Water is the other part of the Trees by Water name. Water is perhaps an issue not just in relation to climate change itself, but more broadly in terms of our relationship with the natural world. Although we in the UK generally think of water as a plentiful resource, we have recently experienced water shortages in some areas. (Hotter and drier weather has also had consequences in terms of fires, especially on open moorland, but I intend to write about this on another occasion). Having read a few years ago about worldwide water usage, I am far more sensitive than I would otherwise have been to the extent to which, even in “wet” years, we are dependent on depleting aquifers for the volume of water which we use domestically and commercially. The fact that some of my relatives live in an place near a spring which now often fails to flow even in winter has made me question the use made of the aquifer for extracting water. I wonder how sustainable our use of water is.
When I was in my late teens, I had to write an exam essay on what arguments could be put forward to encourage people to reduce their domestic water usage during a drought (there had been droughts in the previous few years). One of the statements that I was expected to counter is one which is often aired in discussions which relate to climate change: I’m only one person, so it doesn’t make any difference whether I reduce my water usage (or potentially car usage, how much I fly, how much meat I eat, how I heat my house etc.). I have equally met this argument in terms of larger numbers, even up to the level of the UK only being one country so we shouldn’t worry about targets to reduce carbon dioxide.
Individual contributions, whether to global warming or to movements away from it, may appear to be insignificant, but the very numbers of human beings that we are now dealing with mean that the opposite is the case. Even so, that appearance is a powerful illusion, most especially if it links to a sense that our freedom may be likely to be curtailed if we start to be asked to give up something that we value.
What I grappled with during the exam and what has stayed with me ever since is that without any sense of a “greater good” it is difficult to counter this argument. If everyone presents the “only one person” argument, nothing will change. It's no longer good enough to opt out of responsibility in this way. The climate change crisis may help us to re-discover this sense of a wider responsibility. However, if people aren't willing to see the bigger picture and take their share of responsibility, that precisely risks blocking change. Perhaps that has always been what this argument has been about, a smokescreen to block change, whether on an individual or group level. The alternative is to recognise that this is a universal issue, which affects everyone and to which everyone can contribute. Perhaps the universality of our need for water can remind us of this.