The Corporate Privatization of Water

One of the most important and underreported news stories right now is the accelerating corporate privatization of the one natural resource essential to the existence of all life: water. Throughout the world, private corporations are taking over the water distribution and supply systems and running them for profit. Despite the fact that these corporate water barons have a documented track record of decreasing people’s access to water, the IMF and World Bank continue to insist privatization as the answer to the developing worlds water needs.

One of the largest of the water barons is the US firm Bechtel, which has been awarded multi-million dollar contracts to rebuild the water system in Iraq. Due to the 1991 gulf war and the following sanctions, the Iraqi water supply system is not adequate to the nations needs. Despite the millions of dollars of reconstruction funds that have flowed into its coffers, Bechtel has not managed to repair the Iraqi water system over the last year.

Water privatization has had a very negative effect throughout the so-called “developing” world, particularly Africa, India and Latin, and South America. It has also impacted the “first world” as well. Here in Western Michigan, where we have the largest supplies of fresh water in the world, international corporations are trying to profit from our water resources. Citizen groups, such as the Sweetwater Alliance, have been resisting the Nestle corporation’s efforts to bottle and sell millions of gallons of Michigan water. Here in Grand Rapids, the local organization Clean Water Action works to protect our right to clean and affordable water.

Critical Mass Grand Rapids Has Its Biggest Ride of the Year

On Friday, September 26, Grand Rapids had its monthly Critical Mass ride, with the largest turn out of the year.

GRAND RAPIDS — Grand Rapids’ monthly Critical Mass ride took the streets with its largest turnout of the year Friday evening. Despite the rain, approximately 35 people turned out to celebrate biking and promote pollution-free transportation. The ride takes place on the last Friday of each month in solidarity with rides in over 200 cities around the world.

In addition to the larger size of the ride, this ride was different in that it was the first one that adopted some of the tactics used in other cities to improve the rides. For the first time, the group had flyers to hand out to cars with information about Critical Mass and the reasons behind it. Many motorists and pedestrians were willing to take the flyers which offered the group an opportunity to communicate more effectively about what they were doing–something that has been a subject of confusion in the past. This was also the first ride that made use of “corking” at intersections, where a couple of riders would drop out of the ride and block cars from entering the intersection, thus allowing the mass to pass through without stopping for the traffic signal. This was effective in that it kept the group together and kept the ride together, avoiding splits that have previously happened when half of the ride stops at a light.

In continuing a concerted effort to eliminate the notion that Critical Mass Grand Rapids has de facto “leaders,” the general route of the ride was decided upon before leaving Veterans Park. In addition to deciding on a general route, the route direction remained fluid throughout the ride, with decisions made on the fly during the ride in response to suggestions by participants and changing circumstances. While the decision-making process could be improved so that it did not focus as heavily on the people the front of the ride, it was nevertheless an improvement over what has been done in past years. The route also took the ride out of downtown, moving it into areas where there are more cars and people, a direct response to growing concern that riding around downtown is largely ineffective due to the low numbers of motorists in downtown Grand Rapids on Friday nights.

Critical Mass is a leaderless event and relies on the efforts of individual participants for promotion. A local activist group, Media Mouse, maintains a website for Grand Rapids’ Critical Mass and sends out monthly email reminders about the ride, but does not have any type of leadership role. The website features flyers for interested participants to post around town and attach to bikes that they see parked. For the most part, the ride is promoted through flyers and word-of-mouth, as well as the monthly email update.

The next ride will be on October 31st. Critical Mass meets at Veterans Park at the corner of Fulton and Sheldon in downtown Grand Rapids at 5:15pm and rides at approximately 5:30pm.

Grand Rapids Critical Mass Celebrates its Third Anniversary

Grand Rapids’ Critical Mass bike ride celebrated its third anniversary in the streets of Grand Rapids on Friday, June 27th. Fifteen cyclists came out to celebrate bicycles as a means of pollution-free transportation, in addition to the three-year anniversary. Critical Mass is a monthly mass bike ride promoting bikes as a fun and healthy alternative to driving. Rides occur on the last Friday of every month in over 200 cities worldwide.

GRAND RAPIDS — Grand Rapids’ Critical Mass bike ride celebrated its third anniversary in the streets of Grand Rapids on Friday, June 27th. Fifteen cyclists came out to celebrate bicycles as a means of pollution-free transportation, in addition to the three-year anniversary. Critical Mass is a monthly mass bike ride promoting bikes as a fun and healthy alternative to driving. Rides occur on the last Friday of every month in over 200 cities worldwide.

While Critical Mass has no “official” goal, it has been promoted in Grand Rapids as a way to foster community amongst cyclists, providing a monthly celebration of sorts in which cyclists can assert their rights and enjoy the safety of riding as part of a large group, while promoting bicycles as a viable means of transportation.

