08 December 2016

Oily water does not make for good salads!

BB sent me this report ("Hazard Assessment of Chemical Additives Used in Oil Fields that Reuse Produced Water for Agricultural Irrigation, Livestock Watering, and Groundwater Recharge in The San Joaquin Valley of California: Preliminary Results" [pdf]), to whose authors I sent the following questions:
Do I read your report correctly, that you are merely enumerating the chemicals but NOT measuring their concentrations?  And am I right to assume that produced water use/discharge is occurring WITHOUT any purification treatment? Or is there some treatment that’s not detailed?
Seth B.C. Shonkoff, PhD, MPH replied with:
You are correct that we did not evaluate concentrations of these chemical additives in the produced water. The first step that we undertook in this hazard analysis was to compare the recently reported chemical constituents to toxicity, priority pollutant, and other databases to identify what should be monitored for and then how. To date the only chemical constituents monitored for were naturally occurring constituents (e.g., boron, arsenic, heavy metals) as well as some others less frequently (annually or every 5 years). This is the first assessment of chemical ADDITIVES used during oil and gas production in fields that are reusing their water for these purposes.

There is very limited treatment prior to irrigation, groundwater recharge and livestock watering. The produced water undergoes oil-water separation and then is run through walnut shells prior to application. Depending upon water availability from other sources it is mixed with between 20% to 50% other water sources prior to application.
In other words (my summary), scientists are merely identifying which chemical additives and related byproducts may be present in the Central-Valley-oil-field wastewater now used for irrigation. The concentrations and impacts of those chemicals are yet to be understood.

Bottom Line Higher water scarcity results in greater use of sources that are farther, dirtier and potentially more harmful to public health and the environment. Policies dating from an age of abundance may not consider the costs of those sources to health or the environment. They need to be updated.

H/T to BB

Does LA have a shortage of water or imagination?

Tim Smith's ever helpful "notes on sustainable water resources" contained this tidbit:
Bureau of Reclamation's Los Angeles Basin Study looks at the changing demographics, climate change and competing interests for available water supplies and identifies options to meet the water needs of the Los Angeles area into the future. The study [pdf] found that there is a potential water supply deficit for the region of approximately 160,000 acre-feet-per year by 2035 and 440,000 acre-feet-per-year or 25-percent less water than the region is projected to need in 2095.
I'm always curious about these "needs" and "deficits", so I skimmed through the study, which uses "low, medium and high (business as usual)" projections for future demands that are 63 gallons/capita/day (gcd), 99 gcd and 136 gcd, respectively (page 34).

Translated in to liters/capita/day (LCD), you get 240, 376 and 517 LCD, respectively. Is this reasonable? Not when you consider that consumption is about 100 LCD in Amsterdam and 160 LCD in Australia's hot, dry cities.

Bottom Line: Los Angelenos can easily avoid water deficits and shortages by reducing their demands, i.e., lawns. How do you get them to do that? Raise prices.

05 December 2016

Let's choose a cover for Life plus 2m!

We need to choose a cover for the first collection of visions that will help people think about and prepare for adapting to climate change.

The goal is to get people interested in reading the book.

Feel free to forward this post to anyone who has opinions on the matter :)

Monday (not) funnies

The Dutch "tradition" of Zwarte Piet (Black Piet) dates back to the 1850s when slavery was still legal (and accepted). The interesting point of this video is its clarification of some Dutcher's vehement defense of blackface: many Dutch associate it with their childhood excitement and happiness.

I see no reason why today's Dutch children need to grow up with men in blackface. They can be happy with any version of a gift-giving sidekick to Sinterklaas.

01 December 2016

How to Start a Business & Ignite Your Life -- the review

I assigned this 2012 book to my "entrepreneurial production" class because I like Ernesto Sirolli's perspective on start ups and entrepreneurs.

(His 1999 book, Ripples from the Zambezi: Passion, Entrepreneurship, and the Rebirth of Local Economies is really great for understanding how he learned to just "shut up and listen" -- watch his TED talk -- but it's not as pragmatic as this book.)

