As if California doesn’t have enough problems with drought and wildfires, now CNN is telling us people are stealing massive quantities of public water to grow marijuana plants. Authorities estimate 12 billion gallons have been stolen during this drought. Among other things, the thieves are stealing water from fire hydrants at night, forcing communities to padlock their hydrants or remove them altogether.
While 12 billion gallons sounds like a lot, I’m guessing it’s nothing compared to the quantity of water that has been taken over from public water supplies by such companies as Nestlé, which go around essentially bribing the governments of municipalities for control of water supplies, so they can turn around and charge citizens for bottled water and drinks. The difference is once these companies get water rights, it’s not a one-time theft in the night; it’s a theft that keeps on thieving, 24/7, endlessly for years. It takes lawyers to stop thievery like that.
Someday Nestlé is going to figure out how to divert our fresh air blowing in from the ocean, bottle it and sell it back to us to breathe. It will cost as much to buy breathable air for a month as it does now to rent an apartment. OK, maybe it can’t be done, but I’m sure if it can be, they’ll do it. It’s how they do business: by creating scarcity where there was none and managing it for profit.
In other ugly news, Liverpool lost its status as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Now, the deal here is UNESCO, which is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, maintains lists of cultural features, landmarks and geographical features they deem worthy of preservation. There are different lists for different preservables. My favorite is their list of Intangible Cultural Heritages. These include festivals, dances, musical styles, items of cuisine, folk art and crafts, traditional occupations (like falconry), epic poetry of oral traditions, ritual costume making of all kinds, traditional wood carving, carpet making, throat singing, lace making, the Mediterranean diet, traditional styles of puppetry and shadow theater, various New Year’s festivals, bead making and polyphonic singing, to name a few. They are all associated with specific cultures and locations.
That list can be used as a long string of entry points into adventures in cultural education. One of my favorite ways to use the list is to hunt for YouTube videos that illustrate each intangible.
Other world heritage lists include geographical features, as I said. For instance, the Olympic National Park is on that list. UNESCO considers it a keeper.
Liverpool wasn’t on a list for being the home of the Beatles. It was there because of its historic docks, where a fleet of slave traders’ ships were built some centuries ago. They are massive buildings, all alike, surrounding and enclosing water, which I assume was where ships were built. I don’t know how it worked, but UNESCO considered the buildings interesting enough to hang on to, in spite of their connection to slave trading. Or because of it, because it’s an important part of history.
Liverpool’s docks made it to UNESCO’s “endangered world heritage list” originally because there were proposals to build apartments, offices and stores in the dock buildings, and UNESCO hoped all that could be avoided or mitigated. But just calling the docks an endangered site didn’t work. The changes have been going forward, and UNESCO has given up and removed Liverpool from its list.
Had UNESCO been around in the early 1900s, I imagine they might have put Seattle’s Denny Hill on an endangered list, only to take it off when it was half gone after degradation of that vital Native site. “Never mind. Just go on colonizing.”
Or they might have tried to get us to stop filling in the Duwamish tide flats, which were an important aspect of the environment of the Duwamish people. They were filled in so we could pave roads over them and build a city without tide flats. It was a shame to lose them.
Getting rid of the tide flats wasn’t just about losing acres of clams: it was about pushing the Duwamish away from their home.
It seems one flaw in the way culture is preserved is that the focus ends up on long lists of cultural features that always omit the one aspect of cultures that you need to have a culture at all: Namely, the people who make it and carry it.
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time math professor who has experienced homelessness several times. He supplied the art for the first cover of Real Change in November of 1994 and has been involved with the organization ever since. This is his weekly column, Adventures in Irony, a dry verbal romp of the absurd. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Read more of the July 28 - Aug. 3, 2021 issue.