A New Mindset for the World’s Water Crisis Revaluing Water: From Values to Value
Noted architect and thought-leader William McDonough, and Circle of Blue director J. Carl Ganter reimagine how the world can respond more effectively to its water crises in this interactive broadcast.
J. Carl Ganter: This is J. Carl Ganter and we’re getting ready here in the studios of Interlochen Public Radio to start another H2O Catalyst event. Standby, we’ll get started in just a moment.
Global water crises, from drought across some of the world’s most productive farmlands to the hundreds of millions of people without access to safe drinking water or adequate sanitation, are among the biggest threats facing the planet. I’m J. Carl Ganter, and this is H2O Catalyst, from Circle of Blue.
Today we’re coming to you live from Interlochen Public Radio, and joined by participants from around the world. Today’s program is produced in collaboration with the World Economic Forum Global Future Council on the Environment.
In the United States alone, basic water infrastructure is outdated, leaky, and in some cases like Flint, Michigan, the water has become dangerous to drink. At the same time, water scarcity and its value in China, India, South Africa, and the United States, is driving a global pivot away from coal production and combustion and toward water-conserving cleaner fuels. With water at the core of life, environment, and commerce, just how do we value water? And how do differences and similarities in values across cultures and geographies define or redefine policy, action, and use? This is our mission today. In just a few moments we’ll be joined by special guest Bill McDonough, architect and design thinker, and we’ll talk about shaping a new narrative for water, going from values to value. And we’ll hear from Torgny Holmgren from the Stockholm International Water Institute, and John Oldfield from Water, 2017 in Washington. And we’ll hear from you.
To set up our conversation, let’s start by going to Stockholm, where we’re joined by Torgny Holmgren, Executive Director of the Stockholm International Water Institute. Torgny, great to have you on the line.
Torgny Holmgren: Thanks much, Carl. Yes, let me start just by a reflection: that I think that water has been taken for granted for much too long a time. That we see a lot of overuse of water and I think that also relates to the value of water. We see changes taking place, and we try to [inaudible 00:02:17] scale right now, that we also need to increase our value [inaudible 00:02:21]. And that is happening. I mean [inaudible 00:02:23] in 2015, they had the global decision making year. They had all this Agenda 2030, the Climate Agreement … [inaudible 00:02:35]. Now I think it’s more interesting times because now they are going from the global to the local to run what you have decided upon.
For instance, the climate. Last year at Marrakesh it was the first climate conference to have an official day of water. And the [inaudible 00:02:54] contribution, and they, to a large extent it’s about water at least in the low income countries. We see more and more interest from [inaudible 00:03:04] around the world. From [inaudible 00:03:05] or [inaudible 00:03:05], etc. This [inaudible 00:03:07] fifth consecutive year that the [inaudible 00:03:12] connect forum in the global [inaudible 00:03:14] water some of the key, what the impact of water [inaudible 00:03:18] or a problem for the future of business leaders and political leaders. So I think [inaudible 00:03:26]. What they need now is the incentives to go from consideration and [inaudible 00:03:30] that water is the scarce commodity. Also to bring the value of water to a larger [inaudible 00:03:37]. And I think here we could also relate to this [inaudible 00:03:42] high level panel of water, [inaudible 00:03:45] panel of water. Which are looking into, which will look into the value of water. So I think when a incentives structure [inaudible 00:03:51]. I think [inaudible 00:03:52] actor is there now. And I think it’s up to us together to find ways and means that we can use water more efficient in the future. And I think here we have a need of incentive structure that makes that happen.
I think that is [inaudible 00:04:07]. And with that would also come [inaudible 00:04:09] the logical advancement [inaudible 00:04:11] what happened in the energy sector over the last 20 years, I think we could learn a lot about that to be more proficient in the future. That is [inaudible 00:04:20] not just what I see as the global to local scale right now.
J. Carl Ganter: That was two minutes perfectly. Two minutes to frame a really fascinating transformation and a shift toward, you know actually, how do we value water? What is that water budget? What are we going to use our water for? We’re on the water planet. It’s a limited resource.
J. Carl Ganter: Talking about the values of water, now again to help us set up the conversation, I want to go to Washington, where John Oldfield is someone who’s been at the forefront of water’s most complex and value driven or values driven, conversation, particularly related to U.S. policy. And John’s joining us from Washington where, in some senses, water is a left brain/right brain values and value conversation. And, you know, even … It’s starting to hit the news right now, too. With a … proposed cutbacks at the EPA, serious trims at the State Department, John, you’re in the midst of it. Give us a sense, maybe again a quick overview. Set us up on this conversation, the values conversation, you’ve seen unfolding. And maybe how this aligns with the notion of water security, and where does water security fit between value and values?
John Oldfield: Yeah, great. Good morning. Thank you, Carl. I think many of your listeners and viewers watch the news, read the newspaper so they probably understand better what’s going on in Washington, D.C. these days than I do. But, so, greetings, this is John Oldfield from Water 2017. And you know, frankly Carl, we’ve got some encouraging news. President Trump himself has said, and I quote:
“Perhaps the best use of our limited financial resources should be in dealing with making sure that every person in the world has clean water.”
Our intelligence community here in Washington, D.C. certainly understands the value, if not values, of water. And has identified water as a potential security threat to the U.S. and our allies over the coming decades.
