Tag Archives: progressives

A Neo-Progressive Manifesto

This piece builds on my thoughts regarding Umair Haque’s Generation M Manifesto.

Dear conservatives on the Left and Right – and those beholden to them.

We would like to break up with you.

Every day, we see a widening gap in how you and we understand the world — and what we want from it. It’s been a long time coming but we have irreconcilable differences.

You wanted big, fat, universal and eternal institutions. We want renewable, transparent, responsive, and people-oriented organizations.

You turned politics into a divisive word. We want open, engaged and deep democracy — everywhere.

You wanted financial fundamentalism – be it unrestricted, unregulated capitalism or protected and subsidized industrialism. We believe in a post-industrial economy: a shift from the hierarchical to decentralized with the use of markets as a progressive policy tool.

You wanted big growth, measured only by GDP. We want smart growth and real value, built by people with character, dignity and courage.

You wanted organizations hidden behind veils of secrecy. We want open institutions, fit for survival, designed to grow and share wealth, that seek to create markets, not own them.

You believed in top-down and trickle-down. We believe in emergent and bottom-up.

You prized biggie size life: McMansions, gas guzzlers, and McFood. We want a sustainable, humanized life.

You let citizens devolve into consumers and users. We want citizens to be hackers, creators and… citizens.

You’ve claimed the choice is between a winner take all society or a no winner society. We want an eco-system that rewards talent, ideas, productivity and collaboration – we want a meritocracy.

You wanted a culture that is controlled by the past. We want a free culture that builds on the past.

You’ve wanted to protect monopolies or protect jobs. We want an economy that allows for creative destruction.

You wanted exurbs, sprawl, and gated anti-communities. We want a society built around sustainable communities.

You wanted more money, credit and leverage — to consume ravenously. We want to be great at doing stuff that matters.

There’s a tectonic shift rocking the social, political, and economic landscape. We are pro-ams, we are creatives, we are hackers, we are neo-progressives and we are legion.

Who are neo-progressives? We are engaged. We start non-governmental organizations, work internationally, create social enterprises, volunteer in our communities, start socially conscious businesses and advocate outside of organized politics. We are a growing number of people who act differently – doing meaningful stuff that matters the most.

Neo-progressives are those of us who have not found a natural home on the left or the right of traditional politics and are increasingly returning to the core values of historical progressivism, using evidence-based public policy to help ensure the equality of opportunity in a market-based economy.

Everywhere we look, we see an explosion of neo-progressive businesses, NGOs, open-source communities, local initiatives, and government. Who are the neo-progressive role models? Obama, kind of. Larry and Sergey. The Threadless, Etsy, and Flickr peeps. Ev, Biz, and the Twitter crew who made Tehran 2.0 possible. Calvin Helin, Wendy Kopp and Teach for America, Tzeporah Berman and the ForestEthics crew as well as Mitchell Baker and the Mozilla community. The folks at Kiva, Talking Points Memo, and FindtheFarmer. Anita Roddick, Margot Fraser, Muhammad Yunus, Hernando de Soto Polar and Jeff Sachs are like the grandparents of neo-progressivism. There are tons where these innovators came from.

The creative destruction neo-progressives want isn’t just awesome — it’s vitally necessary. And if you think it all sound idealistic, think again.

We face global warming, a financial meltdown, a de-industrializing economy, increasing inequality (both nationally and internationally) and the possibility of catastrophic terrorism.

But the real crisis is the same one that confronted us in the late 18th century and in the mid 20th century and it isn’t going away, changing, or “morphing.” It’s the same old crisis — and it’s growing.

You’ve failed to recognize it for what it really is. It is in our institutions: the rules by which our economy is organized.

But increasingly they’re your institutions, not ours. You made inherited them but you failed to renew them and now they’re broken. Here’s what we mean:

“… For example, the auto industry has cut back production so far that inventories have begun to shrink — even in the face of historically weak demand for motor vehicles. As the economy stabilizes, just slowing the pace of this inventory shrinkage will boost gross domestic product, or GDP, which is the nation’s total output of goods and services.”

Clearing the backlog of SUVs built on 30-year-old technology is going to pump up GDP? So what? There couldn’t be a clearer example of why GDP is a totally flawed concept, an obsolete institution. We don’t need more land yachts clogging our roads: we need a 21st Century auto industry.

We were (kind of) kidding about seceding before. Here’s what it looks like to us: every era has a challenge, and this is ours: to renew what’s been given us and create what wasn’t — to ensure we foster a sustainable shared prosperity.

