29 August 2014

Friday party!

Now THIS is a drop! (Skip the first 30 sec if you're in a hurry :)

Do we have a RIGHT to use too much water?

After my radio interview with (libertarian) talk show host Bob Zadek (57 min), I got this email:
Are you aware of this document? Looks like the end game of the UN Environmentalists is 26 gallons per person per day worldwide, in the name of “sustainable development” and “smart growth”.
I replied:
I don't read it as you do,* but I agree with its principles. In places where water is scarce (i.e., NOT Chicago or Seattle), then it's a good idea to limit withdrawals for lawns (100 liters is PLENTY for indoor use) because of the environmental benefits to everyone.

Current water consumption is not, btw, a "property right" as the right to use is determined by public policy. That can (and should) switch to rebalance back from the over-consumption that was policy in the "water running to the sea is wasted" era. We know now that "ecosystem services" keep fisheries alive, clean water, prevent floods and balance droughts. We can replace those services, but at 10x the cost, so it's efficient to "reduce waste" IF you want a high quality of life.
I interpret her subsequent silence as agreement ;)
* Action 19: Develop policies to increase adequate access to safe drinking water, aiming at access for all by 2015. For cities with potable water consumption greater than 100 liters per capita per day, adopt and implement policies to reduce consumption by ten per cent by 2015

28 August 2014

Anything but water

"Green" festivals with discarded reusables are not
  1. Truth: "You show me a polluter, I'll show you a subsidy; I'll show you a fat cat who's using political clout to escape the discipline of the free market and force the public to pay his production costs. That's what all pollution is -- it is always a subsidy." --Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

  2. I talk about "reality" quite often but Mike Munger has expressed it elegantly, as the quest for Unicorn Governance, i.e., "people who favor expansion of government imagine a State different from the one possible in the physical world"

  3. The New Yorker takes apart Vandana Shiva for her irrational opposition to the GMOs, i.e., "She is a demagogue who opposes the universal values of the Enlightenment."

  4. An overview of the legality and use of drugs (marijuana) in Amsterdam

  5. Increasing gas prices to grow the economy, by changing relative prices and incomes

27 August 2014

Writing versus winning

I've used peer review/grading in several of my classes because I think it gives students a different perspective (from mine) on their work.

I think the process leads students to...
  • write differently -- and perhaps more carefully
  • get more written feedback than I can provide
  • learn from their peers' writing and perspectives
  • improve their skills when critiquing others' work
These benefits bring some additional costs. The most obvious is the extra paperwork and sorting that I need to do, to move the process along. The most dangerous is students' perception that their peers are being unfair to them.

Thsi is how the system used to work:
  1. Each author's essay is given to three peers
  2. Each peer ranks the three different essays they get as A, B or C
  3. Peers then give written feedback to accompany their ranks
  4. Authors then rank the quality of the peers' feedback as A, B or C
This system ensures that the "average" essay gets a B at the same time as it removes the problem of subjective awarding of points (one student would give A, A and B; another B, C and C).

Although I worried about students who complained to me that their peers were being unfair (or even sabotaging them, to help themselves in a roundabout way), I told them that three grades from peers should help reduce bias, on average.

But I also underestimated two problems. The first was a propensity for authors to give bad ranks to peers in exchange for bad ranks. We reduced this problem by separating ranks from the written critiques. The second was the potential for a peer to write a review that justified their rank.* Such an action would lead to flowery reports for the A essay and brutal reports for the C essay.** Indeed, I had seen examples of terrible comments given to essays that didn't deserve them.

Luckily for my students, LUC's policy forbids peer grading, which forced me to rethink and reform the process into a better structure. What's interesting is that it's nearly the same as the system peer-reviewed journals use: A paper goes to three peers, who write anonymous critiques that the editor uses to decide whether to accept or reject the paper.***

I will therefore use a peer-review process that's modified in three ways. First, I'll ask peers to give constructive criticism (e.g., "what did they miss, how can they improve, what did you learn?"). Second, I will grade peers on the quality of their critiques (journals do not do this, formally). Third, I will end the process with the Author's grade, rather than another revision.

Bottom Line: Students will help each other more if they are graded on the quality of the help rather than their rationalization for a grade they may not even want to give.

