As California trudges through its most painful drought in history, many residents of the state have shown reluctance in contributing to the water conservation effort. These individuals have resisted in favor of continuing to water their lawns and maintain picturesque yards. And though it is important to understand that simply taking shorter showers will not solve the problem, the consequences for water overconsumption are graver than ever. Water wasters are taxed for their behaviors not only via mandated fines, but also by unfair pressure from social media.
In droughts of the past, a subconscious awareness of saving water would be enough. But this time, Californians now have bigger problems to face: The state is running out of water, and it’s running out fast. In fact, according to Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist whose research was featured in a viral Newsweek article, California only has a year’s worth of water left — meaning we need to find a feasible solution now. Casual household solutions, like shorter showers, unfortunately, are too insignificant to be frontrunners in the race to find fixes to the problem.
Today, environmental activists have found a new platform to express their disapproval: Twitter. With its versatile hashtag, Twitter proves itself the perfect medium to draw attention to a problem of this nature. Not only can users upload pictures, but they can also voice their own opinions in short, 140-character blurbs. And this is exactly what the people have done as their part in solving California’s drought.
The concept of #droughtshaming first took the state by storm in May of this year and has proven to be an extremely popular method to embarrass neighbors, celebrities, local authorities and institutions for their extravagant water consumption. Users often upload pictures of wasteful water situations, caption them with locations of these crimes and tag it accordingly before posting their tweets for the world to see.
This trend does not actually serve any good to the community at large. Once the picture is posted, viewers can only get a good laugh out of the situation. There is no follow-up action after the fact, nor is there any sort of real activism associated with this hashtag. Furthermore, the most common targets of the trend are celebrities or authorities, individuals who have little chance of actually being shamed into water conservation, even if they see their own properties being attacked in the trend. As a social justice platform, Twitter falls short in this instance.
The hashtag has also backfired in the state, drawing attention to the class struggle in certain metropolitan areas. As a side effect of this blame game, income disparities have become more conspicuous. Earlier this year, Gov. Jerry Brown made drastic moves to reduce statewide water consumption by 25 percent of the 2013 statistics, with fines for those who exceeded the limits. In the city of Los Angeles, these fines have made all the difference, visibly. Lower-income neighborhoods who do not wish to pay larger bills let their yards brown, while notoriously high-income neighborhoods continue watering their lawns to maintain the picturesque look of their property. The hashtag only serves as a harsh reminder of the division in the area, rather than creating unity to boost water conservation efforts.
While notable communities such as Beverly Hills have started to crack down on their residents for excessive water consumption, the progress is too slow to warrant the continuation of the #droughtshaming fad. Fines might be a good idea, but if we want any serious results out of Southern California, the region needs more action.
Perhaps the next logical step is in the hands of the local city councils — punishments beyond the water company fines. Cutting off water to certain wasteful areas or households, however harsh it might sound, may be what it will take to reduce our water footprint.