The first Critical Mass ride in Grand Rapids occurred in the mid-June of 2000, with the rides occurring regularly on the last Friday of every month since June 2000. The size of the ride varies dramatically, with as many as 50 cyclists participating in some of the larger rides (April of 2001 and September of 2002) and as few as ten cyclists in some of the smaller ones. This month the ride had no encounters with the Grand Rapids Police, and indeed the GRPD has ignored Critical Mass for the past three rides, a fact that participants welcome. The ride is supposed to be a fun experience for cyclists, and in the past encounters with the GRPD have dampened enthusiasm among participants.

Critical Mass is a leaderless event and relies largely on the efforts of individual participants for promotion. A local activist group, Media Mouse, maintains a website for Grand Rapids’ Critical Mass and sends out monthly email reminders about the ride, but does not have any type of leadership role. The website features flyers for interested participants to post around town and attach to bikes that they see parked around town, and for the most part, the ride is promoted through flyers and word-of-mouth.

The next ride will be on July 25th. Critical Mass meets at Veterans Park at the corner of Fulton and Sheldon in downtown Grand Rapids at 5:15pm and rides at approximately 5:30pm.

Critical Mass Rides in Grand Rapids

Critical Mass Grand Rapids took to the streets despite a low turnout this month.

GRAND RAPIDS — Seven cyclists took to the streets of downtown Grand Rapids as part of the monthly Critical Mass bike ride. Turnout at the rides has been quite low since October of last year, when approximately 40 cyclists took a major shopping street — 28th Street and held up traffic for miles while wearing large “No Blood for Oil” signs on their backs. In November 40 cyclists went to the Grand Rapids City Commissioners meeting to speak on the lack of bike lanes and other issues relating to cyclists, most of whom were regulars at Critical Mass, yet attendance has been low this year.

June 2003 will be the third anniversary of Critical Mass in Grand Rapids and we need ideas for promotion. Does Critical Mass in your city have large (or even decent) turnouts? How do you keep Critical Mass exciting? We would like to know how you promote your ride, please send us an email at info(at)mediamouse.org.

If you would like more information on the ride, we have an announcement email list that you can join by sending an blank email to cmassgr-subscribe(at)lists.riseup.net. There is also a discussion list if you would like to help with planning and promoting the ride. Send a blank email to cmassgr-discuss-subscribe(at)lists.riseup.net to subscribe.

The next ride will be on June 27th. We meet at Veterans Park at the corner of Fulton and Sheldon in downtown Grand Rapids at 5:15pm and ride at approximately 5:30pm.

The Media, the Enivornment, and the Animal Kingdom

While the U.S. media has been quick to condemn Iraq for violations of the Geneva Convention, they seemed to be cheering as the U.S. violated those same conventions by attacking Iraq TV stations.

More Information:

President Bush is using the war in Iraq as an excuse to exempt the Department of Defense from some of our most important environmental laws.

More Information:

On a lighter note, here are a couple articles about the war and the animal kingdom:

Critical Mass Takes the Streets of Grand Rapids

On September 27th, a boisterous crowd of forty cyclists took to the streets of downtown Grand Rapids. As they rode through town they enthusiastically shouted slogans such as “no blood for oil,” “we want bike lanes,” and “consider the earth, ride a bike.”

On September 27th, a boisterous crowd of forty cyclists took to the streets of downtown Grand Rapids. As they rode through town they enthusiastically shouted slogans such as “no blood for oil,” “we want bike lanes,” and “consider the earth, ride a bike.” The monthly bike ride celebrates pollution-free transportation, advocates cycle awareness, and draws attention to the fact that bicycles are viable modes of transportation in the city. Critical Mass rides have been organized in Grand Rapids on the last Friday of each month for the past three years, as part of a decentralized movement in which simultaneous rides occur in over three hundred cities worldwide.

September’s ride was particularly noteworthy as it was the tenth anniversary of the first Critical Mass in San Francisco. In celebration of the ten-year anniversary, a book titled Critical Mass: Bicycling’s Defiant Celebration was released featuring articles, essays, fliers, and photos from dozens of contributors from around the world documenting the movement’s history. Critical Mass was born out of a multiplicity of issues, among them concern for the environment, the need for bicycle lanes, the orientation of American society toward an impersonal “car culture,” and for simple celebration. Many Critical Mass participants ride bicycles as their primary mode of transportation and view the monthly mass bike rides as a way of showing that they exist and promoting driver awareness of bicycles. In major US cities such as San Francisco and Chicago, it is not unusual for Critical Mass rides to have over a thousand participants.

Realizing that mass bike rides are not going to bring about change, a coordinated effort has emerged out of the Grand Rapids’ Critical Mass to make the city’s transportation policy more inclusive of cyclists’ needs. In the summer of 2001, work began on a bicycle advocacy video designed to share cyclists’ experiences biking in the Grand Rapids area. The video features voices from dozens of cyclists explaining the need for bike lanes and bicycle friendly transportation policies. Recently local activists attended a city council meeting and spoke about the need for bike lanes in Grand Rapids. They cited the fact that many cities of comparable size have bike lanes and that bike lanes increase the number of cyclists thereby reducing traffic congestion in the city.

In a continuation of this campaign there will be a public screening of the bicycle advocacy video on Tuesday November 12th. The screening will be held at 6pm at 207 E. Fulton St. After the video screening cyclists will be attending the City Commissioners meeting to advocate for bike lanes and other cycling issues.

