Katherine Jones 3 years ago
ActivityRank: 144
I thought I'd start a thread that looked at the human relationship to water on the dark side of things. It's impossible lately not to think of the people losing their lives at sea in a desperate attempt to flea war-torn countries. I recently came across some work looking at this issue in particular, through film and research: http://www.darkmatter101.org/site/2015/10/05/liquid-traces-the-left-to-die-boat-case/

There is an undeniable contrast between water as something we enjoy recreationally, and something that is a source of great risk, and potentially death. Although perhaps what is different is that the risk is unwanted. After all, some recreational users of water say that a certain amount of risk is part of their enjoyment of the activity. Not so perhaps if you are desperate to survive and crossing a body of water in circumstances very much out of your control. 

At a recent discussion panel the idea of this came up again - the way that water 'does not care for us'. I argued that it's wrong to say such a thing and depends on how we define caring. Are we demanding a certain kind of behaviour of water that is unreasonable to demand? It is undeniable that too much water, or water in combination with other factors, can end our lives, or cause damage to our property through flooding yet as someone recently said to me, this is not the 'demon water' out to get us, it is just water doing its thing. We all rely on water for our survival as well, so while on occasion water may cause death, it is also continually sustaining our lives. Yet the way we look at it is always shaped by how we see our relationships with it. Even for those who make dangerous crossings over the sea to arrive in hopefully safer and more prosperous lives must have a mixed relationship with the water - it is dark in its threat, and yet light in its opening up, potentially of opportunity... 

In short - understanding our relationships with water is always about keeping in mind a balance of understanding the social context of those relationships, and in not attributing simplified qualities of 'good' 'bad' 'dark' 'light' to water. If we can overcome our understanding of dark and light in relation to water, maybe we go some short distance as well to overcoming some of our other prejudices and simplifications? 
Sara Penrhyn Jones 3 years ago
ActivityRank: 832
I find this duality very interesting Katherine. My own research in Kiribati for a project called 'Troubled Waters' may be relevant to what you're raising here.

Low-lying island nations are often seen as victims of the rising sea, without fully acknowledging the importance of the sea, at the same time, for survival, economy and culture.This is actually what can make such a threat particularly painful. One activist from Tonga said to a few years ago:" it's when your friend becomes your enemy that you have a really big problem". There is also this idea that nations are 'made of'  land, whereas the sea is also part of national territory. It's not just a case of Pacific Islands, for instance, losing the land to the sea, they may also then ultimately lose their right to the sea as a consequence.This includes the right to sell fishing rights to other countries, which might be the most significant part of their GDP. 

I completely agree that presenting water as a threat, rather than acknowledging the far more complex and ambiguous entanglements of land, sea and people is simplistic and unhelpful. Documentaries and media-representations of climate change often present water as a destructive life-force, by laying on the disaster movie sound track etc, but water scarcity can be just as frightening (if less dramatic!). It is also easier to find striking footage of storms and flooding, than powerful visual representation of depleting groundwater, for instance. Something for artists and communicators to think about?

Julian Jones 3 years ago
ActivityRank: 22
It is important to illustrate the dark horrors of climate change and watery issues help here. But many are becoming inured to such messages.

So it is also important to promote and celebrate the 'no-brainer' solutions (that are generally obscured) to these dire problems especially as they also fix a whole load more than just climate & water; like social & gender inequality, ecological diversity & abundance, reversing migration pressures etc.  Plenty here to focus on as the positive or light side of resolving climate change, where potentially quick resolution of water issues (like flood or drought) that are overlooked should shock public opinion by their absence in policy.

Like this simple French Govt proposal : https://webtv.agriculture.gouv.fr/4-per-1000-agricultural-soils-for-food-security-and-the-climate-video-5033.html  (Contamination of UK aquifers by agrochemicals alone should have forced this policy change here long ago, quite apart from other flood / drought, thermal benefits).

Similar incorporated here,for a 'Living Economy' : http://www.water21.org.uk/2050/the-living-economy-paris-cop21-policy-briefing/

Further additional and similar benefits can be derived by switching whole-scale to renewable energy.

... so much better than our present 'Dead Economy' in all its manifestations.

Owain Jones 3 years ago
ActivityRank: 1194

This is a good exchange. Thanks. I like the quote about sea being friend then enemy. That can sum up modern society relationships with nature more widely. The climate is now our enemy?? But it just a reconfigured system of processes. There has been lots of C02 in the atmosphere before - before humans. That is not intrincically 'good' or 'bad' its just process . But it's econfigured by us to be hostile to us. (And many of the formations of biodiversity around us). Climate change and species extinction can go hand in hand. The film and the pdf are good. But things like the carbon benefits of no-till farming have been known about for decades. There is lots of great practice around and lots of 'good science', but our economic-political/cultural/ethical systems are, at the moment trapped into very negative overall trajectories which are v hard to see a way out of on a global scale - at tthe moment (cheap oil ain't going to help). We need a kind of revolution of what we understand humans to be. (it has happened before). But there are many vested interests stopping this. Going back to dark water. Water reflects – if its dark – we have made it so by our interactions with it

Julian Jones 3 years ago
ActivityRank: 22
Thank you for this; the soil carbon/water benefits of a range of farming methods have been understood for a long time.  They are fundamental to many traditional and indigenous farming methods, from Terra Preta in Pre Colombian S America to European Biodynamic farming*.  But even within the Organic Movement, or rather especially here, the benefits have not been well explained and are often dressed up in philosophical dogma.  The originator of Biodynamics stated such benefits would be 'hidden' by people's 'self interest' - this key problem does seem relevant and works on many levels, from individual, community to governmental.

So as you say we need a revolution to overcome our present economic-political/cultural/ethical systems.  These solutions need explaining and implementing within an engineered context - for example within an empirical plan to protect communities from flooding that all householders might reasonably demand of their planning authorities - but the revolutionary transformative processes here seem basically theological, ie we 'reap what we sow'.

*film on Biodynamic Farming - http://www.water21.org.uk/2012/dawn-to-dusk-2015/
film on Australian Carbon Farming - http://www.water21.org.uk/1551/regeneration-carbon-farming-in-australia/
Maggie Roe 27 months ago
ActivityRank: 188
This is a very useful and interesting thread.  I wonder whether it is helpful to consider two different characterisations of water: what Illich describes as 'water reduced to H2O' or stuff - a resource that can be technically managed; an observable fluid - rather than the second more holistic idea of 'water of dreams'. 

 I think what is mostly discussed above, is H2O - the stuff that floods and damages people's property, the stuff that provides an environment for fish to live in, for people to drink, for electricity to be generated and for boats to float on.  Even so, in all these things we tend to imagine water as much more than stuff; we anthropomorphise the stuff  (water as enemy) so perhaps we can't ever really get away from  the idea that it is not just H2O.  Maybe it is not the 'stuff' side of water that we need to concentrate on if we want to change people's attitudes to it?  
Maggie Roe 27 months ago
ActivityRank: 188

Some good Punch images portraying the smelly and dark side of water.........the' reeking ooze'

Note that there are fishes and an eel in the images - possibly somewhat unlikely!

Dirty Father Thames

Filthy river, filthy river,
Foul from London to the Nore,
What art thou but one vast gutter,
One tremendous common shore?

All beside thy sludgy waters,
All beside thy reeking ooze,
Christian folks inhale mephitis,
Which thy bubbly bosom brews.

(from Punch, 1858, reprinted in Davies, P. (1989) Troughs and Drinking Fountains (London, Chatto & Windus)

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