There is a recent article I found particularly interesting and relevant that I just wanted to share. An editorial piece in the NY Times covered the problem of drinking water in the first world. Sound ironic? It is; in fact many people fail to realize that the U.S., among most other first world nations, has a supply of excellent grade tap water. Most of us walk into grocery stores to scour the most fancy, expensive bottled water. The fact of the matter is that Poland Spring and similar companies are robbing consumers blind. This is not a ploy for revolution, these are just facts that most of us overlook because a dollar or two is not an inconvenience.
At the realm of Poland Spring is Nestle Inc., a firm that owns about one-third of the bottled drinking water in the U.S., distributed using over 70 different brand names. Generally this water comes from the same “springs” that our tap water comes from. The only difference is that the company’s filtration systems are believed to be less regulated than our public water’s. This is not an issue which I have researched in depth, nor is it of particular importance to the following argument. If, however, you are interested in comparing the quality of tap water as compared to bottled, a good place to start is here.
Taking our attention back to the individual suppliers of water, there is further evidence that we are buying marked up tap. Coke and Pepsi’s Dasani and Aquafina are derived from filtered tap water. These two brands make up roughly 24% of the water we buy; all at astronomical prices. Even though the water is filtered, in the U.S., tap water is already filtered and some argue that tap water undergoes regulations that are stricter than bottled waters’. In essence, Coke and Pepsi are filtering there water for marketing purposes. The only difference is that you receive a nice piece of plastic that you can give back to the environment.
Looking at the issue economically, I was astonished to find that bottled water is more expensive than just about any liquid we use. Let’s compare bottled water to our precious oil; while we gasp at the thought of $4 gallons of gas, a gallon of Evian water is upwards of $20. Think about all of the processes that go into creating gasoline from oil. Well, we are paying five times that much for something we already get at home for close to free. As one reporter puts it, “the buyers don’t even know the source… Evian spelled backwards is Naive.”
Further, let’s take one of the biggest U.S. consumers of bottled water, California. While most love to enjoy a cold bottle of Fiji or Evian, San Franciscan municipal water is probably much cleaner. Since it flows from Yosemite Park, the EPA doesn’t even require the city to filter it. At the same time, as one article puts it;
“If you bought and drank a bottle of Evian, you could refill that bottle once a day for 10 years, 5 months, and 21 days with San Francisco tap water before that water would cost $1.35 [the price of a bottle of Evian]. Put another way, if the water we use at home cost what even cheap bottled water costs, our monthly water bills would run $9,000.”
While all of those may seem convincing enough to fill up in the kitchen sink rather than running to a store on a sunny afternoon, many will still have another argument; the taste! I, for one, feel a difference in taste with every new glass of water. However, in blind taste tests conducted with 8 different sources of bottled water, an overwhelming majority of people could not tell the difference. Even more surprising, the CEO of San Pellegrino, was asked if he can pick out his brand of water out of fewer than ten samples. The man that boasted about the freshness and crispness of his brand took 5 tries to get it right! The trick here is simple, most tap water will taste identical to bottled as long as it is at the same temperature.
My last argument for tap water is one that has been on the minds of politicians as of late. As the world spends $50 billion dollars on bottled water a year (with the U.S. being in the lead), governments are starting to rethink their spending policies. If most people do not drink tap water, then the government will stop funding it. While the majority of us will be able to just continue only buying bottled water, those who can’t afford it will start to get sick. There is no reason to go down that path, ignoring one of the greatest luxuries we have.
There is a new phenomena in the green community. The term “eco-travel” is on everyone’s mind and tongue. The concept of reducing our carbon footprint seems to go against the idea of holiday travel. When we leave our local communities to see other parts of the world, we are helping foreign economies—surely a good thing. When we visit the serene beaches of Thailand, for instance, we are contributing to indigenous prosperity. We are, however, also using up natural resources in a less efficient way than the locals.
In order to accommodate Western tourists, and their dollars and euros, the Thai (for instance) are forced to build modernized hotels, methods of transportation, and tourist attractions that deplete their environment. Where before each person used a small allotment of water per day, now there are visitors that are using as much as they are accustomed to at home (i.e. 70,000 cubic ft. annually per capita in the United States). The same goes for electricity, natural gas, and oil. As tourists deplete these resources, one could argue, they are also paying a lot of money for the luxury. On the contrary, the appeal of destinations such as Thailand is their value in price. Essentially, Westerners can pay for the average wages and costs in the standards of the developing nation, while depleting resources at a rate that is foreign to the country. The consequence? Less people will have access to resources, as their price continues to rise.
While this spurt of pessimism may cause you to rethink the exciting Sahara adventure you have planned, there are alternatives. Eco-hotels, tours, and other travel options are springing up all over the world. You can now visit places like Machu Pichu in the Peruvian Andes with less concern about your carbon footprint. Family-owned tour operators provide a variety of tours through the rainforest, while maintaining the same amount of energy use as the locals. At the same time, hotels resort to re-using their water, recycling, and other green practices in order to provide accommodation that is both physically comfortable and ethical. A great resource for such travel, wherever it may be, is the online magazine Ecotravel, where you can browse a directory of eco-travel options based on your favored region.
This is, undoubtedly, a great step in the right direction for travel. There is, however, one serious problem: getting there. Jet fuel emitted from airplanes currently accounts for 12 percent of transit-related carbon emissions in the U.S. As bad enough as it is, airplane travel get far worse once one begins to analyze an airplane’s true impact on the environment.
A recent article found on the AlphaGalileo research news website talks about how researchers from London’s Imperial College have teamed with The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to study aircraft contrails. These are vapor trails that can be left behind by airplanes. Analogous to the way human breadth is condensed into a cloud on a cold day, contrails are the combination of hot humid air produced by a plane when mixed with the cold air of the atmosphere. These formations are able to trap warmth in the air, contributing to global warming at a fast rate. Researchers say that these effects are more lethal to the environment than the carbon emissions of the plane.
The way to combat these vapor formations? Since they are formed in cold temperature, the airplanes can fly closer to the Earth, at altitudes that are warmer. One proposition is to set altitude regulations that consider temperatures. For instance, an airplane can fly lower in the winter and higher in the summer. The problem with this theory is that more fuel is required to fly at a lower altitude. Disregarding the lesser of evils approach, airplane manufacturers must start looking towards airplane designs that are more fuel efficient at lower altitudes.
Recently, there has been some progress in this field. Boeing has introduced its 787 “Dreamliner.” The aircraft is a relative leap forward, as it is at once more fuel efficient, less noisy, and more comfortable for passengers. By using lightweight composite materials, Boeing was able to produce a lighter plane. They then incorporated new, more fuel efficient engines, and applied their best aerodynamics to reduce fuel use by 20 percent. Let us hope that aircraft companies keep striving in this fashion and that governments keep up. In order to utilize the 787 to its greenest potential, regulations have to be set to ensure that the aircraft does not produce vapor trails.