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American Military University - EVSP508: Environmental Ethics
Week 8 Forum Topic: Economics, Sustainability & Response
The Assignment With the current global media circuits and the immediacy of information pouring in through the internet, email, and smart phones, we are more aware then ever of the ecological consequences of natural and anthropogenic disasters. In recent years we have been presented with the consequences of engineering design in Hurricane Katrina; drought and irrigation needs in the U.S. west; an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico after the loss of the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform; the implications of urban living in the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand; and the double implications of living in an active earthquake zone and following tsunami in Japan involving massive loss of human life and radiation exposure. And, on a more national or local scale we have heard about solar farms replacing desert habitat in the southwest, implications of an offshore windfarm on Cape Cod . . . What other situation have you heard about involving the ecological consequences of natural or anthropogenic activities? After reviewing readings in the final chapter of the text, what are the ethical challenges of the ecological consequences of these incidents? Select one incident or situation. Explain it to the class, and then present your well-developed thoughts on the topic. Which of this weeks readings support or contradict your thoughts. Explain why. Think back on some of the topics we have discussed or that the readings highlighted. Do you see connections between the more theoretical foundations of the course and realworld applications?
My forum posting I’ve been stewing for a good five years over one activity of severe ecological and public health consequence, one which has been driven by corporate creation of a wholly fictional need and contrived convenience. That activity is the bottling, marketing, and sale of drinking water in single-serve plastic water bottles (SSPWBs). While there are very legitimate concerns about the propriety and impacts of companies claiming ownership of and then selling drinking water, containerized or not, I am focusing this forum posting on the SSPWB industry. At every stage of their life – manufacture, filling, transport and delivery, and end-state (disposal, recycling, even reuse) – SSPWBs impose several severely deleterious impacts on ecologies and on the health of humans. There are unsustainable, concentrated drains of drinking water sources for communities and municipalities where bottling plants operate. In 2007, in Raleigh, NC, in the midst of a draught, the Pepsi plant there continued its bottling operations, despite municipal authorities’ pleas to the contrary, to the tune of around 400,000 gallons of municipal water per day. (Mercola, 2011). Per Gleick & Cooley of the Pacific Institute, “Combining all of the energy inputs totals, we estimate that producing bottled water requires… as much as 2000 times the energy cost of producing tap water. Given an annual consumption of 33 billion liters of bottled water in the US, we estimate that the annual consumption of bottled water in the US in 2007 required an energy input equivalent to between 32 and 54 million barrels of oil.” That’s a lot of oil, and the study doesn’t factor in the energy costs of waste disposal. (2009) Per the Container Recycling Institute (CRI), approximately 144 billion SSPWBs were thrown away, requiring the use of about 18 million barrels of crude oil to replace their manufacture (CRI, 2009)
Also per the CRI, it takes twice as much water to produce 1 SSPWB as it does to fill it. In other words, there’s a net cost of 3 liters of water to fill a single 1-liter bottle. (2009) There’s the human health degredation and environmental injustice. The Flint Hills oil refinery (a Koch Industries entity) in Corpus Christi, TX, is the country’s (world’s?) largest manufacturer of paraxylene, a primary ingredient in SSPWBs. In Corpus Christi the “air is polluted, the water is polluted, and birth defects… are 80% higher than in the rest of Texas. Sadly the citizens are unable to sell their houses and move elsewhere because no one wants to buy a house that close to a refinery (most of the residents there moved in before the refinery was built).” (Soechtig, 2010). That quote is from the Tapped movie website blog. In the movie, a significant block of time was spent interviewing Corpus Christi residents either made sick by, and/or related to others made sick and killed by, plant toxins released into the air. In a study of bottled water use among parents of children from different racial and ethnic groups, it was found that minority children were