Dearest Umbra,

How can I convince friends to conserve water? I write a column for my church newsletter to encourage responsible environmental practices by church members. One member said recently that he doesn’t see any need to conserve water personally; given that our area has plenty of water, why should he turn off the tap when he brushes his teeth? I’m not sure. Our local environmental organization’s slogan is, “If we all do a little, we all do a lot,” and one of the mantras of environmentalists has been, “Think globally, act locally.” In this case, is there an argument that it’s also a waste of energy to deal with excess water? Or that the more water we use, the more agricultural pesticides do unwanted damage, or the faster the water supply for others is depleted?

Thank you,

Kansas City, Mo.

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Dearest Terry,

Mr. Toothbrush Man has a point. There’s plenty of water in his area, by gum, and his government will protect his “right” to use as much of it as he wants — just as his government will protect his “right” to use petroleum. So if he only wishes to think of his own needs, there’s no reason to conserve. But you’ve got a point, too: We local yokels need to be thinking globally, and we each need to do our part.

The brush-off.

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Maybe you could include this little tidbit in your next newsletter: Water is widely seen as the petroleum of the new millennium, the next scarce resource over which wars will be fought. Read the news; water issues are covered almost daily. Very little of our planet’s water was drinkable in the first place, and human habits are reducing the available amount daily. Population is expanding, water consumption is on the rise, pollutants and development are shrinking the pool of potable water, changing weather patterns are affecting water supplies (and vice-versa), people are moving into arid climates and clamoring for swimming pools, aquaculture is salinating drinking supplies … You get the picture. All of these human demands are outstripping supplies and upsetting the ecological balance, locally and globally.

If Kansas City is anything like most of the rest of the country, its water source is shared by other municipalities, and all the available water is either claimed by current users or is being ogled by other thirsty cities. For specific information on your water sources, contact your utility, which will doubtless assure you that the water supply is adequate and safe for generations, but should also be able to give you locally appropriate reasons to conserve. Let your congregation members know about the source of their water and who they share it with.

You might also be able to sway Toothbrush Guy and the rest of your congregation by recasting your environmental message as a campaign for wise consumption — or, to steal someone else’s idea, compassionate consumption. As a member of a church (and one with some control over the press!), you have a great opportunity to promote this notion. We shouldn’t conserve water based on our personal impression of whether a sufficient amount of rain is falling, but rather based on compassion for the folks downstream, their children, and the critters wandering around in the woods. Turning off the tap while brushing is a small gesture towards our future — a way to pour a few drops back in the pond.


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