A reader writes:
The idea that individual actions, like recycling, are not sufficient to solve our environmental problems is neither new nor revelatory. I recall that President Obama has been quoted as saying he wanted to tell Brian Williams that we can't solve our problems by changing light bulbs. J. Baird Callicott, in his book Beyond the Land Ethic, writes of the moment he realized that living an extremely eco-friendly lifestyle wasn't enough - and this was in the 70s or 80s.
So, yes, we have to look "up stream" at how things are produced. I do not agree, however, that no one is doing this. Makower writes: "Ecolabels, activist watchdogs, and governmental regulatory schemes can't tell us. They focus on what is in the product, but not on the upstream activities involved in producing it." This isn't quite true, while many labels and government programs do not look at production, Germany's recycling program for major household appliances is clearly directed at the production, and not just the disposal, of these items. Additionally, the concept of virtual water relates to the amount of water used in the production of a given consumer good, for example, a one liter bottle of water uses three liters of water in production. Its not that no one is looking up stream, its just that the popular eco-media hasn't caught up.