Rethinking Climate Politics in the Vernacular: The Water Paradigm and a new way forward

Given the impasse in climate politics, maybe it is time to reframe the problem and start again. One way of doing this is to focus on how global warming is tied into our habitual abuse of water. In fact, it can be argued that climate change will never be rolled back unless the crucial link between local and global water cycles is restored.

People all over the world are coming to an ecocentric awareness of the integral dynamics of water—in human bodies, in plants, in soils, and as an agent of Earth cooling. Grassroots movements are demanding re-municipalisation, although a socialist solution of public ownership is only half the story, because it remains anthropocentric. Alternative philosophies of water are coming from Indigenous peoples, ecological feminists, even unconventional lawyers and engineers. These visions replace the mindset of water extractivism with water commoning. The Water Paradigm overtakes both corporate water marketing and state-managed technological fixes. Key priorities are self-reliance with water for food sovereignty and re-skilling with hands-on care of bioregional catchments.

Here is a synergistic politics that can be at once post-patriarchal, post-capitalist, postcolonial and ecocentric. How so? A good part of the answer lies in uncovering a set of premises that are basic to all four of these movement struggles.

Humberto Maturana once said that we need to understand where our understanding comes from. It is true that even physics and economics are shot through with preconscious cultural beliefs. Contemporary approaches to climate change perpetuate unexamined assumptions—both Eurocentric and androcentric.To unpack these ideological forces and re-embed the climate question in a wider framework of political understanding, we will need to be open to challenges from people’s everyday experience and to think across the given boundaries of academic disciplines. As Marx would say, theory and praxis go together.


The emergent international focus on water is a great chance to work in an integrated way on climate, in terms of both epistemology and politics. Water flows between soils, plants, air and human bodies, and it is essential to all life on Earth. More than this, studies by Russian meteorologists Anastassia Makarieva and Victor Gorshkov show that the global water cycle connects with huge atmospheric energy movements known as ‘the biotic pump’.

The problem is that the World Bank and even the United Nations promote an emissions-intensive ‘development’ model along with privatised water management. Today, ten transnational businesses control water sales across 100 nations; they hike water rates, cut services to the poor, and refuse infrastructure repair. Since profits are generated by making a commodity scarce, it is simply nonsensical to put water protection into the hands of entrepreneurs.

As the international economy approaches ‘peak water’, it is critical to forestall more corporate ‘water grabs’, not to mention state-driven resource wars over water. Climate-change strategies cannot be effective without simultaneously restoring local and global water cycles. Current political efforts to check greenhouse emissions are bypassing a key piece of the puzzle, and that in turn dumbs down the public understanding of climate science.

Read more in issue 255 of Arena magazine