Letters

December/January 2006

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• 2,101 words

Hands Off My Water
The central points in Chris Wood’s article (“Melting Point,” October) are both valid: Canada is threatened by impacts of climate change due to emissions of greenhouse gases, and US thirst for Canadian water could result in large-scale dams and diversions. However, these points are not connected in the way the table of contents suggests (“Thanks to global warming, Canada will be awash in water”). The reality, as Mr. Wood attests, is entirely the opposite. Due to climate change, Canada will experience water shortage. Environment Canada assessments of climatic impacts have concluded that the most significant impact of a twofold increase in atmospheric carbon would be loss of water in both quantity and quality.

The fact that climate change will result in persistent droughts on our prairies and reduced water levels in the Great Lakes is a good argument against engineering water transfers south of the border. We are fighting for an annex agreement to the Great Lakes Charter that will prevent diversions, with climate change cited as a reason. Adapting to climate change will certainly mean keeping our water within natural watersheds and basins. All the more reason that we cannot risk diversions or megadams, and why we must reduce fossil-fuel emissions.

Elizabeth May
Executive Director, Sierra Club of Canada
Ottawa, Ontario

While I’m flattered that Chris Wood calls me an “ecological champion” and “America’s leading water advocate,” he has distorted my position. I’ve been a leading proponent for many years of the “soft path” to water, which requires refocusing management from supply to demand, from infrastructure to water use, from centralized decision-making to community-scale actions. I’ve always noted that the soft path does not mean abandoning dams and reservoirs; rather, it means smarter use of such infrastructure and applying far more careful rules and guidelines to evaluate where new ones may be appropriate, especially in developing countries. Mr. Wood mangles this distinction by implying I support building new dams in the United States and Canada. This is false. As I’ve regularly argued, I believe that conservation and efficiency improvements can produce far more water, far faster, and with far less environmental destruction than new dams in both of our countries.

Even more disturbing was Mr. Wood’s implication that I support delivering Canadian water to American users. I do not support this nor do I believe economic, legal, or political conditions would permit such deliveries. I stand by my statement that “We can no longer afford to pretend these international watersheds are separate.” But Mr. Wood’s interpretation that this inevitably means mandated water deliveries from Canada to the United States, or that I support such deliveries, is wrong. In fact, unless we get better at jointly managing the watersheds we share, the likelihood of international disputes over water will grow.

Dr. Peter H. Gleick
President, Pacific Institute
Oakland, California

Chris Wood argues there will be irresistible pressures for large-scale transfers of water within Canada and to the United States. But there are good reasons to resist such moves. First, transferring water from one watershed to another is a serious disruption of our natural systems. This argument has no connection to nationalism, but merely reflects the fact that manipulating the natural world for our own ends can often produce unforeseen negative consequences.

Second, the United States has squandered its water capital by drawing down aquifers and rivers, especially in western states. In effect, the current generation has stolen water from their children, who will have to bear the consequences. Canada’s capitulation now would only encourage the belief that technical solutions offset global warming, when we ought to be combating it at its source.

Don Kerr
Collingwood, Ontario

Chris Wood responds:
All three writers conflate distinctions that we must urgently begin to draw. Although the science points to Canada experiencing more precipitation on average, the devil is in the details: extreme disparities of water distribution, both seasonally and geographically. Over time, these will overcome the kinds of rigid, ideologically driven prohibitions that organizations like the Sierra Club insist upon. As to Dr. Gleick’s objection, while I greatly respect his work in this area, I frankly do not see how it is possible to “jointly manage the watersheds we share” without also accepting that, from time to time, water originating on one side of the border may be used on the other. Mr. Kerr is doubtless right that present-day US consumers have in effect stolen water from their children, but I believe he is wrong to hope that we can still stop global warming “at its source.” That train has left the station. As our species has done since we discovered fire and the power of the lever, we will, sooner or later, turn to technology to help us adapt to a changing habitat.

Panda-hugger
It is hard to understand how the willingness to kill hundreds of thousands of American civilians, as expressed by a senior Chinese military leader, can be so lightly attributed to a US policy of “encirclement” (“Containing China,” October). Has Gwynne Dyer considered that China’s increasing bellicosity may play a role in forming US policy? The view on international security from the safe seats may be pleasant but it can also be embarrassing, as it surely was for those pre-war European intellectuals who argued that Hitler had a weak army and at any rate was only pursuing legitimate grievances. To suggest that World War iii might be attributed to the recent US agreement with India is as ludicrous as saying that World War II was caused by France and Britain agreeing to protect Poland rather than by Hitler invading it.

Moreover, the fact that China is becoming America’s largest trading partner in no way negates its potential as a military threat. The close integration of Europe’s economies was considered by many to render war impossible—right up until the outbreak of World War I. That unaccountable leaders will sacrifice the economic welfare of the citizenry in the interests of retaining power is surely one of the most consistent themes of human history.

America’s ability to find willing partners in “encircling” China may actually reflect the legitimate unease of China’s neighbours. Since World War II, China has been involved in armed conflicts with India, the Soviet Union, and Vietnam. In Korea, Chinese troops fought a coalition of United Nations members, including Canada. China has resolved territorial disputes through unilateral action, crushing resistance in Tibet, building military facilities in the Spratly Islands, and drilling for oil in waters also claimed by Japan. To say that China “has no substantial territorial ambitions” except Taiwan is thus wildly optimistic. The enhancement of national wealth and deflection of popular discontent through territorial expansion is, after all, something the United States understands better than most.

