March 15, 2010:
An piece popped up in the New York Times last week end, dramatizing the problems of maintaining the water system of Washington DC, and noting the waste incurred when maintenance is deferred. You can see it here.
Americans differ little from people everywhere about water. We think it a commodity; free, or nearly free. But put it in a bottle and sell it as a convenience, and presto: a new industry: Value of water, near zero. Value of convenience, a buck or more. And then there is the well-publicized problem of plastic bottle waste everywhere.
Motor fuel is a commodity too. Taking its quality for granted, we buy it from the cheapest outlet. People regard raising the price as akin to taking away a birthright — whether they are American, Nigerian, or Fijian.
The NYT story illustrates how tough the mind set change is going to be, epitomized by the guy who didn’t care how the water system worked or what any of its maintenance problems were; he just wanted water service restored immediately, without any rate increases.
How do we wean ourselves and others off such mind sets? And toward thinking of common resources as something we all have responsibility for?