5 J. Hum. Rts. & Env't. 1 (2014)

handle is hein.journals/jhre5 and id is 1 raw text is: 




Journal of Human Rights and the Environment, Vol. 5 No. 1, March 2014, pp. 1-4



Editorial


Crossing boundaries: water and the rights paradigm




There is limited water on Earth. With an exponentially growing global population and
ever expanding needs, humanity  is blindly and with disquieting determination ventur-
ing into unchartered territory. Some refer to this unchartered territory as an 'unsafe
operating space'  for humans  in the Earth system. There is a realization that we are
crossing those planetary boundaries that represent the dynamic biophysical 'space'
of the Earth  System  within which   humanity  has  to date evolved  and thrived.2
These planetary boundaries 'respect Earth's rules of the game or, as it were, define
the planetary playing field for the human enterprise'. 3
   The argument  that we are now pressing against planetary boundaries seeks to refocus
our attention on the non-negotiable planetary preconditions that humanity needs to
respect in order to avoid the risk of calamitous global environmental change. Although
'global freshwater use', as one of nine planetary boundaries, has not yet been crossed,
scientists believe that '[w]ater-induced thresholds at the continental or planetary scale
may  be crossed as a result of aggregate sub-system impacts at local (e.g., river basin)
or regional (e.g., monsoon system) scales ... caused both by changes in water resource
use and climate change-induced shifts in the hydrological cycle'.4 However, we do not
need to conceptualize the issue in terms of a boundary threshold in order to appreciate
the dangers represented by the fact that water, as a critical life-supporting medium, is
polluted beyond the limits of its carrying capacity; is consumed in ways that negatively
impact the integrity of the ecosystems it maintains; is diminished by climate change
impacts; and is unfairly distributed among users (humans inter se and humans vis-t-
vis voiceless non-human  entities) - a reality with dire inter- and intra-generational
and ecological justice consequences. Realizing that water is an integral part of the
Earth system and that this very system is now increasingly 'operating in a no-analogue
state',5 means that social-ecological relationships will increasingly be characterized by
intense competition between  users, with acute conflicts arising over water between
humans  and between  humans  and non-human   entities.
   How  should we philosophically and, above all, practically approach the many issues,
including the conflicts, which inevitably arise in the complex social-ecological relation-
ships around water? One  fairly predictable response is, of course, to situate the water
debate within the rights paradigm. To be sure, water's centrality to social-ecological


1.   Rockstrom Johan et al., 'Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the Safe Operating Space for
Humanity' (2009) 14(2) Ecology and Society 1-33.
2.   Ibid., at 5.
3.   Ibid., at 5.
4.   Ibid., at 16.
5.   International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, '2001 Amsterdam Declaration on Earth
Science' <www.igbp.net/about/history/2001amsterdamdeclarationonearthsystemscience.4.
1b8ae20512db692f2a680001312.html>  accessed 8 August 2012.

0 2014 The Author                          Journal compilation 0 2014 Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd
                                   The Lypiatts, 15 Lansdown Road, Cheltenham, Glos GL50 2JA, UK
                         and The William Pratt House, 9 Dewey Court, Northampton MA 01060-3815, USA

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