Severe drought in the northern hemisphere is exposing a lot of things: corpses, dinosaur tracks, “hunger stones” inscribed with famine warnings, WWII submarines…and the socioeconomic disparity of water use as wealthy individuals and interests flout resource restrictions.
French authorities exempted golf courses from national water bans, allowing them to irrigate the greens. Officials from the French Golf Federation claimed the greens would die in three days without water. (Fun fact: so will a human being.) With more than 100 French villages short of drinking water, should a leisure industry—one that caters largely to moneyed clientele—receive special treatment? Climate activists didn’t think so. Members of the local Extinction Rebellion branch filled golf course holes with cement in protest, arguing that the exemption showed how “economic madness takes precedence over ecological reason”.
California may take similarly drastic measures with water-wasting celebrities. Despite the state’s drought emergency, municipal utilities found famous residents including the Kardashian sisters, athlete Dwayne Wade, and actor Sylvester Stallone exceeding their water allotment by hundreds of thousands of gallons. In some instances, they used more than 500% of their monthly share. It reminds me of the scene in Blue Karma where corporate magnates enjoy exclusive swimming pools while just a few miles away, others wait hours in line for a few gallons of drinking water.
Financial penalties aren’t effective against such affluent offenders. According to NPR, comedian Kevin Hart’s overuse fine totaled barely $1,000, less than a few tickets to one of his shows. Authorities may instead install flow-control devices that reduce showers and sprinklers to a trickle. Granted, rich residents may simply buy more from outside sources—I wouldn’t put it past some people to fill their bubble baths with bottled water—but it would still make a powerful statement about fair resource distribution. Money and influence shouldn’t buy a way out of sharing climate change’s effects, particularly when luxury habits are exacerbating the crisis. (The aforementioned Kardashian made a recent list of “the top 10 celebrity CO2e offenders” whose private-jet travel causes inordinate amounts of pollution.)
When there’s not enough water to go around, how do we resolve the discrepancy? To me, the only rational response it to adapt our society. Fake grass might serve for golf courses like it does for many other sports fields. Zoning laws could mandate landscaping suited to the biome: no thirsty green lawns in a desert. Formulae that calculate water-excess fees could scale based on income, so that even deep-pocketed violators think twice. We must re-evaluate our civilizational priorities independently of privilege. Because this isn’t about who can afford a top-ranked school, fancier clothes, or a more opulent home. It’s about who has access to a critical resource, and ultimately, the right to survive.