Archive for August 27th, 2008

The campaign to ban bottled water

August 27, 2008

Bottled water has apparently become the new evil; for different reasons, depending on what groups or individuals are on the attack.

According to the United Church, it is a moral issue.

The United Church does not see the issue in merely pragmatic terms. ‘Water in Focus’ was a special Lent 2006 initiative of the UCC which involved a broader view of creation. Biblical reflections on Genesis helped launch the mission theme for the coming year: ‘Living in right relationship with creation.’

“This emphasis stems from a long history of concern for God’s creation,” said David Hallman, program coordinator for UCC’s Energy & Environment department.

“We as humans have a responsibility to care for that creation. I realize that some question: ‘What does bottled water have to do with the gospel?’ I respond that UCC has a wide range of issues it is concerned with, to do with wellbeing of life. We do have a strong belief in the importance of faith in peoples lives.”

Asked if focusing on the purchasing of bottled water as “wrong” would encourage UCC people to be judgmental of others who do purchase it, Hallman responded: “The focus is to encourage the 3,600 or so UCC congregations in Canada. We need to begin with our own people; but yes, there is an evangelical call to encourage others to be respectful of God’s creation.”

For environmentalists the issue is similar although couched in more practical terms.

Environmentalists are calling for a boycott of bottled water in an effort to reduce the use of fossil fuels, protect the environment and protect local drinking supplies.

Campaign leader Food and Water Watch says bottled water dangerously “undermines confidence” in public tap-water supplies. “The more those who can afford bottled water depend on bottled water, the harder it is for communities to muster political and financial support for urgent upgrades to public water systems that most people depend on to provide safe, affordable water,” the group said on its website.

Activists are urging members of the public to sign a pledge to end daily bottled-water consumption and to refill bottles with tap water rather than buy new ones.

The pledge is part of several environmental groups’ efforts to halt the “commodification” of the nation’s water supply through an increase in bottled-water production and private management of local systems.

The city of London, Ontario has already banned the sale of bottled water on city-owned premises.

City councillors in London, Ont., have voted to ban the sale of bottled water on city premises despite protests from the beverage industry.

The 15-3 vote late Monday came after heated debate in the municipality on the role of bottled water at city facilities such as city-owned buildings, arenas and community centres. Municipal officials have maintained that tap water costs about an eighth of a cent per litre while bottled water can range anywhere from 30 cents to $4 a bottle.

Other cities, such as Ottawa and Toronto are debating the issue as well. Bottled water has already been banned in some schools around the country and others are debating the issue.

Other than the fact that the religious tones of the war against bottled water, coming both from the Church and environmental communities, make me uncomfortable, I can see the legitimacy of some of the arguments. The number of empty plastic bottles being discarded has to be astronomical. And even in localities that have a strong recycling program, it must put pressure on the system.

And granted, some of the product marketing has gone from the sublime to the ridiculous, with some brands becoming more expensive than a bottle of good wine. But then again, if you want to blow your money on fancy water bottles that’s your prerogative.

The use of bottled water has become popular, not because people think their local water supply is unsafe, but because it fits with their life style. They drink bottled water is because it is convenient and because it is convenient, they end up drinking at lot more water and a reduced amount of the less-healthy substitutes. And that can’t be all bad.

An issue that I haven’t heard raised in this debate is that of “bottled” water supplied for coolers in offices and in the home as well. Although they don’t add to the recycling problem, they are still a “commodification” of the water supply. Or is “commodification” not a problem if the volume is less?

However, what really bothers me is the arrogance of the religious elitists and the environmentalists, along with bureaucrats and elected officials, who think that the solution to everything they may see as a problem is to ban it. This mindset didn’t start with bottled water and it certainly won’t end with it.

In the first half of 2008, Canadian politicians at all levels of government have gone ban-crazy. Herewith a partial list of bans either enacted or announced since January: the use of pesticides, banned by Ontario; clear plastic baby bottles, banned by the federal government; the sale of bottled water, banned by the Waterloo Region District School Board in Ontario; Styrofoam, banned by Turner Valley, Alta.; using cell phones while driving, banned by Nova Scotia and Quebec; smoking in cars with children, banned by Nova Scotia and Ontario; the sight of cigarettes in corner stores, banned by Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.

The existence of bans is certainly nothing new. Governments have always been banning things. In fact, the first recorded use of the word came during the Middle Ages in reference to a monarch’s ultimate power — the ability to summon his subjects to war. It later came to mean a wide variety of official proclamations or proscriptions, including expulsions or banishment. Over time, this heavy-handed application of government authority became so commonplace and routine as to be banal. In the ’60s, ban briefly became a campus imperative — as in “Ban the Bomb” — suggesting governments weren’t doing enough.

These days, however, the sheer number of things forbidden, and the surprising lack of scientific or other rational backing for these actions, suggests that politicians are keen to get back to the earlier application of the word. They ban early and they ban often. So how come bombs were never banned in the ’60s while water bottles and foam plates get banned today? Politicians have their reasons.

This article goes on to list a number of these reasons, #4 speaking specifically to the bottled water ban.

Reason 4 Bans provide cover for other ideologies  If there is a ban to watch, it’s the prohibition on bottled water sales. The Waterloo Region School Board got there first, as per reason three. Now university campus activists across the country are gearing up for major campaigns that will see bottled water banned in student buildings and offices. But this is not a crusade based on health issues. It clearly makes no sense to deny students access to a convenient and popular source of water at school, particularly given the state of most public water fountains. Rather, this urge is motivated by local politicians and campus groups who believe it is improper to make a profit selling water. The ban is meant to enforce the leftist belief that water should be free by outlawing its capitalist version.

A good article, worth being read in full.

Let’s ban the banners!