Colin P.A. Jones
Associate Professor, Doshisha University Law School
Kyoto, Japan

Shoot Those Chelsea Scum
Although Timothy Taylor’s article (“In The Fulham Road,” September) makes not one single reference to the Liverpool Football Club, there is a strong case to be made that the Reds are in fact the most popular English soccer team worldwide. Liverpool has been a global phenomenon for decades, and it stretches credulity to imagine that a rich owner and one solitary league championship in the last fifty years will catapult Chelsea to such levels of popularity.

In terms of on-field success, which Mr. Taylor correctly identifies as an element of global brand value, Liverpool far outstrips its English rivals, with more national championships than any other English team and as many European Cups as all the other English teams combined. Mr. Taylor refers to Manchester United’s victory in the 1999 Champions League as a “shot heard around the world.” Yet that result paled next to Liverpool’s astonishing three-goal comeback in this May’s final against Italian champions AC Milan. There was dancing on the streets of Africa that evening. Mr. Taylor goes on to write of ManU ‘s 1999 season that “three trophies in one year is an unrivalled accomplishment in English football.” But Liverpool won three trophies in 1981 and again in 2001.

Chelsea has benefited from the limitless financial resources of Russian “businessman” Roman Abramovich, who acquired Russian oil giant Sibneft in 1995 “at a fraction of its market value.” The fuller story was detailed in a September article in the Guardian, which examined the transfer of state-owned assets from the Yeltsin government to various “businessmen” in exchange for relatively paltry loans. Abramovich is currently being sued in the British Virgin Islands for business practices that would make Enron managers blush. There’s good reason he keeps a low profile.

The downside to Abramovich’s astonishing investment is that, as Mr. Taylor notes, “many middle-class local fans are beginning to feel the financial cost of their teams’ popularity.” Heaven forbid that working-class fans try to buy tickets for matches. Interestingly, the average price of tickets to watch Liverpool is two-thirds that of Chelsea. It’s quite obvious that Abramovich, both in his dealings in Russia and with Chelsea, doesn’t care much about the “little guy”—who is, historically, the average English football fan.

Finally, the several references in the article to the songs sung at Chelsea’s made me laugh, as their Stamford Bridge stadium is one of the least atmospheric in the English Premier League. While I’m sure the noise was unlike anything Mr. Taylor has heard at North American sporting events, he should take a trip to Liverpool’s Anfield sometime and hear the difference. In October, when the team lost to Chelsea for the first time in four matches, the Liverpool faithful sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone” with pride at the end of the match. Money might buy you some upper-middle-class arriviste fans but it can’t buy you love.

John Dutton
Montreal, Quebec

I am a Chelsea supporter, which disgusts my mate, who is Leeds, although the two clubs no longer meet in competition since Leeds was relegated to the second division. Imagine my amusement and delight, then, when I attended a Leeds match with him at the Queen’s Park Rangers grounds and heard the Leeds supporters chant the following, to the tune of “Que Sera, Sera”:

When I was just a little boy,
I asked my father, What will I be?
Will I be Chelsea? Will I be Leeds?
Here’s what he said to me:
‘Wash your mouth out, son,
And go get your father’s gun.
We’ll shoot those Chelsea scum,
Shoot those Chelsea scum.’

Much cheering and laughter followed. My friend explained that the chant has its origins in a Chelsea drubbing of Leeds thirty-five years ago, which Leeds supporters have neither forgiven nor forgotten. Now that’s the triumph of loyalty over branding.

Robert Mason Lee
London, England

Timothy Taylor responds:
To be seventeen points adrift of Chelsea after only eight games played approaches arithmetic impossibility, but Mr. Dutton’s team achieved this on October 2 when Chelsea crushed Liverpool 4-1. And while the Anfield faithful did sing the Rodgers and Hammerstein show tune “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” it’s impossible to tell whether the thousands who streamed out the exits fifteen minutes before the end were also singing on the way home. Perhaps those were the upper-middle-class arriviste fans. Safely clear of Anfield’s love, they’ll at least be exempt from the football association’s charge that supporters were throwing projectiles at Chelsea’s Frank Lampard.

Liverpool FC is an old brand, of course. It just doesn’t have particularly good-looking trend lines at the moment. Maybe if the prime minister of Thailand is successful in his bid to purchase the club, they will rise again. And in that case, an article about the moral complexity of sports-brand funding might be in order. The ownership of football clubs by proprietors of pornography and dildos might also be discussed. (You know who you are, Birmingham.)

Mr. Lee, I bid you strength in dealing with your relegated mate. Bear in mind that loyalty is to branding what stripes are to a tiger: camouflage. A fan who thinks his loyalty shields him from branding is already inside the tiger.

Tusk, Tusk
The president of Kazakhstan is Nursultan Nazarbayev not Nazarbayeva (“Big Father Is Watching,” October). However, Nazarbayev’s daughter is indeed Dariga Nazarbayeva. The difference has to do with Russian grammar, in which a woman’s surname often takes a feminine ending. Thus Anna Karenina was the wife of Aleksei Karenin and Mikhail Gorbachev’s wife was Raisa Gorbacheva.

Alena Pascual
Toronto, Ontario