Science-- there's something for everyone

Friday, March 7, 2014

Bad news about water usage

An average person could fulfill all her indoor water needs (drinking, food preparation, sanitation and hygiene) with about thirteen gallons per day. In the U.S., we don’t believe in being average however. In 2005, we each used about 98 gallons per day. As climate change reworks the planetary precipitation levels, that could prove to be a big problem. Unfortunately, most people have little idea of how to solve that problem.

Shahzeen Attari from Indiana University asked 1000 people two questions in random order: What’s the most effective thing you can do to reduce your own water consumption; and what’s the most effective thing other Americans can do.

The responses were divided into two categories: curtailment (take shorter showers, eat less meat) or efficiency (switch to water-saving appliances). Most people chose curtailment options for themselves and others by a seven to one ratio. Yet, the single most effective thing a person can do to conserve water is to retrofit an older toilet. Sure, turning the water off while you brush your teeth is good, but replacing an aged clothes washing machine with a newer, much more efficient model would make a much bigger difference.

People were also terrible at estimating how much water different activities used, which no doubt plays into their inability to make the smartest conservation choices. Of course, it’s also true that, while you might save money in the long run, changing out your appliances can be pretty expensive. Meanwhile, taking shorter showers doesn’t cost anything.

Attari, S. (2014). Perceptions of water use Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1316402111.