Standing at the bench, beaker in hand, I paused and scrutinized the tiny droplets of water still ferociously clinging to the inside of the slowly drying glass. Waiting to do a simple experiment and impatient, I turned to my professor with a scrunched up nose and asked:
"Does it matter? Does it really matter if there's still water in the beaker?"
He turned to me with the eternal patience only a great teacher can maintain, "Imagine instead the beaker half full. Now, you tell me - does it matter?"
Pausing to ponder while following the experiment through in my head, I realized the answer, "I guess it matters."
"Yes. It matters. It all matters. Every last drop."
I learned a lesson that fall day during my first year college chemistry class that has stayed with me ever since and has been applied to much more than beakers and Bunsen burners - the lesson of small things. In that drop of water I realized the power of One; one thought, one notion, one person, one effort, one moment... one drop... it all matters.
If you recognize this then you understand that it DOES affect things - but HOW? It is hard to reconcile turning off the tap in Tennessee with greater availability of water in Ecuador... how do individual conservation efforts affect worldwide availability of drinking water?
The water shortage is not simply a geographical issue. It is worldwide one and political. There is power in water, and until we understand this, until we become aware of the potential for abuse, the water shortage will continue. By the same token, blame cannot be laid solely on governmental bodies. The people have a voice, and in one of the most influential powers in the West - a democratic environment, vote in that government.
Raising awareness - bringing the issue of water into the open - will help lift the veil of corruption. In order to do this, it is important to realize that the responsibility is in our hands.
By shifting the power back into the palms of the people - the palms that turn off the tap and recycle gray water, the palms that vote at the polling booths - we remember that the current water crisis is a worldwide issue that needs to be dealt with at grassroots level. Each and every day, in our own kitchens and in our bathrooms. And each and every election year at the polling station.
An individual conservation effort is not only installing a low-flow toilet, it is not only a timer on your shower head or a front-loading washer. It is not simply recycling your gray water and installing a catchment system. It is making your voice and vote be heard.
It is one thing to impose fines at an international level, but when we realize where the true responsibility lies, we also need to shoulder the accountability on an individual basis. Bringing water policy to the forefront of conversation is imperative.
By accepting the responsibility and understanding accountability, we begin to set an example. And this is where the key lies.
Turning off the tap is a powerful action. It's an intellectual choice, a moral choice, a considerate action, a conservative one. And one that extends far beyond your home and garden. Your action extends down your pipes, into your waterways, into the pockets of your government representatives and the corporation coffers.
It affects the minds and subsequently the actions of your children and frames their world view. And the picture they see is a landscape that extends farther than you could hope - It extends into the future.
By setting an example you become a teacher. You teach your children, and they in turn teach their friends, passing on the lesson in a subtler and more effective way than any multi-million dollar advertising campaign could ever hope for.
Without one there is no whole. A beaker will never be even half full without one drop.
This is how individual conservation efforts affect worldwide availability of drinking water. You take responsibility, you accept accountability and you pass on that message to the people who watch you at your sink everyday. You educate by action, leading your children; making a difference not only today, but everyday.
And it matters. It all matters.
Every last drop.