Anyone — young or old — can answer it. Neo-progressivism is about ensuring governing and economic institutions once again reflect progressive values. It is more about what you do and who you are than where you fit on a broken political spectrum. So the question is this: do you still belong to the 20th century – or the 21st?

The Neo-Progressive Manifesto Prelude (or why Generation M must be remixed)

On Wednesday Umair Haque’s posted a Manifesto for Generation M. The post has received some praise and some serious criticism.

I’d be lying if I said the post didn’t resonate with me on certain level – heck, that is why I remixed it (lightly) on Friday night. Many of the manifesto’s ideas and links – and above all, its message of institutional failure – tapped into the challenges and issues Taylor and I sought to weave together in Progressivism’s End: How the Left is Killing Progressive Politics.

Now, at the end of the weekend, having reflected on it further alone, with friends and with Taylor, there is still lots I agree with. We do face a crisis of institutions and, frankly, there are a large number of people who would like to simply dial back the clock (some 10 years, others 35) and say – that’s it, problem solved. I believe Umair is saying that isn’t going to work. And I agree with him.

So having said that, I’ve got two observations and a final mega-remix to make to the Generation M Manifesto.

1. It Ain’t a Generational Divide

In reading the comments (especially this one) and talking with friends I was reminded how Taylor and I shied away from using a generational analysis like that adopted by Umair. This was an explicit choice. Our piece is about the death of progressive politics and what we believe is emerging in its place – it is the kind of narrative that, on the surface, appears to lend itself intuitively to generational divide. But the divide is not generational. First, let’s be honest, there are lots of Social Darwinian, self-centered, materially driven people in every generation.

Consider Canada, which many falsely believe is broadly immune to such thinking despite producing Mark Steyn. But consider the research in Sex in the Snow by Michael Adams. Drawing from his social values surveys, Adams concluded that Gen X could be divided into 5 “tribes.” Two of these tribes – the ‘New Aquarians‘ (13% of Gen Xers) and the ‘Autonomous Post-Materialists‘ (20%) would probably find the ideas in Umair’s Manifesto (as well as, hopefully, Taylor and I’s piece) resonate with them. However, among the other three ‘Gen X’ tribes, many of the ‘Aimless Dependents‘ (27%), the ‘Thrill-Seeking Materialists‘ (25%) and ‘Social Hedonists‘ (13%) would likely fall along a spectrum defined at one extreme by mild interest and the other by outright hostility. Still more would probably feel complete indifference to either Umair’s Manifesto or our piece.

This breakdown is true among Baby Boomers as well. I suspect that Autonomous Rebels (25% of boomers) and Connected Enthusiasts (14%) would be more inclined to identify with much of the Manifesto while Anxious Communitarians, (20% ) and Disengaged Darwinists, (41%) would be less inclined.

In short, a generational analysis simply isn’t accurate. But that is only the half of it. The other reason Taylor and I shied away from generational analysis because such an analysis is likely to hamper the development of a self-identifying and self-organizing group to champion and implement the ideas we (and Umair) highlight. While the Manifesto will inspire some, it’s analytical lens will, however, also alienate potential allies while simultaneously assuming those potentially indifferent or even hostile to its ideas are in agreement. If there is going to be a movement, it is wise to know who’s in, who’s out, and who doesn’t care.

2. It’s About Values

What is notably absent from Umair’s manifesto is any mention of values. It’s not that they aren’t there – it’s that they are left implicit. The values I see reflected in Umair’s post aren’t new; in fact they are quite old. This is the central piece to Taylor and I’s argument – that progressives have become more attached to the institutions they inherited than to the values those institutions were built to serve:

The rise of industrial capitalism during the 19th century led to a series of tense societal changes. These included the emergence of an urban working class, increasing inequality and the new possibility of total war. In response, three generations of pragmatically driven “progressives” emerged. Opposing both the socialist left and the laissez-faire right, they championed values such as equality of opportunity, meritocracy, government transparency and empirical inquiry.

This is the source of the crisis. It is not that one generation held values that another didn’t. It’s that the institutions we inherited don’t always reflect those values in a world where globalization, technology and social values have altered how we work, play and live. Taylor and I (and I suspect Umair) are frustrated because we see enormous time, money and energy being spent in an effort to architect our economy, our government and our public spaces to serve and preserve these institutions, rather than ensuring these institutions support us and an economy, government and public space we believe are essential for a prosperous and sustainable future.

