One of the reasons I’m more optimistic than many about our ability in the western United States to cope with our looming water shortages is the evidence of our ability, when we’re really faced with shortage, to adapt to using far less. (That was the core argument behind my piece last year for Stanford’s Lane Center.) There was a nice piece by Michelle Barker in the Globe and Mail last week that illustrates what I’m talking about. Faced with a broken water system in her home, Barker quickly learned to do with a lot less:
People in Canada do not sing the praises of indoor plumbing anywhere near as loudly and fervently as they should. Living without it all of a sudden is a little like breaking your collarbone – you know in theory that the bone is important, but you don’t understand how much you rely on it for almost every physical movement until you can’t use it any more.
Try living without running water, even for just one day. Forget your morning shower. Forget flushing your toilet, brushing your teeth, making coffee, cleaning clothes or dishes. Washing your hands. Watering your plants. Rinsing your vegetables. To say nothing of drinking a glass of the stuff. You don’t realize how often you reach for that tap until it stops working.
Barker’s piece is a plea to think about such issues before the shortage hits:
We waste water. We pollute it. Climate change is already having an effect on how much water we will have access to in the future. And Canada is a water-rich country. Many other places in the world are already suffering what we cannot yet envision.
Everyone knows this. We’ve all heard it a thousand times. Yet still we water our lawns and wash our cars obsessively. You cannot appreciate the gift of running water until you experience what your life is like without it.
It would be nice if we gave up on our lawns and car washing before the balloon goes up. But I’m confident that when we’re faced with the alternatives, we’ll be willing to give them up when we have to.