Let me start by saying, I am an Aquarius and I love water. I love everything about water. My body is made up mostly of water, and I drink it all day long. In addition to loving water, I also love the Earth, which like me is made up mostly of water. I reduce, reuse and recycle water, and enforce a strict family water policy at my house – if it’s yellow, we let it mellow. I am an affiliated faculty member in the Water Systems Science and Society program at Tufts (although maybe not after my water rant goes live). Whenever I’m given the choice, I will pick clean tap water over bottled water every time. But sometimes I don’t have the choice, and sometimes it’s my fault…there are times when my overworked brain forgets the reusable water bottle at home. But dammit, I’m still thirsty!
Now that we’ve established that I’m a forgetful steward of water, my personal story of water conflict begins… I’m at the gym the other day, opportunistic exerciser that I am, and I forgot to bring my reusable water bottle. I need fluids to workout, and running back and forth from the treadmill to the water fountain didn’t make a whole lot of sense. So I made the perfectly rational decision to purchase a bottle of water. There are two vending machines at the gym full of beverages, but to my surprise, no water. So I begrudgingly settled for a sports drink, which left me overflowing with electrolytes and a zero sum calorie burn (not that I’m counting). I made a note to myself to tell the gym staff to re-stock their water, which of course I forgot.
Later that week, I was running late to class and had again forgotten my reusable water bottle. To be fair, I had remembered that precious piece of equipment in the days since the gym incident. So I hightail it to the campus center to grab a bottle of water. The first store was heavily stocked with the luxuries of the gym vending machines, but no water. The second store had all of the above, yet no water. Frantic for water and late for class, I ended up purchasing a plastic soda fountain container for $1.25 so that I could fill it with, yes, tap water!
A few Google clicks confirmed that the absence of water was in fact a conspiracy against absent-minded professors led by the student group TAP, which stands for Tufts Agua Police (or Tufts Against Plastics depending on your perspective). So it is to TAP that I share my Economics 101 lesson of the day – in substitutes and unintended consequences.
Lesson 1: Your misguided environmentalism forced me down the opportunity cost ladder to the next best substitute available to me – a sugary sports drink. You didn’t stop a market transaction from occurring, because you can’t stop me from being thirsty. In fact, you banned the one and only healthy option available to me. Any rational human being will choose to satisfy their thirst with what is available to them, first choice or not. So next time, take your thought process one more step and imagine what I might do when you take the healthy option away.
Lesson 2: Not only was that second best choice less healthy, it was also more environmentally damaging (more bulky PLASTIC Gatorade bottle) – hence the unintended consequences. So you in fact increased my environmental footprint AND my wasteline in a single swoop from your ivory tower. In this case I needed my water on the go, so a stationary water fountain was not a viable substitute. But even so, water fountains just aren’t prolific anymore…the ubiquity of bottled water has made sure of that. And all you need to see is one guy hock a loogie in the fountain, or even better, watch a child lick the dispenser, and you will forever avoid even the most convenient and well intentioned of water fountains.
Lesson 3: This is my bonus lesson. When you have a negative externality like plastic bottle consumption (water or not), assess the problem on a comprehensive scale. Explore the range of equally damaging substitutes available, and whatever you decide to do, do it across the board. In some really important public and environmental health cases, this may require a ban. Ban toxins in children’s products – I agree. Ban DDT in pesticides – again, I agree. Ban water at the gym – really? In this case, a more reasonable choice would be to assess a tax or fee on each plastic bottle sold (water or not) that raises the price and forces consumers to internalize the environmental damage of their actions. When I forget my reusable bags at the grocery store, do they force me to shop the candy aisle? Not unless the manager is a TAP grad. However, they may in fact charge me a plastic bag fee. Food for thought…
Regardless, dehydration is not an optimal strategy to draw support for your cause. So for Poseidon’s sake, give me back my water!