Wednesday Night #894

More with photos and links on ; more on Kosovo

An exceptional Wednesday Night, even by Nicholson standards. Only two subjects were debated by the over forty guests who overflowed from the dining room to the two adjacent rooms. The discussion which was lively until after midnight, left those present with sufficient objective information on both sides of each issue to enable them to formulate their own informed opinion, or to accept the existence of two or more irreconcilable views for every conflict or problem.
It was also encouraging that so much passion was demonstrated on the subject of the environment – too often Wednesday Night is passionate only about markets and money! The large number of guests included several new faces and several who have been absent for some time, such as Germaine Gibara, Margo Somerville and Guy Versailles.
The “featured guest” George Cavadias, eminent hydrologiost and former professor at McGill did not disappoint. He wisely led and stimulated the discussion, clarifying a number of doubtful points. George and his wife Barbara were introduced by Stratton Stevens.
Elizabeth Wojtowicz returned after a long absence, bringing with her Jack Wasserman who countered the Tree-hugger positions with articulate views from the business world. In this, he was ably assisted by René Miglierina of the Institut canadien des produits pétroliers.
Guacira Moreira-Naves came with her husband, Ron De Paola and was introduced by Graham Fowler.
Richard Wajes, in town from Toronto where he works now as a headhunter, introduced Catherine Salisbury, former publisher of the Montreal Mirror.

Should Canada sell surplus water to countries (the United States in particular) where needed?
How finite is the Canadian water supply?
In the next 50-90 years, the world population will double while the supply of water will remain constant. Should we contemplate selling it to the U.S., and – more importantly – as the effects of global warming, climate change and desertification are increasingly felt by Developing countries, how should the international community allocate water resources and how “sovereign” will individual nations’ decisions be?
An e-mail from Washington-based former Wednesday-Nighters, David and Terry Jones provoked the topic.
There are many aspects of the Canadian ethos that particularly puzzle me. One of those has been the passion devoted to the implicit conviction that the U.S. is after Canadian water — and that Canadians must not sell it at any price. Abstractly, it would appear to be the perfect renewable resource, but that conclusion seems overly simplistic on my part given the intensity of the discussion on the topic among Canadians. I will be looking forward to your conclusions from the Wednesday-Night discussion.
Judith Patterson: I am back from Las Vegas, where my girlfriend has a swimming pool and automatic irrigation system for her garden and grass lawn. This morning on the radio I heard about the low water levels in the great lakes and St. Lawrence. Two ships have gotten stranded, due to low water, in the Lake St. Clair area, between Lake Erie and Lake Huron. Water levels in the Montreal dock area are 2 metres below normal. Can you imagine if we were committed to exporting a specific quantity to the states so they could water their lawns and fill their swimming pools?

WATER IS UNLIKE ANY OTHER NATURAL RESOURCE in that there is no substitute available.

The Debate:
Canada has an overabundance of water.  It would be morally wrong for us to hoard it when others are in need.
— Much of Canada’s water is inaccessible (in frozen tundra).
— There is a finite quantity of water in the world.  Canada is most fortunate in having more than its share.
— Technically, the supply is infinite over time, but only over time. At the moment, water level is at an all time low in James Bay and in the Great Lakes system. Depleting it further could have devastating effects on the eco-system. There has been record low rainfall over the past years.
Large hydro reservoirs (except in the far north) favour evaporation, affecting nature.

Can we morally say no to the American mid-west, so in need of water?
It is shameful that we should refuse. We have an excess and there is a need.
— You can say no to an addicted gambler. The U.S. has put cities where they should not be, have been profligate with their own resources. There are times when you should say no.

It is not Our water.  It merely passes through our land.

When the French began exporting Vichy water, no thought was given to the end result, and no apparent harm was done.
— The world’s population has tripled in our lifetime. We can no longer talk in terms of past paradigms.

The problem is that water is very under-priced.  A free market would resolve the issue.

