Saturday, November 15, 2008

Blood, Oil and Water

Warning: the following post contains significant spoilers about the movie Quantum of Solace. Those still interested in seeing this film should consider themselves forewarned.

Water is the new oil in the latest Bond flick

In 2006's Casino Royale, Daniel Craig reinvented the iconic James Bond as a gritty, brooding anti-hero.

With the most intense -- and realistic -- portrayal of Bond, Casino Royale rebooted the Bond franchise following a model similar to the recent Batman reboot.

What Quantum of Solace lacks in the preceding film's abrasiveness, it makes up for in relevance to the current -- and future -- state of international affairs.

Quantum of Solace picks up right where Casino Royale left off, with Bond taking Mr White (Jasper Christensen) to be interrogated by M (Judi Dench). But as it turns out, White has a man on the inside of MI6, and is shot during attempt by the man to help him escape. Whether or not he survives is never really revealed.

White's trail quickly leads Bond to Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), a would-be environmentalist financing his criminal schemes through charity fundraisers.

According to Amalric and director Marc Forster, Greene might legitimately care about some of the issues he pretends to champion. But as it turns out, Greene's plans are a good deal more insidious than either man is letting on.

Greene and Quantum even manage to charm the CIA into supporting their aims in Bolivia by promising them access to oil. Previously in the film General Medrano warns Greene that no one had ever found oil in the land they were apportioning from the Bolivian state.

The CIA's steadfast pursuit of American access to what they imagine to be Bolivia's new oil reserves even leads them to turn on Bond, as they perceive him as being in the way. Bond winds up framed for several murders he isn't responsible for, including that of Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini).

As it turns out, Greene's intentions are quite different. The prize instead turns out to be something far more precious to the peasants of Bolivia: water.

By building dams throughout their state-conceded parcel of land Quantum manages to gain control of 60% of Bolivia's water. They intend to profit by selling it back to the Bolivian people as a utility provider.

Such schemes have previously been tried in Bolivia.

As recently as 2005, Bolivians rioted in protest of the privatization of the country's water. Under duress of a full-fledged revolution, president Carlos Mesa canceled the water concession deal with Suez, a French company. Eventually popular unrest would force Mesa to resign.

Five years previously, Bolivians in Cochabamba had revolted against a similar deal with Bechtel.

In each case the deal had actually been brokered by the World Bank.

In Quantum of Solace the organization responsible for the concession deal -- later literally thrust down the throat of an indignant General Medrano -- is a clandestine, conspiratorial organization. Though Dominic Greene seems to be at the centre of it, we discover at the end of the film that the organization survives his ignominious fate -- one particular member is preying on the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service.

They have people everywhere, including within the British Prime Minister's Office and MI6 itself.

In real life, the organization pushing such deals is the World Bank. Like Quantum, they have people everywhere, although one imagines that they have far fewer paid assassins among their ranks. While Quantum sneaks around behind the backs of the global community, attracting attention only when they buy up too much drill pipe, the World Bank does its business in broad daylight, leading to some very ugly deals.

Selling a country's water supply out from under them is certainly one of them. When the World Bank -- an organization that pledges itself to the elimination of poverty -- is willing to broker a deal that would outlaw the world's poorest people from collecting rain water in order to avoid having to pay artificially inflated water bills, something has gone seriously wrong in that organization.

When one considers the various studies, including some by the University of Alberta's Dr David Schindler forecasting that fresh water will become increasingly scarce over the next few decades, water privatization schemes are not likely to go away.

In fact, it's considered that fresh water may become even more valuable than oil.

In a potential future water-based economy, Canada would stand to prosper immensely. After all, with only 0.5% of the world's population, Canada is home to 9% of the world's renewable fresh water supply.

While water desalization technologies will inevitably witness an increase in demand over the coming decades, Canadians will face looming questions over whether to export water in mass quantities or not, and how much profit they'll expect to accrue from it.

Canada could even become the target of water privatization schemes such as those attempted in Bolivia. This, naturally, is something that should absolutely never be allowed to pass. While no Canadian of good conscience could bear to stand by and watch the rest of the world go thirsty, there is no question that allowing Canada's publicly-owned water supply to be used for private profit is absolutely off the table.

As one of the world's wealthier countries, Canada should be able to resist such pressure so long as we can avoid needing any stabilization loans from the World Bank. Finance Ministers with an eye to the future should feel this added pressure knowing that the very water their children and grandchildren drink may be imperiled if they prove to be less than proficient at their job.

Blood for oil has become a frequently discussed trend in the history of the 20th century, and leading right into the 21st century. As the 21st century progresses, however, blood for water may become historically thematic.

Quantum of Solace could turn out to be a vision of a dystopian future for the world -- if it isn't already a snapshot of a dystopian present.

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