Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Environmentally Unhip

A Boston Globe editorial deftly explains the complex issue of bottled-water consumption:

BOTTLED WATER faces a growing backlash. An elite lifestyle statement that quickly became habit for millions, plastic water bottles are lately becoming environmentally unhip.
There's no denying the glamor of carrying a Poland Springs bottle; that's the sort of extra-fancy-grade accessorizing that'll get you mistaken for Barbra Streisand or Adnan Khashoggi.

All the same, I think that the public perception of tap water as contaminated, coupled with the popular belief that drinking eight glasses of water a day is good for you, had a bit more to do with the bottled water boom than conspicuous consumption did.

As usual, American journalists have a hard time tracing consumer behavior back to the anxiety and sense of powerlessness that they themselves help to promote. Accordingly, they're more likely to interpret concern about water-bottle disposal as some affectation of hip consumerism, rather than as a step towards good citizenship. The idea that there might be a certain internal consistency between people's desire for bottled water, and their rejection of it, remains out of reach.

The editorial goes on to bemoan the state of Boston's infrastructure:
[I]t is disappointing that the city isn't doing more to encourage the consumption of municipal water by fixing the city's inadequate public drinking fountains.
Further proof that government doesn't work! Hell, it's no wonder so many Bostonians are paying good money for bottled water:
Until fountains are more readily available and reliable, residents can't be blamed for carrying around expensive bottles of brand-name water.
Very fair and nuanced, to be sure. And yet, I can't help wondering if the question of whether to "blame" consumers for overspending on unnecessary, environmentally detrimental goods would come up at all if we were talking about, say, plasma TVs.

Or the print edition of the Boston Globe, for that matter.

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