So the question becomes how to ensure the values of equality of opportunity, meritocracy, government transparency, empircal inquiry – along with human rights, and the environment, get imbued into the policies, institutions, communities and companies we will inherit and create? It feels like the first step is to articulate them clearly. This way, when some of these new institutions begin to change we’ll know it is time to reform, abandon or simply move on.

3. Post-Potter Authenticity; and Where are the Women?

Finally, some quick hits. In a post-Rebel Sell world we need to be really careful about talking about authenticity. Even the “authentic” is constructed…  (If you haven’t read The Rebel Sell – go find a copy. Heath and Potter are brilliant).

Also, where are the women? Umair’s manifesto lists Generation Mers but there is almost nary a women among them. (I only counted one – Flickr had a female co-founder).

Gen M is about passion, responsibility, authenticity, and challenging yesterday’s way of everything. Everywhere I look, I see an explosion of Gen M businesses, NGOs, open-source communities, local initiatives, government. Who’s Gen M? Obama, kind of. Larry and Sergey. The Threadless, Etsy, and Flickr guys. Ev, Biz and the Twitter crew. Tehran 2.0. The folks at Kiva, Talking Points Memo, and FindtheFarmer. Shigeru Miyamoto, Steve Jobs, Muhammad Yunus, and Jeff Sachs are like the grandpas of Gen M. There are tons where these innovators came from.

I’m sure this is a problem that can be crowd sourced – but it had better happen quickly. In our piece, Taylor and I used Tzeporah Berman (Environmental Activisit), Calvin Helin (First Nations Lawyer) and Dan Florizone (Public Servant) as cases. Here I think is another place the manifesto could do with more examples – those doing work in the non-profit and government sector.

A real remix

Again – there are a lot of people who are going to jump on Umair. Indeed on some sites the Law of Fail has already been reached:

Once a web community has decided to dislike a person, topic, or idea, the conversation will shift from criticizing the idea to become a competition about who can be most scathing in their condemnation.

I’m not one of them. I understand why Umair is frustrated. I’m not certain that a generational analysis is the right approach but I do agree that we are not sufficiently wrestling with the question of how we redesign market regulation, democratic institutions, financial regulation, etc… to help foster the communities, environment and economy we want for the 21st century.

So with this in mind I’m going to take another cut at remixing the Manifesto. Indeed, it may be so dramatically different it is simply a re-purposing.  Increasingly, I sense that we’ve got to put values back into the equation and tackle figure out what are the cleavages in our society that do distinguish those opposed to reform from those in favour – in short, I’m going to remix it into a Neo-Progressive Manifesto.

Neo-Progressive update: Fighting Corruption

Those who read my blog know that I’ve always been an enormous fan of Lawrence Lessig. On numerous occasions I’ve pointed people to his most amazing talk on copyright. Indeed when Beltzner finally got me to watch Lessig’s talk a few years ago (after months of trying) it caused me to go into a 6 month self-directed reading and listening binge on all things copyright, internet rights and open source. Indeed, it is what propelled me into trying to find ways to contribute to the thinking around copyright and open source generally and the success of Mozilla specifically.

So I remember quite clearly the day Lessig said he was backing away from copyright to address the issue of lobbying, fund-raising and problematic incentive structures in the US political system – what he broadly termed as fighting “corruption.” At the time I was not only a little disappointed that he was moving away from such an important issue (copyright), I confess to thinking he was a little crazy. “Fighting political corruption in the United States? That’s an unwinnable battle and a waste of Lessig’s talent” I thought.

The problem was, I was still thinking like it was 1999. I believed that changing congress started and ended with structural change – altering the laws and processes. That battle felt insurmountable – particular given the recent passage of McCain-Feingold bill in 2002. Lessig – while still believing in the need for structural reforms – knew that better and more meaningful change was still possible if one leveraged new technologies to achieve greater participation and transparency.

One of his most recent updates demonstrates how devastatingly successful his small and nascent efforts have been. Don’t think that other congresspeople aren’t taking note.

This week, Change Congress scored a major victory against U.S. Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) after he fell victim to what I call “Good Souls Corruption” — good people trapped in a broken campaign-finance system they refuse to fix.

Ben Nelson probably hates us right now — or at least me. But that’s OK, it was worth it. Here’s what happened.

Nelson has received over $2 million from health and insurance interests who oppose President Obama’s public health insurance option. Those companies fear competition. 71% of rural voters support it.

