Who Owns the Water?

I am intrigued by struggles over ownership of water – not so much the issue of whether or not Canada should sell its lakes, but whether or not they are Canada’s to sell. Similar struggles arise in our international deliberations over blame for air quality. What intrigues me is not that we are struggling with ownership of water and air, but that we are not struggling with ownership of land.

We accept the concept: someone owns the land and when you want some, you have to buy it from the owner, who bought it from the previous owner, and so on. But ‘and so on’ to what? To the first person who simply said, without any justification whatsoever (not even recourse to the irrelevant claim of being there first – certainly not recourse to the stronger claims of having maintained or improved the land), this land is mine and you have to give me money if you want to do anything with it.

Is this inconsistency due to our being ‘solids’ as Star Trek Voyager‘s Odo might note (solids who, nevertheless, need both gases and liquids to survive and, further, who are actually partly gas and mostly liquid)? Or is it an indication of our bias toward the visual – we can’t see air, nor can we draw lines in water? Whatever, it is certainly not the result of rational consideration.


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