Tag Archives: water

The Lived Experience of Water

Recently released from UTP, The Wonder of Water: Lived Experience, Policy, and Practice is an edited collection that reminds us of our primordial belonging to and need for water – a relation so essential that it is often taken for granted in policy development and decision making. The chapters are written by some of the world’s leading phenomenological thinkers who tackle subjects from flow motions to urban river restoration.


Ingrid Leman Stefanovic

If you are like most people, you will have begun your day by brushing your teeth, flushing a toilet, washing your hands and face and, then, tea or coffee was probably a necessary part of your breakfast. As you moved through these morning activities, you will have taken for granted the fact that safe and secure water was ready and available.

For many of us in the developed world, that ready availability of water is accepted on a pre-thematic level: it is only when the water is turned off that we explicitly realize how vital it is to our existence. As others have said, try going three days without water to recognize its ontological value.

The Wonder of Water: Lived Experience, Policy, and Practice, brings together thinkers who are attuned to the fundamental importance of water to our embodied lives. They each hope to shed some light on the fact that our water policies and practices should be informed not simply by abstract principles but by that deep need that we each have, as beings composed 60% of water, of this basic, life-giving liquid.

Certainly, it is important that rational thinking and evidence-based science inform decisions and policy making around water. Many books on water ethics and water security do an excellent job at covering complex policy issues. However, The Wonder of Water uniquely argues that we need to ensure that the deeply personal, embodied, imaginative, ontological interpretations of the value of water equally inform policy conversations.

Consider, for instance, how every day the news media highlights the growing risks of climate change to our health and to the well-being of the planet. Fewer and fewer skeptics deny the anthropogenic causes of climate warming and, increasingly, there are calls for substantive policy change in favour of more sustainable lifestyle choices.

Whether manifested through more serious droughts or deadly floods or rising sea levels, the reality is, as UN Water pointed out in 2019, that “water is the primary medium through which we will feel the effects of climate change.” Moreover, “the world is on the brink of a deadly crisis, as the combination of water stress and climate change creates a dangerous outlook for children.”[1] UNICEF recounts the stories of 12-year-old Swapna who, after Cyclone Roanu hit Bangladesh, returned home to find her neighbourhood, including all the trees, gone; or how a father in Zimbabwe, struggling to feed his family after a severe drought, was forced to sell his daughter for a few goats. In Canada, we have whole communities operating on boil water advisories. And then there is the reality that every day, over 800 children die from preventable diseases caused by unsafe water and lack of sanitation.[2]

Our book is meant to remind us that each of these lives, and others like them, are at risk and, consequently, meaningful policy changes cannot wait. Climate deniers and environmental skeptics should be invited to look each of these children in the eyes and ask themselves whether these children’s everyday embodied pain and suffering do not matter. “Policies” and regulations affect real lives. They are not simply articles of debate for conferences or international meetings. Rather, the urgency of enacting water policies that are effective and comprehensive comes from the realization that individual lives, emotions, physical health, and happiness are affected by high-powered decisions that themselves must be meaningfully informed by the lived repercussions of those policy choices.

Certainly, environmental decision making should be informed by statistics and quantitative data. Our point is, however, that a different kind of thinking – one that is less calculative and more originative, discerning, and perhaps reflecting even a kind of poetic sensibility toward individual human experiences – needs to drive policy making.

So, Part One of the book aims to remind us of what the lived experience of water might mean, not only in terms of human priorities but also relating to non-human animals and the breathing planet. Part Two shows us how water defines place, not simply as a geographical location but as the embodied projection of human understanding of the world in which we find ourselves. Part Three offers examples of how policies and decisions arise in different communities that are informed by diverse practices and ethical perspectives. The book begins and ends with poetic reflections, reminding us that policies must be driven not only by calculation but by mindful, discerning commitment to our embodied, revered, existential experiences of water.

Overall, the book invites the reader to re-engage with the lived experience and wonder of water, not only because human rights demand safe water or the benefits outweigh the costs of providing water security, but because, simply put, without water, there is no life. This fact we can never take for granted.

***

To read an excerpt from The Wonder of Water, click here.


Ingrid Leman Stefanovic is Dean of the Faculty of Environment and professor in the School of Resource and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University. She is also a professor emerita in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Toronto.

[1] Please see https://www.unicef.org/wash/waterandclimate/

[2] Please see https://www.unicef.org/wash/

 

 

The Canadian Environment in Political Context

To mark the publication of The Canadian Environment in Political Context, the author, Andrea Olive, provides an overview of the book’s contents in addition to reflecting on why she decided to write the book and how its approach will benefit students.

