Crossing the Line

Drought or no drought, Steve Yuhas resents the idea that it is somehow shameful to be a water hog. If you can pay for it, he argues, you should get your water.

People “should not be forced to live on property with brown lawns, golf on brown courses or apologize for wanting their gardens to be beautiful,” Yuhas fumed recently on social media. “We pay significant property taxes based on where we live,” he added in an interview. “And, no, we’re not all equal when it comes to water.”

Yuhas lives in the ultra-wealthy enclave of Rancho Santa Fe, a bucolic Southern California hamlet of ranches, gated communities and country clubs that guzzles five times more water per capita than the statewide average. In April, after Gov. Jerry Brown (D) called for a 25 percent reduction in water use, consumption in Rancho Santa Fe went up by 9 percent.                                                                -Washington Post, June 14, 2015

So now the line has finally, openly, been crossed.  No longer do such feelings reside in unspoken thoughts or in dark corners of consciousness.  Someone has finally come out to state the perspective of many affluent “one per centers” around the world: when it comes to human essentials like water or food, we are not equal.  In other words, one man’s green lawn should take priority over the very lives of others, as long as he can pay for it.

This may not come as a surprise to everyone.  After all, in a world which produces sufficient food to satisfy the entire world’s hunger, we allow more than 795 million people to struggle with insufficient food access, even today.  We seem content to live with that fact, so maybe this class perspective with regard to water is simply more of the same. (Whether people elsewhere die from starvation or dehydration is of little importance, I suppose.  As long as I have mine, who cares?)

But somehow, the attitude reflected by Mr. Yuhas, above, has an additional callousness and arrogance attached to it.  His attitude might be more easily overlooked if it pertained only to poor people in far-off countries; after all, we find distance an immense comfort to conscience on such matters.  But in this case, his disdain is aimed at fellow Californians, fellow Americans, his neighbors.  It represents a purity of narcissistic selfism to claim that his non-essential desires for water use should take precedence over others’ essential water needs, just because he is capable of paying for them.  In a just society, citizens espouse prioritization on the basis of human values, not cash in hand.

In a country which loves to tout its sense of rugged individualism, we would do well to remember that the privilege of that individualism is not without boundaries.  Nor was that privilege attained by virtue of single actors creating that reality.  We became a vibrant society by virtue of collective effort and actions, deferring to the greater good when the larger goals dictated it, forging collaborations and reaping the rewards of that cooperative spirit over generations of self-sacrifice.  If the elitist point of view from California is any indication, those lessons would seem to be lost.  If an elected leader pleads for citizen participation and pain-sharing, the better response is apparently to behave even more wantonly.

We reside, together, on a finite planet.  None of us own any of it.  We are merely stewards of its resources and beauties for a limited time. That stewardship includes the degree to which we ensure that sustainable human life takes precedence over golf greens and that, indeed, we are all equal when it comes to the rights for water….

 

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