Plastic cones, magic straws, Katie Couric, and wishful thinking

Waterblogged.info recently discussed the Watercone®, a new product out of Germany—essentially a low-tech personal solar desalination unit that its creators see as a partial solution to the lack of potable water in many parts of the globe. The mini-still condenses freshwater evaporated by the sun from saltwater, sort of like a mini-water cycle. (The link is to what appears to be a high-school level science site that half-heartedly—and perhaps half-wittedly—attempts to entice those easily distracted teens with talking know-it-all drops of water. Nonetheless, it’s generally a fantastic resource for anyone interested and will liven up your party patter with hip hydrological terms like acquifer, sublimation, and streamflow.)Using a LifeStraw The Watercone is desalination at its most basic, and could no doubt limit the suffering of some portion of the more than one billion people with little or extremely limited access to clean drinking water.

Recently, one of our crackerjack research fellows came upon the Lifestraw®, a simple device that—its inventors claim—will allow people to drink directly from contaminated water with no fear of disease. Really. Before the water reaches their mouths, it will pass through an iodine and carbon filtration system that will kill any disease bearing organisms. Says Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen, the CEO of the eponymous Europe-based corporation that is selling the little sucker:

Mobilising LifeStraw® offers relief from waterborne diseases of major public concern such as typhoid, cholera, dysentery and diarrhoea. As a personal and mobile water purification tool, LifeStraw® is designed to turn most of the surface water into drinking water, thus providing access to safe water wherever you are.

The $3 wonder straw has even received the attention and blessings of Katie Couric! In a paean to the LifeStraw—and to the idea of simplicity itself—she notes that the Lifestraw has been called the Best Invention of the Year, the Invention of the Century, and the (sic) Europe’s Best Invention. Forbes Magazine, she notes, calls it one of the Ten Things That Will Change The Way We Live.

Everyone calm down. That little invention will definitely improve the lives of those lucky enough to receive one, but it is not going to change the way we live—whatever that’s supposed to mean—and it’s not going to significantly alter the fact that 50% of the world’s population has little or no access to clean water. Couric swallows, no pun intended, the whole thing and adds her own touching appeal:

That which we search for may already be right under our noses, in our pockets, or among our children’s toys. As we go about trying to discover “the next big thing” we should remember to first simply look around us before looking at the stars or into a microscope.

That from one of America’s highest paid “journalists.” Look, honey, I found peace in the Middle East shoved way back in our bedroom closet! The editorial staff of Waterblogged.info has no ax to grind with the well-groomed Couric, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that her blog entry extolling the virtues of the Lifestraw is about as concise a summation of what’s-wrong-with-us-all that you’re going to find: therein glamor takes the place of substance; hyperbole and platitudes substitute for thinking; gadget-fetish stands in for problem solving; and an unctuous condescension poses as real humanitarian concern—just for starters.

Waterblogged.info apologizes for singling out Ms. Couric, who is only doing her job. She was after all hired by CBS to pose as a reporter and pander to a vast audience that has a collective aversion to facing up to grim reality, and that looks to individualistic quick-fix solutions to problems that can only be addressed by long-term, thoughtful, and communal efforts. (Couric was unavailable for comment, despite our repeated attempts to reach her.)

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