Canadian "Renewable Fuels" Association
Ethos [sic] Water
I don't know what to be more worried about...that people can be so money-grubbingly self-serving as to mislead people on such a scale...or that people are likely to be so misled.
You may have noticed that the brand of water (imagine: a brand of water!) that Starbucks is carrying lately is Ethos [ha!] Water. You may also have noticed obnoxious television ads talking about "Stephen Harper's promise", which apparently has something to do with ethanol. How are these related to each other? Let me tell you....
Both of these endeavours, these businesses, are doing things that on the surface are actually good. The one is using profits to work on clean-water projects in the Third World. The other is replacing a more noxious polluter with a less noxious one. Who wouldn't support these things?
The answer: anyone who gives the matter any thought at all.
Let's look at an analogous situation. My friend Tom has several times told me about Richard Dawkins's opinion of religious moderates. I'm no fan of Richard Dawkins, but his point on this matter is not useless. He argues (so I've been told) that religious moderates create and reënforce the situation that allows religious extremists to flourish. How? Because they are unwilling to say that religion can be dangerous. Religion is something they have a stake in - however half-heartedly - and so the occasional churchgoer, the person who's only in it for the high holidays, or the weddings, or the sunday babysitting, speaks up on behalf of the religious rights of the person who wants creationism taught in public schools.
Now back to the water and the fuel.
Commodification of nature (calling parts of systems "resources" and then selling those parts) is the prelude to destroying nature. Using petroleum to make plastic bottles to contain water, and using more petroleum to transport that bottle of water to me, does not help the situation of water pollution. If we would simply leave our water systems alone, they'd be drinkable and happy. More industrialization and capitalization can't help the water. Ethos Water might be sending 10 cents per bottle sold to clean-water projects. But my used bottle is going to go to a landfill, where it will turn into sketchy chemicals for someone else to drink....
Likewise, growing fuel for cars is a bad plan. Cars are made out of plastic and steel, in huge polluting factories. Ethanol is made out of industrial farming, which relies on chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and diversion of water for irrigation. Sure, exhaust from ethanol-fueled cars might be 10% less climate-altering than other fuel, or whatever, but the idea that cars will ever be really environmentally friendly is absurd. Communities that rely on cars can't be environmentally friendly.
The ideas of car-lite and "friendly" bottled water prey upon both our First-World bleeding hearts and our laziness of thought and action. We get to feel good about driving our SUVs around because they aren't as bad as they were a decade ago. We get to feel good about commodifying water and enclosing it in chemical containers because it's for a good cause. We get to feel like ecological Anglicans, all condoms and the-bible-as-metaphor and gay, while our actions support the environmental equivalents of Evangelical crazies who think that the Rapture will happen sometime next week.