TCS Daily

Ban Bottled Water? Yes, Minister!

By Tim Worstall - February 23, 2006 12:00 AM

"Sir Humphrey?"

"Yes Minister?"

"Have you seen this report in The Times today? They say that mineral water is contributing to climate, have a read:

Despite its pure image, bottled water is making a significant contribution to climate change. The industry produces as much greenhouse gas as the electricity consumption of about 20,000 homes in a year, according to research by The Times.

To supply the more than two billion litres of bottled water that is consumed by Britons every year, a quarter of which comes from abroad, bottled-water companies produce 33,200 tonnes of CO2 emissions, just less than the electricity consumption of 20,000 households, and the equivalent of the energy needs of 6,000 households.

"Over 33,000 tonnes of CO2 Minister? Yes, that does sound serious, is there something you'd like to do about it?"

"Well, Sir Humphrey, don't you think I ought to do something about it? Got to save the planet, after all, think of the children! Nothing for it I suppose, much as I'll miss my Perrier, we'll simply have to ban bottled water. Draw up the documents will you?"

"Very good Minister. Err, Bernard, could you just work out quite how much of a problem this 33,000 tonnes is please?"

"Yes, right away Sir Humphrey"

(Err, energy needs of 6,000 households, umm, population of Britain, 60 million ish, oooh, no, don't need that, number of dwellings 25 million so 6 k as a percentage of that, umm 0.024 % of CO2 emissions. No, drat, households aren't the only emitters, say, 1/3? 1/3 each for industry, transport and households? Seems fair, so divide by 3 and get 0.008%.)


"Yes Bernard?"

"Well, I've worked it out, very roughly, you know, just some mental arithmetic and it seems that banning bottled water would save 0.008% of the UK's emissions over a year."

"Excellent, can you make sure that gets into the press release? Can't have anyone saying that this government doesn't take climate change and the need to save the planet seriously now can we?"

"That's not quite what I meant, Minister. It's not a very large number really, is it?"

"Now, now, Bernard, don't be such a gloom bucket. That sort of attitude will get us nowhere, the journey of a thousand miles starts with but a single step, as you know."

"I think I may have missed that one, Minister. I always fall asleep during the meditation at the Gaia Services. Just like the sermons in the old Church of England really, eh?"

"Bernard, you know that I'm very liberal in these things but really, you shouldn't make fun of the State Religion in my hearing now, should you? I am a Minister in government, after all".

"Yes, sorry Minister. But just as an example -- (Err, beer consumption 60 million hectolitres, (dash it, why can't they use proper measures, pints and gallons?) 91% the fizzy stuff with CO2, 2.6 times volume of beer is CO2 dissolved in beer, CO2 weighs 44 grammes per 22.4 litres (thank goodness for remembering that bit about molar weights!) so clickety, clickety, 142 million hectolitres CO2, umm, bit of rounding, 28,000 tonnes CO2. Phew.) -- that's very much the same as the amount of CO2 we use to make the beer fizzy in this country. I mean you're not thinking of banning that today, are you? Making us all drink that flat real ale stuff again are you?"

"Don't be silly, Bernard. Haven't you learned anything in your time here in Whitehall? You don't give people the good news all at once, you feed it out over the days to make sure we keep getting the headlines! Simple press management that is! Get that ready for tomorrow, silly lad! Just think! Two days' worth of press headlines about how seriously we're taking this problem! Oh, and by the way, see if you can get the Campaign for Real Ale on the line and ask if they'd be willing to police this."

"While we're on this subject, Minister, if I could make a suggestion for the third day? (He'll never fall for this, will he?) Bread making is also a source of CO2, it's what makes the dough rise. No, no, of course we can't ban bread making but large bakeries, we could insist they install carbon sequestration machines. It would just be those hippie types who make their own at home we'd have to stop as they wouldn't be able to afford the equipment. And it would grow the economy as all that unpaid work in the home became part of the cash economy!"

"Excellent thinking Bernard, green growth in the economy! Just what we've been saying for years, that meeting our Kyoto targets doesn't mean limiting growth in GDP!"

"Minister, if I might interrupt?"

"Of course Sir Humphrey."

"You need to be getting ready for the Cabinet committee meeting. The one where you're about to take the decision on whether or not to replace the gas fired power stations with nuclear. It's wonderful news that you and Bernard have been able to reduce emissions by as much as 0.02% in just one afternoon, not much more of that and we'll have the problem licked eh? You'll need to be briefed on the issue before you go, of course."

"No need for that. Fortunately I've been reading this research sent round by Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. Van Leeuwen and Smith, look, here's a piece describing it in The Guardian:"

Using sensible assumptions, Professors Smith and Van Leeuwen determined that nuclear generation produced about a third as much CO2 per kWh as conventional mid-sized gas-fired electricity generation.

"Clearly nuclear won't work on those numbers now will it? We'll need Bernard, and you Sir Humphrey, to continue to come up with these good ideas about reducing emissions. Nuclear, as much as one third of the emissions of gas fired plants. Hah! That won't get us anywhere near our Kyoto requirements of a 60% cut in emissions now will it? Come along now Bernard, you're the math whiz around here, tell me, am I right or am I right?"

"Up to a point, Minister, although..."

"Good, good, call my driver, will you? Time to get around to Number 10."

"Yes, Minister."

More of Tim Worstall's writings can be found at (With both apologies and in homage to Sir Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn).


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