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Water and oil just don't mix

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Posted: Wednesday, October 29, 2008 9:00 pm

In response to Stephen Forner's article ("An entreaty to consider the consequences of plastic bottle banning" Oct. 24), I would like to first thank him for his thoughtful words on the subject. He mentioned that there are other methods Gonzaga can - and must - take in order to be more environmentally sensitive, and he was absolutely right. The campaign to reduce our sales of bottled water is only the beginning. But it is an important beginning, a sentiment manifested at least partially by the attention it has gotten and the conversations it has started.

The disconcerting but all-too-evident truth is this: We are spoiled by the conveniences of our culture. Yes, I said it: We are spoiled. Anyone who caught the "Running Dry" films saw evidence of the global water crisis our generation is facing. In most of our lifetimes it is highly possiblethat clean drinking water will be fodder for warfare; the issue is so seriously imminent. To add to our concerns, oil is still highly needed but hard to come by. Our use of oil is damaging this country and demands imperative change. Yet what continues to generally elude our understanding is why bottled water matters. What is the big deal? The big deal is that in its production we see oil and water mix; to make bottled water both are wasted.

Aquafina is tap water. While, yes, it has gone through a filtration process, as of July 2007 you will see Pepsi confess right on its labels that the water comes "from a public source." Furthermore, the water many of us have come to find ever-so-tasty and convenient undergoes less frequent and less detailed screenings than the EPA-monitored H2O brought to us by the City of Spokane. And while bottled water is sold for approximately 5 cents per ounce, tap water costs pennies per gallon. So, you're paying about 640 times more because this water comes in a nice-looking bottle.

And there is the real vice of bottled water; the bottle. Yes, it is stupid to pay that much for water. Yes, the water you are drinking from that bottle is glorified tap water. But these are forgivable sins until you consider the effects behind the bottle production. Meeting America's demand for bottled water - that means both producing and transporting these bottles - uses over 50 million barrels of oil annually, sends 2.5 million tons of CO2 into the air, and requires three times the amount of water in the bottle. The energy and resources used, pollution accrued and water wasted to enable the luxury of drinking bottled water borders on obscene. And though occasionally - about one in five times - consumers recycle their empties and beverage-production companies attempt to improve the design of their bottles, this does not change the absurdity or the wastefulness of bottling something that is running out of our taps safely and affordably.

Again, the bottled-water campaign is not the only effort the University is makingin the "green" movement. Student groups such as AASHE, GEO and the JUSTICEclub have all made amazing efforts to better our campus. Sodexo has willingly changed some of its practices to support water conservation efforts even when it meant revenue was lost. And staff, students and faculty are coming together this year as part of a brand new Advisory Council on Stewardship and Sustainability. More can be done and more is being done.

Yet coming up with rationale for why something like bottled water isn't worth giving up - deciding that this is an attack on our free will or a vicious neglect of our right to convenience - that argument only opens the door to disregard all the positive movements toward service and sustainability. Usually doing the right thing isn't convenient. Usually implementing change meets with this very kind of questioning and resistance. While everyone has the right to agree or disagree with the specifics of the movement, insisting that we are entitled to the convenience of bottled water is ridiculous, selfish and wrong. If anyone is going to start taking change seriously, start looking at the implications our actions hold on a grander scale, and making educated and passionate steps toward the future; it has to be us. We can't spit out tag lines about being men and women for others and also be men and women for ourselves.

I know that every student of Gonzaga is capable of accepting this challenge, and I've been inspired by the passionate students, staff and faculty who make a positive difference by challenging the status quo. And, again, like Stephen's article said, we can start with something relatively painless like changing the way we drink water, but must not stop there! Our actions have more impact than we know, and so too can our concentrated, intentional efforts to leave this place better make a profound impact and send a profound message of hope.

Andrea Woods is a senior at Gonzaga and GSBA president.

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