Consuming Climate Change
Image by Emma Marie Andersson via Wikimedia Commons (cc)
From Philosophy Now:
Companies compete for consumers via the aesthetic presentation of their packaging. One type of water, for example, advertises itself as ‘artisan’ and includes a bright pink flower on the plastic wraps of its twelve packs. Another brand goes for the more ‘euro-chic’ look of tall narrow bottles with sleek silver caps. Both brands capitalize on a scarce existential necessity by treating it as both scarce and abundant; that is, scarce enough to be priced like gold or diamonds, and abundant enough that polluting it via the processes necessary to bottle it in plastic bottles poses no significant hazard. The latter, of course, is false: it is also presupposed by the switch to bottled water in the first place. If we believed tap water was pure, or even safe to drink, who’d spend the money to buy bottled?
It’s at just this juncture, however, that the counterfeit aesthetic plays a key role. Bottled water is advertised as ‘clean’ or ‘pure’; but this isn’t because bottled water companies have any interest in what consumers know about their water. After all, tap water may contain less arsenic than their ‘clean’ product. Moreover, ‘clean’ needn’t mean clean (even if it’s true); it means ‘cool’ – as in what can be afforded by the affluent as water. Were the point simply the purity, then dewy pink flowers or shiny sleek cylinders would be unnecessary and the advertising wouldn’t need to promote sciencey-sounding promises, such as a reassurance that the product conforms to US Food and Drug Administration specifications and testing protocols.
The point I’m making isn’t about water. It’s about how the sciences are used by the world of capital to engineer its products, provide a vocabulary to its promises, and conceal its destruction of resources. The story of water is simply perhaps the most perverse variation on the theme of the counterfeit aesthetic, just because water is an existential necessity. Diverted by bottled water’s aesthetic claim to be ‘clean’, we’re invited to ignore important things that the sciences – chemistry, biology, epidemiology, neurology, bacteriology, environmental sciences – tell us; namely, that clean water for those who can’t afford bottled has become increasingly scarce due to industrial dumping, and/or the appropriation by international conglomerates of what’s left.