Canadian Environment in Political Context_FINALThe Canadian Environment in Political Context is a direct outcome of my own cross-border and cross-discipline background. I grew up in Saskatchewan and moved to Alberta and then Nova Scotia for university. After that, I hopped across the border to Washington DC to work for a lobby group in higher education. From there it was a quick jump to Indiana for my PhD. While all my academic degrees are in the discipline of political science, my research tends to cross over into geography, environmental studies, Indigenous studies, and public law. I started my academic career at the University of Michigan-Dearborn where I taught American environmental policy and researched endangered species conservation and Arctic issues. In 2012, I returned home to Canada and took a position at the University of Toronto where I am officially cross-appointed between the departments of political science and geography. I now teach Canadian environmental policy. Since the Canadian political system is so different from the US system, I have had to reorient myself in order to understand the environment inside a parliamentary democracy.

This book is based on my experience of teaching environmental policy in a political science department for the past six years. What I have come to realize is that you cannot understand environmental policy until you understand federalism. This is truer in Canada than the US since sub-national jurisdictions in Canada (the provinces and to some extent the territories) have enormous power in natural resource development and property regulations. You also cannot fully grasp environmental policy without knowledge of Indigenous politics (in the North but also across the country) and recent Supreme Court decisions. Canadian politics is fascinating. Even more so, putting Canadian environmental policy into its political context is both enthralling and necessary.

The book is organized into twelve chapters that in many respects reflect twelve different lectures or modules in my undergraduate course. But more than just lectures, the chapters should reflect the thousands of conversations that I have had with students, colleagues, and policy makers in recent years.

The book begins with an overview of Canada’s environmental track record from coast to coast to coast. The next two chapters present a broad outline of the Canadian political system and policy process. The fourth chapter is a sweeping history of environmentalism in Canada, focusing on the “waves” in the twentieth century, and then the inertia under the most recent Conservative government. Chapters five through eight are issue focused: endangered species, water, land, and energy. Understanding the role of the federal government and the provinces is the key focus, but attention is also given to the role of cities, non-governmental organizations, and citizens in each issue-area. Aboriginal politics is the topic of chapter nine and provides the reader with an introduction to Indigenous peoples in Canada as well as a history of aboriginal law and environmental policy across the country. This flows nicely into chapter ten, which focuses on the North and Far North where First Nations and Inuit play a large role in natural resource management and environmental policy making (and implementation). However, the chapter also focuses on energy politics and international governance via the Arctic Council. Chapter eleven places the Canadian environment into a global context, and explains the country’s role in international agreements on environmental issues like biodiversity, hazardous chemicals, and climate change. Finally, the concluding chapter provides both a summary of the book’s main points as well as a forward-looking account of Canada in the twenty-first century. Ultimately hopeful, the book posits that the best environmental policies lie ahead.

The obvious intention of the book is to help undergraduate students understand how the Canadian political system, namely federalism, shapes environmental policy and law in the country. However, the book should also engage readers and inspire deeper exploration into the concepts and issues discussed in the twelve chapters. American readers will be able to draw contrasts to their own political system in which federalism is organized differently and, consequently, plays into environmental policy differently. Since Canada and the US are so deeply intertwined from both an economic and an environmental standpoint, the book covers many topics that can best be understood in a North American context. Similarly, other international readers should hopefully be able to understand why Canada makes environmental policy (or fails to make policy) the way it does. Ultimately, I hope all readers finish the book with a new appreciation of the Canadian environment and a desire to change the way they think and act toward a variety of environmental issues.

Andrea Olive is Assistant Professor of Political science and Geography at the University of Toronto Mississauga. Her most recent book is Land, Stewardship, and Legitimacy: Endangered Species Policy in Canada and the United States.

Excerpt: Environmental Inequality: Access to Water

Through the Lens of AnthropologyFor the final entry in a series of four excerpts, all leading up to the publication of Through the Lens of Anthropology: An Introduction to Human Evolution and Culture by Robert J. Muckle and Laura Tubelle de González, we would like to share part of the book’s discussion of social inequality.

Through the Lens of Anthropology is an introductory four-field textbook with a fresh perspective, a lively narrative, and plenty of popular topics that are sure to engage students. The following excerpt is taken from Chapter 12: Politics: Keeping Order. Water is the focus of these two pages, and in particular inequality of access to water. This is just a small portion of the book’s section on social inequality, but it provides a good indication of how the book incorporates its twin themes of food and sustainability into all areas of anthropology.

If you have ever wondered how different parts of the world rely on water to survive, this excerpt is worth a read.

Download the excerpt here.

Note: If you are scheduled to teach an introductory anthropology course, please email requests@utphighereducation.com to request an examination copy of Through the Lens of Anthropology. This is a textbook that is interesting to read, manageable to teach, and that succeeds at igniting interest in anthropology as a discipline. We would be more than happy to give you the opportunity to review it for yourself!

