24 May 2008

Feeling a Need

...to do something does not mean that you should. Over at Grist, a questioner asks:
We are doing a NW Earth Institute discussion course on sustainability here at work, and someone asked, "Is it necessary for us to conserve water here in Portland despite seeming abundance and replenishment? If so, why?" My response was not as strong or compelling as I would like. Can you help?
The answer from Umbra is well meaning ("we should save every precious resource") but misplaced, IMO. (She also mixed up her facts in framing the problem; see "First" just below.) Here's my comment:
First, I want to point out an inconsistency: "Here in North America, we have 7 percent of the world's population and 15 percent of the world's fresh water, but we are doing a great job wasting this bounty; within the next 10 years, water shortages are expected in 36 U.S. states."

You are including Canada (LOTS of water) with the US (not nearly as much per capita esp. when you consider population densities...) -- so the problems with water management are much bigger than "15 percent" implies.

Second, I think that the questioner's dilemma reflects an important fact -- where water is abundant, water management is not so important BUT we all want to feel like we are doing everything we can for the environment.

I think that this thinking is misplaced. Despite all the excellent reasons offered about why people in Portland should conserve water, the abundance of water means that conservation is not so important -- relative to OTHER issues (e.g., car congestion, forests, population growth, etc.)

The reason that people in the SW are more aware of water issues is that water is far more important in the SW relative to minor issues (how do I get enough sunshine :)

So, my answer would be to go find a real problem.

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