given bottled water 3 times more frequently than non-Latino white children, with the parents stating their belief that bottled water is cleaner, safer, better tasting and/or more convenient (Gorelick, Gould, Nimmer, et el., 2011) There are the Great Pacific and Eastern Garbage Patches, also talked about a lot in the Tapped movie. They are 2 gargantuan vortexes of garbage, composed in majority of disposable plastics including SSPWBs, swirling in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. The Pacific patch is estimated to be twice the size of the continental U.S. “Plastic is believed to constitute 90 per cent of all rubbish floating in the oceans. The UN Environment Programme estimated in 2006 that every square mile of ocean contains 46,000 pieces of floating plastic.” (Marks & Howden, 2008). While the plastics don’t biodegrade, they do break down to tiny sizes and in that size and larger ones they are ingested by much of marine life. The plastic leaches chemicals into the bodies of whatever ingests them, and those chemicals accrete up the food chain. (Soechtig, 2010) Speaking of chemical leaching, there’s growing scientific concern that plastic bottles leach bisphenol-A into the water in the bottle, which is then ingested, builds up in the body and causes problems like hormone disruption, insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes. (Priebe, n.d.) I could go on and on about the horrendous, accreting 2nd, 3rd, and 4th effects of all that completely unnecessary plastic, which has been manufactured and dumped as a toxic scum on and into the world for the insatiable greed of corporate executives. Clearly, almost the entire bottled water industry is condemnable as ethically wrong and unsustainable. The only reason that bottled water, especially in single serve plastic containers, should exist is as an emergency supply in times of natural disaster, when the provision of clean and safe tap or municipal water cannot occur. Water should be a basic life element to which all people have a right to access at the same low to no cost. In an effort to move toward an end state where water is not a commodity that companies can claim to own any portion of, the first thing to do is exact very large fines on them for false-claim and tap water-comparing advertisements and other shenanigans that have created a fictional need for water they bottle rather than water from the tap. This issue of inundating society with advertisements to manufacture needs and thereby cause great damage to our world, is well covered by Durning (2009). I love the end of his essay: The premier spot in the Media Foundation’s “High on the Hog” campaign shows a gigantic animated pig frolicking on a map of North American while a narrator intones: “Five percent of the people in the world consume one-third of the planet’s resources… Those people are us.” The pig belches. Imagine a message like that broadcast simultaneously to every inhabited part of the globe! (p. 734)
References Mercola, J. M. (2011, September 26). Ditch This Habit - You've Been Tricked to Think it's Healthy [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/09/26/why-iswater-the-next-empire.aspx Gleick, P. & Cooley, H.S. (2009). Energy implications of bottled water. Environmental Research Letters. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/4/1/014009 Cecconi, P. (2009). Bottled water creates pollution. The Daily Press - Container Recycling Institute. Retrieved from http://www.container-recycling.org/media/newsarticles/archives/2009/1-22BottledWaterCreates.htm Soechtig, S. (2010, April 17). In loving memory… [Tapped Daily Blog post] Retrieved from http://www.tappedthefilm.com/blog.php?page=15 Gorelick, M. H., Gould, L., Nimmer, M., Wagner, D., Heath, M., Bashir, H., Brousseau, D. C. (2011). Perceptions About Water and Increased Use of Bottled Water in Minority Children. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2011.83 Marks, K. & Howden, D. (2008). The world's rubbish dump: a tip that stretches from Hawaii to Japan. The Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/the-worldsrubbish-dump-a-tip-that-stretches-from-hawaii-to-japan-778016.html Soechtig, S. (Director), Gibson, S. & Soechtig, S. (Producers). (2010). Tapped [DVD]. United States: Atlas Films Priebe, M.B. (n.d.). Plastic water bottles, BPA & the environment. Ecolife, a guide to green living. Retrieved from http://www.ecolife.com/recycling/plastic/plastic-bpa-water-bottles-health-hazard.html Durning, A. T. (2011). An ecological critique of global advertising. In L. P. Pojman & P. Pojman (Eds.), Environmental ethics: Readings in theory and application (6th ed., pp. 727-734). Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Inc. (Original work published 1993).
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