(Photo: This is NOT Derbyshire, no… But I guess the swimmers
look similar after a couple of minutes in the Blue Lagoon…)

In Derbyshire there is a lake that has an exceptionably blue color, giving the lake its name “Blue Lagoon” (hat tip to Simon Robinson). The color is caused by caustic chemicals in the stones at the lake. These have led to a pH level in the water of 11.3 (ammonia has 11.5pH, Bleach has 12.6pH…), with dead animals floating inside and swimming in the lake causes ‘skin and eye irritations, stomach problems, fungal infections such as thrush, other infections such as rashes’.

Allright, so the multiple choice question of the day is the following:

How in the world do you stop masses of people swimming in a beautifully blue but albeit toxic lake?

a) you put up signs saying: if you swim in this lake you’ll get skin irritations and stomach problems.

b) you dye the lake black.





b) you dye the lake black. See HERE.

But what do environmental economists learn from this? Firstly, the local government had tried possibility a) first, but to no avail. Still a large number of people came, just being attracted by the “un”natural beauty of the blue lake. So the government decided to change exactly what had been attracting the people in the first place, namely the color of the lake.

Clearly, this shows that warnings of potential health hazards do not necessarily stop people from consuming what they enjoy. This is true for also e.g. smoking or alcohol consumption. What is even more surprising is that the health problems from swimming in the lake arrive nearly immediately, and people come from far away to swim there. Thus, warnings which have proven to be unsuccessful in stopping people from swimming in the lake are likely to be similarly unsuccessful when trying to stop smokers or alcohol consumers, where negative side-effects tend to occur in the further future.

Now, what has proven to be a successful “environmental” policy was to dye the lake black, thus taking away what has initially attracted people from coming there. In terms of alcohol consumption or cigarette smoking, this would mean to worsen the taste of those products to the extent that noone wants to consume these.

But here things start to get dodgy – my guess is that most readers would find the idea of dyeing the lake black a good one, since it stops people from hurting themselves. But a similar approach applied to cigarettes or alcoholic beverages would be viewed as being absurd by most readers, no? So why is that?

Basically, if the government has no right to alter the taste of cigarettes or alcoholic beverages to the point that they are not consumed any longer, then the local government in Derbyshire had no right to dye the lake. But then again, no government would have the right to stop GM food, or require hazardous components in clothing or food components if they make the food keep longer or taste better, or the clothing look nicer.

Thus, is this simply a problem of social acceptence, culture or norms – smoking and alcohol consumption being more socially acceptable than GM food or a hazardous lake? But if that is the case, then this would mean that all our environmental attitude or policy is fully dependent on social acceptence, culture and norms. What then says that one social norm or a specific culture is better than another and should be regulated accordingly? Or should we not simply allow those that want to swim in a toxic lake to swim in that lake, but inform them upfront of the potential hazards? Similarly with smoking and alcohol consumption, is informing consumers enough or should we actually go all the way and believe that consumers do not know what is best for them and consequently need to restrict their behavior?

UPDATE: Sources tell me that this is one the latest imagines from the Blue Lagoon:

So there is actually a negative externality from dyeing the water black: When the water was blue, it was possible to see THEM floating up to you. Now, with the water having been dyed black, anyone that goes into the water will turn out to be an easy prey, since: They’re WAITING for YOU… just BENEATH THE SURFACE! Care for another swim?