Written by: Yazmin Torres
About sixteen years ago, Coca Cola opened a plant in the small village of Plachimada, Kerala, India. The company was allowed to produce a whopping 561,000 liters of beverage a day, with about 3.8 liters of water required to produce one liter of drink. Coca Cola was extracting from six bore wells and two open ponds previously dedicated to the locals. Following the plant’s production, the villagers suffered a sudden detriment to the workings of their daily lives.
The steady supply of water that once fed their crops, cleansed their bodies and kept them hydrated became poisoned and unusable. Due to the vast extraction of water, farmers no longer had an adequate supply of water to nourish their crops, and women now had to travel three miles twice a day to gather a sufficient amount of water for their daily functions. The little rain that was leftover showed milky white and brackish characteristics– it often caused stomach aches, vomiting, and skin irritability.
In April of 2002, the villagers had had enough. Catalyzing the years-long battle that ensued, the Anti-Coca Cola People’s Struggle Committee began its protest against the plant. Over 1500 people gathered to proclaim the adverse effects the plant had on their daily lives. Following this demonstration, the people of Plachimada, interest groups, and non-governmental organizations continued to fight for justice in the village. Together, they were eventually able to cease operations at the plant.
About six years after its shutdown, the villagers of Plachimada claimed a $48 million compensation from Coca Cola due to the contamination of water and environmental degradation it caused. Unfortunately, the story of the small, helpless village marginalized by the large, powerful corporate institution doesn’t usually end this way. Often, the local exploitation by global industrialization becomes a land forever lost and a community forever broken. Without a way to bridge a mutual understanding between the local and the global, the 21st century will continue towards environmental destruction and human suffering.
The story of Plachimada reveals the market’s inability to recognize the complex and fragile nature of our environment. Rather than viewing earth’s natural resources as a delicate system to be preserved, it exploits its support in the interest of higher profits. This fault in the marketing philosophy has undoubtedly led to the environmental devastation that currently plagues our earth. In her book Water Wars, Vandana Shiva emphasizes the market’s contribution to the global water crisis.
Shiva continuously illustrates the importance of ecological awareness and appreciation that can stop environmental mistreatment. Through her writing, it is evident that to reverse the permanent worsening of the global water crisis, principles of the ecological paradigm need to be integrated into the capitalist mindset of the 21st century. While the market paradigm strives for social and economic advancement at any cost, the ecological model emphasizes the importance of compassion, contemplation, and preservation.
It is a lack of human and environmental connections that hinders the market paradigm from recognizing the damage it causes. People living in more developed countries may not fully understand the intricate relationship between a land and its people. In many places, people are unable to turn a faucet for an immediate rush of water. In less developed countries, people are dependent on their local rivers and wells to attain clean and freshwater. When these systems are compromised, the local people have no other choice but to live with the consequences. They cannot merely appropriate water from many miles away by the use of large, industrial machinery.
The ecological paradigm acknowledges the role of water as the base of all life, the pillar that connects all living things. It encourages the development of a relationship mindful of water’s delicacy and limitations for environmental and human sustainability. In her book, Shiva comments on the water as the core in the web of life. She states, “Water is life. Water is the thread that interconnects life itself– the forests, the soil, the atmosphere, plants, animals, and human beings. Water connects us all” (Shiva xv).
When those whose lives are not directly shaken by the global water crisis can identify with the interconnectedness water forges, then marketing ideology will be propelled towards resolving its current inclination to environmental injustice– and subsequently human injustice.
This idea of “interconnectedness” highlights that despite differences among localities, we all share similar plights concerning globalization. Even more than this, it emphasizes that the local is not oppositional to the global. In the essay, “Global in the Local,” Arif Dirlik emphasizes the local as pieces that make up the universal. Without these local pieces, globalization would not be possible. These pieces, all under the effects of globalization, can, therefore, work together to help resolve globalization’s problems. Dirlik refers to this perspective as “critical localism.”