Also on the, I guess the good news front, is the longstanding and bipartisan Congressional support for global water security that we’ve seen over the last decade. On the discouraging front, here in D.C. and beyond, there are certainly, as you intimate, more questions than answers at this point about U.S. foreign policy. There are a lot of headlines competing for our attention and there are a lot of questions about the budget, the federal budget, for 2018 and far beyond.
Carl, I’d suggest that we at Water 2017 have every reason to be positive about both the values and the value of water. It’s more and more clear to me that water has an increased value in every sense of the word based on what’s happening inside the Beltway. I’d also push a little bit on this and I’d suggest that water needs to be revalued. We need to think about water not just as a cause of threats to the United States and our allies, but we need to think about water as a way to actually prevent threats in the first place.
So over the short term in Washington, I expect, first of all, President Trump, per the Water for the World Act of 2014, is obliged to produce the first ever Global Water Strategy and deliver that to Congress by October 1st, 2017. So I’d encourage your readers and viewers to get involved in the Global Water Strategy Process. Water 2017 is also hopeful that President Trump will add global water to his national security strategy. And we’re also helpful that Congress will include water in related legislative … and with food aid reform, for example. Helping fragile states not become failed states.
Over the longer term, getting back to sort of revaluing water, we have high hopes that the whole of the U.S. government approach to water will help our allies better manage their water resources to do three things. One is to prevent the next droughts, which will certainly happen, from becoming the next famines. Which are optional and preventable. Secondly, we’d like to prevent water from being a threat multiplier. And [inaudible 00:08:56] places like Syria or Yemen. And then third, we’d like to help prevent water-related infectious diseases like ebola, like cholera, from going pandemic. And frankly even reaching the borders of this country.
So we see the U.S. government to help revalue water over the longer term from simply a cause of security threats to a way to prevent them in the first place. And I think that’s the most important piece of our work that directly relates to the value of water. So thank you, Carl, and everybody.
J. Carl Ganter: John that was a great tee-up for our … Again, our bigger conversation here in just a few minutes. Thank you, John Oldfield in Washington and Torgny Holmgren in Stockholm. I appreciate you joining us today. In just a few minutes everyone on the line will have a chance to participate in the conversation through special breakout groups. And we encourage you to stick around for those, coming up in just a few minutes.
J. Carl Ganter: You’re listening to H2O Catalyst, where today with your help, we are exploring the question, how do we revalue, as John said, how do we revalue water, going from values to value? So from threat multipliers to pandemics, and the cause of security threats to preventing them. To help us take more of an orbital perspective, more of a design approach, we have William McDonough joining us. Bill is a renaissance man of architecture and big picture design and thinking. He’s a master of shaping narratives and designing a better world. And water’s been flowing through his work for years. Bill, thanks so much for joining us.
Bill McDonough: My pleasure.
J. Carl Ganter: All right, great. Well, you know we heard from earlier guests that we need to create a new narrative about water. And, arguably, like carbon, the change in the story has been more incremental in the past and less transformational. You know, we’re seeing, as Torgny Holmgren said, water topping the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report as the number one threat to geopolitical stability and other challenges. And your recent article in Nature was called “A New Language for Carbon.” So you know, what I want, I think would be really exciting for us, is if you can walk us through how we might create a new values to value-based language or approach for water.
Bill McDonough: Well, I’m delighted to do this. And I must say that you know, not being a specialist, I’ll probably come across as a generalist. But I’ve had the privilege of living in a house designed by Thomas Jefferson [inaudible 00:11:49]. And when you realize that these are people willing to look at big ideas, and you look for example at the design here at the University of Virginia, my house is the one on the lower left. That what Mr. Jefferson was doing is looking at the Platonic ideals that are represented by the Rotunda of what is the good and the bad, what is the right and the wrong, what is ethics, morals, and so on. And then truth and beauty. Then, looking down the two colonnades you see ten pavilions. Greco-Roman. This is decimal, this is looking for truth in number.
So today, I’d like to do the search for the good and look at our values first. And so let’s go ahead. So the search for the good is really at the head of the idea … Next is that there are fully five goods I think that we can look at as designers. And they are good materials, good economy, good energy, good water, good lives. And they are all obviously integrally connected. They all are super critical. But you can’t even talk about the economy being good if you’re distributing and circulating bad things, or polluting water, for example. So good water is fundamental to this and to all the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. So, by design, if we go search for the good, and we can ask ourselves you know, what is right what is wrong? Or, you know, lead us to politics and religion. But good and bad even a child can explain to somebody. And that is clean water is good, dirty water is bad. Water is needed by everyone. So this idea that clean water is a human right, and I’m very glad to hear that President Trump apparently starts to recognize that as something fundamental to our behavior as a nation, that’s really quite astonishing. Because we are clearly, if we go to the next one, aware that if water is dirty and unavailable it is bad.
So when we have these things like lead in our water systems, we don’t talk about just reducing it by 20% by 2020. These are toxins we’re dealing with here. So when you have a toxin, you stop. So I think that is really an important idea, that clean water is a human right. And we can deal with it at that level. And then next is that we can look at it as a design issue because design is the first signal of human intention.
So as a designer, I can then ask that why … What are regulations? And regulations are signals of design failure. It’s the government or the community stepping in to say hold it, you know. We didn’t give you the right to pollute us. So these are the regulations in environmental … In the environmental regulations in the United States. You’ll notice on the next slide that the red ones are chemical pollution. And so the question really is if we could design where we don’t need regulation, it’s not because we want to subvert regulations it’s simply because we’ve designed something so clean and healthy it doesn’t need to be regulated.
