You hear from time to time about Faith Based Initiatives. They bring to mind certain charitable actions like feeding or clothing the poor, organising volunteers or maybe passing the hat for an unfortunate friend who’s temporarily down on his luck. When I think of Faith Based anything I envision a charity pot-luck lunch in a church basement directly following services, of the men talking crops and harvest and the women serving steamy apple pie. Kool-Aid for the children.
So when I heard about the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility I was more than a little thrilled. Here, I imagined was a group of like-minded, business folk who, having recognised how truly blessed they were in their own situations, acknowledged that there were certain needs out beyond the guarded iron gates of their corporate headquarters that might need addressing.
I smiled to myself thinking that the world couldn’t be ALL bad – that it was made better by the mere existence of such a group with a title like Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility.
Well, co-operation is a wonderful thing! And Corporate Responsibility? Maybe not an oxymoron after all!
My eyes welled up! A bright, and gauzy vision of awkwardly smiling, be-suited business types doling out bowls of soup to, say, flood or hurricane victims filled my mind and, oh, if it were only true it proved there was a God in heaven after all, and that He was tolerantly cool!
I imagined that I felt the ghost of Christopher Hitchens frowning.
I needed to do something.
It stuck in my mind to write letters of profuse admiration to whomever these people must be, and once firm in my mission, I started digging a little into the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) to find a recipient for my ardour.
Who are these folks? What drives them?
It’s always best to go to the home page of any well established group when on a fervent mission of gratitude, and that’s what I did. When I arrived at www.iccr.org I was immediately surprised at the lack of any manner of religious insignia whatsoever. I saw no Crucifix, no Star of David, no Flying Spaghetti Monster! There is a Pac-Man like logo devouring the acronym ICCR in contrast, but nary a sign of any deity or faith. Oh, well, I thought, maybe this lack of icons helps avoid inter-faith controversy – like at Christmas. So I read their intro.
For forty years, their preamble states, the ICCR has been “ ‘a’ (implying there are others) leader of the corporate social responsibility movement.”. They are a growing association of faith-based institutional investors. (at the time of my research) This was a link so I followed it. The link showed me a list of what seems to be a lengthy collection of Catholic, Baptist, Jewish, Unitarian and otherwise seemingly Judeo-Christian membership.
I read through, quite impressed by it all.
Prepared to be further impressed, I clicked the ‘Governing Board’ link. There, I saw the ‘Board’ representing the interests of the ‘members’. In a list of members I saw represented; Pension Funds, Health Boards, Jewish Funds For Justice, and Healthcare Partners. As I live and breath, here are these private health and pension providers represented in an investment firm – for that’s exactly what it is, boilerplate articles of incorporation and all (listed under bylaws)- inter-linked to invest in . . . what exactly?
Well, ICCR is, I imagine, approached by many various concerns to invest in many things. And it seems they may have been approached to invest in water.
That’s right, water. Water, as in yours and mine. You know, water, as in God-given. As in 90-odd percent of your body. As in needed to sustain life. . . but also as in, buying up the rights to – and charging a premium, based on supply.
There are some pretty savvy analysts afoot within the sneaky bowels of the outwardly fluffy ICCR, it seems, for these analysts have had a look at water and have authored an interesting exposé. It is referred to as Liquid Assets and it exposes the attempts - after slyly circumventing existing global human rights laws and any thread of morality – to secure massive and unprecedented corporate ownership of water rights, aquifers, publicly operated water utilities and by extension, your and my own very well-being and existence.
The Ogallala Aquifer
For some time I’ve been seeing these little teasers on the web asking, “what is T Boone Pickens Investing in?” – or words to that effect. I could be mistaken. But ever curious, I have gone to his Wikipedia Page in the past to find out, but I never could. I did see he was an accomplished oilman with many credits to his name and an impressive list of charitable contributions to worthy causes. But at the bottom of page 36 of an ICCR pdf named Liquid Assets, ( www.iccr.org/news/press_releases/pdf%20files/LIQUIDASSETS-Final_sec.pdf ) I saw T. Boones name in relation to buying land under which flows the Ogallala Aquifer. It may well answer that investment question. Copied from the ICCR Pdf:
“Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens, the best known of the water speculators, has acquired extensive water rights in a sparsely populated Texas county that entitle him to withdraw millions of gallons of water from the Ogallala aquifer, far in excess of the aquifer’s replenishment rate. Pickens hopes to sell this water to Dallas or some other fast growing, water-stressed city. Dallas, however, currently considers the price of Pickens’ water too high and opposition to his water scheme is growing among neighboring landowners. Business groups like the Global Water Partnership (GWP) and the World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD) assert that all parties “accept that business should not own or control fresh water,” and that corporations advocate “privatization of water delivery services but not private ownership of water. Clearly, however, they do not speak for T. Boone Pickens, Sextant Capital Management and other investors who seek to exploit water as a commodity.
