We interviewed Paul Baines at Whitby Harbor a week or so ago as part of our educational video project. Here's a bit more on the concept of the Great Lakes as a commons managed for general good now and for the unborn generations to come
Paul Baines calls himself an animator- The animator gives life to things. They become subjects rather than objects. The Great Lakes Commons effort he explained got underway a few years ago after a small group of lake shore dwellers asked “Why, with all of the organizing and billions of dollars spent on restoration work to protect and preserve the Great Lakes, are they more threatened than ever?” Clearly the lakes needed a game changer.
As new threats including tar sands transport and global climate change loomed, time was running short for the ecological integrity of the world's largest freshwater ecosystem.
The organizers saw the concept of a commons as something to be for. It offered a holistic collaborative hopeful alternative to the piecemeal regulatory approach that was falling short of the watershed's needs.
There is no doubt that we need a new paradigm. All the Great Lakes are in trouble, Lake Ontario most of all. Even as I write this my Internet news feed describes more dead waterfowl littering our beaches. On going algae blooms on Erie, water bottling plants on Michigan, low lake levels and high level rad waste transport across the Niagara River are all concerns around the basin. So how I asked do we get to a real and viable Commons?
It's about relationships Baines told us. It has been said that relationships are made not declared. And until we can re-build our collective broken relationships with water, loons will continue to die and buried rusting barrels of radioactive waste will continue to leach into ground water. Our general detachment as a society from life giving water that we take for granted has resulted in a lost sense of responsibility for its welfare. Baines told us we must resume that sense of responsibility, for our sake and that of generations to follow.
People who treat water as a mere market good and source of profit like diamonds or gold, are especially remiss as are those who formulate and sell products such as plastic microbeads or nuclear fuel assemblies with inadequate or no concern over their ultimate impact on the environment. Water is unique Baines reminded us. It is constantly on the go like air and, like it or not, it is a commons owned by no one.
Shifting the burden of proof to the profit makers to show their actions will do no harm is part of commons building. And giving the 'commoners' a place in the decision making process is also vital to the shift in relationships.
There are elements of commons management in place now, he told us. An example is the basin wide scientific research and management promoted through the IJC. We must build on those priorities and also on the traditional knowledge of indigenous people. They understood water is a Gift. Every day we should be grateful for that gift.
Water is not gold. It is far more precious and beautiful and it belongs to no one. Rather the true relationship is a shifting one. We belong to it even as we briefly borrow a bit of water to live on. We eat, drink, excrete and one day we die. When we merge with that unimaginable Oneness, “our” water moves on.