Posted on | May 24, 2012 | 21 Comments
Sitting on the kitchen table is a rebate form from the local water company that I can’t bring myself to sign. Admittedly, a tidy slug of cash would be welcome for having replaced a toilet with an aquarium-sized tank with a low-flow version, and for having smothered and replaced a water-hungry backyard lawn with a mix of food and native plants that require a fraction of the water and provide many times the benefits. But even touching the rebate form feels corrupt. What kind of person expects to be paid for an act that is the opposite of sacrifice?
Using less water costs less in many ways, from the check written to gardeners for weekly mowing and blowing, to a reduced monthly water bill to ultimately what should be cheaper taxes for carting away green waste and composting it in civic heaps. The joys of eating plums over grass clippings seem self evident. The change from lawn to garden costs, this is true. But soon after conversion, the savings start accruing to the tune of thousands of dollars a year, enough over time for a family to send kids to college. So why would anyone expect to be paid to do it? What’s next? Expecting bribes from MasterCard to not overspend? Yet as we in California approach the end of a yet another disappointing water year, it’s inevitable that arguments will renew over whether or not citizens of the dry West should be enticed out of our disastrously wet habits by rebates, or be expected to haul ourselves out of them because it’s the right and thrifty thing to do.
I don’t know the answer to that debate. But even if I did, beyond whatever short-term water savings might be achieved out of rebates, the larger question remains: What ultimately will it take to change our collective way? Staggering price hikes? Scary newspaper articles in one section and helpful hints in another? After many years of writing both kinds of articles, I don’t see anything game-changing happening until, to borrow a line from a progressive official at the Long Beach Water Department, “having a lawn is the moral equivalent of smoking in a neo-natal intensive care unit.”
Which brings us to morality and what kind of world we are bequeathing to coming generations. Once upon a time, I would have sought guidance from my church. I was baptized Episcopalian, confirmed in no less than the National Cathedral, and as an adult find myself yearning for the solace of a temple where God’s translator was William Tyndale. My natural home is All Saints Church, Pasadena. Yet like a gay person denied Change You Can Believe In by Proposition 8, I am a conservationist profoundly alienated from the church I was born into by sprinklers, lawnmowers and the recognition of how these are richly symbolic drivers of an environmental collapse that means my nieces and nephews may never experience even a fraction of the wonder that I did at natural America. Their children may be left to conduct the autopsies of our rivers, deltas and oceans. Anguish at this is so acute that I find myself godless. Until All Saints rips out its lawn, until it’s official that its God, who was once my God, is anything but OK with our wholesale destruction of the West, I have no church other than native plant nurseries and the Long Beach Water Department. And it is in this Godless world that lapsed Episcopalians like me struggle without sorely-needed guidance as how to deal with rebate forms.