In his essay, Dirlik utilizes the writing of Rachel Kamel, a union activist connected with the American Friends Service Committee, to emphasize his definition of “critical localism.” Kamel claims:
By understanding that every local story is a part of the global “big picture,” we can open up space for dialog and sharing experiences, especially across language barriers, nationalities, gender, races, and classes. And as that process of communication moves toward networking and coalition-building, the vision of a multi-national movement can become a reality. (Dirlik 37)
In this quote, Kamel explains the importance of recognizing the “interconnectedness” of the world. In doing so, humanity can move toward a more just, unified, and sustainable globalized world. Both Dirlik’s “critical localism” and the ecological paradigm recognize that the complexity of life should bring us together as teammates rather than drive us apart as competitors.
Once people can fully understand the delicacy of life’s interconnections, the ecological paradigm inspires knowledgeable, considerate, and critical thinkers to find ways to use earth’s natural resources more responsibly. Contrary to the market paradigm, the environmental perspective is aware of the water cycle’s limitations, and that water is a usufructuary right. Shiva makes this clear when she asserts:
Water rights as natural rights do not originate with the state; they evolve out of a given ecological context of human existence. As natural rights, water rights are usufructuary rights; Water can be used but not owned. People have a right to life and the resources that sustain it, such as water. The necessity of water to life is why, under customary laws, we think of it as a natural, social fact. (Shiva 21)
The ecological paradigm acknowledges that water is an invaluable resource and that it cannot be used limitlessly, unlike other commodities. Furthermore, it poses that water is a natural gift granted by the earth for everyone. Repeatedly, however, due to ecological and economic constraints, the privatization of water has hindered people’s right to clean water. If the market paradigm valued the recommendation of compassionate and knowledgeable environmental thinkers, it would take more significant measures to protect and preserve water.
Since water is limited, the ecological paradigm stresses the importance of its preservation. Despite how much rainfall we get, if we continuously extract water faster than the earth can replenish it, we will eventually suffer from water scarcity. However, if we can find a way to manage water appropriately, we can avoid falling victim to water scarcity. On water management, Shiva talks about how a small district in India could resolve water scarcity problems. Shiva says:
In the Alwar district of Rajasthan, the depletion of water was one meter a year. Additionally, the area suffered a drought between 1985 and 1986. The youth organization Tarun Bharat Sangh mobilized people to rebuild johads, the traditional tank system for water harvesting. Local communities contributed $2.2 million and built 2,500 tanks in 500 villages. The water stored in a johad was to be shared by the entire town. The town also decided how much land to irrigate and how much water to allocate to household use. The collective decision-making process over construction, maintenance, and use of water systems has helped prevent conflicts. (Shiva 126)
The district looked towards the ecological solution of preservation. It required open communication and compromise among a cooperative group of people. This small district changed its method of water management and collectively started using water more responsibly. For the health of our global environment, the marketing world must follow the example of such groups.
In the current fast-paced world of globalization, it is so set on profit that it neglects its losses. In this case, the human and environmental devastation that lingers in its wake. We have become so engrossed in the advancement of our world that we have forgotten what lies outside the lens of globalization. Humankind needs to remember that the world we live in is a delicate place. The connections and relationships we form with our environment, our locality, our nation, and across countries are what make life meaningful.
Hopefully, communities and Governments can work together to heal these fractured relationships that have evolved; the globalized world needs to emphasize the importance of compassionate leaders, cultured thinkers, and environmental activists. Hopefully, then, we can find beauty in the slow journey back to a more sustainable world.
Dirlik, Arif. “The Global in the Local.” Global – local: cultural production and the transnational imaginary. N.p.: Duke U Press, 2005. 21-45. Print.
Ejolt. “Coca Cola plant in Plachimada, Kerala, India | EJAtlas.” Environmental Justice
Atlas. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 May 2017.
Shiva, Vandana. Water wars: privatization, pollution, and profit. Berkeley, CA: North
Atlantic, 2016. Print.