I’m not sure when exactly it hit me. It may have been as I was brushing my teeth and all of a sudden realized that I had left the water on while brushing. I know better. My neighbor, Linda, whose pool happened to be the site of my first swim, also taught me, somewhere in the same timeframe, the importance of turning off the faucet while you brush in draught prone California.
The thing is, it’s so easy not to. It’s so easy to leave the water running while I brush my teeth. If, instead, I were walking 5 miles back from the river carrying water in a jug on my head, I’m guessing I would think twice about leaving the tap running. (If I were carrying water in a jug, there probably wouldn’t be a tap to leave running, but you get my point.)
Sometimes I don’t realize things, though, until I’m forced into them. One such incident happened only a few weeks back on a trip down to Mexico. As in many places on the planet, water is becoming scarce in this little community not too far south of San Diego. So, in order to deal with the somewhat dry well, the water system is turned off on the weekends. I, of course, did not get the memo that this would be happening. So, rather than preparing or planning ahead, I was caught unaware when all of a sudden the twist of the faucet brought no results.
Luckily, I happened to have had plenty of bottled water that I had planned on using for drinking purposes only. It soon became bathing water as well. When you find yourself in the position of bathing from a 1 gallon jug, it suddenly becomes apparent how little water you actually need in order to get clean, but how much water you actually use when cleaning via a shower.
It’s just so easy to waste. It’s not that I’m trying to use up the planet’s resources. But I’ve become so disconnected from the fact that I am doing so, most of the time I do not even realize it.
I’m not sure how much energy it uses to leave the lights on when I’m not in a room, but I can tell you I do it on a daily basis. What about running the dishwasher if it’s not full? Or flushing the toilet after every visit? (I realize, I may have lost you on that one due to the gross factor, but think about it. Most of the time what goes into the toilet is actually fairly un-smelly and relatively harmless. What about just flushing every other time? Or the old saying, “If it’s yellow that’s mellow, but if it’s brown flush it down.” At least, if nothing else, put a brick in the tank so that less water is used for the unnecessary flushing.)
I wonder if I’d be more careful if it actually cost me something to use these resources. If I had to travel by foot or by bike that would significantly alter my travel patterns that are now so dominated by car or by airplane. If I had to make my own clothing I’d probably not ‘need’ so many different pieces of it. Growing food would be an entirely different experience than simply calling ahead so that it’s ready when I arrive to pick it up.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of the modern convenience. Though I have lived a number of times with no dish washer and have managed (I did make the mistake as a child visiting my grandmother of asking her, “Mama, how do you do the dishes if you have no dishwasher?” I found out.) just fine, I have never lived without a washing machine and would really not have a clue about how to actually get my clothes clean by hand. I don’t think there even is any fresh water within a decent walking distance from my house, if I were to have to carry it in a jug. Though I was quite adept at sewing when I took it as a class in junior high there is a reason I have not continued to wear my own creations.
No, it’s not the modern convenience’s fault, really. But somehow on the way to the timesaving features, the resource gulping ones were conveniently ignored. Sure, my leaving the tap water running while brushing my teeth is hardly on the level of corporations depleting a community’s aquifers for their own purposes. But the thing is, turning off the tap is something that I can actually do, and do fairly easily. As long as, that is, I am paying attention. It’s not a trial for me to wait to run the dishwasher until it’s full. I just have to notice. I can turn off the light when I leave a room, if I remember.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be one or the other—convenience or conserving. But the ease of waste demands that I not sleepwalk through my consumption while the world crumbles. What is required of me is to wake up.