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UPDATE: Cousteau disappoints on water

Alexandra Cousteau, the grand-daughter of the renowned explorer Jacques Cousteau, is in Ottawa this evening to speak about critical water issues.

Unfortunately, as I found out upon arriving for her talk, her ‘Expedition Blue Planet’ is funded in part by the RBC. Furthermore, she was introduced this evening by the bank’s regional vice-president, and the RBC logo was prominently projected behind her during her presentation. This is disappointing given RBC’s continued investments in the tar sands, which both destroys water during the extraction process and contributes to climate change which further impacts negatively on water, including the diminishing of glaciers critical for drinking water.

When questioned (by my son in front of a crowd of 275 people) whether she supports RBC’s involvement in the tar sands, Jonathon Smith, a member of the ‘Expedition Blue Planet’ team, answered for her and praised RBC as a corporate citizen and said they do a lot of good, but also said “they are not perfect on water, they know they’re not perfect, and they’ve heard clearly from us on this.”

And when asked (by me) about the recent UN resolution on the human right to water and sanitation, Cousteau said that she “deeply believes that water is a human right.” She added that “governments cannot always deliver water, and that’s why privatization is needed to meet the Millennium Development Goals.” Smith then quickly added that market mechanisms are essential to valuing water – beyond basic needs – so that isn’t wasted on growing cheap produce and cheap cattle.

When asked about bottled water and selling water, she said there is a “growing movement against bottled water” but that the “question of selling your water is a question you need to debate among yourselves.”

That said, Cousteau did speak about the endangered Colorado River, the impact of the oil spill disaster on communities in the Gulf of Mexico, and our “carbon addiction.”

Two scientists and Ottawa Riverkeeper Meredith Brown opened the evening. Brown noted that the Ottawa River watershed includes two hundred municipalities and spans two provinces. But she highlighted that there is no management plan or conservation plan or shared vision for the river.

The forum was organized by the Ottawa Riverkeeper and Students On Ice and hosted by the Canadian Museum of Nature.