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The Running Faucet Fallacy


Omair Ali

Perspectives Editor

Environmental conservation is an ethical mindset that resonates with many people today. But people pay little attention to the intricacies of stewardship, which includes monitoring one’s own water usage. Many people, regardless of their beliefs in environmental conservation, will fail to adhere to all their eco-principles and end up with gaping holes in their personal ethos. Herein lies a behavior that challenging human dignity, but instead is forgotten and rarely spoken of: the running faucet fallacy.

Perhaps out of laziness or ignorance, and certainly without even a hint of guilt, some people knowingly leave the faucet on longer than necessary. And this doesn’t just mean the sink but also showers, plant-watering systems, and many other activities where water is taken for granted. It goes without saying that certain human behaviors work in ways that simply cannot be fathomed by the rational mind, especially when this behavior is imitated by many in an educated society. But unfortunately, water wastage goes well beyond just leaving the faucet on. Clean water is one of the most heavily used resources in America. The average American family can use over 300 gallons of water a day which consists of a variety of activities such as taking showers and washing dishes. It is hard to imagine the necessity for a person to consume approximately 75 gallons of water daily, which should raise the question: How much of this 75 gallons of water are humans wasting? Undetected water leakages are also of great concern as the EPA reports that over a trillion gallons of water are lost due to water leaks, many of which are due to mechanical damage or negligence. Fortunately, water wastage is currently not our most pressing environmental problem, as we live in a country whose freshwater sources are relatively abundant; yet, this does not mean that water wastage can be overlooked.

Why is Wasting Water Bad?

Among the environmental concerns from the collective failure to conserve water is energy wastage.  Water filtration systems that are currently in use require extensive energy inputs and water pumping and treatment as sewage also require significant energy. With over consumption of water comes an increased usage of energy to manage water, which also contributes to the atmospheric greenhouse gas concentration. Fortunately, efforts to improve filtration systems are underway and offer substantial reductions of energy intensive systems. However, instead of depending on future technologies to protect the environment, would it not be more effective to curb society’s own consumption of water?

As I mentioned before, water wastage does not necessarily rank among the most pressing environmental issues in our society, but does this excuse running the faucet or allowing one’s pipes to leak? Water, despite its abundance in many parts of America, is still a scarce resource.

The fallacy behind running the faucet or neglectful water wastage is that this behavior does not align with current public attitudes towards environmental conservation and energy usage. Per a 2017 Gallup poll, 61% of survey-takers suggested that they want society to emphasize environmental production over energy production. This attitude is clearly not reflected in our society’s usage of water, as America’s water footprint is among the highest per-capita usages of freshwater in the planet. Also, our tendency to excessively use water

In a nation where personal accountability is not an expectation but rather an ideal, it can be difficult to tell people to use less water. But in the face of ignorance– and some might even say willful hypocrisy– is our tendency to take water for granted not a reasonable justification to enforce water wastage restrictions. I mean, what is the alternative to being upfront about the running faucet fallacy?

Closing the faucet when it is not being used is not the only way be mindful of water usage. Learning about the proper strategies to reduce water consumption and applying them in our lives can to not only save money but also enforces a lifestyle that respects the planet and contributes to the common good.