Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Digging with a teaspoon

Conscientious greens fix their sights on plastic water bottles:
In the last few months, bottled water — generally considered a benign, even beneficial, product — has been increasingly portrayed as an environmental villain by city leaders, activist groups and the media. The argument centers not on water, but oil. It takes 1.5 million barrels a year just to make the plastic water bottles Americans use, according to the Earth Policy Institute in Washington, plus countless barrels to transport it from as far as Fiji and refrigerate it. ...

Dave Byers, 65, from Silver Spring, Md., discussed the issue with his wife, Pat, on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a 90-degree Saturday. “I think it should be banned, actually,” he said of bottled water.
The US currently uses 20 million barrels of oil per day. First we’re going to ban plastic bags, slicing away a giant 0.16% of that consumption. Now, bring on the plastic bottle ban, slashing a full 0.02% from the oil guzzling. Take that, global warming!
--Juliet Samuel, Reason, on meaningless acts of conservation. If you're serious about reducing carbon emissions, support a carbon tax and let the price system work its magic!


Sophist said...

I agree that the oil argument is ridiculous. To me, though, the the most misguided thing about lashing out at bottled water is that it has become more acceptable to drink 300-calorie sugary drinks than to drink bottled water. Water fountains aren't actually accessible - where else are people to get hydration in a pinch? Specifically bagging on bottled water (as opposed to all bottled drinks) is a superb way to fuel a public health disaster.

It's like being in Berkeley where people give you dirty looks if you smoke cigarettes, but it's perfectly OK to smoke marijuana or do ecstacy and cocaine, as though those drug trades are more benign.

Oh yeah, it's also like Berkeley, where the fine for finding used batteries in the trash is $25,000, yet the government provides no actual battery pick-up service. The only way to dispose of batteries is to bring them to a warehouse that is open only a few days a month during normal business hours, and that is not even accessible by public transportation.

I have to admit, over the past four days I used 4 or 5 plastic bottles, and even threw two into the trash because there wasn't a recycle bin available at the airport security. And I felt guilty about it. You know what I should have been feeling guilty about? Taking a flight to Santa Fe on a plane that burns on the order of 2,000 gallons per hour of fuel. Roundtrip, I probably used on the order of 50 gallons of fuel, not to mention the 2+ gallons I used on ground transportation (taxi, shuttle). 52 gallons of refined oil, vs. around 10 oz of total plastic bottle weight, and I was feeling bad about the 10 oz.

Jess Austin said...


Good points, Sophist. Global warming is the new theodicy. It works for a wide variety of the same complaints that the shamans used to answer: drought, flood, crop failure, inequality, etc. No matter what your tragedy is, you can blame those bottled-water evildoers. As more sophisticated religions like Christianity have typically (although not always: cf. the late, unmourned Jerry Falwell) avoided a direct "blame this guy for this inconvenience", this represents something of a spiritual regression.