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I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke…

Coke, according to environmentalists, used 300 billion liters of water per year
Anne Oeldorf-Hirsch from State College, PA, USA, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Coke, according to environmentalists, used 300 billion liters of water per year

Hello, Radio Readers! I’m Jane Holwerda from Dodge City, KS, here to weigh in on Nicholas Soutter’s novel, The Water Thief, the third work of our Spring 2024 book series, “Water, Water, Neverwhere.” It’s dystopian, meaning it’s a fictional work depicting a futuristic society where injustice, suffering, and dehumanization is systemic, pervasive, and enduring. In short, it’s bleak.

Soutter’s dystopia is the ultimate tit-for-tat world, where every interaction for anything – information, employment, air—has an economic value for which prices must be paid to the corporations who control the market, the market which is all-encompassing. Those who can’t pay up, or don’t, are tossed into vats of lye, a spectacle for public amusement, and, presumably recycled, into some more usable material than they had been in their human form. Those able to evade such an end go underground. A key question of the novel is whether those who go underground envision a humane restructuring or a more active role for themselves in the current structures. So, yes, The Water Thief is bleak.

For me, what’s most bleak about the world Soutter has created is that every interaction is transactional – you know, an exchange, tit-for-tat. You do this for me, then I’ll do this for you. Except all exchanges are pecuniary. Characters in the novel describe selling themselves to employers to whom they then pay fees – for information necessary to perform their work, for space and equipment to do the work in. They know that they must support the system through such transactions. They know they must also turn in those who are disruptive or resistant. They know they must massage perceptions of the corporate powerhouses. They know they must support the system to survive and to maybe thrive. Soutter artfully manages to communicate much of this ugliness humorously. But, as with good satire, the reader eventually laughs less, might even question whether what she is reading is futuristic or contemporary.

This novel got me recalling what had been a major news story, at least on some venues, several years ago. A major corporation known for carbonated soft drinks with some of the best branding ever was accused of seizing control of aquifers in Asian and Latin American countries, typically in regions with limited water resources and rainfall and high levels of poverty. Other accusations included destruction of local agriculture, dehydration of water wells, and violation of workers’ rights. The major corporation’s response was simply that without access to vast amounts of water – it apparently takes three liters of water to make one liter of its product—its business was unsustainable. The sustainability of water resources in aquifers that had taken many hundreds of years to collect was not considered. Nor, does it seem, was the impact on increased water scarcity to those regions.

Currently, the corporation’s website acknowledges that it returns 100% of the water it uses and has exceeded its “100% replenishment goal every year since 2015.” Others sources note that the corporation’s annual withdrawal for water increases at varying rates, from 2-6%. And that the corporation restored, in 2021, 167% of the water used. What the process is for replenishment and restoration of water is not included in these reports.

NGOs’ and other entities’ current concerns for water scarcity in these regions do continue to grow. As do concerns for water quality. I guess we can anticipate how a corporation might massage responses to these additional concerns.

For High Plains Public Radio, I’m Jane Holwerda from Dodge City, Kansas.





Spring Read 2024: Water, Water Neverwhere 2024 Spring ReadHPPR Radio Readers Book Club
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