200 More Years of Drought, California? Time to Rethink Water Conservation Messages.


“Every drop counts!”

“Save our water. Californians don’t waste.”

“Brown is the new green… Join us in fighting the drought.”

California is one step closer to a 200-year-long mega-drought, and water conservation messaging may be contributing to the problem, instead of acting as a solution. “If carbon emissions continue to increase, NASA projects a dramatic increase in the likelihood of a mega-drought in the Southwest and Central Plains within the next 35 years,” wrote Dr. Kerk Kee, as he recently co-authored a study from Chapman University that analyzed the effect of current water conservation messages in the state of California. Surprisingly, the Chapman study concluded that citizens are less likely to make an effort to conserve water after being exposed to the current conservation messages. So what’s going on?

1024px-Drought_Swimming_HoleThough the messages are well intentioned, suggesting sustainable and beneficial environmental conservation actions, the actual effect on people’s behavior was found to be negative and counterproductive. This seeming paradox was demonstrated in Science Daily in the form of the Chapman study which categorized current conservation advertisements, and found that organizations utilizing tips for conservation as well as fear-inducing statistics about the severity of the drought are actually discouraging real conservation of water. Perhaps the pro-conservation messages caused people to feel like it was impeding upon their freedom to choose?

California has a long history of drought, according to National Geographic, as evidenced by tree ring examination. As California faces this impending 200 year mega-drought, as predicted by climatologists based on nearly two centuries of data, it’s more important than ever to train ourselves to conserve water and encourage others to do the same. But, if conservation messages aren’t working, what can we do?  

Messages with good intentions are being perceived as negative, and regardless of the exact reasons, this serves as a reminder for all of us to rethink strategy and always make sure to measure impact.  As activists, we need to remember that our goal is to change the world in a positive way, but the first step is to educate and inform the people, and eventually invite them to join us in our efforts in a way the reaches each person individually. One of my mentors taught me the phrase, “Turn passion into compassion.”

When we get passionate, fiery, and determined to blue-water-dropsmake change, oftentimes we forget that we are actually serving the world and not fighting it. We have to remember to work with compassion and care, and consider the needs, resources, and understanding level of our audiences. We must remember that passionate and compassionate messages are the way to effectively achieve change.  It’s time to turn passion into compassion, and with each of us spreading awareness and choosing to conserve, we can make the world better for us all. 

About Author

Olivia is a member of the Roots & Shoots U.S. National Youth Leadership Council (NYLC). As a member of the NYLC, Olivia acts as a youth voice and works to make a positive change in her community — for people, animals and the environment. She is a high school student in Massachusetts and has been the leader of their Roots & Shoots Club since 2013. Olivia is a public speaker, scientist, artist, writer, and Youtuber. Learn more about Olivia here: http://oliviaroseart.com/