So it’s really an interesting moment to talk about how do we design without regulation. It’s because we’re designing things that are safe and healthy. So when we go to the next slide, Jefferson and Madison, when deciding how to fund the federal government decided it should be one generation, the term of the note. And the logic was that the earth belongs to the living. No man may by natural right oblige the land he owns or occupies to debts greater than those that may be paid during his own lifetime. Because if he could, the world would belong to the dead.
So we can ask ourselves if we look at the evolution of rights from natural rights in the philosophical conversations of the 1600s and 1700s to the issues of ethical and equitable rights in human rights. And then we see the rights of the marketplace with the economy century coming in the 1800s. But the 1900s really were the pollution century. And when did we have the right to pollute? So it’s … I don’t even know where to put that.
So the question then becomes to the last question, how do we make things better because we’re here? So naturally, the design [inaudible 00:16:32]. Sort of at a meta level. So I’d like to go to the values to value now and look at what this looks like as a framework. It essentially means we start with the right and the wrong, the good, the bad, the beautiful, ethical, moral. And we move to principles of behavior, this would be the fulcrum of our behavior, the things we hold to be true. Then visions for the future, which we know without execution or hallucination. Goals, which we’ve now adapted 17 sustainable development goals as a global culture. Strategies, tactics, metrics, and then value creation. So search for good and bad at the top, search for truth in number at the bottom.
So we find that if you start with just number, and try and quantify, and then work your way up through metrics, tactics, and strategies to goals, you benchmark. So you end up getting less bad, often. And you’re trying to work within the existing system. There’s something about today that I’d like to talk about. Which is this idea of starting with the quality of things and then moving toward the value creation, from the values. Which is really from values to value, where you do create value from starting with values.
So next is the … The question we’re bringing to our work is we just ask this simple question to begin with. How can we love all the children of all species for all time? And as we’re designing, can we do that? And then next, we want to insist on the rights of humanity and nature to coexist. That’s one of the principles that we work with. And so when you start to look at what happens by design and if you relate it to water, next is the River Rouge for Ford that we did a long time ago now, 15 years ago. And it’s the world’s largest green roof. But this project saved them 35 million dollars in capital expense over chemical treatment plants and giant pipes for treating the water, and let nature do it. And so they ended up being very cost effective and basically stimulating a new industry.
Next is a project in Amsterdam. This is our project that treats its water … The Dutch are very sensitive to water and its salination, obviously. And this project is purifying its water constantly. It uses warm water from the south side of buildings to heat the north sides of all the other buildings. It’s a big ecosystem. It actually has water in its veins as the fluid influx of life on the site.
Next is a project for NASA, where we did a research building for climate, actually, at their research center. It’s a space station on earth. And they used the technique from space to help us get the sweet … Designed with rocket scientists. So the building … They actually make real energy and purify water, and things like that, based on the technologies that NASA has developed for space.
We’re also looking at visionary things for cities that could feed themselves and clean their own water and power themselves as well. So it’s all local, the idea that things become immensely local. Now if we look at the global issues of sustainable development goals, we realize that none of those really can happen without clean water. The clean water at the top right there is the fundamental to all of the rest of them. And so you really have it as a core goal as you try to achieve the rest.
So starting with the principle of strategic direction, if we think of just being efficient with things and we say our goal is zero, and we’re going to 20% less bad by 2020 or something, then it’s like telling us what you’re not going to do. And it’d be like jumping a taxi and saying, quick, I’m not going to airport. And your goal is nothing. And what I think is really exciting right now is that we can move … To the next slide. We can actually move to articulate the good and the bad and work from values. Not just show the bad and say, oh, we’re going to be less bad. Put it where it belongs. So, dirty water, polluted water, unavailable water, things like that aren’t good. And they can be actually bad. And so what we’re looking at is how to get rid of that. Fine. We should absolutely do that, be less bad, for sure. But also be more good.
And so how would we go about that? So we work in products and systems and develop those five goods all the way down to the molecule. So you can start with an inventory of things and … In the textile industry we’ve actually designed fabrics. We’re looking at all the chemicals and we’re able to design the system so that it produces fresh drinking water instead of toxic material. Because the chemists now have done their work in an elegant way to provide us with nutrition instead of toxification. So this is fabric safe enough to eat. And the water coming out of the factory is essentially [inaudible 00:21:36] drinking water, so you get to use it again and the world gets better because you’re here.
Now when we look at metrics, we realize that the designers of the International Space Station have 100% reutilized water right on site. So it isn’t a matter of yuck factors, of working with sewage and so on. This is H20 and they know how to manage it. So that’s pretty interesting I think. And so we can bring this stuff, get that [inaudible 00:22:03] as well, it’s a much more simple thing. Letting nature do its, run its course.
So I’d just finish up here with the notion that we could start to imagine a new way of looking at even the integration of water with power, and food, and fiber. And all the jobs and soft of localization of multiple agendas. Because that’s really the one I’d like to think about. We need to do five economic things at once. This is a, as I said, a solar collector in Africa. And the thing that concerns me about this is single-minded. This is obviously a pod thing in the sunshine. The soil is not part of the living system here and it’s selling [inaudible 00:22:48].
