Bottled water has become a major industry in America and in much of the developed world, accompanying the growth of the health and fitness industries as well as the prestige factor which beguiles many according to their status in life. And yet except in underdeveloped nations where poverty, disease, and limited health facilities make it a useful tool, eliminating the need for boiling water to protect against disease, it has been an industry that has fed, for the most part, on human vanity and the desire to both look and feel youthful.
Now, we are seeing a concerted effort on the part of a number of states to ban the manufacture of bottled water on behalf of the environment. The carbon footprint left by the processing, packaging, transporting, and distributing of bottled water, in addition to the problems created by the disposal of plastic containers, are no longer considered a fair exchange in relation to cost versus effect. Increasingly, the cost is being perceived as too great.
The pressure of a global climate crisis and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is playing a larger role in the thinking of many government agencies today and should not be taken for granted in a case such as this. Here, an entire industry may virtually disappear as a result of a more urgent goal that has now gained national attention. What shall happen to this industry?
On the one hand, we must count the cost in terms of jobs lost and human beings who need to relocate themselves or be offered other employment. This can create problems for both families and communities unless product-lines are redesigned to produce more environmentally-friendly products - something that large businesses often have the means to do if they have the mind to. On the other hand, we need to look at this shift as a prototype for meetintg planetary needs that have been crying out for attention for many years now.
The shift from thinking of something as necessary to thinking of it as optional or unnecessary is a very important one as we reevaluate our priorities as a nation and as a collective humanity. In fact, it is the same shift that must take place on an individual level as well as the one governing nations.
What is necessary? What is not necessary in our lives that is costing us the life of the planet? What have we relied upon that we can now let go of?
There are many industries that have arisen due to unregulated commerce and to the appetites of large corporations to expand into new profits and new product lines. This expansion and proliferation of products must now be revisited in terms of their necessity. The cost not to do so is too great.
A parallel mushrooming of an 'optonal' industry may be seen in the many product-lines developed in recent years to produce white teeth. The 'teeth whitener' industry which is based almost exclusively on the desire to remain young forever parallels the rise of bottled water. Perfectly white teeth have become a necessity for television personalities today, and a cosmetic necessity for young and old in all walks of life. But there was a time before perfectly white teeth were necessary and before the whiteners producing perfectly white teeth were mass produced. There will, perhaps, be a time again when perfectly white teeth will not be a standard to follow.
Here, then, is our individual and collective dilemma: to uphold values that serve our own needs and those of our loved ones while at the same time holding of equal value the needs of others and of the Earth we live on. In this balance lies the future of the Earth.