Sometimes you can't see the ocean on account of the salt. Sustainability: the environmental buzzword for the 21st century, and Bermuda's Government is determined to prove that this time, they aren't simply paying lip service.

To many, the planned Tynes Bay reverse osmosis facility appears to be a viable solution to the problem of water shortages. This plant will convert saltwater to drinkable freshwater by compressing it through a semi-permeable membrane, which traps the salt while allowing the fresh water to pass through.

But we need to look more closely at what it being proposed.

It is difficult to believe that anyone could stand on one of the South Shore beaches, peer across the ocean stretching to the horizon and see it as a yet-untapped resevoir. Are we about to undermine a vast and largely unexplored ecosystem?

The planned development of the Tynes Bay desalination facility suggets that the pragmatic resource potential of the ocean outweighs any other inherent value. If this comes as a shock, it shouldn't. The new reverse osmosis plant will represent yet another symptom of the plague of consumerism that now pervades our island.

Each day, 600,000 gallons of water will be removed from the ocean to supply the country's demand. Furthermore, the facility will have the capacity to expand production to 1.2 million gallons per day.

The notion that we can rely on the ocean to subsidise our water production is based on a deeply flawed premise that these natural resources are unlimited and renewable. Rather than solve the problem of water shortage, the desalination plant will only exacerbate the underlying cultural problem - rampant consumerism - that is causing it.

The Department of Works and Engineering has been reluctant to detail the process to be used in the new facility. Typically, approximately half of the intake of seawater becomes freshwater, while the remaining salt-concentrate by-product is recycled back into the ocean. As a result, the run-off contains approximately twice the salt of natural seawater. Common sense and a moment of reflection should tell us that such a system cannot possibly be sustainable.

The sad fact is, we've lost touch with nature and we don't realise that the consequences of these choices will stay with us in the long term. We are essentially polluting our oceans with their own by-product. Increases in the salt concentration could turn our underwater nirvana into the new Dead Sea.

While it may be entertaining for locals to watch our summer tourists bobbing about like sunburned beach-balls on our newly-buoyant waters, corals and other marine life will not be able to withstand the toxic levels of salt. The delicate ecosystems built on this foundation will collapse - taking our tourism industry with them.

Environmental catastrophe

If this doomsday prophecy seems too difficult to bear, one tiny consolation is that it probably won't happen in our lifetimes. But a generation as yet unborn might never know what it's like to snorkel at Church Bay or watch humpback whales frolic on a chilly March morning. As long as we continue to perceive nature as a standing resource for our exploitation, environmental catastrophe is inevitable.

So, what can we do? The best way to reduce our dependence on the desalination plant is to use alternate methods of water production, and there are plenty available to us.

Dehumidifiers that collect the water extracted from the air are readily available on the island, and can collect 6 to 10 gallons of drinkable water at a time, while also cutting home cooling costs.

National water catches island-wide have not been adequately maintained so the water collected is no longer fit to drink. Perhaps if the Government had invested some of the $10 million earmarked for the desalination plant to restore these catches, Bermuda wouldn't need the plant. The prisons' labour force could serve the island by working on these catches and also benefit from training in water treatment.

Why not look at a progressive way of charging for excess water consusmption? We meter our electricity consumption, so why not our water? We could figure out reasonable montly averages and those consumers who use more than most would have to pay. Few things curb wastefulness quicker than the threat of a financial penalty.

Government could implement a luxury tax on high water-consumption products, such as swimming pools, in order to re-establish the boundaries of luxury and necessity. A positive reinforcement system, rewarding companies and establishments that have water-conservation practices in place, is another option.

Maybe putting a price tag on our consumer-driven lifestyles could be the first step in motivating us to rethink how we perceive the natural world.

We shouldn't blame ourselves for losing sight of the ocean on account of the water, but we do have to hold ourselves accountable for the consequences of the choices we make today. It seems we need to choose between short-term fixes and more difficult, sutainable solutions.

What's your choice?