If we go to the next thing, we look at in the United States, we have zoning. So we end up with agriculture, or industrial things like that. But what if we started to put all this together? So when you look at this experiment here in the next one, at Davis. It’s an experiment using solar collectors to shade the ground as they sit above the ground seven feet. And all of a sudden the water comes back, the deep rooted perennials come back. The grazing animals can come back. It’s quite an astonishing thing to see what happens with a little bit of shade. So that kind of thing and the next slide is one in Mongolia, has brought back the goats and even the yaks and can be in shade here.
And so we’re looking at ideas of having food, electricity, fiber, you have wool. You can grow fibers, you can grow vegetable protein, you can cycle various traditional cultural crops and various forms of husbandry here, and all of a sudden the water can even be captured from the atmosphere. The idea is to hold it in the collectors and do direct irrigation as well as provide water for communities. So this idea that we would start to design much richer agendas is a critical one, I think.
Next slide, where we’ll finish. This idea of a new language for carbon. I mean for water, excuse me. Carl referred to the new language for carbon that we’ve been looking at. Let’s talk about the things that they are. So, carbon in the atmosphere is a toxin at this point in history. So let’s call that fugitive carbon, and then carbon in plastics is obviously, if it’s recycled, is durable. And so they’re kinds of things used over centuries. And then carbon in soil is living carbon. Actually, it perpetuates life itself. It allows it [inaudible 00:24:40]. So water is very similar. So if we thought about water as like a fugitive, it would be things that we let escape when they were really meant for a kind of utility, perhaps. Or if toxins are getting fugitive in the water. That’s the kind of thing it’s like, wait a minute. Have we, you know … We’re not talking about just letting the natural world take its course, we’re talking about how humans interact with it.
And then durable would be things that are perpetual and that we can rely on. Like a climate that we understand. And the human behavior becomes a neutral one. And then there’s living water, which is the one that supports life itself. And the human behavior that is … Allows for the water to support life itself is a water positive behavior. And so let’s hope that President Trump believes in water positive behavior for everyone. Because that probably is the biggest question, is what are we doing with water as humans in the anthropocene era? And I know this is kind of general, but I thought I’d start here.
Maestro Conference is a really neat way of ideating and coming up with new ideas and sharing. So here’s really, here’s the question. And sometimes these big challenges require better questions. So if you do want to change this question around a bit, please feel free to do so. But really thinking about these scales of action, and we’ve heard globally, we’ve heard locally. We’ve heard within your own community, and as an individual, what values … We’ll start with values. What values do you see guiding decisions about water and natural resources? And then, of course, the question that follows that. What values are typically left out or are not adequately addressed, and how would you address them?
So really just three pieces here. What values do you see guiding decisions about water and natural resources, and what values are typically left out or not addressed? And how would you address them if you had to reset the values conversation around water?
At this point in the program, we put catalyst participants into 30 separate breakout groups. We’ll now hear highlights from those conversations.
J. Carl Ganter: Great, hi, everybody. Welcome back. I hope you all had interesting discussions. I had a chance to surf some of them. And that’s the advantage of having the master mouse here, so to speak. It was really exciting conversations in all directions, and we’d like to hear from you in some brief comments, if you’re prepared to share a few words from your group. Raise your hand virtually by pressing one on your phone. You can do it in real time too, but we won’t see it. So press one on your phone and … Or through your interface, and we’ll call on you in just a second.
But first, Bill McDonough, I wanted to ask you, as you set us up here, what were some of the things that caught your ear while browsing the groups? Or that was in the group that you tuned into most closely?
Bill McDonough: Well the groups I heard … It was marvelous about how every … Water touches so many parts of our lives that we can have stories everywhere. Starting first thing in the morning and ending at night when you go to sleep. And it’s water, water everywhere in your story. And I think what I wanted to do was just to ask the sort of silly question of the meta-story. When the United Nations says clean water is a human right, when and how do we take that seriously?
And I know that’s a, sort of a question for us all all the time. But when and how do we do that? And I wanted to just reference Freon, because there was a situation where we had Freon. The scientific community came together, said we’re depleting the ozone layer. And within a period of time that was not unreasonable, people came together and said it’s outlawed. And as a world community, and you know, and it’s just taken out. And the idea that people come together to sort of discover the obvious, at some point. What – is there anybody here that has some optic on the creation of the value in a way that causes this change we’re looking at?
And the only kind of thing I’d throw in to color this would be, in one of the groups they were talking about how hard it is to get … When you have politics, let’s say having a canal from the Dead Sea. That all of the sudden you’ve got countries involved and large scale things coming out. And is there a sense of the group in terms of how to scale this solution? If these things become local job creation programs and local food, local water, do they get more dynamically available, rather than giant infrastructure projects? Is there some kind of guidance and wisdom here?
J. Carl Ganter: That’s a great question, Bill. For even a … For a unique perspective and maybe one from the small kind of orbital perspective, so to speak. Looking down on the planet and also having a chance to manage the planet’s, in a sense, sensor system, so to speak. I want to go to Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, who has raised her hand. Dr. Sullivan is the past administrator of NOAA, and also spent some time in orbit, looking down and had a chance to really ponder the water planet.
