Argument is all wet

Argument is all wet

Logomasini Op-Ed in East Valley Tribune
August 08, 2007

Why would lawmakers deny firefighters bottled water? And why would churches feel the need to condemn this commodity?

Apparently, some local governments and some private parties feel that bottled water is wasteful and they want to rest of us to stop drinking it. In particular, they maintain that energy needed to transport the bottles is too high and contributes needlessly to climate change. However, these claims are as specious as the silly policies they have produced.

If claims about human effects on climate are correct, even drastic changes in the global economy would make little difference. The most rational strategies would be to manage adverse effects if any arise and capitalize on any potential good ones (such as increased agricultural productivity). Banning a commodity such as bottled water won’t do that; it simply denies choice.

On the tamer side are cities like San Francisco, which has said it will no longer provide bottled water at public events or in government buildings. OK, this may save the government some money. And it’s reasonable to ask government workers to buy their own bottled water. Similarly, some restaurants are removing it from menus. That’s their choice — even if some customers don’t like the decision.

Then there’s Salt Lake City. The city government wants workers to leave their bottled water at home. The city even plans to deny firefighters the right to bring bottled water to work — you know, to those raging fires where they risk life and limb.

Bottled water offers firefighters a quick, easy way to hydrate during intense and dangerous operations. Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson’s answer to them: Each firefighter will get a refillable container. Two additional personnel will be dispatched to each fire to refill on the scene — which surely will cost taxpayers more than a few bottles of water! And are firefighters really expected to queue up for a drink? What if someone forgets his refillable container?

Don’t worry — the mayor says the city will reverse the policy if it doesn’t work. Bet that’s a real comfort to the firefighters who get to be the guinea pigs for the crazy policy.

The insanity doesn’t stop there. Apparently, bottled water is also offensive to clergy — at least to those of the United Church of Canada. Last summer, the church issued a resolution urging its nearly 600,000 members to stop buying bottled water. Apparently, it is somehow immoral to privately market something as holy as water.

“The main thrust is our concern about the privatization of water,” a church representative noted to Canadian press. Supposedly, because water is a “sacred gift that connects all life” it should not be subject to profits.

Environmental activists are behind much of this anti-bottled water craze. “If people really understood what was behind the manufacture of those plastic bottles, they would think twice,” Allen Herskowitz of the Natural Resources Defense Council recently said July 8 on “ABC World News Sunday.” Supposedly, chemicals in the plastics are also a problem. These substances may leach out and make us all sick — at least that’s the hype peddled by environmental activists.

Yet there’s never been any evidence of such health problems existing even after years of people drinking from these containers. That’s because the risks are so tiny that they amount to nothing at all.

Ironically, environmentalists may be their own worst enemy on this one. Environmentalist hype about the alleged dangers of tap water is one reason that bottled water has become popular.

The Environmental Working Group, for example, issues regular “studies” about the alleged problems with our tap water. A recent one complains that 140 contaminants in our water are unregulated. Apparently we should assume these are dangerous, even though they appear infrequently at such low levels that it makes them inconsequential.

If lawmakers and environmentalists don’t want to drink bottled water, that’s fine. But why must they impose their silly policies on the rest of us?