29 May 2015

Speed blogging

  1. Two sides of a drought: California farmers forfeit their water to protect themselves from future political seizures of water and Colorado farmers lease water to each other to maximize benefits under scarcity

  2. Daily Kos et al, meanwhile, go sixpack-stupid in petitioning to "punish Nestle" for unpermitted water use (as predicted) when much water use in California is not even measured, let alone paid for

  3. Metropolitan is thinking of spending $350 million on more lawn removal in the LA area. That money will come from "fixed charges" in Met's system, not from heavy water users. I think it would be more clever to raise the price of water (generating revenue!), thereby giving people a REASON to use less water

  4. Why should San Diego recycle its water? It's cheaper than desal and their existing water supplies have already gone through 200 wastewater treatment plants people's toilets

  5. I gave a talk last week at the Society for Environmental Law and Economics: "When worlds collide: Business meets bureaucracy in the water sector" (PDF slides and 30m MP3). I need to revise the paper
H/Ts to BB, EF, NM and RM

28 May 2015

A thought on Bjorn Lomborg

In a comment to this post on climate change, David Foster asks if I agree with Bjorn Lomborg's method of using cost-benefit analysis to evaluate and rank "priorities" for government action.

(The relevant fact is that Lomborg's "consensus" methods tend to prioritize vitamin supplements and water supplies over action on climate change. I was paid as an outside reviewer at Lomborg's Copenhagen Consensus Center and found their work to be valuable and credible.)

I have three observations to offer on this "controversy"


Second, people have different opinions on priorities. Some rich people worry about climate change because they play a big role in its arrival and it represents -- relative to their daily lives -- a pretty scary future. Other rich people don't want to interrupt their party for anything as crass as consuming less "for the planet (or the poor)". These two groups have divided opinions on Bjorn's research.

Third, I agree that we need to apply cost-benefit analysis to government policies -- such as the $5.6 trillion (!) cost of energy subsidies -- but we also need to order those policies by priority and politics.

Over six years ago, I said "divide [Lomborg's] list into projects the developed world should address -- climate change -- and the developing world should address -- water sanitation." This matches Bjorn's findings in terms of actions to help humanity, but I would apply "lexicographic preferences" to his list, i.e., divide it into two lists of priorities for poor and rich governments (rather than focussing on foreign-aid priorities).

Poorer governments need more "development" -- not more tanks, vanity stadiums, or corrupt cronies chopping down forests. They certainly do not need "low carbon programs" when people cannot even drink the water. Governments of rich countries, OTOH, can raise their sights by aiming at climate change (both mitigation and adaptation), with the goal of (1) "turning down the heat" in terms of carbon consumption (recall that BC's revenue neutral carbon tax has accomplished a lot; the EU's cap and trade is slowly coming back to life) and (2) developing new policies and technologies that LDCs can later adapt.

Bottom Line: Cost-benefit analysis is great when you use it in the right context.

27 May 2015

The best damn legislature money can buy

Watch this.

(I deleted the embedded video b/c I couldn't turn off auto-play. Click above to see it.)

The plague of innumeracy

Nothing like outrage to get me to photoshop...
A loyal reader writes:
People seem to think that desalination is the solution. I attempted to explain – using rough costs to recycle wastewater versus desalination ($800-1200 versus $1200-1800 per acre-foot) x 100,000 acre-feet. These folks couldn’t follow the calculation and still thought desal was the way to go. I bought another pint and laughed.
...and that may be all you can do, except cry, when you realize that the larger the share of people with weak critical thinking (all they've got is gut), the larger the probability that you will suffer from stupid ideas.

26 May 2015

Anything but water

  1. Why the Dutch work part time (tongue-in-cheek, but insightful)

  2. US taxpayers are subsidizing oil and gas companies -- and getting poor value

  3. "The Marketplace of Ideas for Policy Change report examines the influence of over 100 external assessments of government performance -- from cross-country benchmarking exercises and watchlists to country-specific diagnostics and conditional aid programs -- on the policymaking process in low and middle income countries."

  4. Economic growth will stop tracking environmental degradation... because the environment will fall into terminal decline. Related: It's time to recognize people's atmospheric rights -- and charge polluters for damaging OUR property

  5. Summary blog posts on “Agroecology, Small Scale Farming and Regional Development” articles

25 May 2015

Monday funnies


What are the root causes of Calfornia's problems?

(A guest post from BB)

IMHO, I believe CA’s current water issues can be most meaningfully understood in terms of the following:
  • Analysis of the CA ag industry’s private profits and their associated, insanely disproportionate, redistributed public costs - in terms of their relative water use. For example.
  • Analysis of the long history of reckless mismanagement of water and land use by the CA ag industry/State and their direct role in causing CA’s current water issues. For example.
  • Meaningful and appropriate solutions that serve the broadest public good. For example.
The remainder of the discussion is just noise

23 May 2015

Flashback: 18-24 May 2014

A year later and still worth reading...

22 May 2015

Friday party!

This guy's got a promising career...

(I love the toilet paper drop)

How much water do you use?

The March activity for the 2015 Water Smarts Calendar is to enter your water use and cost over at the California Water Atlas (description from last year), which is -- it seems -- off line.

Given that fail, all I can say here is that people sometimes have a problem understanding the relation between the price they pay per unit of water, the water they use and scarcity.

That's because water tariffs can be very complicated (a mix of fixed and variable charges that often take time to understand), because many uses (e.g., lawn watering) are "out of sight, out of mind", and because charges often reflect system costs -- not the cost of water, which is usually free to those with permits.

What I advocate is simple prices that reflect scarcity and cover costs. The only reasons I can see for NOT charging those prices are politicians' fear of raising costs (or making them clear) and an industry consensus to use old (or fashionable) methods that are too complex to understand.