California’s water waste is awful — but my idea to stop it may be counterproductive.

Last week I was down in Southern California, and I was astonished to see lush, green lawns all around me, at least in the town of Pasadena where I spent most of my time.

Considering that we are in the middle of a record-shattering drought in California, I couldn’t believe my eyes.

So with a bit of image-searching in Flickr, my own iPhone pictures, and some inspired snark, I put together two hypothetical “public service announcements” that I wished would exist, to get people to realize how destructive and wasteful it is to be watering your lawns this year.

California, stop watering your lawns dammit! Worst drought in 500 years, and is anybody paying attention?

But a few days ago, I happened to read Think Like a Freak, the third in the Freakonomics book series by Levitt & Dubner. And I came upon a story that explained how public service messages just like this one, which draw attention to the behavior you want people to avoid, actually ends up increasing  the bad behavior.

They discuss a study by Robert Cialdini where they found that the signs in Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park asking people not to steal pieces of petrified wood actually increased their theft.

Your heritage is being vandalized every day by theft losses of petrified wood of 14 tons a year, mostly a small piece at a time.

So I guess that means that pointing out to Californians how they are wasting water is just making it worse. So we need to come up with something that actually works.

But still, it’s fun to dish out the snark, isn’t it?

My oh my, what a lovely lawn - worst drought in 500 years, and is anybody paying attention?

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