Chasing Environmental Change

By Joannah Otis, for No Water No Life

Joannah is a Georgetown University sophomore studying Environmental Studies, Art History and Psychology. A member of the university’s Environmental Club, she enjoys spending her free time in N.J.’s Raritan River Basin, a NWNL case study watershed.  Joannah is a NWNL Researcher for Fall 2017.  Below is Part II of her analysis of our 2016 NWNL Survey.  Part I can be found here: A Green Education for the Younger Generation.

 

From the mid-to-late 1900’s, climate change and water-use issues began to appear more and more consistently in the popular media.  Yet, based on results of a 2016 NWNL Survey, working-age adults between the ages of 31 and 50 are surprisingly unaware of environmental disruptions in their own communities, even though the concept of climate change gained traction during the formative years of their lives. In 1975, the term “global warming” was introduced by American scientist Wallace Broecker. By 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established to assess the effects and dangers of emissions, water use, and pollution. Two years later, this panel released its initial Report detailing how greenhouse-gas emissions lead to increased average temperatures. Later IPCC Reports state that it is 95% likely that humans are causing global warming.

 

Jones_140316_CA_0484Refineries on the northern extension of the San Francisco Bay, California (2014)

 

Shortly thereafter, Al Gore’s 1992 book Earth in the Balance further exposed the general public to the threats human behavior was placing on biodiversity, water, soil and climate. He proposed a “Global Marshall Plan,” intended to eradicate poverty, protect the environment, and promote sustainable development through an Eco-Social Market Economy.1 The “Climategate” affair of 2009 stirred further public debate concerning wasteful human practices when hackers released some e-mails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit.2  In spite of these decades of publicity on climate change and human effects on the planet, wasteful water use continues today.

Those between 31 to 50 however have been exposed to environmentally-friendly practices starting at a young age.  So perhaps that’s why they as a group are more likely to be frugal water users. The NWNL Survey revealed that nobody polled in this age group considered themselves wasteful with water. In fact, 30% claimed to be frugal water consumers vesus only 14% of the 18-30 year-old respondents. It is also notable that 28% of the youngest group in the survey, the under-18-year-olds, admitted to being wasteful. [See Part I of this Survey Analysis on the need for under-18-year-olds to become more aware of environmental issues, the need to reduce consumption, and their carbon footprints.]  Those in the over 50-year-old bracket were the least willing to alter their wasteful water practices. This information is reconcilable with the fact that the older generation did not grow up with encouragements to be environmentally friendly and thus are hesitant to alter their habits.

 

Jones_111026_LA_0547Clay water jug being filled from wall pipe, Atchafalaya Basin, Louisiana (2011)

 

At the same time, about 79% of those in the 31-50 age range never or infrequently recycle water. This survey response is somewhat tilted, given that the majority of people surveyed did not come from drought-afflicted areas. In states like California where water shortages are a perpetual part of everyday life, water recycling has become much more popular. Starting in 2015, the California Water Environment Association and other municipal water groups produced recycled water from community waste treatment plants  for free. Although not all recycled water is suitable for drinking, all recycled water can be used for landscaping and agricultural purposes.3  Going further, some extremely arid California communities, including San Diego, began recycling “black water,” which is processed from sewage that includes human waste, into drinking water beginning in 2011.4  (Once overcoming “the mental yuck factor,” those that drink this recycled water, including NWNL Director Alison Jones, say it’s delicious).   Such government water-recycling projects make it much easier for people to be more responsible water users.

 

Jones_140322_CA_3870Sign for non-potable reclaimed water, San Joaquin River Valley, California (2014)

 

While it is concerning that more than half  (58%) of 31-50 year-olds are unsure of what water changes are being pursued in their community, it is encouraging that a large percentage of them are individually willing to make water use changes. Of those surveyed in this age group, 73% were open to buying fewer “high-water-content” items. These items include leather, paper, cotton clothing and merchandise from drought-ridden areas. For example, producing just one pair of jeans takes about 1,800 gallons of water,5 while one sheet of paper demands almost three gallons.6

NWNL hopes more will be done to encourage these working-age adults, who say they are willing to put water-saving techniques into practice, to learn more about climate-change impacts on their community. A renewed emphasis on presenting reliable, factual information in the news and in social media will be important in promoting effective approaches to responsible water consumption practices.   

 

All photos © Alison M. Jones.

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