29 Feb 2008

Tricky Questions

In a comment to my earlier post, AG asks:
  1. what does it mean when someone says "sustainable business practice" or "green power"? Does a clear definition exist for these terms? How would you define these terms? What metrics do you need to use to distinguish between "unsustainable" or a fuel that is not green?
  2. How will consumers know that a company or industry is using sustainable business practice or that the fuel that they are putting in their car is "green"?
  3. Do you need to worry about induced economic effects? For example, suppose a carbon tax causes an entire industry to move overseas where environmental regulations are lax or non-existent and thus society starts to import goods/services that transfers pollution to another other country. What do you do now? Do you apply the tax still?
  4. How will equity concerns be addressed?
Nice questions. Here are my thoughts:
  1. what does it mean when someone says "sustainable... To me, it means that they have accounted for all meaningful externalities, i.e., they are paying (and charging) when their business generates pollution that affects the environment. This does not mean zero pollution, but zero meaningful pollution, i.e., pollution that stays around. If, for example, a taco seller throws beans and rice in the gutter, it is not meaningful pollution because it will be eaten, washed away or decay. If he throws a plastic bag there, it is meaningful. (Street cleaning is a solution to pollution, not a human right, so we don't say "it's someone's job to pick up the trash.")
    Getting back to pollution, I want to evoke the common law idea that we all have a right to enjoy our private and communal property in the condition we found it. We can modify our private property (chop a tree) without notice to others, but we cannot do that in the commons without causing offense. That's why the commons need to be protected/policed in some way (see Ostrom for lit).
    So -- power and energy are green or sustainable if their short-term effects (inhaling smoke) and long-term effects (acid-rain, global warming, wildlife death) doesn't harm us. The bad news is that almost all fossil fuels have bad long-term effects if used faster than the environment can absorb them. (I've always thought of resource economics for telling us the optimal way to use something and environmental economics for telling us the impact of those uses on other things.) And we have been doing that for awhile. Nuclear power has no global warming effects (besides generating heat, but we get that from the sun too) -- its effects are harmful when we die of radiation poisoning. Nasty.
    Should we all go back to log fires? No -- or not possible. All we can do is try to minimize pollution from power generation and energy. The economist notes that US gasoline prices are among the lowest in the world -- lower, even, than China's. Cheap energy will be used more than expensive stuff.
    I could go on....

  2. How will consumers know... Tricky. We rely on labels to tell us that food is organic or that a TV is made in Mexico, but who confirms those labels are true? That's an important job but not necessarily a government job (Kosher food has been certified for a long time by independent contractors rabbis.) Note the principal-agent and free-rider problem. If the producer pays for certification, we (sometimes) get outcomes like the sub-prime mess (bond issuers pay Moodys, et al. to get AAa ratings, etc.) If consumers need to pay, some will want to let others pay for certification and then use the information without paying (public goods problem). The solution is when middlemen can pay for certification and then charge consumers. It's called branding :)
    Unfortunately, there is "greenwash" branding ("hybrid" SUV?) and other forms of deception. My guess is that the market can take care of branding, labeling, etc but that there is some role for a non-profit that will aggregate and distribute information on the quality of branding.

    One more thing -- use basic economics to tell the difference. If it costs the same to ship something across the road as it does to go across the country, there's something wrong. Now consider that the USPS charges the same to send a letter but UPS changes the rates based on distance. That's the government at work -- killing the environment. (Yes, I know that one-price stamps are easier, but there are ways to handle that AND the whole idea sends a bad signal to people/gets them in bad habits -- like all-you-can eat restaurants!)

  3. Do you need to worry about induced economic effects? The old "pollution haven"/exporting pollution effect, eh? In theory, there's definitely a reason for polluting industries to move to places that are more lax. Some trade-protectionists use this reason to require that trade partners reach "our level" of green and clean, but that's often a reason to prevent trade.
    Even assuming there is a difference, that difference serves the poor country because it gives them an opportunity to earn money and improve their lives. Pollution will go up for a time, but then fall -- if they have political and property rights (will it happen in China? in time for the Olympics?) This "environmental Kuznets curve" has some empirical support, but its mostly a theoretical response to the pollution haven theory.
    Another factor to consider is this: What if we do not trade TVs with country X because they have no EPA? Do they set up an EPA to get trade going with us? No, they probably get into the nuclear waste storage business. If our trade is off the table, they have to find the next-best partner. Allowing them to trade with us gives them better options and that competition means they will move to the most profitable business ASAP. Profits include losses from pollution, so they will go green ASAP as well.