K. Sullivan: Yeah, thanks. I can give a couple thoughts that came up in the breakout that I was in with Kevin [inaudible 00:34:07] from Ball State. [inaudible 00:34:10] first though touch on Bill’s anecdote about the Montreal Convention which is what changed the course of things with the ozone. And yeah, I’m going to … So I’m going to be a bit of a skunk in the wood pile here because the Montreal Protocol case I think … I think the way that actually happened shows some of the challenge that we have, the very different challenge that we have with both carbon and water.
You say people came together, and many people did come together. There was a quite clear, clearly established scientific understanding of the phenomena that were involved. But in the case of ozone, I would argue you really only needed to get about six people together because the total production, the total source of those chemicals was really something on the order of six companies, of which one was far and away the dominant. So in fact if you could persuade really one actor that this needed to change, and if you could show them that as an innovation leader in their field there was an advantage in their business and economic frameworks, there was a clear advantage to being a first mover. That moved the market. And all of us changed because the producers changed. And the thing we had been buying before just were no longer being produced. The stuff that lives in our refrigerator today was not the same stuff that’s been in our refrigerator a year ago.
And when it comes to water and distributed [inaudible 00:35:50] threats like water or carbon, that’s why I think the challenge compounds. Because all the scales of action do this together, from the individual up to the global, and therefore all of the sets of interests and inequities also interconnect. And you know, we all know they don’t always interconnect as positives. They also interconnect as conflicts. So I just offer that as a thought puzzle to muse on when you try to think about how do you get things to sail, and is the ozone case a helpful positive example or is it a cautionary example that should profess, as Bill said earlier, to other questions.
As to the questions that were asked for our breakout session, as Carl said, I’ve just come out of government and scientific agency. Kevin is a chemical engineer who’s been in higher education for a long time at Ball State and is very active in the sort of river keeper and water advocacy groups in his home state. What commonly seems … Seems that what the values that usually drive decision making, at least in the United States, are factors like speed, and efficiency of building projects, of deploying financial capital, consumer convenience, recreational values. But if you stack those in terms of the order in which they seem to dominate decisions, it goes … It really is decisions are commonly dominated by speed and efficiency and rapid rate of return on financial investments. Human convenience and needs and recreational needs play in, but often are a secondary or third order effect.
While projects show … A lot of activities show a desire to control and manage water, not so much to work in sympathy as an integral part of a … An integrated system as some of Bill’s designs suggest, let’s be sure we are in charge and [inaudible 00:37:55] we have positive control over water rather than living in more of a symbiosis or an equilibrium with it. What do we have to do to shift this around and bring some of the commonly omitted values more to the foreground? A couple of thoughts.
One is, good design depends on having some good, practical knowledge by which to inform and shape and constrain the design. Science, technology, engineering knowledge. You know, if you’re building a new gadget you can maybe build a little one and play with it and break it a few times. And you know, experiment your way to a successful design. We can’t do that with this planet, the time constants are way to long between the time we find out it’s a bad result, what could be a devastatingly bad result. So the importance of science and technology and engineering knowledge. But in particular, scientific knowledge of how this planet works is very high. And so some of us who work in those fields are concerned frankly in the United States about what may be the course of investments in those fields of science in the years ahead under this new president.
Other points in addressing the omitted values. You know there’s a real value to grassroots advocacy and to those advocacy groups finding ways to connect at multiple levels. And then also regulations to enforce when needed, and then the kicker would be how do we infuse more design thinking and resilience thinking into economic decision making? And I’ve probably run longer than I should have so I’m going to stop there.
J. Carl Ganter: Oh that was all terrific. Thank you, Dr. Sullivan. Really, really interesting, and a unique perspective, an orbital perspective in the ultimate thought puzzle. But I want to now go to a classroom in Michigan at the Water Studies Institute. We have students tuning in, different parts of the world here. And in the heart of the Great Lakes, hosted by Jim Olsen who has his hand up. And I think we have … I think we have Jim Olsen on the line. Jim, you had your hand up to make a quick comment?
Jim Olsen: Yeah, I had two.
J. Carl Ganter: Yes, we hear you. Yup.
Jim Olsen: Can you hear me, Carl?
J. Carl Ganter: Yes we can. If you’d be close to your microphone.
Jim Olsen: Yeah, thank you. Thank you for the program. Within the ten minutes the students in the discussion identified two things that I’ll just share quickly. One is that the use, when we define that, needs to look at underrepresented, and I think the human right to water. Because that significantly, at least across the board, when we begin to apply that. And also other species and ecosystems. Two, one of the students suggested that technology, and I suppose based upon this discussion today, he made a design. That it should be … We need to understand how much it costs, how is it available, how is it shared, who controls it. And how that would be viewed publicly or privately and it’s availability to [inaudible 00:41:15] the human right to water.
And then the third point was sort of this thing you mentioned, Carl, earlier. And that is this overarching framework that might induce or create the incentive for human behavior to conform to a way of thinking about water design. And I think we have … In this course there’s lots of time spent at comparing commons to just public and private uses and why [inaudible 00:41:47] to compete. The commons being the overarching framework. And then searching and asking ourselves, what are the inherent principles around the world when they’re … When water is viewed in the commons. One of those in western civilizations is the public health factor. Which has very distinct principles. It looks toward … It’s really both intrinsic values and then the second order of uses that depend upon that intrinsic larger common value.