The Ogallala Aquifer, recently noted as being threatened by the proposed Keystone Pipeline , underflows approximately 174,000 square miles of eight high-plains states extending from South Dakota to Texas. www.waterencyclopedia.com/Oc-Po/Ogallala-Aquifer.html
Originally formed by flow from the Rockies the badly dwindling aquifer’s sole replenishment now comes from rainfall and snow melt. Due to various depths of saturation, about two-thirds of the water in the aquifer lies under Nebraska. Kansas overlies about ten per-cent, as does Texas. The remaining flow lies under other states. It is commonly feared that if withdrawal from this aquifer continues at current rates of consumption, the aquifer will become depleted within a few decades. And apparently, T. Boone Pickens wants to buy it and sell it to his countrymen.
The Liquid Assets pdf goes on to explain how Pickens has bought up extensive tracts of land and acquired extensive water rights in a sparsely populated Texas county which entitles him to draw millions of gallons of water from the Ogallala Aquifer, far exceeding the aquifer’s replenishment rate. In essence, Pickens is purchasing cheap water rights in Texas, and plans, via access to the thinnest formation, on replenishing his product supply by natural flow from more bountiful reserves elsewhere in the north. The City of Dallas considers Pickens’ water too expensive, for now, but what of other fast growing water starved communities? Someone can own ground water, or wants to? This type of greed and exploitation runs contrary to the tenets of The Global Water Partnership and The World Council on Sustainable Development. But they can’t speak for Pickens, who seeks to treat water the same way he treated oil – like a commodity.
Certain countries have acted in anticipation of the type of water exploitation sought by the likes of Pickens. An 1998 attempt by Nova Group to ship water from Lake Superior to Asia was thwarted by an outcry from the province of Ontario prompting the Canadian Government to ban the bulk export of water altogether. A water rebellion in Bolivia ousted a Bechtel subsidiary-led consortium that would have seen the Bechtel group owning and controlling the water in the indigenous inhabitants very own water wells. Hefty taxes placed on water ownership in Chile prompted the corporate owners to sell unused water rights to avoid the tax.
But wealthy corporations are, if anything, persistent. And they doggedly forge ahead in hopes of convincing the powers that be of adopting their ideas and letting them run things. If Pickens believes he can confidently predict a profit down the road, what does he know? Who is he talking with and who are they lobbying? And how much wealth is actually enough for Mr. Pickens?
There is another nest of questions the ICCR Liquid Assets pdf has me asking myself.
Are Thames Water and American Water among a group of companies exploring the purchase and take-over of publicly owned and operated water related utilities? And if so, why?
What are Dow, G.E., Siemens and Bechtel striving toward with new and expensive desalination and infrastructure research and development? What do Gorman-Rupp, G.E. and Siemens see for the future of water transmission.
And why does it take the research for an essay by a Faith Based investment group doing due diligence prior to ethical investing to shine the light on their activities?
G.E is heavily invested in healthcare services and health insurance. If unable to continue their profitable control over the delivery of relief from pain and sickness, are they now setting their sights on profiting from the easing of thirst? If so this is the basest form of greed; shareholder interests and commitments be damned.
And what of the others? Does Siemens hope to install piping and pumps along the newly built NAFTA highway and profit from the transport of fresh water from a right wing Canada to points south all the way to Mexico? As towns and communities on either side of the NAFTA highway shrivel and die from lack of transportation access (and a depleted aquifer) and the people migrate away from the new re-wilderness and toward metropolis, will large corporations have them exactly where they want them – at the mercy of buying water and every other basic need from them at a profit. Will T. Boone Pickens be waiting with open arms and ready customers. Would that offset all the good and benevolent acts he has initiated in the past?
There are many things today which tend to sour people on faith, especially as it applies to religious groups and their increasing sway over public policy. Rick Santorum and the crazies who actually follow him, the home-schooled Godbots from the Westboro Baptist Church, Ann Coulter of Godless and Sean Hannity of Fox News – advocate of anything and everything in the name of the Christian West. There’s the sad murder of abortion providers and an insane and growing collective voice that shows an eagerness to become a militaristic theocracy and declare a Christian march against Islam by way of villifying Iran. Even the Catholic Church has blatantly shown their greed in the healthcare debate – and with over 200 hospitals under their care they stand to loose significant revenues.
So it is immensely refreshing to see at least one Faith Based entity showing responsibility toward basic human concerns and that by their very name – Interfaith Council on Corporate Responsibility – they are describing themselves exactly as they are; as what the Liquid Assets pdf shows them to be. It is refreshing to know they have gone so far as to openly call out and challenge the U.S. Camber of Commerce for accepting membership dues from companies supporting action against universal health care.
It is not my intention in the writing of this article to exclude those who do not practice a faith from those who are capable of good deeds – for morality and goodness exists in all people, faithful or not. But from within the turbulence involving the faith-related issues that seem to be increasingly over-exposed it heartens me to find a group who have calmly shown themselves to be moral, thorough, ethical, honest and decent.
Godspeed to you ICCR. Be fruitful and multiply.
Maurice 2010 – 2012