Who did Nelson side with? You guessed it — in May, he sided with the insurance interests against the citizens of Nebraska, calling the public option a “deal breaker.”

So Change Congress launched $10,000 of online ads, letting Nebraska voters know about Nelson’s special-interest money. We also sent 3,000 direct-mail pieces to Democratic donors throughout the state. This generated state and national news stories for over a week (and apparently freaked Nelson out).

After an intense 11-day battle with Nelson, he’s now publicly “open” to the public option — and yesterday, he made more news by saying he won’t join a filibuster of Obama’s plan. One of our local supporters even got a personal phone call from the Senator yesterday, during which Nelson tried to explain away his special-interest contributions!

This campaign is a model for our ongoing anti-corruption work. But to replicate this success, I need your help. Can you please consider chipping in to help us take our show on the road?

At the above link, you can give once or become a monthly Change Congress supporter, which is certainly appreciated.

Ben Nelson was actually the second in our “Good Souls Corruption” campaign. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) was the first — we successfully called him out for siding with special-interest contributors and made him react as well.

As Mother Jones nicely put it:

“Maybe the reason members of Congress are responding so defensively is that CC is striking a little too close to home. Apparently members of Congress are shocked by the nerve-the nerve!-of people who tell them that taking huge amounts of money from the industries they’re in charge of regulating reeks of corruption.”

Exactly right. And we can’t stop in Nebraska.

Change Congress has really hit its stride, but shaming politicians for participating in a corrupt system isn’t cheap. We’re thankful to those who trusted us with their hard-earned dollars in the beginning. But we really need your help now to continue this model around the country.

On the donate page, we ask you to include any suggestions you have for politicians we should consider targeting next. Please include any links to stories that may be relevant.

Below is a timeline of our recent campaign. I hope you enjoy — and please help us continue this work.

A democracy is a terrible thing to waste. Yet that is precisely what money in Washington is doing — wasting this democracy. Together, we can take democracy back.

Thanks for your support,
Lawrence Lessig

Indeed, Lessig’s work mirrors the efforts of ForestEthics Taylor and I chronicled in our piece on neo-progressivism. Better still Lessig’s work hits a lot of neo-progressive buttons. It:

1. Tackles an issue (reforming congress and dealing with influence peddling and lobbying) that is deadlocked and going nowhere

2. The conversation hasn”t been possible not because alternatives to the status quo are considered taboo, but because they are not seen as feasible, or politically possible.

3. It is an issue where there are real divisions within both the left or right. On the right large corporations are not keen on reform as their money buys them influence. This is less true on the left, but nonetheless certain interest groups – such as the unions – are adept at leveraging the current system to gain disproportionate influence, they might not all be in favour of Lessig’s reforms. However libertarian right wingers and progressive left wingers in the United States would both like the system to be reformed.

4. Debates which unite odd factions from within the left and right – see above.

5. This is also an area where individual freedom is curtailed – indeed, individuals and there influence are downplayed within the system and collective interests – corporate, labour and other interest groups, are favoured.

6. And finally, it is an issue where the impact on the public has always been significant.

Mostly however, what impresses me is that Lessige is

a) trying to find ways to inject into the behaviour of congress the values of traditional progressives of the late 19th and early 20th century – equality of opportunity, meritocracy, and transparency


b) is adopting the 21st century approach and philosophy those early progressive embraced but their mid-20th century successors ultimately abandoned – working outside of the state, self-organization through the internet, leveraging micro-donation, self-publishing and using sunlight to shame people into action.

I’m looking forward to seeing how far Lessig can go.

Real Renewal – Creating a post-boomer Liberal Party

Taylor Owen and I published an op-ed entitled “Real Renewal” in today’s Toronto Star. You can comment on the piece here.



How about real Liberal renewal?

Nov 20, 2008 04:30 AM

David Eaves
Taylor Owen

In the weeks since one of its worst ever electoral performances, the conversation within the Liberal Party of Canada has rightly turned to renewal. To date, the establishment consensus suggests two options: shift right and recapture the ideological “centre,” or unite the left and merge the votes of the Greens, NDP and Liberals.

Neither choice, however, represents renewal. Both are simply electoral tactics focused on the next election. Neither necessitates a rethinking of first principles, nor encourages reflection on how liberalism, and its agenda, must evolve to create a 21st century vision that will speak to Canadians.

