Drought-shaming: Calling public attention to the wasteful use of water during a drought.
Drought-shaming gained currency in 2015, as California’s dire lack of rainfall reached crisis proportions. But the concept emerged in 2014, when the state emergency was first declared. “Californians Keep Up with the Joneses’ Water Use,” tsk-tsked a headline in the New York Times on July 4, 2014:
Some drought-conscious Californians have turned not only to tattling, but also to an age-old strategy to persuade friends and neighbors to cut back: shaming. On Twitter, radio shows and elsewhere, Californians are indulging in such sports as shower-shaming (trying to embarrass a neighbor or relative who takes a leisurely wash), car-wash-shaming and lawn-shaming.
Later that month, the community-reporting app Vizsafe (which is based in Rhode Island) added a drought-shaming feature that, according to an NBC News story, “allows people to share reports of water waste with their neighborhood. Users can anonymously take photos of the waste and map the location, for all to see, including law enforcement.”
July 2014 also saw the rise of the #droughtshaming hashtag on Twitter.
I boiled spaghetti with the run off from my shower. What steps are you taking? #DroughtShaming— Scott Chapman (@scottchapman50) April 24, 2015
More examples here.
In some cases, drought-shaming seems to be a downright civil response to drought deniers. Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle’s op-ed pages on April 21, 2015, Laguna Niguel (Orange County) resident Jeff Pearlman confessed that he sometimes feels like “strangling my neighbors” when he sees them blithely over-watering their lush lawns:
I’ve given this much thought over the past few months, and I’ve come up with the only realistic solution. One that, I’m quite convinced, will work. Simply put, we need to go Justin Bieber on these fools and turn to the tried-and-true tactic of public humiliation.
I know ... I know. It’s harsh. And maybe even a bit babyish. But if green grass and reluctance to change is about status, what better approach than to knock down one’s status a few pegs? So, the next time my neighbor’s hosing down his BMW for the 17th time this week, I’ll walk past and loudly scream into my iPhone, “Yup, he’s watering his car again — WHILE MY KIDS AREN’T ALLOWED THE FLUSH THE TOILET!”
Drought-shaming has also invited mockery. On April 21, 2015, Vanity Fair published “A Unified Annotated Theory of Drought Shaming,” with an elaborate flow chart.
Illustration by Lily Nelson.
Shame in general is enjoying a moment in the spotlight. We’ve seen slut-shaming (“the act of making someone, especially a woman or girl, feel guilty for certain sexual behaviors”) for several years; recently tax-shaming was proposed, in the New York Times’s op-ed page, as a means of forcing tax delinquents to settle their debts:
Public shaming is already used throughout the world to collect taxes. The city of Bangalore, India, hires drummers as tax collectors to visit the homes of tax evaders and to literally bang the drum if they don’t pay. In England, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs publishes details of deliberate tax defaulters. Argentine local governments are also adopting shaming lists. … Social media offers an even greater opportunity for shaming. Tax agencies could use targeted online advertisements on social networks to raise awareness among the social contacts of delinquents.
Two new books offer different perspectives on shaming on the 21st century. In Is Shame Necessary?: New Uses for an Old Tool, the environmental social scientist Jennifer Jacquet argues that shame can “improve behavior”; unlike guilt, which “operates entirely within individual psychology,” shame “can scale,” Jacquet told The Guardian (UK). “It can work against entire countries and can be used by the weak against the strong.” Jon Ronson, a Welsh journalist, takes a more jaundiced view. In So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Ronson looks into the cases of people who have been shamed on social media and finds that publicly shamed men often bounce right back, while women—both the shamed and the shamers—are much more likely to lose their jobs and their reputations.