Opinion Column


The Illusion of Alternatives

    Published: July 12, 2019

Often while discussing a series of crucial issues for the future development of Chile -pensions, energy, water, and education among others- each party reduces the debate and forces a choice between two paths that do not represent the complexity of the problem nor its possible solutions: “If you believe in the market, then you are very uncharitable”, “if you think mining is important for Chile, then you want to destroy all the glaciers”, “if you think that large enterprises can be a motor of transformation for Chile, then you are an abuser to SMEs and entrepreneurship”, “if my belief is that private enterprises do certain things better than the State, then I am a fascist”, and “if I believe that the State does some things better than private enterprises, then I am a communist”.

The scarcity of water is one of those key challenges that we must solve as a society and it dramatically illustrates the paralysis in which we have been trapped for years; between options that do not reflect the alternatives that we actually have at our disposal.

This morning, as I write this column, I read in a newspaper a statement from a promoter of a major water infrastructure project: “If we do not move forward (in this project), we risk ending up drying ourselves out like a raisin.” Certainly no one wants to dry-up like a raisin, but does that mean that this project is good for Chile? It may or may not, but it will all depend on its assessment just like any other project.

At the same time, there are those who affirm that the Chilean Water Code (Código de Aguas) is the mother of all ills suggesting that we must choose “between the selfish and exploitative productive development of the market or the lives of people who die of thirst.” I may think that changing the Water Code will not solve the problem, but does it imply that I want to deprive people from a basic human right such as water? I most certainly do not.

This is known as the “Illusion of Alternatives”, a trap between with two options that are not valid and being pressured by someone who wants to persuade or manipulate us to choosing one of the paths that suits that someone. How does one get rid from this trap? Changing the question.

Three years ago, along more than 50 public and private organizations, we decided to change the question of the water. We changed the old question of whether A is better than B, to: What can we do to generate a Water Transition where water is not a bottleneck for growth but its enabler? What basic consensus do we have among the sectors that are fiercely confronted in the regulatory discussion? Can we modulate the valid interests of each of the parties in a large national objective?

Three years ago, along more than 50 public and private organizations, we decided to change the question of the water. We changed the old question of whether A is better than B, to: What can we do to generate a Water Transition where water is not a bottleneck for growth but its enabler? What basic consensus do we have among the sectors that are fiercely confronted in the regulatory discussion? Can we modulate the valid interests of each of the parties in a large national objective? Are there additional measures to those traditionally being discussed? This group, Water Scenarios 2030, today publishes the results of this collaborative work with concrete proposals so we can look up and give granularity to the debate and, in short, move forward. We set forth 4 main lines of action:

  1. Management and institutionality
  2. Conservation and protection of our water ecosystems
  3. Efficiency and strategic use of water
  4. Migration and incorporation of new water sources

We want to have an approach to the system that assesses the array of solutions and the interaction between them in the specificity of the territory, on specific measures studied separately. 44% of the problems addressed are due to water management and institutional issues, and almost all of the proposed measures may be addressed with the current regulatory framework. It is imperative that our country finds the antidote to the paralysis of the Illusions of Alternatives; to which we hope contributing with this work.

This column was published in Qué Pasa Magazine