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Immanuel Commarmond: #consumptionmustfall

13 December 2015 – South Africa’s highest trending hashtag in 2015 was #feesmustfall. In October, and shortly after #rhodesmustfall demonstrations simmered, students took to the streets in protest against the proposed exorbitant 2016 fee increases across tertiary institutions.

Immanuel CommarmondIt was incredible to witness the solidarity among young people as they took to the streets and stood together to advocate for what they believe is right.

Yet, under the radar, 2015 has also seen very low rainfalls in South Africa and Cape Town in particular is currently experiencing the most severe drought in 75 years. The Cape Town mayoral committee has just announced that level 2 water restrictions will be enforced at the start of 2016 as even less rainfall is predicted in the winter-rainfall province. But will restrictions and penalties really change people and industries’ behaviour? What will be the tipping point for citizens and decision-makers to truly change their behaviour? Or, will we need to wait until it is too late to make some critical lifestyle changes? In a demand-driven culture, who is to blame? Is it industry? Or is it us, the consumers, that actually have greater decision making power than we realise?

What will it take for #consumptionmustfall to trend and for people to respond by getting actively involved in creating realistic and practical solutions to this threat? 85 per cent of water in South Africa is used for urban use (23 per cent) and irrigation (62 per cent). The reality is that a water shortage based on this demand will have a direct impact on us, the consumers, in more ways than just water usage penalties. Food prices will increase, not to mention the knock-on food increase due to the current slump of the Rand following the emerging #zumamustfall uprising (of which I will leave for a different rant).

Dr. Clay Tucker-Ladd (1931–2010) dedicated his life’s work to psychology and understanding how we can be the solutions to the challenges we face. In his book, Psychological Self-Help (2006) images, he unpacks various methods for changing behaviour (Chapter 11). Perhaps a way forward for us as water consumers is to better understand how we can change our own behaviour and take responsibility for what we can, where we can?

Tucker-Ladd suggests three approaches to changing behaviour. These include changing behaviour through intervening either before, during or after the ‘targeted behaviour’ which in this case is water-usage habits. With water restriction penalties being a punitive intervention (after the ‘targeted’ behaviour), I am sure we want to try and avoid these penalties but we may still struggle to change our behavior.

What ‘before’ approaches could we use to address our current usage habits?

Tucker-Ladd proposes a 5-step method that seeks to change our environment and in turn change our behaviour. He proposes that the environment has a powerful influence on our behaviour and even the smallest changes in our environment can influence a significant change in our responses, before we act. He suggests the following 5 steps of which I have drafted a few practical things I can do – starting now – to change my own environment and subsequent behaviour:

Step 1: Recognise the “bad” environment.

Perhaps I could monitor how many times a day I flush the loo, leave water running unnecessarily, and waste water on the curb while irrigating the lawn on a windy day. I need to take note of my water use and flag areas that are not healthy up front and label these as bad.

Step 2: Avoid situations that lead to unwanted actions. Provide warning signs. Break the chain early.

A practical warning sign for me, as an example, could be to keep the plug in whenever I run water while it heats up. This visual cue will help me to avoid carelessly wasting water and notice whether I am improving each time. I could then use this water for other purposes, rather than letting it go down the drain.

Step 3: Provide cues or environments that prompt desired behaviour.

I am a very visual person and check-lists and reminders help me a lot. Perhaps a timer and alarm linked to my shower time, or leaving the dishwasher open until it is completely full before I wash the dishes will help me to behave in a more water-wise fashion?

Step 4: Implementation intentions: Mental preparations that increase the effectiveness of environmental cues to prompt desired behaviour.

For me this will boil down to daily improvements. If I can monitor my daily habits and my small improvements from the ‘bad’ environments (Step 1), then I can try and beat my record daily and hopefully change my habits entirely over time.

Step 5: Practice responding faithfully to the stimuli you have arranged in your environment and to the situations implementing your intentions.

Practice, practice, practice takes effort, effort, effort! As much as collecting shower water to flush the toilet seems difficult and requires effort, with practice and building a new habit, this will become easier every time. But it will take discipline and a level of consistency to see this through. I guess this is the biggest challenge – to be disciplined.

It is that much easier to type a #hashtag than to actually start doing something. I hope that I can start doing more and stop only cyber-advocating for change while I continue to contribute to the very beast that creates the problem – consumption.

Benjamin Franklin said: “when the well’s dry, we know the worth of water” and I hope that we do not have to go this far before we change whatever we have the power to change, now.

They say charity starts at home and this is very true in the case of water usage.

I’m going to go have a quick shower and call it a night, with these 5 points in mind. #consumptionmustfall #soundthealarm


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