Consequentially, both approaches are likely to alienate a new generation of activists, thinkers and policy-makers whose new ideas and energy are essential to transcending the country’s staid political debates.

Take for example our friends and colleagues. Confronted with parties whose politics, policies and priorities are perceived as out of touch and ineffective, many have simply opted out of organized politics. But many are deeply engaged. They start or work at non-governmental organizations, volunteer internationally, create social enterprises or advocate outside of organized politics. Among our peers, the progressive spirit is strong, but progressive politics is not.

To progressives searching for a political home a united left offers few new opportunities.

While acknowledging the left was instrumental in creating many of the social programs Canadians have come to trust – many of today’s emerging progressives see a left that is often loath to reform or rethink them in the face of globalization, the telecommunication revolution, and a changing citizenry. In the last election voters faced an ideological paradox. The more left the advocates, the more entrenched they were against innovation and reform, even when such reforms would serve progressive values.

Seen this way, the NDP’s vision is in many ways a conservative one – a vision of Canada locked in the 1960s or worse, the 1930s. This conservatism of the left – even if found under one tent – will not inspire forward looking progressives, or Canadians in general.

Nor will moving to the centre attract new people or inspire new ideas.

Centrism requires there to something inherently good in the position between two ideological poles. Rather than compromise between the conservatism of the left and the right, many of our peers want pragmatic policies and ideas based on a governing philosophy rather than political gamesmanship.

Take how Barack Obama has mobilized a new generation of progressives. He inspires not because he compromises between the left and right, but because he offers pragmatic policy solutions, unrestricted by ideology. Obama’s watershed speeches – “Ebenezer Baptist Church,” “Yes We Can” and “A More Perfect Union” – are powerful because they transcend the ideological divides of the past 40 years.

How then could the Liberal party attract new people and ideas? The first step is to understand that we are on the cusp of a neo-progressive revolution.

While traditional progressives promoted their values to smooth the transition from agrarian to industrial capitalism and to spread the latter’s benefits, a neo-progressive Liberal party should seek to manage the shift from the industrial to the knowledge economy. In short, to develop a New Deal for the 21st century.

This would mean, like their progressive forbearers identifying new political axes around which a new governing coalition – drawn from both the left and right – could be built.

These emerging political axes include open versus closed systems, evidence-based policy versus ideology, meritocratic governance versus patronage, open and fair markets versus isolationism, and emergent networks versus hierarchies. It is these political distinctions, not the old left versus right, that increasingly resonate among those we talk to.

Such a shift will not be easy for the Liberal party. Transformative politics requires a painful process of introspection and a willingness to let go of past battles. The Liberal party, however, continues to treat “renewal” as a side process. For example, after Paul Martin’s 2006 defeat party insiders chose 30 issues they felt were critical, and then a select group wrote reports on each. Little technology was used, neither the membership nor the public was engaged, and almost none of the reports were released to the public.

The result: Few new people were attracted to the party, almost no rigorous debates were stimulated and Liberals were unable to articulate a new progressive agenda.

This recent history offers one critical lesson. If Liberals are serious about renewal, the process can’t just be about the tactics for winning the next election, but about making progressive politics relevant to the 21st century.

David Eaves is a fellow at the Queen’s University’s Centre of the Study of Democracy. Taylor Owen is a Trudeau Scholar at the University of Oxford.

science and neo-progressivism

Those who enjoyed mine and Taylor’s piece on neo-progressives may remember that we claimed both the original progressive and the neo-progressive movements were founded on the pursuit of a few core values:

The rise of industrial capitalism during the 19th century led to a series of tense societal changes. These included the emergence of an urban working class, increasing inequality and the new possibility of total war. In response, three generations of pragmatically driven “progressives” emerged. Opposing both the socialist left and the laissez-faire right, they championed values such as equality of opportunity, meritocracy, government transparency and empirical inquiry.

Andrew Sullivan seems to agree with science/evidence based approaches as being one of them – although the post’s title suggests he doesn’t want to credit earlier progressives with adopting science as well. Andrew’s comments spring from the fact that the science magazine Seed has endorsed Obama:

Science is a way of governing, not just something to be governed. Science offers a methodology and philosophy rooted in evidence, kept in check by persistent inquiry, and bounded by the constraints of a self-critical and rigorous method. Science is a lens through which we can and should visualize and solve complex problems, organize government and multilateral bodies, establish international alliances, inspire national pride, restore positive feelings about America around the globe, embolden democracy, and ultimately, lead the world. More than anything, what this lens offers the next administration is a limitless capacity to handle all that comes its way, no matter how complex or unanticipated.