The main point of this book (subtitle: "a simple guide to combining business wisdom with passion") is that few entrepreneurs succeed on their own. Teamwork is useful necessary because:
  1. A startup product or service needs attention to production, marketing and finance. Pretty much everyone is better or worse at each of these skills.
  2. Teams share the burden of work as well as limiting (not) brilliant ideas that can derail or distract efforts to produce value for customers.
  3. Communication among team members forces them to quantify and qualify ideas that may be "obvious" in their head but make little sense when explained to others.
The book is short (100pp), clear and useful. Rather than discuss it chapter by chapter, I will leave a few notes that may interest potential readers.
  • Passion ("suffering") is important for entrepreneurs, as success is neither quick nor inevitable.
  • Outsiders are usually ignorant of what a community needs (the development aid trap), so they should try to find and enable passionate locals with solutions.
  • Entrepreneurs often have good ideas but little experience. That's why they may need partners who can speak from experience and/or fill in areas where the entrepreneur is weak.
  • Every team must have at least one person with a comparative advantage in each of the big three roles: production, marketing and financial management (P, M and FM). A division of labor improves time allocation, speeds decisions, and drives innovation on each of these critical margins.
  • If you don't like (or can't do) P, M or FM, then find someone who can. They may even work for free if they have passion.
  • Good production people are always looking to improve but don't let perfection prevent sales!
  • Good marketers genuinely want to help people, not dump crap on them.
  • Good financial managers can help you understand where you are and where you might go, using only realistic numbers.
  • Investors back teams, not ideas. A good team will write a good business plan. A bad business plan means the team is too weak in talent or cooperation.
  • "Entrepreneurship is much more a social game than an individual one. The most striking characteristic of a successful entrepreneur is perhaps the ability to identify, cultivate, and use other people’s competencies."
  • If you need a partner for P, M or FM, then find someone you like in that area and ask for a referral. They may not be free, but they probably know someone who is.
  • "Solitude is the death of the entrepreneur. Just as you must look inward to understand your passion, you must look outward to find others to help you. Success in business rests primarily on these two actions. Never be reluctant or embarrassed to seek assistance, and do so with prudence and optimism. Remember, there are “magical helpers” out there waiting for a passionate “hero” to commit to the entrepreneurial journey."
Bottom Line: I give this book FIVE STARS for providing useful advice to would-be entrepreneurs and insight to those of us who want to understand the elements of success. Find partners and bring value to the world!

29 November 2016

Interdisciplinary incentives

Continuing from this morning's other post...

In my most recent newsletter (subscribe here!), I wrote:
I'll be presenting at an interdisciplinary education conference in Amsterdam in February. I'm still surprised and dismayed at how hard it is to get academics to talk outside their disciplines (like economists talking to hydrologists), let alone outside the ivory tower. The reason is (a) it takes work to translate jargon into the common tongue and (b) a total lack of professional incentives (i.e., publish or perish), which explains why so much academic research brings few insights (partial analysis is useless) or impacts (inaccessible means unconsidered).
To this, Ed Dolan replied:
I agree with your interdisciplinary comments. One of the pleasures of being retired is being liberated from some of those constraints. I have been giving a series of talks at a local discussion group of almost all retirees in our small town here. At the latest one (Free Trade under Fire) there were about 40 people, at least 10 with PhDs in various fields (only one other economist) and another dozen or so with advanced degrees in engineering, law, or medicine. More than an hour of lively and insightful discussion following the slideshow. In contrast to a discussion with students in the audience, the participants had not only opinion but experience. In contrast to a faculty seminar within an econ department, or at an econ conference, there was no feeling that the discussion was a competitive event in which the goal was to ask questions that made the discussant look brilliant and the presenter look stupid.

The economist as public intellectual

Gordon Tullock (1984):
Most economists only occasionally give lectures to something like the Rotary Club. I am suggesting that this aspect of professional life be sharply increased. Furthermore, I am suggesting that you become an expert on some rather obscure topic instead of giving your lecture to the Rotary Club on what is right or what is wrong with Reaganomics. This is indeed a change from the normal academic life but not a gigantic one. I am not suggesting that you devote immense amounts of time to these joint projects, merely that you do indeed devote some time to them. In a way it may be a pleasant change from the more profound and difficult work that I am sure mainly occupies your time.


Even if there were no beneficial impact on your career, nevertheless, I would urge it on you. All of us are, to some minor extent, charitable and this is a particularly convenient way for economists to work out their charitable feelings. Getting rid of the British Columbia Egg Board* might not impress you as a major accomplishment, but individuals can expect to have only small impacts on the massive structure that we call modern society. It is likely that you will do more good for the world by concentrating on abolishing some such organization in your locality than the average person does—indeed, very much more. It is an unusual form of charity, but a form in which the payoff would be high. But although such work falls squarely in the path of virtue, it also has positive payoffs. You can, to repeat my title, do well while you are doing good.
Bottom Line: I'm glad to have such a distinguished thinker as an inspiration for my work.

* The BCEMB, sadly, is still screwing Canadians ... just as the milk and alcohol boards are.