Thursday, August 30, 2007

Public Enemy #1: Bottled Water

From, on Aug 15, 2007. Original article linked here

It's a hugely beneficial liquid in a slim cylinder of plastic, but for US environmentalists, it is the new public enemy number one: bottled water.

With US bottled water sales growing nearly 10 percent annually -- and the trash from tossed containers climbing just as quickly -- calls for Americans to go back to drinking tap water have surged since the beginning of summer.

"This country has some of the best public water supplies in the world," the New York Times said in an editorial earlier this month.

"Instead of consuming four billion gallons (15 billion liters) of water a year in individual-sized bottles, we need to start thinking about what all those bottles are doing to the planet's health."

As was pointed out at World Water Week in Stockholm on Monday, US personal consumption per capita, including water from all sources, hits 400 liters (106 gallons) each day -- compared to 10 liters (2.6 gallons) a person in developing countries.

And US consumers are drinking more bottled water by the day. According to the Beverage Marketing Corporation, growth in bottled water sales last year was 9.7 percent, making the total market worth about 11 billion dollars.

Bottled water in the United States does not mean mineral water, even if Americans grumble more and more about paying a high price to drink water with little to distinguish it.

At the end of July beverage giant PepsiCo was forced by public pressure to explain on its Aquafina bottled water that the contents inside come from ... the tap.

Pepsi's response "is an important first step," said Gigi Kellett, director of the "Think Outside the Bottle" campaign.

"Concerns about the bottled water industry, and increasing corporate control of water, are growing across the country," she said.

From mineral springs or from public pipes, water once in a bottle is expensive. The New York Times estimated that for some consumers the bill could hit 1,400 dollars a year -- for an amount that, taken from a home faucet, might cost less than half a dollar.

And it is not always better.

"Bottled water sold in the United States is not necessarily cleaner or safer than most tap water, according to a four-year scientific study," the National Resources Defense Council recently reported. It also said regulation has not guaranteed more pure water in bottles.

Another point of attack is the packaging waste, which Earth Policy Institute tied to an issue of US security policy: oil imports.

According to the institute, it costs the United States 1.5 million barrels of oil a year to produce the plastic bottles used for water.

And if one adds the energy required to transport it -- especially premium water imported all the way from France, Italy and even the Fiji islands -- the negative impact on the environment rises quickly.

The anti-bottled water campaign has gotten political support: the mayor of San Francisco has stopped supplying water in containers to his staff, telling them to drink what comes out of the faucet.

And New York has launched a campaign to persuade its inhabitants to stick to public sources to quench their thirst.

Feeling they were at the center of the target, bottled water producers went on the defense last week, in part arguing that bottled water helps liberate consumers from calorie-heavy sweet sodas.

"The bottled water industry has recently been the target of misguided and confusing criticism by activist groups and a handful of mayors who have presented misinformation and subjective criticism as facts," the International Bottled Water Association said.

Association president Joseph Doss said they were being unfairly singled out.

"If the debate is about the impact of plastic packaging on the environment, a narrow focus on bottled water spotlights only a small portion of the packaged beverage category and an even smaller sliver of the universe of packaged products," he said.

"Any efforts to reduce the resources necessary to produce and distribute packaged goods -- and increase recycling rates -- must focus on all packaging,"

Monday, August 27, 2007

Srimad-Bhagavatam Meditation 1:18:20

It is once again time for a guided meditation on the ripened fruit of the tree of Vedic knowledge, the Srimad-Bhagavatam.

I humbly ask you to read first the translation and Bhaktivedanta purport to today's verse, the 2oth verse from the First Canto, Eighteenth Chapter.

etāvatālam nanu sūcitena
gunair asāmyānatiśāyanasya
hitvetarān prārthayato vibhūtir
jusate 'nabhīpsoh

It is now ascertained that He [the Personality of Godhead] is unlimited and there is none equal to Him. Consequently no one can speak of Him adequately. Great demigods cannot obtain the favor of the goddess of fortune even by prayers, but this very goddess renders service unto the Lord, although He is unwilling to have such service.

This month's Time Magazine features a fascinating and heart-rending cover article about a new book about to be released on Mother Teresa, titled Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. In the article and book, we learn that underneath her saintly demeanor and fantastic efforts to provide simple material and spiritual relief for so many downtrodden people was an internal struggle so deep and acute as to make this most pious well-wisher even question the very existence of God.

I was quite taken aback when I came upon these revelations, and I began to try and understand how her expressions of pain and longing within her own personal faith fit into the paradigm of separation as we understand it in our Vaisnava tradition. We can understand that Srimati Radharani's feelings of separation from Krsna were sometimes so intense as to make her practically lifeless. We also understand from guru, sastra, and sadhu that these feelings of separation are actually the highest ecstacy that can be experienced in relation with Sri Krsna.

There is something about the plight of Mother Teresa in her mood of separation that strikes my heart in a very mournful way. Even in my very limited understanding of scripture, there is a sense and small taste of transcendence from studying the moods of Radharani, but seems to me to be nothing transcendent in the sheer misery Mother Teresa would express of her inner spiritual plight.

For example, in quoting from the article: "She compares the experience to hell and at one point says it has driven her to doubt the existence of heaven and even of God. She is acutely aware of the discrepancy between her inner state and her public demeanor. "The smile," she writes, is "a mask" or "a cloak that covers everything." Similarly, she wonders whether she is engaged in verbal deception. "I spoke as if my very heart was in love with God — tender, personal love," she remarks to an adviser. "If you were [there], you would have said, 'What hypocrisy.'"

What is so startling is that someone like Mother Teresa, whose determination to alleviate the sufferings of so many people by spreading the mission of the Lord is an inspiration to preachers of all faiths, could do so much and carry on so diligently while having to deal with this disconnection between her soul and the Supreme. I know that for myself, my motivation in Krsna consciousness depends completely on the strength of my convictions and faith. If I was feeling no connection with Krsna, I would not be sacrificing to participate in devotional service. I am nowhere near any kind of advanced level to continue as a devotee if Krsna were to handle me roughly by His embrace or makes me brokenhearted by not being present before me.

The Bhagavatam verse above struck me with a feeling of connection to these revelations of Mother Teresa's inner struggle. It is mentioned that the goddess of fortune renders all kinds of service unto the Lord, although He is unwilling and not even in need of such services. The goddess of fortune cannot even enter into the intimate circle of the gopis' lila with Krsna despite all her service. Why, as in Mother Teresa's case, does she incessantly and eternally continue when her most inner desire of full reciprocation is being denied. In essence, where did Mother Teresa get her spiritual strength from, and how do we define her mood of separation from what we understand in our own tradition?

In any case, I am sure I am expressing so many misunderstandings, and I pray to you, the humble reader, to please read the article about the inner struggle of Mother Teresa, and I hope you may be able to add to a discussion of this mystery. I will follow up a soon with another piece with some nice points I gathered from a discussion of this article with some of my fellow inmates here at New Vrindaban. Please feel free to add your points here or even write me at Hare Krsna.