J. Carl Ganter: Great, thank you, Jim Olsen and the students at the Water Studies Institute in Traverse City, Michigan. Also, maybe a time, we’re going to squeeze in one more quick comment before we do another round here. And, Fred Boltz, you had your hand up. I actually tuned in to your breakout group there for a few moments and it sounded pretty dynamic. Fred?
Fred Boltz: Thanks Carl. Yeah we had a terrific conversation, myself, Tim who works in the waste water sector and Melinda, who had some terrific experience from the Middle East with the UN. And then I think we had similar conclusions related to the value of water, how it’s valued presently is largely financial and political as a consequence, which can be very divisive. We saw some positive trends, you know, within those constraints. In that the financial community is increasingly recognizing the materiality of risks related to water availability, variability, and how that may influence the performance of a business. But it’s certainly inadequate to reflect the multiple values: cultural, spiritual, social, environmental, of water.
I did want to reflect on Bill’s very interesting question as well on the applicability of local scale actions and solutions to the water issue. I think that’s actually pretty profound in that I would certainly … I would at least suggest that a lot of the momentum or the relative ease of local scale actions are based upon a perception within a very local community of relative commonality of values, perspectives, and homogeneity of community that can enable the movement towards action. Which might not be as easy in communities that are more diverse and divided, and particularly where there are strong political boundaries. And I think given the … Reflecting a bit on Kathy’s points on the interconnectedness of people around a water resource and the interdependency of communities regardless of their culture of origin or political position within a watershed, might be something analogous to that local scale system. If we portray water appropriately as a common good, and if we address issues of management of this collective resource with a … Pretty much a recognition of that interconnectedness and interdependency of actions and individuals within a basin around that resource, I think that’s a really nice paradigm for thinking about how to confront the divisive nature of how we’ve treated water traditionally from a very financial and political and even conflictive social perspective.
J. Carl Ganter: Great, thank you, Fred Boltz. Appreciate that.
So now we’ve started a conversation about how we create an environment of shared mission and shared values, and I’m sure that value, as we heard, value came into a lot of conversations. And values, what’s the difference and how do we transition, as Bill said, from values to value.
So I want to take a few more minutes, one more breakout group, one more quick round. How do we in a sense come up with a common water budget for humans, the environment, agriculture? And knowing it’s a complicated conversation, you know maybe we just need to start with more questions than answers. And I think we did a good job in that first round. Is there a set of principles that can inform the value discussion? In a sense, how do we value water? Is this a … you know, how do we bring these two pieces together in that framework, or that path, that Bill laid out. And yes, that may sound complicated or it may sound extremely vague. But that’s the challenge we face.
And I hope you’ll take a few minutes. We’ll do another probably seven minutes on this and talk about … Go from, really, to value. And maybe you know, is there a set of principles that can inform that value discussion. And so Charlie will put us back into breakout groups. I think we’ll go back into the same groups, and we’ll have about seven minutes to chat. Capture your thoughts in that … If you’re on the interface, in that chat box that says everyone. We’d love to share those, we’ll capture those. And then we’ll come back and we’ll have a chance to answer more questions and have a wider conversation. And then we’ll bring in some of the Circle of Blue team as well to … Some observations as far as where the story is going. And from a global journalistic perspective. So if we can push you back into those groups for about seven more minutes and carry on that conversation, we’ll come back and do the same thing. And then we’ll wrap up.
And just a quick note, too, is we will … We are capturing this event, it’ll be transcribed, we’ll report on it, and the audio will be available online as well. So Charlie, if you can put people back into their breakout groups and get their couches ready, if we can make that happen, that would be terrific.
Charlie: At this point in the program, we put catalyst participants into 30 separate breakout groups. We’ll now hear highlights from those conversations.
J. Carl Ganter: Great. Hey, thanks Charlie. And welcome back again. Again, what a great round. And great conversations. You know you handled the … You handle the very complex question very well, you know. A lot of diverse thinkers here and appreciated that. So again, we want to do the same thing. We’ll do a quick report out, probably have time to take two or three questions and some feedback. Some report outs from your group, so who’s got their hand up? I’ll ask the team here so we can call on you. Two seconds, here.
Bill, did you have a chance to tune in? Were you in the same group or did you move to another spot?
Bill McDonough: I was in the same group.
J. Carl Ganter: Okay.
Bill McDonough: In and out, yeah. But there.
J. Carl Ganter: Okay. Anything different as far as when we transitioned from a … From values to value?
Bill McDonough: Well, one thing that just is striking to me is this idea of comparing it to energy. And the fact that there was a solar farm just let and contracted in the Middle East for 2.4 cents a kilowatt hour which is half the price of wind and half the price of [inaudible 00:49:26] natural gas is all of a sudden this notion that the distributive power has arrived in a cost-effective way. We can imagine communities all over getting 5 megawatt solar farms next to them that can do all kinds of things. And so the comparison between giant pipes full of water, you know, draining this area for that area, and the idea that local generation can start to produce local jobs with lots of multiplications and multiplying factors in local job creation is, really, an important idea, I think, at this point. So if you parallel to what’s happening in renewable energy, we might want to think about renewable water.
J. Carl Ganter: Renewable water. Great, well …
Bill McDonough: That’s my [inaudible 00:50:18].
J. Carl Ganter: Yeah, no that’s great. Thanks, Bill. And I want to go back to … John Oldfield had his hand up. And then we’ll take a few more questions. So John, you had … You wanted to chime in here?