Freshwater Politics and the Gateway Project

To mark the recent publication of Freshwater Politics in Canada, author Peter Clancy provides a brief overview of the freshwater dimensions of the controversial Northern Gateway project, as well as its many political dimensions. For more on this, or on related issues such as fracking, salmon conservation, Aboriginal water interests, freshwater governance, etc., grab a copy of his brand new book!

The Northern Gateway project is one of the most significant energy ventures in Canada today. It proposes a 36 inch oil pipeline to convey diluted bitumen (heavy synthetic oil) from the Fort McMurray region to Kitimat BC. There it will be loaded onto tankers for Asian markets. A parallel 20 inch line will carry imported natural gas condensates, required in the manufacturing process, in the opposite direction. About 45 percent of the 1,177 km corridor is in Alberta with the balance in British Columbia.

Freshwater politics is only part of the controversy here but it is a big part. More than one thousand rivers and streams must be crossed. While all watercourses are sensitive, the proposed Gateway route crosses five major Canadian watersheds. The Skeena and the Fraser drain to the Pacific, the Peace and the Athabasca flow northerly to the Arctic Ocean and the North Saskatchewan River flows easterly to Hudson’s Bay. These watersheds and sub-watersheds enclose a plethora of biological and social communities and each generates a variety of political concerns.

Once upon a time in Canada, pipeline promoters worried principally about construction rights of way and financial backing. Big trunk pipelines were a post-1945 phenomenon with the Interprovincial Pipeline taking Alberta crude to Sarnia and the Trans-Canada Pipeline moving Alberta natural gas to southern Ontario. Today, land rights and financing are still key business parameters but they are joined by a complex set of political—regulatory and distributive—issues, including environmental impacts during the construction phase, operational safety over the life of the line, and pollution protection in the event of breakdowns.

Political conflict is widespread. Several forces ensure this. In part it is because today we know and care far more about the bio-physical environment that pipelines traverse. In part it stems from the fact that the earlier generation of pipelines was dominated by organized interests at the source (producers) and at the terminus (consumers). Interests along the transit route were far less acknowledged. Today the interested public is wider—including First Nations, watershed activists, climate campaigners, and host governments. In addition, regulatory mandates are broader and deeper. In short our governing expectations have been transformed. There is far greater awareness and debate over the apportioning of risks and apportioning of benefits.

In considering the environmental risks associated with Northern Gateway, the 2010 Michigan case is instructive. That July, a forty-year-old pipe ruptured near Battle Creek. In the eighteen hours between the first automated signal warning and the formal report of the breach, up to one million US gallons of oil spilled into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River. The downstream flow affected a 25 mile stretch of the main river channel. With bitumen, the heavier compounds sink in water after a spill while the lighter ones float and evaporate. The pipeline owner, Enbridge Corp, spent more than two years dealing with the damages in the most expensive pipeline cleanup on record. The reasons for the spill—metal fatigue and faulty exterior lining—occurred in a relatively mature system but the issues it raises point to the future of Gateway as well. And remember the thousand-plus streams that the Gateway line will cross.

Freshwater Politics in CanadaAnother striking feature of pipeline politics today is the range of state channels that shape decisions. For example, a project of this scale requires environmental licenses from both federal and provincial authorities. A joint regulatory panel was struck to streamline some of these legal requirements, and policy recommendations were ultimately conveyed to ministers for final decision. The Gateway panel included several hundred conditions as part of its ultimate recommendation for approval and a close analysis of those panel conditions, along with the ultimate ministerial versions, is necessary to capture the proposed apportioning of risks and benefits.

Another critical channel of state authority is the courts. In vast stretches of proposed pipeline route, title to land is in dispute. First Nations that have never signed treaties or other land transfer agreements claim continuing Aboriginal rights to tribal territory. Without such guarantees from state authorities, it can be expected that a variety of legal injunctions can be expected to affect the project.

In sum, the Northern Gateway project casts freshwater politics in sharp relief. In this, it joins a far wider set of agricultural, industrial, and municipal projects in regions across Canada.

Peter Clancy is Professor of Political Science and an associate with Interdisciplinary Studies in Aquatic Resources (ISAR) at St. Francis Xavier University. He is the author of Offshore Petroleum Politics: Regulation and Risk in the Scotian Basin (2011) as well as Micropolitics and Canadian Business: Paper, Steel, and the Airlines (2004), and, with Anders Sandberg, Against the Grain: Foresters and Politics in Nova Scotia (2000).

Note: If you are an instructor and would like to consider adding Freshwater Politics in Canada to the required reading list for an upcoming course, please email requests@utphighereducation.com to request an examination copy.