Germany's Eco-Trap: Is Environmentalism Really Working?

Part 3: The Problem with Water Conservation

Rapeseed for biofuels and wind generators for clean electricity -- against a backdrop of a coal-fired power station in Germany. Zoom
DPA

Rapeseed for biofuels and wind generators for clean electricity -- against a backdrop of a coal-fired power station in Germany.

The Germans are obsessed with saving water. You won't find many countries north of the Sahara that are as water-conscious as Germany. They save water while washing dishes (a modern dishwashing machine uses only six liters per cycle), while going to the toilet (many toilets have a setting that allows only a brief flush), and even when washing their cars.

The Environment Ministry recommends that people turn off the tap while they're brushing their teeth. Saving water, the ministry's web page strongly hints, helps poor countries to irrigate their paddy fields. EU authorities are considering setting water flow-through limits in shower heads.

Yet Germany is one of the world's most water-rich countries -- it could theoretically consume five times more water than it does now. Furthermore, it's impossible to transport tap water over thousands of kilometers, so German thrift don't help Vietnamese rice farmers on bit.

And water conservation in Germany can be harmful -- particularly when it comes to the sewage systems beneath German cities. The lack of waste water flowing through the canalization means that fat, faeces and discarded food aren't getting flushed out enough, and are corroding the walls. To compensate, utilities are forced to pump hundreds of thousands of liters of fresh water through the system to keep it operable.

The result, not surprisingly, are higher water bills. And consumers respond to those higher bills by saving even more water. Paradoxically, the vicious cycle can only be broken if consumer start using more water.

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