The Grand Canal scheme would not have diverted water, merely recycled it as it emptied into James Bay. [Editor’s note: The Grand Canal project involves building a dyke across James Bay, separating James Bay from Hudson Bay. James Bay would be transformed from a salt body into a fresh water lake. The now-fresh water James Bay would then annually pump 20% of its runoff to the Great Lakes, whose water could then be redirected to dry regions of the United States and Canada. More]
— Diversions cannot be made without consequences. Science frequently produces unforeseen results. The Saguenay flood offers a good illustration of what happens when we try to “fool Mother Nature”

The proposed solution:
The medium term solution has been to refer the issue of export of water by Canada to the United States and the implications of the provisions of NAFTA to the International Joint Commission.
As Michele Jodoin states in her excellent article which is to appear in the August 1999 issue of the Quebec Order of Urbanists’ bulletin:
Soucieux que les ressources en eau le long de la frontière canado-américaine ne fassent l’objet de demandes croissantes et que des projets visant à dévier ou à exporter d’importantes quantités d’eau de ces bassins ne soient à prévoir, les gouvernements fédéraux du Canada et des États-Unis ont demandé à la Commission mixte internationale (CMI) d’étudier cette question, de consulter les autres niveaux de gouvernement et toute source jugée pertinente et de leur faire rapport sur la protection des eaux de surface et des eaux souterraines. Les deux pays procéderont par la suite à une modification de leur Loi sur le traité des eaux limitrophes internationales et le Canada, pour sa part, négociera avec les gouvernements provinciaux un Accord pancanadien sur les prélèvements d’eau à grande échelle.

We must all buy into a framework for future generations and in so doing, clarify the issues surrounding privatization and public ownership. Any framework cannot be limited to water alone, but must include real and potential impact on world climate and eco-systems. The conclusions of Wednesday Night might well be summed up by the citation below
La gestion de l’eau implique une multitude d’espaces géographiques et de structures administratives. Elle nécessite une approche multidimensionnelle dans laquelle la ressource n’est plus perçue uniquement en fonction des usages, mais aussi dans ses interrelations avec l’environnement social, culturel, politique et économique. À une pratique sectorielle doit se substituer une approche intégrée qui prendra en charge les dimensions technique, politique, sociale, culturelle et environnementale de la ressource.
Ce concept a fait l’objet d’un consensus lors de la conférence mondiale sur l’environnement et le développement tenue à Rio de Janeiro en juin 1992. –Lahouari Senouci Ph.D.

Kosovo – The moral dilemma of intervention
[Editor’s note and update: revisiting this post some ten years later, we realize that the concerns expressed may not be clear; for a concise and quite impartial context, see Kosovo War]
— There is no such thing as a just war.
— Clinton became distracted by the Lewinsky affair.  Clinton is not a leader, but a survivor. [For a fascinating account of Clinton’s motivations and actions, see Clinton’s war: what Kosovo can teach us now]
— We’re (NATO) bombing the inside (Kosovo) and forcing the (Albanian) refugees outside and we don’t know what to do with them.
— The world is suffering the consequence.
— We didn’t think through the consequences
— The fact that we did not act in Africa does not mean that we should not act elsewhere.
— The European community could not have overlooked this conflict on its borders, just bordering Austria.  This is a serious test of the E.E.C. and of NATO and of their future existence.
— NATO has added to the suffering of the Albanian Kosovars.
— From a military point of view, Serbia acted well.
— The greatest danger in the event of a ground  attack is not from ground troops but from the hostile local population.

What about MP David Price’s irresponsible assertion that Canada’s Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2) was on the ground in Kosovo, potentially endangering Canadian commandos. More importantly, who was his source? He has in any event been condemned by most of his peers. He should not resign, he should be fired! The threat of Russian rockets aimed at London was real, unlike his previous intervention concerning North Korean missiles aimed at Montreal!

