July 15, 2011

About WEN

The Water Ethics Network facilitates sharing of experience, ideas, and information about events and activities relating to water ethics. The Network will connect academic researchers with water policy makers and business and civil society organizations. The aim is to bring the study of water ethics into the everyday discourse of water policies and management decisions, so that choices about water use and water ecosystem management are consciously informed by values.

Why a Network?

There is a growing list of studies, initiatives, conferences, and books dealing with the ethical dimensions and dilemmas of water, yet consideration of ethical values, whether the “soft path” of stewardship or more dogmatic notions of deep ecology and rights of nature, is rarely a serious component in water negotiations whether at local or global levels. When push comes to shove, ethics tends to fall off the table. Discussions about climate-induced water scarcity, for example, focuses on meeting human demands with little questioning about the ethics underlying that demand (responsible use) or in allocating scarce supplies to meet that demand. What about the needs of rivers and lakes (and fish) to adjust to climate-induced stress? What about the rights of future generations to enjoy the rivers and lakes that we are depleting?

Part of the reason that the ethical dimension is so often ignored in decision-making is
lack of awareness about the role that values already play in setting water policies, and what practical methods could be used to deal with ethics even if we wanted to. There is a growing body of knowledge and experience about both these issues, but that information has not been internalized by the policy-makers. A network linking the good ideas and emerging best practices about water ethics can provide greater exposure to individual studies, stimulate new ideas and approaches, and facilitate alliances and partnerships. The net result would be a higher profile of water ethics-awareness among water professionals, academics, environmental groups, businesses, political leaders, and the public at large.

What Kind of Network?

Given the information overload that we all face, the network will take a minimalistic form. The Network will function at two levels: (1) Information sharing and (2) Sponsored events. A third level to be inspired by the network would be (3) the development of partnerships and alliances among network members.

1. Information-sharing. The basic information strategy would consist of a monthly e-newsletter and a web-page or blog to serve as a central reference point. The e-newsletter could consist of a brief news section on general (not member-specific) events, and a listing of the network members giving 1 or 2 sentence updates and links for more info.

2. Organized Events. The Network would organize an annual event, either a stand-alone conference or a session at a larger conference, e.g., at the World Water Forum in Marseille, France (March 2012).

3. Partnerships. One aim of the network would be to stimulate partnerships and alliances among individual network members. These partnerships could develop into activities inspired by, but not officially linked to, the Water Ethics Network.

Who Will Join the Network?

Individuals and organizations working on water ethics will be invited to join the network as members. Membership implies an interest in being listed as such in the e-newsletter and web-page/blog, and a commitment to participate in the network through providing regular updates. Members who fail to update their activities (for the e-newsletter) for some period of time (3 months?) would be dropped from the active membership list, although they would remain on the email list. Anyone would be welcome to receive the e-newsletter regardless of whether they are members or not, but the membership category would be selective. Members have access to the membership email list and will be able to contact the other members at will (subject to a shared ethic about using the email list sparingly). Members would have the option to be removed from members’ emails but continue to receive the monthly e-newsletter.

Who Will Run the Network?

Initially the Network will be coordinated by the Water-Culture Institute (WCI), and the Acting Coordinator will be David Groenfeldt, the WCI Director. Four other Network members will be recruited to create a 5-person Advisory Committee to set policy, decide on membership conditions, and help with fundraising. The logistical work of networking (sending emails, writing the e-newsletter, maintaining the web-page or blog) will be carried out initially by WCI, with the intention of handing over most of the logistical work to one or more Network volunteers, or (depending on funding) to a part-time paid coordinator.

Who will Fund the Network?

WCI will absorb the initial very modest costs of launching the network with an e-newsletter and web page or blog. If the network proves as popular as we anticipate, however, costs will escalate rapidly in terms of staff time and travel. Early formation of the Advisory Committee will be a priority to recruit in-kind staff support and solicit funds.

Building the Network

The viability of the Network depends on the interest of its members. There are many individuals and organizations involved in water ethics and it is anticipated that many of them will be interested in participating in the network. An incomplete list of potential members is attached. Please suggest additional names to DGroenfeldt[at]waterculture.org.