By Joannah Otis, for No Water No Life
Joannah is a sophomore at Georgetown University studying Environmental Studies, Art History and Psychology. She is a member of the University’s Environmental Club and enjoys spending her free time horseback riding through the Raritan River Basin in New Jersey. Joannah is an NWNL intern for the fall semester of 2017.
As catastrophic weather events hit with increasing ferocity and drought expands its domain across the United States, it falls upon the shoulders of the younger generations just as much as the older ones to change their habits and stay abreast of environmental concerns for the safety of their future planet. A survey conducted by No Water No Life (NWNL) in early 2016 has revealed a startling unawareness amongst teenagers of environmental issues and of the steps being taken to address them. Although the data was largely collected from adults over 50 years of age, the responses of younger participants shed an interesting and somewhat concerning light on how the up-and-coming consumer thinks of the environment.
Severe storm at sunset, Missouri River Basin, Nebraska. (2017)
Compared to 4.7% of the overall survey takers, 28% of the under-18-year-olds admitted to wasteful water use. This was the highest percentage recorded amongst the four age groups surveyed for wasteful consumption. Among younger participants, 71% also believed that they would have enough water even in times of drought. This is compared to the overall 46% who answered they would have sufficient water supplies.
However, it is encouraging and significant that over 80% of the teenagers believed they would use less water if they were charged for it. In fact, an overwhelming number of survey participants from all age groups reported that taxing water use, or creating incentives for less water consumption, would be the ideal way to address current or imminent water shortages.
A public water source in the Ganges River Basin, India. (2017)
The trouble comes with how to enact such taxes. In late August 2017, California began consideration of a tax on tap water in light of its recent six year drought. The intent of this tax was to encourage moderation and to fund the cleanup of contaminated groundwater. Some countered that water is a human right and questioned whether the money would in fact be directed to improvements. Such diverse views complicate the enactment of solutions to issues agreed upon by majorities, like those in the survey.1
Sign at a peach orchard, California Drought Expedition. (2016)
In an age where social media and smartphones have replaced hard-copy newspapers, it is not a surprise that only 40% of under-18-year-olds have read about water issues, or even considered doing so. Compared to the 81% of over-50-year-olds who have stayed abreast of water concerns through reading, this is an unsettlingly small percentage of informed young people. Granted, some in this age group may be too young to have any interest in reading about current events. It is also possible that they do not have access to newspapers in light of the fact that the Pew Research Center has recorded a 9% decline in weekday newspaper circulation since just last year.2 These explanations in themselves are unsettling.
Art & Helen Tanderup, active protesters of the Keystone XL pipeline, Missouri River Basin, Nebraska. (2017)
One would hope that this younger generation, which could make or break the severity of global warming and other concerns, would have more awareness or interest in the environment. The survey revealed that almost 70% of the under-18-year-olds were unaware of changes in their communities concerning water use.
The data from the NWNL survey points to an undeniable need to educate our youth about water usage; environmental issues; and what they can do to help. Their lack of awareness about the impact of human consumption on the planet can be attributed to a simple ignorance of the facts, rather than an unwillingness to learn. Therefore, it is imperative that environmental education be more heavily emphasized in elementary and middle schools. Teaching the next generation of homeowners, voters, and lobbyists the importance of respecting our planet is of utmost importance if we expect positives changes to emerge from a world in flux.
All photos © Alison M. Jones.