John Oldfield: Hey Carl, you bet. Thank you. It just … I think listening to these interesting conversations about the value of water, my take is we are well advised … Sort of building off Bill’s earlier comment about design is the first signal of human intention, I’m going to lose sleep over that. Our intention here in my mind should be human-centric. Sort of flipping that 180 degrees. I think that we need to start with humans as we’re thinking through our guiding principles for how we value water. First and foremost should be giving every human, the 663,000,000 that are living without water supply. The two billion that are living without good quality water on the planet, give every human the opportunity to not just survive but to thrive. And I mean this … At a very immediate scale, what do we do over the next hours, days, for these hundreds of millions, with these hundreds of millions of people? But also we have to keep in mind, if humans are to survive and thrive for the long run, the long term needs. We can’t be doing this if we’re unsustainably withdrawing water from the environment as a natural resource.
We cannot create a situation whereby these hundreds of millions of humans are going to survive and thrive without dealing with what came up in one of the discussion groups, the fact that agriculture uses 70-80 percent of the world’s water supply. So focus on humans is my guiding principle here, but do so in a way that assumes that humans are going to be around for the long run.
J. Carl Ganter: Well let’s hope so, we’ll assume that. Thank you, John Oldfield. Also we have … Joe Frisbee has his hand up. Joe, you want to give us an idea of what you talked about in your breakout group?
Joe Frisbee: Well, the fact … Well, we talked about a lot of things. How little … Water has both a physical and a temporal quality on a daily basis. And I don’t think 99.9 percent of us have any idea how rare human … Not just human, but for all of life on the earth, how rare that water is. So we get that … You know, I mean … Until we get that into perspective it really means nothing. Because if you look at a picture of the earth, you just … It’s all you see is blue. But in fact the water we use is less than … Is around three tenths of a percent. That’s the only water we can use unless we process the heck out of it, and then we ruin that too.
J. Carl Ganter: Great, thanks so much, Joe. I also want to go to Alexandra Davis. Alexandra, you have your hand up. Can you give us some feedback?
Alexandra Davis: Yeah, one of the things that strikes me in listening to this conversation and thinking about the advancement in Colorado and other areas of the American West was empowering more views, and thus more values, at the table. In other words, 20 years ago when I started in the water field, water allocation decisions were made by a very small group of people, mostly municipal providers and farmers. And now through a number of legislative changes and the creation of round tables, these things we call round tables, many more people are at the table and talking about what’s important in terms of water allocation issues. So in making sure that we empower all voices at tables has really changed the face of water decision making in Colorado and seems to be an important way to advance different bodies in the process, or in any process.
J. Carl Ganter: Great well, thank you, Alexandra Davis. Peter Neale, I see Peter you’ve been putting some comments in the chat group as well. Give us a sense about your perspective. What went on in your breakout groups?
Peter Neale: Well, thank you. As you know I’m an ocean guy, and I’m going to celebrate one day when I see water people stop drawing the line at the salt line and start looking at the ocean as the cosmic source of water and the water cycle. As the science and structure and behavior around which all of our responses, local and governmental, should be based. The second point we made was that the … The determination of value is based on the penultimate urgency of the situation. Two, three, four days without water and you die. And what we’re seeing in terms of global instability, migration, and all the rest of it can easily be explained by the inadequacy of water supply and the inequity of water supply on earth. We have major cities in the United States and South America, and Europe, and the far East, which have basically no municipal water supply adequate to the demand. So until we start incorporating the full water cycle, we will continue to implement what I think is inadequate science, inadequate policy, and inadequate results.
A couple of other things that the valuation base is supply and demand. And price, in terms of incentives and [inaudible 00:56:26] can help determine price, but the fact is that anybody who doesn’t have water … Speak to any one of those refugees … Will tell you that the price is to lift my family up and leave, and go try to find another way where I can survive.
Another point you made was that the technology and the financial assets exist already. What we’re missing is political will and imagination in certain cities like New York and San Francisco, and in certain townships like Portland, Oregon where they are beginning to use building codes and renovations and water distribution systems to create new ways of creating and generating electricity from the passage and movement of water through pipes, etc. And finally, we had a solution. In my book, The Once and Future Ocean, I talk about water labeling. Why is it that we can tell exactly what’s in every package with everything that we buy in the supermarket, from the red dye number two to whether it’s gluten free or not, but we have no idea of the external use of water contained therein. So if, for example, we knew that one product, or one version of one product was wasteful in its water production then every one of us could make a market decision in place. It seems to me that’s something that ought to be looked at immediately, as a way of informing the public so that they understand. Even if they don’t necessarily today solve it.
One final point is, Iceland increased its productivity of fish by essentially adapting a universal principle and using 100 percent of the fish. So if we started incorporating that in terms of our attitudes, or building codes, or legislative process is that we incentivize all of these things like recycling and using the water that we have available, we would make a huge inroad on conservation and the extension of the water that is currently available.
J. Carl Ganter: Well thank you, Peter Neale. And you know, exactly right, I think, on the systemic approach. And another point that’s been made too is perception. You know, perception versus reality. Fiona McMurren mentions in her … In the comment box here, we have a problem with water being seen as an infinite resource, in particular in areas like the Great Lakes. And the whole idea of systems approaches.
