“If it’s yellow, let it mellow…

… if it’s brown, flush it down.”

From etsy.com

This phrase was shown on large signboards in New York during a water shortage in the late 1940s, when I lived in Brooklyn. Ever since, I have been aware of the way I and others use water. This awareness was augmented by two separate experiences when in university in the early 1960s.

The first was having several undergraduate and graduate courses in the School of Public Health centered on the development of fresh water sources and the purification and transport of both clear and waste water.

The second experience was a course in basic economics, which included the subject “the tragedy of the commons.” Wikipedia says it is “a situation in a shared-resource system where individual users, acting independently according to their own self-interest, behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting or spoiling the shared resource through their collective action. The theory originated … in 1833 by the British economist William Forster Lloyd, who used a hypothetical example of the effects of unregulated grazing on common land … in Great Britain and Ireland… In [the] modern economic context, “commons” is taken to mean any shared and unregulated resource such as atmosphere, oceans, rivers, fish stocks, roads, and highways, or even an office refrigerator.”

Design on my William Morris mug

All this came to me as I brewed coffee today for my afternoon caffeine fix. Now that I am in voluntary quasi-isolation from everyone except my wife, I could take the time to be careful in my use of the tap water. I used a 1 decilitre cup, three times (turning the tap off in between ), poured the water into the heater, and, when steaming, into the coffee grounds in the filter sitting on top of my nicely designed William Morris mug.

I did not waste one drop of water. I filled the 1 dl cup to the top then turned the tap off, three times. Good boy!

I live in Sweden where there is good and, usually, plentiful water. I lived in Alaska at the same latitude as now (59-60 degrees north latitude) where there is also much fresh water. In both places I have occasionally offered thanks to the Great and Nameless Powers* for this water (*this is a construction I use in a novel I have been writing for ten years).

This led me to ponder on the great systems of water development and sewerage transport that we take for granted with rarely a thought or thanks for being here for us, even in this time when other services are diminished or not available at all.

About Ron Pavellas

Expatriate American living in Sweden with wife. Retired from employment in the USA. Currently focused on blog articles, memoirs, and creative writing.
This entry was posted in Economics, Water and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to “If it’s yellow, let it mellow…

  1. I’m a big fan of English 19th art. Byrne Jones, William Morris… And so on. Quite close to me down in Kent we have Pugin’s house and church at St Augustines, Ramsgate. Magnificent. I also recently visited Gilbert Scott’s magnificent hotel and station at St Pancras. Another favourite building is Holy Trinity Sloane Square. The odd thing us I likes none if this stuff as an earlier adult. Anyway…. Very nice William Morris mug!


    • Ron Pavellas says:

      there was a wonderful exhibit of morris at the moderna museet in stockholm, or was it millesgaarden? i went crazy for him and his group for a while (ipad is inconvenient to use for comms)


  2. Oh and re the quote on lavatories I first heard it on “Meet the Fockers”!


  3. I prefer to think of the misuse of natural resources as the tragedy of the failure of the commons or the tragedy of the anticommons. The commons, when they functioned during feudalism, were highly effective.

    But when the underpinnings to the commons were destroyed, there was no longer a commons left as the commoners had been eliminated. A commons requires commoners, the shared owners and caretakers of the natural resources that are part of their community.

    We haven’t had such a thing in North America since the genocide of Native Americans. However, there have been those who have attempted to move our society in that direction such as the Milwaukee sewer socialists who promoted clean water and public health as a civil right.

    Considering our discussion over at my blog, your thoughts here do resonate with the issues of public health crises, viral pandemics, and culture of trust. This then relates to what is called common knowledge in game theory, as part of what in democracy is called the informed public.

    Just some thoughts.


    • Ron Pavellas says:

      I almost always learn something new from your comments. Thanks.


      • On a humorous note, your post here reminds me of a ’80s movie, Solarbabies. There is an authoritarian regime that has hoarded all the water in a massive reservoir. I haven’t seen the movie since childhood and I’m sure it was silly, but it was part of the post-apocalyptic entertainment that shaped my young imagination.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. You reminded me, too, of the hilarious film ‘Meet the Fockers’ in which your title is a key factor in the zaniness! I also reminded myself of JGBallard’s vision of the future – ‘The Drought’. Fifty years ago my ex-father-in-law (dead these thirty years) used to put two cupfuls of water into the kettle for morning coffee – at the time I thought he was a stingy old git but I always think of him with pleasure when I make a cup of tea for the missus & me in happy isolation (or not, as the case might be – isolated, I mean, not questioning the happiness of being a hermit at last!). Now at the sink I shall think of my ex-father-in-law and Ron Pavellas.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ron Pavellas says:

    Honored, am “I”…


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