Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A very wet drought

England is in the grips of a drought. It's the wettest drought in recorded history. I kid you not. Many parts of the country have had hosepipe bans. Yet it has been piddling down very Englishly for days on end. Driving the 20 miles (32kms) to work last week, I passed whole pastures that were underwater.

In some parts of the country the hosepipe ban was lifted. I had a mental image of people dashing out in their wellies to stand in an inch of water and water their gardens with hosepipes. Hmm. Perhaps not. They would be more likely to use the hosepipes to syphon the water off into the drains!

In some parts of the country, the hosepipe ban remains in force. Last night on the news, some poor woman from the water company had drawn the short straw and had to try to explain to the news-watching public why this was the case. Of course it had to do with the reserves - these need to be built up so that there is enough water put by for the summer. But when the water table is so high that rivers have burst their banks left and right, it's hard to imagine that the reserves are anything other than overflowing.

The footage consisted of the woman sitting in stationary position, explaining the matter. With this approach, I don't think the authorities are going to persuade the general public to take the drought seriously, when the evidence of their eyes tells them a very different story.

So how does this relate to the world of learning, knowledge and information? The information we give to people must make sense with what they already know, or what they can see for themselves. If it doesn't, we are going to have to work really hard, not only to provide more information as to why this is the case, but to get them to accept this information and shift their paradigms as a consequence... and that's a hard sell. Those good old fashioned barriers to learning are notoriously hard to shift when they are self-erected-and-maintained.

I was thinking about how this water company representative might have communicated her message more convincingly and thought of this:

  • Pictures of the flooded pastures and valleys - commentary to the effect that anyone seeing this sight could be forgiven for thinking that there was a surplus of water in England right now
  • Picture of underground water reserves - commentary to the effect that the water supply that feeds our homes and our industries is drawn from here. When it is full, it looks like this (archive picture or graphical representation). Right now, it looks like this (picture of marker, or graphical representation). In order to get through the coming summer, we need at least this much (picture/graphic)
  • Brief, simple chalk-and-talk type explanation of why all this above ground water doesn't automatically mean full underground reserves
  • Specifics - in order to get the water we need
    • it will take at least 3/2/17/whatever more days/decades/weeks of heavy rain in the right areas,
    • these areas are x, y and z,
    • the forecast for those areas for the next few days is good/bad/indifferent.
I could be way off beam here, but I can't help thinking that anything would have been more convincing than a lady in a pretty dress telling a waterlogged England that there is a drought on and we should all conserve water.


Anonymous said...

The water company could have presented one of their scientists to describe the situation with groundwater levels. They would have been much more convincing then, as the fact is groundwater levels are still too low.
P.S. Love the design of your site.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you're right, Tim, since my understanding of the concept of a water table is obviously wrong!

Anonymous said...

No Karyn, you understand the water table (groundwater level, aquifer...) situation perfectly. I was perhaps clumsily agreeing with you. My idea to stick a boffin on the telly matched your idea I think.
Anyway, your post was very timely as four water companies lifted the ban yesterday.

Anonymous said...

Hey Stranger

Love the BLOG - finally got my finger out of the proverbial and decided to say hi. Perhaps I need a family blog as find the old fashion newsy email far too hard to keep up - as you may have noticed ????

Anonymous said...

What a strange place to find a comment from you, Carol... and long time no hear! Good to know you're still out there. You'll have to tell me how you came across this blog. Head on over to the family blog at http://romeisfamily.blogspot.com for family news - I'm sure that would be of far more interest to you!