  4. How will equity concerns be addressed? Equity is my favorite concept these days :) There are several issues. First, can poorer people pay for green fuel? Second, will they be affected more/less than others? The short answer is 100% green fuel (no alternatives) should be sold at the same price to poor as to rich. Compensation should arrive to them via block transfers to their income. That way, the poor will use as little (expensive) fuel as they can. They should be equally well off with the income, which they can put back into fuel or into drugs, cable TV or UC Davis tuition.
    Green programs and sustainability can have bad impacts on the poor. The most-obvious example is the requirement that cars have anti-pollution devices. Cars cost more and the poor have less income for other stuff... I don't know what to say about this except that being poor is a bummer sometimes. (That's why social mobility plays an important in social justice.) Do keep in mind that plenty of "green" ideas are yuppie ideas. My least-favorite example of this is the "restore Hetch Hetchy" people. They want $5 billion of tax money to break down a dam (losing hydropower and storage) and "restore the lost valley". For what? So they can drive their green SUVs all over the place? I prefer the option put forward by an opponent to the scheme -- more urban parks. Poor people don't drive to HH-Yosemite -- they use parks in the city. Unfortunately, they do not vote enough. (Fortunately, the HH idea has been killed as too stupid to consider :)
So -- there are a few thoughts. Forgive typos, vagueness, etc.

27 Feb 2008

Mining and Polluting

These two stories discuss the old, but increasingly unpopular, practice of using water to get at "more valuable" stuff such as oil and minerals. The bad news is that the profits are there, and most people are uninterested in using less fuel, so the practice will continue.

This story has a link to a report from Environmental Defense that details how the refiners at the Alberta Oil Sands are "licensed to use twice the amount of fresh water that the entire city of Calgary uses in a year, and at least 90% of the fresh water used in the oil sands ends up in ends up in tailing ponds so toxic that propane cannons are used to keep ducks from landing in them."

Too bad for those moose.

Meanwhile in Idaho...
In legislation introduced this week in the state Senate, the Idaho Mining Association that represents the companies also aims to expand the state Department of Environmental Quality's definition of mining areas to clear the way for the companies to pollute groundwater in perpetuity -- provided the pollution stays beneath waste rock piles and processing plants.

Sen. Chuck Coiner, R-Twin Falls, said at this week's hearing he fears the industry's demands could leave sites adjacent to phosphate mines vulnerable to contamination, partly because it's so difficult to determine the flow of groundwater in aquifers.

For instance, in eastern Idaho, selenium pollution from defunct phosphate mines and their waste piles in the late 1990s killed at least four horses and hundreds of sheep after they drank from contaminated water.

"I'm not asking for a license to pollute," Lyman said, adding nothing in his bill absolves companies of responsibility to protect neighboring property. "We don't want to affect farmers who are off-site."

[industry lobbiest]Lyman assured lawmakers his measure won't allow mining companies to pollute surrounding property. Geological conditions beneath the earth effectively filter pollutants before they migrate elsewhere, he said.

"It isn't as though there's some great sea underground," Lyman said. "It's flowing through porous rock" that keeps minerals from moving downstream to adjacent ground, he said.
Apparently, the people of Idaho have not heard of the common law principle that water should be used and returned to nature in the condition it was found, i.e., polluted water should be restored.

But that's nothing compared to Mr. Lying ("porous rock keeps minerals from moving..."?!? -- what is he on? Wait, this about drugs water, right?) -- is he some cartoon character of a bad guy or what?

Bottom Line: Oil and minerals are valuable, but the price of extraction has to be the price of sustainable, clean, green extraction. If you have to destroy the environment to get the stuff -- and make an "adequate" profits -- then you are not paying the full price of extraction. Clean water is worth something -- don't let companies bribe a few politicians to ruin your water supply and natural surroundings.

26 Feb 2008

Pentagon on Climate Change...in 2004

From the Guardian:
The document predicts that abrupt climate change could bring the planet to the edge of anarchy as countries develop a nuclear threat to defend and secure dwindling food, water and energy supplies. The threat to global stability vastly eclipses that of terrorism, say the few experts privy to its contents.
Judging by the actions of the administration, this report was forgotten. (Remember that Katrina was in 2005 -- it was really forgotten.) So much for being the national security president.

25 Feb 2008

Wash Your Hands!

I, for one, have always felt that washing your hands after leaving the toilet was unimportant if I didn't pee on them. I was wrong. In this Straightdope column, you learn all about the "ecological jungle" that is our body [uncomfortable to read but good to know] as well as the dope on Urine Therapy (drinking your pee), where we get this:
While I don't suppose there's any danger urine therapy will become the next macarena, I did take the precaution of checking out the concept with University of Chicago kidney specialist Dr. John Asplin. He thought urine consumption in moderate quantities was probably harmless.