I want to turn to Circle of Blue reporter Brett Walton, who’s been on the front lines of this story for the past few years. And Brett, you know, a couple comments and then maybe you have a few questions for Bill as we wrap up. We’re coming up, about another five or six minutes to go in this Catalyst Call. So Brett, can you pop in here?
Brett Walton: Sure, thanks Carl. As I was cruising around the conversations a couple things were striking. And one is the diversity of opinions and the diversity in direction that a lot of these conversations went. We had people on the line from North Dakota who were worried about the oil developments, people in New York worried about pipeline construction, someone who had just moved from West Africa where water, just gaining water, is a daily struggle. People from California where the question of fairness is brought up: who gets to use water in a drought? Urban consumers and farmers. There is a water and sewer utility manager who talked about the value of water in relation to the City Council who complains when water rates go up even a few cents per thousand gallons. So there’s all of these ideas that swirl up around the value of water question.
And I got a sense that there’s dissatisfaction in current ways that we value water, but there’s a lot of uncertainty about how to change that. And it goes to the bigness, the largeness of this question. And the multiple fields of action that Bill talked about. That people don’t … In some cases, people don’t know where to start. Alexandra brought up what’s happening in Colorado with the basin round tables, and that’s a template that could be used in a lot of areas as a way to get at the heart of this question locally. It’s get people in the same room to talk about what they think value and values should be.
So for Bill, I mean Bill as you talked about this in his introduction. And my question to him would be, in some of these projects that he mentioned, the solar orchard and the project in the Netherlands is how those value questions got addressed in these projects and how this small project example could be a way to get a new set of ideas from idea into practice?
J. Carl Ganter: Bill, were you able to catch that? Are you able to pick up on Brett’s question there?
Bill McDonough: Hello?
J. Carl Ganter: Yup, you’re up.
Bill McDonough: I’m trying. Yeah, oh. Well two things there, I mean these are specific projects but one, it takes leadership. And in the case of the Netherlands, for example, the client is an economist. So he was not afraid to look at the issue and say, well we’re going to say we’re going to clean our own water here. And it was like, okay. And well how are we going to do that? All right, well let’s find out. And we found out, and we penciled it, and we compared it to other things. And we put it into the program, and we execute against it. So you have a leader who’s not afraid to ask questions and then do the math. And you need both. So if you can’t prove the math at the beginning, it’s always helpful to have somebody who can do math. So that’s really helpful.
On the solar orchard, it’s a similar thing on the value creation. If the value is being created across more than one ledger, the best, I think – one of the key things that has to happen today is that instead of just saying, oh, solar farms are for kilowatt hours, or water projects are for water, we’ve just heard, you know, agriculture projects are water projects. And urban [inaudible 01:03:02] are water projects. But they are more than that. So I think this idea that we can have multiple ledgers running simultaneously and then have people who have the ability to work. Who are, you know, could be political leaders, could be industry leaders, could be community leaders, are able to do more … Carry more than one ledger at a time and see it all aggregate. And present that to a community. Because that again is why it divests to the local. Because it – smaller densities are easiest to see.
J. Carl Ganter: Thank you, thank you so much Bill. And we’re coming to the close. So this is just the beginning of a global conversation. And it’s, as we’ve heard, as we know, it’s one of the most important of our era. On March 22nd we hope you’ll tune in on Facebook via Facebook Live for World Water Day. This all continues at the Vatican, in Rome, where we’re carrying the conversation of water value and water values to the Vatican. It’ll be live-streamed and opened by Pope Francis. A global conversation. And you can learn more about that at worldwatervalues.org. And here at Circle of Blue we think this is one of the most important conversations happening around the world. And this program will be transcribed and archived online at CircleofBlue.org.
I want to thank our discussion leaders, our guests. Our special guests, Bill McDonough, thank you Bill. And Torgny Holmgren and John Oldfield who joined us to help set up the context up front. And out host and technical support here, at Interlochen Public Radio, Peter Payette and Gary Langley, and our funders for
J. Carl Ganter
J. Carl Ganter is co-founder and director of Circle of Blue, the internationally recognized center for original frontline reporting, research, and analysis on resource issues with a focus on the intersection between water, food, and energy. Carl — an award-winning photojournalist, reporter, and broadcaster — is recognized for developing the keen skills that helped to shape the multimedia journalism era. He received the Rockefeller Foundation’s Centennial Innovation Award (2012).
McDonough’s interests and influence range widely, and he works at scales from the global to the molecular. He is recognized globally as a leader in sustainable development. His vision for a future of abundance for all is helping companies and communities think differently. Together they are changing the world.
Holmgren is Former Ambassador at the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Head of the Department for Development Policy, Mr. Torgny Holmgren became SIWI’s Executive Director in 2012. Holmgren has served as an expert or board member on the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Water, the World Water Council (Permanent Observer in the Board of Governors), the European Advisory Group of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and with Water Aid (Sweden).
Oldfield led the efforts of WASH Advocates (2011 – 2015) to increase awareness of global water and sanitation challenges and solutions, and to increase the amount and effectiveness of resources devoted to those solutions throughout the developing world. He believes strongly that global water challenges are more solvable than difficult. John previously founded two implementing nonprofits in the water sector, and served as Executive Vice President with Water Advocates, an advocacy group in Washington, DC dedicated to increasing financial and political support for worldwide access to safe, affordable and sustainable supplies of drinking water and sanitation.