My extreme-recycling, hybrid-driving, local-produce buying girlfriend keeps scolding me for wasting water when I leave the tap water running or wait for the shower to warm up. She says I’m ruining the environment and wasting precious water. I wanted to research the veracity of these statements, but most people I ask seem to have some sort of agenda. What does economics have to say about this? Are there any concrete numbers? Am I really ruining the environment?
I’m afraid your girlfriend is incredibly right on both counts: You are ruining the environment AND you’re wasting water. However, your girlfriend is the bigger enemy of the environment: There is a difference between being A) Someone who cares for and is saving the environment and B) just following certain norms that allow you to stop thinking but actually do more harm than good. The person who tells you not to keep your tap water running, or to skip a shower, or even to be parsimonious with your lavatory flushing, and who is then buying produce from their local farmers, falls squarely under B.
40% of water usage in the United States is for farmers, another 40% is for power generation, while only 8% is for household consumption. Actually, only 5% is for ‘indoor’ household consumption.
Interestingly, of the water you use in your house, about 75% goes back in the system and is then reutilized. The reutilization rate is 98% with power generation, but only 40% for farmers.
In other words, you running your water makes a miniscule difference in the scope of things. On the other hand, your patronizing of local farmer produce keeps them farming, which does much more harm for the environment. If you want to go green, it’s good to start by using your brain rather than social convention, and tell your girlfriend you’ll turn the tap off once she starts buying global.