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January 1, 2012

Reclaiming the Great Lakes as a Commons

Who will define the future of the Great Lakes?

The Great Lakes are not for sale

As the largest source of freshwater on this continent, the Great Lakes seem infinite and eternal, a remarkable natural inheritance left for us by glaciers that receded millions of years ago. But in truth, our Lakes are being stolen from us right now. And we could lose them forever.

The iconic watershed faces grave danger from a number of serious threats, such as hydro-fracking, tar sands refineries, and copper-sulfide mining, which all use vast amounts of water and threaten to poison the Lakes and nearby communities. Invasive species and toxic contamination caused by pesticide run-off and industrial waste are on the rise. At the same time, water from the Lakes is being bottled, diverted, and traded by private entities. We—the public, the people of Lake communities—are losing our voice in important decision making processes.

What would happen if we lost the Great Lakes entirely to those who would buy, sell, own, and exploit our water for narrow economic gain?

The Lakes would be reduced to a commodity—they would be bought, sold, and used without regard for the unavoidable impacts on the ecosystem and on individuals who depend on the Lakes for their life and livelihood. The actions of private entities would create scarcity and gross inequities where there was once abundance. There would be no water for public use.

But there is more than one possible future for the Lakes. We do not have to resign ourselves to this one.

Water is a commons

We can create a vibrant future for the Great Lakes by reclaiming them as a commons.

Water is one of the most essential commons, something that belongs to us all and must be shared, cared for, and passed on to future generations undiminished. No one owns water. It is an independent eco-system on which the biodiversity of its watershed depends. And like any commons, it requires individuals to act as stewards and protectors in order for it to thrive.

It’s time to reclaim the Great Lakes

An innovative strategy and cross-border, multi-cultural grassroots movement to declare the Lakes as a commons and protect them as such—using tools including public trust status and treaty rights recognition—is already underway. This movement was initiated during a meeting of community leaders from Lake communities and aims to connect and address each and every threat to the Lakes, as they are all in violation of the commons. And, it puts forth a bold vision and practical way for Lake communities to reassume their role in decisions about water use. You can learn more about how the Great Lakes Commons Initiative came to be here and more about On the Common’s work on the initiative “here”:http://www.onthecommons.org/work/our-great-lakes-commons-charter.

Join the Great Lakes commons movement

This is an invitation, a call to action. Join in. Help us create a life-sustaining future for our Lakes by pledging to reclaim the Great Lakes as a commons. Anyone who lives by the Lakes can also participate in a series of events to reclaim the Lakes throughout 2012. For more information about the Initiative, read our plan here.

Together, we can shape a bright future for the Lakes—but the changes we seek will come from many, many people taking up the challenge to reclaim our Great Lakes as a commons. Are you in? Aren’t we all?