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Markets and trading – part of being human

Sitting in a research centre with a mandate to engage in sustainability-related research across the entire university, means that I usually get to hear all sides of arguments. And there is certainly debate about everything. While the lack of consensus, or diversity of opinion, that exists in academia, may often confuse members of our society who don't have the luxury of reading primary peer-reviewed literature, the fact is, that debate and argument are at the crux of what we do as academics. (And, yes, there IS overwhelming agreement in the peer-reviewed literature that human-created greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels are enhancing the planetary greenhouse effect).

These days, I frequently listen to divergent, and passionate opinions on whether carbon markets, carbon taxes, and carbon offsets  are good or bad. This debate is especially heated among members of the academic community interested in the link between climate change, ecological footprints, adaptation and mitigation, and poverty reduction.

My view, is that humans are hard-wired to trade stuff. Shopping, the souq, local farmer's markets, the Christmas bazaar, the summer fete, and the invention of money all come out of this fundamental behaviour. So, whether or not one thinks, that carbon offsets are the modern day equivalent of buying indulgences in the hope of saving one's soul, there will eventually be prices put on previously largely unpriced resources such as carbon and water. This will happen just as soon as we have agreed-upon ways of quantifying them. Advocates for human rights, justice and equity simply must ensure that they have seat at these negotiating tables. The fact that Canada's failure to endorse water as a human right keeps popping up as a topic at campus World Water Day celebrations, emphasises this for me.


I have been very interested to encounter, in my role as IRIS' Director, in the last few years, businesses that aim at engaging with the practicalities of these incipient and emerging resource markets. For example, I recently received in my inbox, the XPV Waterview Newsletter for July/August 2009, which I actually opened, and read. After digesting the last line, "This should not be construed as an offering document and is solely intended to inform readers of recent developments with XPV Capital and the water sector.", I read the newsletter again. Then I discovered more of these newsletters buried in my inbox and they were great, too. My interest was piqued, and I then went to the website, to try and figure out exactly who had put together such an interesting and informative document with an amazing cartoon about beavers, that I will certainly refer to in my Ecology lectures.


So, XPV Capital is, quite simply, a VC (venture capital) or investment firm with a great website, especially its "water facts" feed and news updates. I learned outfrom the "About" page, that:

"XPV Capital Corporation partners with entrepreneurs in emerging water companies by:

• Investing capital to ignite your growth; and
• Leveraging our extensive knowledge, expertise, and contacts to help build your business.

XPV is committed to helping you and your business succeed.  As experienced water entrepreneurs and investment professionals, we understand the unique opportunities and challenges of emerging water companies.  We work hard to give you the competitive advantage that only the right investor partnership can deliver."

Now, I am a biologist, who teaches the water cycle and has been showing the marvellous 1993 Dutch government documentary, "Troubled Water" in my 2nd year Ecology course for years. But, here are business people, aware of the same data and information as I am, and acting upon them in quite a different way. As Mr. Spock would say, "fascinating". The XPV website also told me on the investments page:

"The way we produce, manage, and use water is forced to change and is impacting governments, corporations, and citizens around the world. This drastic transformation in the water industry will create unprecedented investment opportunities as water transitions from a simple life sustaining substance taken for granted by many, into one of the most economically and socially valuable resources of the 21st century." Given our propensity as a species, to trade stuff, this is bang-on, and, to my mind, indicative of the obvious next steps to emerge, following the concerns raised by such books such as Marq De Villier's Water (2001), and Vandana Shiva's Water Wars (2002). Although, it's taken longer than I would have thought it would.

Even in Canada, we need to manage and conserve water more effectively - and I for one am delighted that XPV is generating business and investment in this area that highlights these needs. I look forward to reading more newsletters.

Dawn R. Bazely

PS Troubled Water, the documentary, reports how "In a fictitious newcast from the year 2018, reporters discuss a future where water is scarce, and the causes of the crisis are found in the past, in poor management and lack of understanding of the many uses for water, for food through recreation, that have to be managed as well, in order to conserve water for the future." (Video 0572 in York U's Sound and Moving Image Library)

The Big Green Purse! AKA The Sustainable Shopping Bible Pt. 2/4

Pt.2 - Cosmetics and Personal Care Products

Do we really need to slather our bodies with 10 or 15 products every day? Or have the manufacturers of these commodities simply convinced us that we do?”

consider the notion that we have possibly been brainwashed to believe we need to douse ourselves in chemicals to make us "beautiful" - whatever!

