Wednesday, August 20, 2008

How far off is the death of bottled water?

The proliferation of bottled water into all aspects of our lives has possibly been the greatest success of capitalism of the last twenty years. This billion-dollar industry is as ludicrous as the idea of bottling and selling air, while turning a massive profit.

But that is exactly what has been done. People love their bottled water: by the case full, by the single bottle, or by the water cooler. This, despite the fact that bottled water is actually more expensive than gasoline.

It seems, though, that times are changing. Could bottled water be on its way out? Students at Ryerson and across Canada through the Canadian Federation of Students have been working with groups like the Polaris Institute for a few years to build a campaign to kick bottled water to history’s curb.

And it seems to be catching on. London City Council has approved a ban on bottled water in city-run facilities. According to today's Globe and Mail, the move was extremely popular among citizens, and city officials are going to ensure water fountains make their way to the newly dry facilities. Columnist Paul Berton for the London Free Press wrote today that this move is also being contemplated by Kitchener, Charlottetown, St. John's, Vancouver and Nelson, B.C. In fact, David Millar said that Toronto City Council will be contemplating a similar move before November.

City politicians, citizens of London, students across Canada, the Council of Canadians and Pierre Trudeau's son all support limiting the use of bottled water. With so many people on side, who could be opposed?

Other than those crazies at the Maclean's-supported Western Standard, it seems that the only organised source of criticism is coming from the Canadian refreshment industry. In anticipation of the vote, the group sent out a press release arguing that limiting bottled water is not the right solution to London's waste problems.

Their arguments are hardly enough to save this fleeting industry (bottled water is good because the bottles can be made into vests?). The bottled water industry is in trouble, and now more than ever is the time for pressure to be mounted.

Next up… plastic bags.

Turmoil continues at CKLN

It was announced yesterday that Kristin Schwartz and at least five other volunteers have been released from CKLN. Kristin has been a long-time staff person there.

This is the latest attack on a shrinking cohort at CKLN who are fighting the corporatisation agenda of the former Board of Directors.

While the situation there is too complicated for a small blurb, there is a good blog that can catch you up to speed on the situation there.

Visit Take Back Our Radio to get a glance at the struggle that has been unfolding there for months.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Foreign campuses are big business for Western Universities

One week ago, the Toronto Star ran this piece co-written by Canada's favourite feel-good duo Craig and Marc Kielburger. This piece follows their usual trend of advocating a dangerously out-of-touch brand of philanthropy. Titled "U.S. campuses abroad bridge cultural gaps", it argues that international campuses provide an "opportunity to build cross-cultural bridges."

Despite the fact that this trend has caught on with Canadian universities and colleges (albeit in less obvious ways), the Kielburgers focus on American universities, particularly those in the Middle East. Their thesis is simplistic and rosy. Basically, it is good that American universities have created satellite campuses overseas.

However, Craig and Marc's fluff piece brushed over a crucial point. Had the goal of these universities been the cultural enlightenment of a generation of Arab and American students, perhaps this expansion would take a different form. But, as the article states, universities are in it for the money. These campuses take in foreign students to help fund their operations back home. Foreign students are funding American students off their backs. There is something seriously wrong with this.

And, to add to that, the article states that curriculum is virtually the same and K-12 education is being re-vamped to "prepare students for the tough entrance standards of American universities."

It is the belief of many that it should not be the role of the American military to police the world. Nor should it be the role of American universities to educate the world. Education and curricula are highly political and culturally loaded. This foreign intrusion suggests that American education is somehow superior to what is, or could be, offered in other countries. This arrangement also allows governments off the hook for maintaining or creating a domestic and public post-secondary education system. What’s more, it opens the door to cultural domination from a foreign power. Hardly a noble exercise in geopolitical welfare.

Perhaps a better approach would be to encourage exchanges of faculty and students to international institutions while respecting national and institutional autonomy. This, while at the same time adequately funding post-secondary education, would provide a true opportunity for 'cross-cultural bridges'.

In Canada and the United States, international and foreign students are viewed as wads of cash. Students studying at an Ontario university who are International or who do not have status, pay two to three times more for the exact same education as their domestic colleagues. This is despite the fact that they were educated elsewhere, costing taxpayers nothing for their K-12/OAC education.

Craig and Marc could have better used their column to highlight the plight of International students in Canada. Instead, they spewed the same flawed arguments that are used by university presidents who view foreign 'markets' with dollar-signed eyes.

This kind of rhetoric doesn't help students, either foreign or domestic. Nor does it presuppose that education is a right. It undermines the fight for an affordable education for all; something that the vast majority of students have called for time and again, despite citizenship status.