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Flush that pride away

Jackie Mirandola Mullen | Sunday, January 20, 2008

“If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.” Dustin Hoffman immortalized these words in Meet the Fockers as a hippie dad whose wife teaches sex moves to retirees.So, imagine my surprise when I come home for Thanksgiving, to my white-trim, suburban Atlanta home, and the first motherly instruction I receive starts, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow …”Did my family go off the deep end since I’ve been gone? Have my parents suddenly lost respect for the concept of cleanliness? Am I going to have to refer to my mother as Humming Starshine from now on?None of the above. I’m from Georgia. Reiterate: Georgia. Deep South, Bible Belt, Dixie. You Midwesterners don’t know red until you’ve ventured farther than a state past the Mason-Dixon Line. If you hear the word “hippie” down there, it’s probably preceded by “damn.” People actually started buying larger trucks as a response to the oil shortage scare after Katrina, just to prove that we’re American and will do whatever the hell we want.And yet, now, it’s in my home state, that same Georgia, where people are starting to take rationing and conservation seriously. For those of you unfamiliar with Georgia’s current water situation, it’s not good. Metro Atlanta draws most of its drinking water from Lake Lanier, a 38,000-acre man-made lake that came into being when the Army Corps of Engineers dammed up the Chattahoochee River in 1956. Georgia gets a decent amount of rain, but the recent frequency of precipitation has been splotchy at best. This summer and fall have been abnormally dry, and the record low water level set this fall, and still lingering, is 19 feet below the full lake levels.So, because of the scarcity, many households are shifting to the policy of decreased flushes. Gradually, yes, but in ways that would invariably earn one “wuss” status even last year. At the University of Georgia, there were designated “flushers” at their last few home games. Saved a bunch of water – in fact, Athens (location of UGA) has decreased its water usage by 10 percent already. Shorter showers have become not just a time-saver, but a type of community outreach.Dry years happen anywhere, they should be expected. Even the new record low is only half a foot below the previous record low, set in 1981. Why does it seem so much worse this time, then?Because Atlanta is the epitome of a boom town. Okay, maybe we can call it a boom city. Back in 1960, metro Atlanta’s population was just over a million people. By 1980, we were at 2.2 million, 4.1 million in 2000, and in 2008, metro Atlanta now has an estimated population of 5.3 million people.This kind of growth can not be planned for, no matter how driven or innovative the leadership. Ecosystems cannot sustain such an immense and sudden strain on resources. The same population explosions are happening in China, India and Africa to much greater degrees and to infrastructures that are much less equipped to handle shortages than our seemingly helpless southern states. We all see, through famine, pollution problems and disease, how impossible it’s proving for these foreign, developing regions to respond to stresses of overpopulation.The willful ignorance happening in the South – the roommate who feels his showers are a natural right, the household that thinks its toilet needs to be flushed every time to maintain societal respectability – is the involuntary ignorance plaguing third world countries. They don’t have supplies to combat famine or the means to control their population. Our trap is self-inflicted; buying a low-flow showerhead is economically feasible for most American families. In some communities, plumbers are even installing similar water-savers for free.The point is, we have the resources to counteract our enormous and unsustainable use of natural resources. Other countries don’t. But when we take no action, why is it? Because acting, changing, is inconvenient.Yet, in places like northern Georgia, the attitude of wasteful pride is starting to change. Maybe – okay, definitely – just because we’re being forced into it; within four months, Lake Lanier’s water levels may be too low for it to supply northern Georgia with drinking water. But, if one problem can so significantly change the mindsets of an entire subculture in mere months, can’t the rest of us with financial and material possibilities at our fingertips trim down our wasteful lifestyles, just a little? The next time you go home, are you going to be able to shower the way you’re used to? A lot of us won’t. A lot of us will be letting the toilet mellow. And that may seem gross – with good reason. But it’s reality, it’s no longer a flower-child saying that the rest of society giggles at. And there’s something truly humbling in not only accepting that, but also picking up the unfamiliar yoke and actually carrying it yourself.

Jackie Mirandola Mullen is a sophomore history and German major who thinks you should recycle this paper after you read it. She can be reached at jmirando@nd.eduThe views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.