— Should we have intervened? Answer: YES
— Was this the best way of intervening? Answer: NO
Air strikes cannot accomplish what needs to be done. We should have intervened with ground forces. We did not because that action would not have been acceptable. Risks are too high that this would become a bloody and protracted war with fierce opposition from troops familiar with the terrain and devoted to keeping out foreign intervention.
— How will it end? The United States will declare victory and find a way out.

On that encouraging note, it was time for Barry Lazar to thank George Cavadias, Mac Mercer, Judith Patterson and the many other active participants for a most stimulating, thought-provoking evening.

T H E  I N V I T A T I O N

Food (or moisture) for thought
As Paul Simon says” …political will can only emerge if the more fortunate among us bestir ourselves and recognize that all of humanity will be harmed if we do not find sensible answers.”
The heretic of Laguna Beach
Gregory Benford is raising hackles by claiming we could stop global warming by increasing pollution. But what really bugs environmentalists is that his ideas may not be as crazy as they sound
This article from Shift magazine April 1999 describes the theory of a California professor and theoretical physicist who has recently published “Deep Time” in which he rejects the possibility of restoring the globe to its natural state.
He argues that we must use technology to solve the problems created by technology. An example: block some of the heat from the sun to reduce global warming by dispersing small amounts of carbon dust in the upper atmosphere to produce clouds of water vapour to partially filter out sunlight. He suggests “…up the fuel ratio in commercial jet aircraft…a small amount of unburned fuel would be emitted, encouraging the formation of very thin clouds at 35 000 feet.”
While the EPA is “skeptical”, there is grudging support for the scientific soundness of some of his ideas, even from the director of the Sierra Club’s Global Warming and Energy program.

How finite is the Canadian water supply?
In the next 50-90 years, the world population will double while the supply of water will remain constant. Should we contemplate selling it to the U.S.,and, more importantly, as the effects of global warming, climate change and desertification are increasingly felt by Developing countries, how should the international community allocate water resources and how “sovereign” will individual nations’ decisions be?
Montreal as an important international center of environmental organizations and allied technology should be at the forefront of these decisions.
What can – and should – we be doing about these issues?
Another viewpoint: an article in this week’s Manchester Guardian Weekly about European demographics shows a projected population devolution of perhaps a half a billion people in the next hundred years. The birth rate is significantly less than the 2.1 needed for repopulation. Canada and the USA are in the same situation. So the issue is not world population doubling (our water will not go to Africa, India or China) but of massive agricultural and urban dependence upon locally scarce resources. We have planted cities and farms in areas that should naturally be deserts (much of California, the Prairies). North Americans waste tremendous amounts of water. We have screwed things up with our lifestyle not population.

We will have Dr. George Cavadias, hydrologist and former professor at McGill University to lead this discussion with input from Mac Mercer of IUCN.
and Judith Patterson, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Concordia’s Geology Programme, who has written a number of papers on aviation matters pertaining to alternative fuels and her expertise lies particularly in the area of environmental impact assessments at airports (consequently, polluted water). Here are the topics that were covered in her reading list last year on water:

* pollution of ground and surface waters from roadway runoff
* toxic metal loading into streams from runoff
* herbicide runoff (from farms) into the Mississippi R.
* nutrient changes in the Gulf of Mexico (some dead zones) due to fertilizer runoff into the Mississippi
* pesticide contamination in the sediments in the Arabian Sea off India
* arsenic in groundwater in India and Bangladesh (due to over drawing on wells)
* the Aral Sea
* nitrogen overloading

These issues affect our society, our economy and our future.

P.S. We would like to draw your attention to the op-ed piece in Saturday’s Gazette by Guy Stanley and Stephen Blank: “BIG GAINS FOR CANADA The 10-year-old free-trade deal with the U.S. has been an economic boon and also paved the way for a stronger international role in resolving trade disputes”

Leave a Comment

comm comm comm