The next Critical Mass ride will be on October 25th at 5:30pm. Cyclists will meet at Veteran’s Park at the corner of Fulton and Sheldon in downtown Grand Rapids. In response to the increasingly likely war in Iraq this ride will be based around the theme “No Blood for Oil!,” highlighting the role oil plays in current US foreign policy and the how individual transportation decisions create demand for oil. It is also the annual Halloween ride and participants are encouraged to wear costumes. If you would like more information about Grand Rapids’ Critical Mass, you can visit http://www.mediamouse.org/cm/.

The Environmental Ramifications of Meat and Dairy

Reprinted from The Rant (October 2002)

When vegan diets are discussed, the environmental impacts of meat and dairy production are often overlooked. Environmental concerns are generally at the periphery of an argument crafted on the basis of animal rights. While the argument for animal rights fits nicely within a critique of a capitalist system that reduces both human and non-human life to commodities that can be bought and sold in the market, it is often difficult for people to understand the somewhat abstract concept of animal rights. Few people see anything inherently wrong with raising animals for food or using them as research subjects, and thus many arguments in favor of vegan diets on the basis of animal rights are presented in a rather elitist manner where activists criticize those that are complicit with the mechanized slaughter millions of animals each year.

As the world population grows, food production and distribution is going to be an issue that affects everyone. Both governmental institutions and mainstream non-governmental organizations have recognized that one of the defining issues in this century is going to be the Earth’s ability to sustain a rapidly growing population. Population growth is going to put an unprecedented demand on the food resources and current production will not meet demand. Moreover, the growing world population is not content with mere survival, rather through the cultural influence of American-style capitalism, many people want to increase their consumption to the levels of the United States. Clearly, a planet with finite resources cannot sustain consumption of resources on the level of Americans and it is estimated that an additional two Earths would be need to sustain consumption at such a level. Multinational corporations have claimed that their technology, especially genetically modified food, will be able to overcome these issues of demand by dramatically increasing production. However the major bio-technology corporations have been resistant to giving their genetically modified seeds away for the benefit of humanity, rather they continue to charge exorbitant royalties and seek stringent copyright protections in global trade agreements. As a result, poor nations will be forced further into debt, if they are even able to purchase the technology. There are also legitimate concerns about the environmental and health consequences of genetically modified food with many nations having banned it for these reasons.

While a massive reorientation of industry from profit-based to need-based production is needed to reverse some of these patterns, changes in diet would have a major impact. The production of meat and diary is ecologically devastating. Fifty-six percent of agricultural land is used to produce beef and 260 million acres of forest have been clear-cut to support America’s meat consumption. Clear-cutting of rain forests is largely undertaken for the purpose of raising cattle, with much of the meat going to the United States. While urban sprawl is often cited as a major factor in the destruction of forested areas, for every acre of land clear-cut for this purpose seven are clear-cut for raising livestock. The industrial farming practices that now dominate the dairy and meat industries generate massive amounts of pollution in the form of animal waste with the average dairy cow producing one-hundred-and-twenty pounds of wet manure per day. In addition to the problem of disposal, manure contaminates water supplies around the world.

Topsoil loss also results from the meat-based agriculture with 85% of US topsoil lost directly as a result of livestock farming. Already 75% of the topsoil has been lost in the US and meat consumption perpetuates a system that causes more topsoil loss.

Furthermore, meat production is wasteful and is neither sustainable nor intelligent use of land. Ninety percent of the protein in grain is wasted by cycling it through livestock while one hundred percent of dietary fiber is wasted. Even the production of the least efficient plants is ten times more energy efficient than the most efficient animal-based foods. With the amount of land needed to feed one person eating a meat-based diet, twenty people eating a vegan diet could be fed. Eighty percent of the corn and ninety-five percent grown in the United States is eaten by livestock, food that could sustain many more humans. Much of the food that could go to feed other people is used feeding animals that require five to ten times more plant food than humans do. Land would be more effectively utilized if production were directed towards plant-based diets, with one acre of land producing one-hundred-and-sixty-five pounds of beef while that same acre could grow twenty thousand pounds of potatoes.

In a society where large corporations have a disproportionate influence on policy compared to individuals in politics, it is the responsibility of individuals concerned with the environment to act individually and collectively to improve the current situation. Corporations are not going to change existing food production policies on their own and indeed the only way they will ever change is if are citizens’ movements to hold them accountable. People need to realize that individual dietary choices are responsible for environmental destruction from meat and dairy product, just as choosing to drive a car contributes to wars for oil. While this article has focused on veganism, it is certainly hard for many people to maintain a vegan diet, especially in this area and within the financial constraints of a typical college student. For those who are unable to go vegan, vegetarian diets have ecological and health benefits. If US citizens collectively reduced their consumption of meat by ten percent, sixty million people could be fed with the grain that would be saved. The decision to eat meat involves more than personal preference, it is not about whether or not you like hamburgers—it is ultimately about the sustainability of life on the planet.