from Inhabit: Territories
As is well-known, the rising tide of struggle against global warming responds in many cases to literal rising tides. The resulting horror for many people—especially in the global south—is that there will be too much water for life to go on living. As the surface of the earth warms and the arctic begins to see rain rather than snow, the oceans threaten to swallow whole islands, whole regions, whole coasts. For others, the problem is quite the opposite: wildfires, severe droughts, creeping deserts, and massive species-extinction. Although located in a “safer,” more temperate zone in the European center, France nonetheless belongs to the latter group. The last few years have seen a terrible drought, so bad at times that wildfires rage across the southwest and nuclear power plants must be shut down for want of water with which to cool the reactors.
This drought has been especially difficult for French farmers, who struggle to maintain sustainable crop yields in the absence of rain. In response, the French state has imposed broad restrictions on water use and begun to construct a series of mega-basins, enormous artificial reservoirs designed to draw the region’s groundwater to the surface and make it available during the hot summer months.
In its natural state, groundwater functions as a sort of subterranean agricultural commons, protected from solar evaporation and, at least in part, from different kinds of industrial or atmospheric pollution, such as runoff from factories or the life-cycle of other organisms (like insects or animals). Once drawn to the surface and encased in concrete, the water changes shape entirely, becoming a “resource” to be allocated according to the ends and interests of the state and its partners. When the state proposed the construction of sixteen more of these basins in 2017 in the Deux-Sèvres department, they offered 60 million Euros of government money to pay for the project, and promised the en-basined water to a specific cooperative of over 200 farmers known as Water Coop 79. While restrictions on water usage extend to everyone, only those who partner with the state have access to the mega-basin reserves, transforming the groundwater from a vital commons serving all life and even the land itself into another kind of private property.
This expropriation of the groundwater is by no means necessary or permanent, as the actions described below demonstrate quite clearly. The first action described, which occurred just ten days ago, attacked and sabotaged the Lafarge Cement Factory, where the cement needed to construct these mega-basins is produced. The second, the massive rally against the construction of the mega-basin Saint-Soline back in August, brought together a thousands of different people and a coalition of organizations to bring work to a halt for over a week. Both actions not only interrupt the expropriation of the water commons or the cement production essential to agribusiness but introduce a whole different horizon of a life lived in common with all living things, from the wetlands of France’s Green Venice to the bustard flying over small farmers’ fields of rapeseed. Les Soulevements des Terres describe this horizon in the final lines of their website:
We are young rebels who have grown up with the ecological disaster in the background and precariousness as our only horizon. We fought against the labor law, police violence, racism, sexism and the climate apocalypse.
We are inhabitants in struggle attached to their territory. From legal recourse to direct action, we have achieved local victories. Faced with the concrete builders, our resistance is multiplying everywhere.
We are farmers. There are almost no more in France. We strive to establish a relationship of daily care to the earth and to the living to feed our fellow creatures.
We are: you, me, us. All those who feel isolated and powerless in the face of the atomization of struggles, the difficulties of acting, and the voracity of the owners. Those who were waiting to be more numerous to fight: here is an opportunity to join our actions and our reflections, this is the moment!
Like the Zapatistas fighting for the right to a life lived in common and a world in which many worlds fit, like our indigenous comrades fighting the construction of pipelines across their reservations and burial grounds, like our friends sitting in trees and fighting charges of “domestic terrorism” in the Atlanta forest, like the joyous masses who burned down the Third Precinct during the George Floyd Rebellion, we, too, are part of these uprisings of the earth. And so we hope you’ll read these pieces as the invitations that they are, to join in the uprising and fight for a horizon of life that sacrifices no one.