process.

Aside from the under cutting of essential resources for human life, in case that wasn’t exciting enough, this sale has highlighted a broader and much more complex debate on whether we should be assigning a price for natural goods like water and how could/should it be done.

This option is problematic but is continuously backed by policy makers and international governing bodies such as the World Bank, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, and the IUCN.[2] They see the global market as a way to regulate resources and avoid their mistreatment. Most importantly the issue lies in this simply being the a continuation of the neoliberal agenda thinking process that a market value can solve every issue known to humans.

This ideology has promoted environmental injustice in under developed nations by exporting the extraction sector to countries without any other industry on which to rely. Some corrupt officials will choose to sell off natural resources cheaply, without any protective services, instead of developing them safely for the benefit of their own constituents. This often occurs because it seems as if it is their only option in part, if not wholly, because of the neoliberal structure.

Before we start slapping price tags on our one and only planet’s gifts, we should start rethinking the structures that have led us to this point, and who are still entrenched in their seats of power, more than willing to allow the status quo to continue. If we push nature into the global market then we run the risk of simply continuing the mechanisms that have brought us to this point of expected environmental collapse.

On a final note, just to add some confusion to the matter, would putting a price on the environment be all bad? The answer is likely no. Nature is already being exploited so if we were to start assigning prices, a concept that corporations and those who are adding to the planet’s destruction can understand, it may actually influence them to implement better practices and cleaner mechanisms. In EIA, the precautionary principle to environmental development, monitoring and compliance checking is one of the core ideals, but is often the source of most of the processes downfalls. If we were to monetize nature, maybe the penalties would finally begin to prop these steps up to the forefront of EIA.

Before completely ending I would like to suggest further readings, found within the following references section into the matter as this post has barely even skimmed the surface of the entire debate, especially [3] which has an excellent write up on the debate as well as a lively commentary rebuttal by several expert professionals, and [4] which is a transcript of a lecture on this topic, also offering the recording of said lecture (be warned it is lengthy at 1 hour and 18 minutes, but absolutely worth it).

[1] Fumano, Dan. (2015, March 9th). Outrage Boils Over as B.C. Government Plans to Sell Groundwater for $2.25 per Million Litres. The Province. Retrieved from http://www.theprovince.com/news/Outrage+boils+over+government+plans+sell+groundwater+million+litres/10865416/story.html

[2] McAfee, Kathleen. (1999). Selling Nature to Save it? Biodiversity and the Rise of Green Development. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 17:2. 133-154.

[3] Unmüßig, Barbara. (2014, August). Monetizing Nature: Taking Precaution on a Slippery Slope. Great Transition Initiative. Retrieved from http://www.greattransition.org/publication/monetizing-nature-taking-precaution-on-a-slippery-slope

[4] Monbiot, George. (2014, July). Put a Price on Nature? We Must stop this Neoliberal Road to Ruin. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/georgemonbiot/2014/jul/24/price-nature-neoliberal-capital-road-ruin