Several years ago my family decided that sustainability should begin with us. Thus we started reducing our household water, waste, and energy consumption. The transformation was not immediate despite our commitment. Although the people who lived around us seemed equally concerned about environmental issues, I remember nervously awaiting my neighbors’ reactions when we removed our front lawn. In the few years since, my drought tolerant front garden is among several in my area. The traditional lawn, however, is still prevalent in the neighborhood; so we can do much more as a community.
On April 1st, Governor Brown issued an executive order mandating a 25% reduction, from 2013 levels, in California’s water consumption. A frenzy of news reports and opinions followed the Governor’s announcement, accompanied by many eye-opening images showing the record lows of our lake and snowpack levels, the depletion of the Central Valley aquifer, and so much more.
Living a sustainable life sustainably is a practice that I am committed to personally and professionally. Our state’s crisis demands more rigorous conservation practices, even if it is disruptive to the way we live. In our profession of landscape architecture, water management and water distribution considerations will have greater significance in the design of spaces.
But, not everyone shares this point of view.
In the days since the Governor’s announcement, I have been surprised by people’s attitude of temporary compliance. Do people truly believe that our diminishing water supply will magically go away if the restrictions end? “Water fairies” will apparently save us.
Studies on human behavior reveal the complexity of a change in social practices. One such study, called the Consensus Project, examines sustainable consumption through multiple factors. Its findings indicate that people develop, over time, perceptions of what is “normal” for their daily routines and physical comfort and these perceptions shape behaviors. A new definition of “normal” must be reached for a change in social practice to occur. The situation we now face seems to be a defining moment for social transformation.