* Cornelia pointed this out, and it's obvious in hindsight. I assumed students would read and critique and THEN rank, but the need to give A, B or C meant that students would rank first, justify later.
** Psychologists have shown that people are clever in rationalizing pretty much any involuntary situation as the outcome of free choice.
*** The most common move is in-between, i.e., "revise and resubmit" for potential acceptance or rejection.

26 August 2014

Sadly appropriate

Do water subsidies help SMALL farmers?

MH emails:
I have a question that has come up in my conversations with a friend (who is actually a libertarian, but I guess not on this issue) about water.

He claims that subsidized water in California is necessary for small farmers to make a profit. If the price of water increases, it will only hurt the small farmers and not big agribusiness. I tried to explain that someone has to absorb the cost of water (infrastructure, transportation, negative externalities etc.) but he kept returning to the idea that without these subsidies for small farmers, it would put an entire sector of the economy out of work, while raising prices for fresh produce.

My response was if you are growing a crop that is not profitable without government subsidies (say rice), you should stop growing it. Though, to me, this seems logical, it also seems heartless, especially towards small farmers. My friend works for a small, organic, sustainable farm and knows from experience the value of cheap water for their survival.

What say you on this dilemma?
In response, I wrote:
I disagree with your friend.
  1. Subsidies goto people who are organized enough to GET them, via paperwork, political lobbying, etc. Small farmers are often too busy to "get subsidies"
  2. Assuming EVERYONE has access to "cheap" water, larger farmers will see a greater share of their costs in water, since they've minimized capital costs, management costs, etc. per ton of production. That means a 20% increase in water prices will raise total costs by a larger share than it would for a small farmer who is less efficient and/or has a larger share of costs from other inputs.
  3. Small farmers are better able to adjust (different crop mix) than larger farmers with big fixed operations (think almond orchard), which gives them more flexibility.
Now I agree that some organic farms struggle and that "they need all the help they can get," but I think cheap water helps the COMPETITION stay in business, which lowers prices to small farmers.

So, I'd predict that expensive water would hurt large farmers and help small farmers.
What do you think?

25 August 2014

Monday funnies

CM sent this great PSA, which will get through to the people who need more "awareness." For the rest,* I suggest higher prices.

* I use the term "20/80 rule" to separate the 20 percent who want to do the right thing from the 80 percent who don't care, but who WILL pay attention to higher prices

Speed blogging

  1. "David Zetland, a water policy analyst and author, says this [California farmers' claim to use less than 50 percent of water] is a distortion of facts"

  2. Here's the 57 min MP4 or MP3 and PDF for my AWRA webinar on "The Emergence of Wastewater as a New Supply"

  3. Tabletop water filters (e.g., Brita) are probably useless and may even make you sick

  4. Los Angeles sends out more water cops waste communications officers instead of fixing its lawn-subsidizing, people-penalizing tariffs. FAIL

  5. NOAA has published the State of the Climate 2013 and scientists have linked "the pause" in warming to changing deep-sea dynamics

  6. Will Christians help restore the Jordan River?
H/Ts to DL and RM

23 August 2014

Flashback: 18--24 Aug 2013

A year later and still worth reading...

22 August 2014

Friday party!

The IJHallen fleamarket is this weekend. We made this GoPro "high speed" video when going last month. It gives you a little idea of a 25 min bike ride in Amsterdam

Friends, strangers and progress

Small [unoriginal] thoughts on a big topic:*

People in communities tend to cooperate because they are in a "repeated game" in which trust is reciprocated, cheating is punished and a shared existence leads to "compassionate" tolerance.

People who meet "in the agora" (market) do not necessarily know or trust each other, but they can benefit from trade. The greatest gains from trade come from the greatest differences (one man's trash is another's treasure), which explains the emergence of "commercial" tolerance.

These differences explain small town conservatism and urban radicalism. They also explain how you can build trust among strangers (put them in a repeated game) and tolerance in small towns (reduce co-dependence). Those innovations may be difficult to introduce when the equilibrium status quo tends to reinforce the opposite dynamics.

Bottom Line: Human cooperation tends to fit the local context, but it can be improved with the careful addition of familiar dynamics from other situations.

* Read, e.g., this fascinating 1977 perspective on China's struggle between creative openness (individualism) and monolithic isolation. Today's China combines these characteristics in unexpected ways.