Sen. Obama’s embrace of transparency and evidence-based decision-making, his intelligence and curiosity echo this new way of looking at the world

This is a battle the original progressives won – it is a sad statement that we are fighting it again. But we will win, again. It does help that we’ve got people like Hitchens on our side and that they are willing to remind us that the GOP really is waging a war on science. The republicans really have which left not only the neo-progressives behind, but also conservative minded progressives (yes, they exist). It’s going to be a tough, ugly, conservative rump that is left.

Bottled Water haters have it wrong

A friend of mine recently directed me to thinkwater.ca to highlight the evils of bottled water. Watching the video I couldn’t help but get frustrated. It is a classic example of progressives misunderstanding the market, and in turn misdiagnosing the problem and engaging in counterproductive strategies.

Check out the thinkwater video below:

The ad correctly argues that tap water is both more stringently regulated (and thus safer) than bottled water, as well as less expensive (pennies a litre vs. $3 a litre). As the kind man in the ad says: “You are actually paying a lot more money for something that is not as good for you.”

The ad is premised on the assumption that people are misinformed and, if they only knew the truth, they’d change their behaviour. In reality the piece completely misunderstands why people buy bottled water: while there are admittedly some people who mistakenly believe bottled water is safer than tap water, the vast majority of bottled water bought in stores is bought because it is convenient.


Consequently this and other campaigns that target the safety and cost of bottled water completely miss the point and are unlikely to impact peoples behaviour.

To better understand, let’s dissect the piece’s two arguments.

Is tap water cheaper? Absolutely, but it doesn’t come in a container you can take anywhere and then dispose of when you are done. For many people keeping track of a container is – quite frankly – a drag. They don’t want to have to keep remembering where it is and carting it around with them everywhere they go. Bottled water is simply easy. Consequently, they aren’t paying $1.50 for the water – they are paying $1.50 for the convenience of being able to drink a healthy beverage and then dispose of the container.

This accounts for why Vancouver and Toronto’s campaigns to hand out drinking containers – in effort to encourage people to drink city water – were misguided and had little to no impact. People don’t want containers – their lives are already cluttered with stuff. The perceived benefit of a owning $1 container is a lot lower then the mental cost of constantly tracking it.

Is tap water safer? Absolutely. But absolute safety is irrelevant. The real question is, is bottled water safe enough to drink? The answer to this is obviously yes (do you know anyone whose ever gotten sick drinking bottled water?). The marginal benefit of water that is imperceptibly cleaner is basically zero.

Indeed, many people who are drinking bottled water are choosing it over a soda, a slushy, or some other cocktail that truly is filled with obnoxious chemicals and far too much sugar. The health risks of a population drinking bottled water is likely a lot lower than those of a population drinking coke. In this context, raising the specter of health risks around bottled water feels both disingenuous and counter productive. More importantly, your listeners can agree with you, while simultaneously not having it impact their decision making process.

discarded bottles 2Am I defending bottled water? Definitely not. Discarded empty water bottles make up an astonishing amount of waste. However, a population that is drinking water – as opposed to soda and pop – is a good thing. More importantly, people seem to place significant value on the convenience of bottled water – devising a solution that meets this need, rather than fights it, is probably paramount.

Consequently there are a few things that could be done.

First, water bottles could be standardized – like soda cans and some beer bottles – so that they are more easily recycled. While you are at it, why not slap deposit on those bottles to encourage people to return then to be recycled.

Second, create and enforce the law that restaurants and other establishments serve tap water. Often people feel they have no choice but to buy water. Making it clear that you can order tap water would at least give people some choice.

Third, why not have the city contract out the right to bottle and sell water? This would reduce green house gas emissions (water would be bottled locally as opposed to being shipped in from who knows where) as well as place tap water on a par with brands like Evian and Dasani. The city could also set a far lower price which would reduce the cost to consumers. (Although if tap water is actually “better” you should be able to charge a premium). Better still, since most cities control their recycling programs it would be easier to ensure that the bottles were washed, recycled and used again, significantly reducing the amount of waste.

These three options feel far more likely to be effective than the current strategy – persuading people bottled water is unsafe (it clearly is safe enough to drink) and too expensive (people are obviously willing to pay for the convenience). I would be interested to hear if anyone else has additional ideas…