Vision: How to Change Our Laws So That Corporations Don't Trump Communities
The following is excerpted from the recently released book, The Rights of Nature: The Case for a Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth , produced by the Council of Canadians, Global Exchange and Fundacion Pachamama. This book reveals the path of a movement driving transformation of our human relationship with nature away from domination and towards balance. This book gathers the wisdom of indigenous cultures, scientists, activists small farmers, spiritual leaders and US communities who seek a different path for protecting nature by establishing Nature's Rights in law and culture. In addition to this excerpt, the book includes essays from Vandana Shiva, Desmond Tutu, Thomas Goldtooth, Eduardo Galeano, Maude Barlow and many others. Copies of the book may be obtained through Global Exchange.
It takes thousands of years for individual drops of rain to maneuver through silent passages and gently accumulate into underground aquifers. Purified and enriched over the millennia by mineral deposits deep in the earth, groundwater is the sacred lifeblood of local watersheds upon which all life -- including human communities -- depend. Yet it takes no time at all to destroy this delicate balance. In fact, all it takes is a simple piece of paper.
Steeped in colonial history, Nottingham, New Hampshire, could be a picture postcard of quaint village life in New England. Yet in 2001, this tiny rural village of 4,000 residents became the poster child for too familiar "site-fights" between small towns seeking to protect local water and large multinational corporations seeking to extract it. It was then that the USA Springs Corporation applied to the state for a permit to extract more than 400,000 gallons of water a day from Nottingham's local aquifer to bottle and sell overseas.
Corporate water withdrawals -- siphoning off hundreds of thousands of gallons a day from local aquifers -- impact both surface and groundwater resources. They deplete drinking water and can contaminate aquifers and wells. In addition, withdrawals dry up streams, wetlands, and rivers, as well as reduce lake levels, damaging habitat and harming wildlife.
For seven years the community of Nottingham came together to stop their water from being mined. Upon discovering that our own laws forbid communities from saying "no" to the wide array of dirty, destructive and unwanted practices allowed by law, they attempted to protect their local groundwater using all the tools available under the law. They did everything "right" by traditional, conventional environmental activism. They lobbied their state legislature, petitioned their government, testified at hearings, protested, rallied, educated and organized their neighbors and filed lawsuits. But as is so often the case, it just wasn't enough.
When the people of Nottingham beseeched their state environmental agency, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, to take effective action and protect the aquifer, their requests went unmet. Instead of helping them protect their water, the agency was in fact responsible for issuing permits to the corporation to take it.
Is the system broken or working perfectly?
The experience of Nottingham is shared by thousands of communities across the United States and around the world that discover that their government officials and agencies -- ostensibly in place to protect them -- are, in practice, serving other interests.
The question that the people of Nottingham were forced to ask is, "why?" Why are corporations allowed to override community concerns and put destructive projects in our midst? Why do our environmental laws and regulations, rather than put in place protections for the environment, instead seem to be written to exploit it? And why is our government helping a corporation to extract water from a community and sell it for profit, when the impacts from such projects are so significant?