Some Sad Facts:

  • Cosmetics are among the least-regulated substances in the marketplace
  • A U.S. research report showed that 89% of 10,500 ingredients used in cosmetics have not been evaluated for safety
  • Cosmetics manufacturers do not require FDA approval
  • Evidence is mounting that women face risk of breast cancer due to cumulative exposure to the chemicals in these products
  • Only 10% of breast cancers have been linked to known risk factors like smoking and heredity
  • The cumulative use of cosmetics and care products may also be contributing to asthma
  • Wastewater treatment systems cannot remove many of the chemicals they contain when they are washed down the drain.
  • Check out , a reliable and informative safety guide to cosmetics and care products, run by the Environmental Working Group (thanks Ashley!)

Canada goes Rogue

On April 2, Toronto Star revealed that Canada played the central role in thwarting a Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council resolution asserting water as a human right. In what could have been a landmark declaration protecting communities from the threat of expropriation or profiteering, water rights activists including respected environmental and civil society leaders from Canada left with a sense of foreboding, ever more fearful that without a clear verdict from the Council, corporate interests will increasingly take precedence over the right to life in a water-stressed world.

Sadly, this US-backed stance (with Canada possibly playing the role of proxy, as the US does not hold a seat in the body) is only the latest affirmation of the accelerating corporate tilt of Canadian policies in the international arena as witnessed recently in climate change talks in Bali. As acerbically noted last December by Peter Gorrie, talks like those held in Bali or for that matter in Geneva are beginning to follow a predictable script:

Long days of desultory talks are followed, as departure time looms, by chaotic – often angry – marathon negotiations. When agreement is almost at hand, Russia, pretty much invisible to that point, raises a furious complaint, only to be mollified by what amounts to a pat on the head.

Canada dominates the Fossil of the Day awards for obstruction, even though, as at the just-completed 13th annual meeting in Bali, it might have spent most of the two-week event on the sidelines. The United States remains intransigent until the last minute, when it dramatically relents.

A deal is made. It never exceeds the lowest expectations. Officials praise it; environmental advocates express disappointment.

While this trend preceeds the current government's gutting of climate change initiatives (Canada fell far behind its Kyoto commitments years ago), it has grown worrisome with Canada now joining a small but influential group of obstructionist countries who actively resist international initiatives and obligations. This was most odiously embodied in September 2007 by our stunning rejection alongside the US, Australia, and New Zealand of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This also led the Conservative minority government to favour the "Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate" in April 2007 as a strictly voluntary, technology-based alternative to Kyoto, making good on their promise to pull out of Kyoto's binding emission reduction targets.

While one may take umbrage from the fact that such treaties are often toothless and wildly ineffective, the "take my marbles and go home" attitude reflects a certain contempt for the international state system in favour of a looser and more opportunistic coalition of actors that reflect the interests of particular alliances such as NATO and governments with strong corporate ties. Moreover, the disrespect extends to the countless Canadians drawn from civil society who have played important roles in the treaty making process. Most alarmingly though, it represents a dramatic shift from a country that has for many years inhabited the respectable terrain of a consensus-forging middle power in the international imaginary, to a more naked role as a loyal lieutenant of Empire and servant of big business. Back to the Future indeed.

Excellent Water Articles in today’s Globe and Mail’s Report on Business Mag

There are 3 excellent articles by Andrew Nikiforuk, John Lorinc, and Eric Reguly, plus a book review of Dry Spring by Chris Wood, in this morning's business mag. They all discuss how demands for water in Canada (and the world) are impacting the environment, business and ordinary people. It's well worth the price of today's newspaper (And, no, I am not being paid by the Globe to promote their paper!). The first, Liquid Asset, by Andrew Nikiforuk, is a great follow-up to the recent doc about the Tar Sands, aired on CBC. If you haven't yet read Vandana Shiva, Maude Barlow and Marq de Villiers, these articles will get you up to speed on the issues, fast.

When we began collaborating with colleagues from the National University of Mongolia, I was really struck by how little water Prof. Sonya Nergui used when she washed her hands in the sink at my house! Water conservation and respect for water is utterly ingrained in her culture. Canadians can learn an awful lot about water conservation from our Mongolian friends and colleagues.

Yesterday was World Water Day

What with Earth Hour and Earth Day coming up and International Women's day come and gone, I totally forgot about World Water Day. But, last year, 2007, York University students, led by Korice Moir, who was helped by Roberta Hawkins (see the gender and water poster), and Paul Marmer, the 3 Master's students, who went to Mongolia for 3 months in 2006, as part of our Sustainable Water in Mongolia project, organized a great event with fellow Faculty of Environmental Studies students. Here are a few pictures. We had a hike around the campus (see our former Campus Planner, and IRIS exec. member, Andrew Wilson, in the central picture at the bottom) and learned about lost rivers, and the First Nations land claim that still remains to be settled. There were also posters and displays in Vari Hall and students taste-tested the difference between tap and bottled water (top photo).

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