When Statist Goals Collide, the Individual Always Loses

statist goal: ban water bottlesWhile watching the WCAX news broadcast last night, May 15,  two stories leaped off the screen and grabbed my attention.  One dealt with an effort to “preserve the environment” by reducing the number of plastic bottles being thrown away and the other dealt with issues around so-called renewable or green energy. They both show the lunacy of environmentalists here in Vermont.

Environmentalism trumps both “Public Health” and Individual Choice

Just over 3 years ago the University of Vermont decided to ban the sale of bottled water on campus starting in January 2013. According to the WCAX report at the time, supporters of the ban claimed that “the new policy is sure to put a dent in the more than 1 million bottled beverages it sells annually” and would “save 200,000 water bottles each year by doing away with water bottles sales on campus.”

Now two years after the ban on bottled water sales went into effect, WCAX reported on the results. A study by done two UVM nutrition professors “found not only did the ban not reduce the amount of plastic bottles thrown away, it made students and faculty on campus more likely to buy sugary drinks when no water is available at the vending machine.” So not only did this measure not produce the reduction in plastic bottles the proponents claim it would have, it also led to an increase in sugary beverage consumption which one of the study authors says is now a health concern for the university.

If you adopted a new diet in hopes of losing weight and discovered after a year that not only did you not lose weight but you also developed an additional health problem which could be traced to the new diet you would almost certainly change your diet or at the very least go back to your old diet. In the same way you might expect that supporters of the bottled water ban to at least revert to the old program and allow bottled water sales on campus. In this case you would be wrong.

Richard Cate, the vice president for finance at UVM and one of the administrators who approved the ban said about the new report, “It’s good work, we respect everything that’s been done, but I don’t think it’s a reason to change the policy.” So for Mr. Cate evidence that a program does not work and may actually cause additional harm is no reason to change it.

What does he plan to do? More regulations of course. They will retrofit dispensing machines, I assume here that this means the vending machines themselves, to dispense water and provide “free” cups for those who don’t carry reusable water bottles. (The report makes not mention of who will bear the cost of this retrofit, but it would not surprise me if this was not pushed off on the vending machine operators as a condition of their contracts, nor who will pay for the cups or what impact the additional waste will have on the environment.) The university will also impose requirements that at least half of the drink options in the machines contain less than 40 calories per 8 ounce serving, yet none of this 50% can be plain, healthy water. This means that the only alternative for the low calorie option in vending machines is diet soda, which some believe also contribute to increasing obesity rates. One thing is certain, it means fewer actual choices will be available to the individual.

And if these measures are not enough to “change people’s behavior,” what then? The university will be gathering data on beverage consumption to compare the “healthy versus unhealthy” drinks consumed while “educating” the students on the health risks associated with soda consumption. Of course, proponents of such measures have already admitted this year that if reason, education, doesn’t work, force is always available and they are willing to use it.

So in the end we have environmentalists who won’t change a program that doesn’t work and “public health” advocates who are willing to use force if we do not agree to behave in ways that they deem appropriate. This does not bode well for the individual in Vermont.

This has run longer than I expected, so I will take up the renewable energy issue in my next post.

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