Friday, January 19, 2007

Four-Fifths of the World

Water covers approximately four-fifths of the earth’s surface and there are strange stories and strange circumstances attached to it. One of the most strange concerns Jennifer Strange, the California woman who died of the effects of ‘water intoxication.’

Bottledwaterpoured Water covers approximately four-fifths of the earth’s surface and there are strange stories and strange circumstances attached to it. One of the most strange concerns Jennifer Strange, the California woman who died of the effects of ‘water intoxication.’
The background, for those of you who missed the story, is that a Sacramento radio station organized a contest to hype the station. Nothing new in that. The contest they devised was to see who could drink the most water without going to the toilet and the prize was a PlayStation--a Sony computer-game that’s hot with kids. Ms. Strange has kids, but the game was a bit pricey for her budget and she joined in the fun for her kids benefit.
Bottledwater Who knew that water could be toxic? I never knew that. The radio station disc-jockeys apparently knew about the danger, but joked about it and let the contest go on. Ten  employees, responsible for putting on the stunt, were fired and the morning show has been taken off the air.
Hyponatremia, the specific occurrence that took Ms. Strange’s life, occurs when too much water dilutes the sodium in the body. I remember in my laboring days (long past) and also in the Army (longer past), that hot weather water intake was always accompanied by salt pills. Without them, the body’s electrolytes get all out of whack, you soon get light-headed and can suffer possible heatstroke. But in an air-conditioned radio station?
Tragically, the answer is yes.
Hotwingseatingcontest_1 Excess in America is celebrated. During the depression, couples would dance until the last  pair standing won a small cash prize. College kids regularly binge drink, swallow goldfish, eat hotdogs, see how many bodies can be stuffed in a phone booth or Volkswagen. Pizza, pancakes, hard-boiled eggs, hot-wings, pies—whatever can be measured and eaten makes a contest. But this particular excess got me thinking about water in the world outside America.
Yes, there actually is such a place.
In ever increasing portions of that world-outside-our-world, you can die over water.
  • Not  having any will do it.
  • Having it, but having it infected with bacteria or viruses or chemicals will do it.
  • Owning it, which can mean defending it, can do it.
Lawrence_of_arabia Remember the opening scene of Lawrence of Arabia? A Beduin drinks from a well in the desert, his companion looking on. A shimmering figure on a camel is seen in the background across his shoulder, growing ever larger, shimmering in the heat and yet still undefined. The figure stops. A shot rings out. The Beduin falls dead. Lawrence rides up and says to the companion, “He should have asked.”
In those ancient days when I was a kid, wasting your money was tantamount to ‘buying water.’ Who on earth would ever pay for something like that? Then, sometime in the sixties, the French sneaked a bit of bottled water into America and it became chic to serve. Chic is a French word for ‘elegant and stylish,’ but those of us who were inelegant slobs just laughed at the dummies blowing their dough and drank tap-water.
In 2004, the world drank over 40 billion gallons of bottled water and laid out in excess of $100 billion to do it, an average of $2.50 per gallon. That includes
  • Artesian water
  • Fluoridated water
  • Ground water
  • Mineral water
  • Purified water
  • Sparkling water
  • Spring water
  • Sterile water
  • Well water
And that market, the product no one would ever possibly pay for, increases by 10 percent every year.
Africawater To no one’s surprise, the United States (where the need is least) consumes 25% of the world supply. We Americans are twenty-five percenters. We account for twenty-five percent of the world’s pollution, hope, despair, freedom, persecution and now—Ta-Da—bottled water consumption.
The world consumes 3 billion barrels of oil per year. That’s 42 gallons of oil for every thirteen gallons of bottled water. At two and a half bucks a gallon for bottled water (average), water is costing half again as much as oil.
But get this. If you're chic and drink that French stuff, it's outta sight. A gallon is equal to about 11.6 (11 oz) bottles of Perrier. That makes Perrier, at 75 cents a bottle, cost $8.70 a gallon, or an outstanding (and outrageous?) $365 per 42 gallon barrel.
Damn those French. Their sissy water is costing us over five times as much as a barrel of Saudi crude. Who would ever have believed?
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