The stuff is fairly sterile, and if you do happen to have a urinary-tract infection or something, well, you've already got whatever germs you're consuming. (Former Indian prime minister Moraji Desai, a daily urine drinker, lived to be 99.)

On the other hand, Asplin said, UT isn't likely to do you much good either. Listen to your body. Your body is saying, "I just got rid of this stuff, granola-brain. Are you nuts?"
Bottom Line: We are full of germs, and it's a good idea to treat them with respect lest they move to other people. And another thing -- the I know a guy line of argument (Desai)? It means nothing. How many people lived to 99 who did not drink their pee? Lots? Right, so can we get back to useful statistics now?

24 Feb 2008

Water Managers as Central Planners

Southern California has long-term issues with water supplies. Water managers seem to think that the best "solution" is to cut off supplies to various groups according to some classification system and ask people to use less water.
approximately 5,000 agricultural customers in San Diego County who subscribe to a discount water program through the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California had those supplies reduced 30 percent on January 1.

As a result of these factors, the Water Authority's Board of Directors approved entering into Stage 2 of the region's Drought Management Plan. This stage, supply enhancement, authorizes staff to seek temporary water storage and transfers to augment local supplies. It also calls for boosting conservation outreach to help the Water Authority achieve its goal of increasing water conservation by 56,000 acre-feet by the end of the year.
When was the last time that someone told you "oil is in short supply, please use less, or we're cutting your allocation of corn by 30 percent"? Never, right? That's because markets are much better at rationing short supplies. The Soviets failed to understand that (but the Russians sure do!), and water managers also seem to fail that comprehension test. Look forward to more water shortages.

Georgia to Invade Tennessee?

...by moving the border.
Two weeks ago two Republican lawmakers, Sen. David Shafer and Rep. Harry Geisinger, proposed that Georgians simply invade their northern neighbor and take their water.

Citing a survey from the 1800s, they claim that the state border has crept southward in an incorrect manner and advocate restoring the pre-1818 state lines. The obvious reason for this is the millions of gallons of water in the Tennessee River, one mile north of the present border.
Brought to you by the same idiot governor who cares about landscaping.

22 Feb 2008

Landscape with Confidence

Georgians can rest easy that their lawns will not dry up, since Governor Perdue has announced a reduction on restrictions on outdoor watering. Why is this?
He says the new plan, relying on the honor system, will give retailers the confidence to stock new landscaping materials and producers the confidence to grow them.

The governor says it will renew confidence in the strength of Georgia's landscaping industry.
Bottom Line: If you are using scarce water for landscaping (to support "the industry"!) you've got your priorities bassackwards. Piped water is for people. Rain water is for landscape. Most of the mess we have with water shortages can be traced to using unnaturally large amounts of water to maintain landscape that is not native to the area (the lawns of Los Angeles). The governor is just a shill for developers (again)!

21 Feb 2008

The Wisdom of Dogbert

From the February DNRC Newsletter:
Dear Dogbert,

How can I make money off of this whole global warming thing?


Dear Allbutt,

Try buying life insurance and standing neck-deep in the ocean.



Bush's Ecological Disaster

Some snippets from today's Bloomberg:
U.S. plans to replace 15 percent of gasoline consumption with crop-based fuels including ethanol are already leading to some unintended consequences as food prices and fertilizer costs increase.

About 33 percent of U.S. corn will be used for fuel over the next decade, up from 11 percent in 2002, the Agriculture Department estimates. Corn rose 20 percent to a record on the Chicago Board of Trade since Dec. 19, the day President George W. Bush signed a law requiring a five-fold jump in renewable fuels by 2022.

The energy bill requires the U.S. to use 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022, of which about 15 billion gallons may come from corn-based ethanol, more than twice the nation's current production capacity of about 8.06 billion.

Corn doubled in the past two years, closing at $5.235 a bushel yesterday in Chicago. The price of young cattle sold to feedlots gained 9.3 percent in the past year, touching a record $1.1965 a pound on Sept. 6 on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Average whole milk rose 26 percent to $3.871 a gallon in January from a year earlier, the Department of Labor said yesterday.

``For thousands of years, humans grew food and ate it,'' said Andrew Redleaf, 50, chief executive officer of Whitebox Advisors LLC, a Minneapolis hedge fund that manages $3 billion. ``Now we are burning crops to make fuel.''

Farmers will have to increase planting of corn for ethanol by 43 percent to 30 million acres by 2015 to meet the government's requirements, said Bill Nelson, a vice president at A.G. Edwards Inc. in St. Louis. This year at least, growers outside the Midwest are focused on more profitable crops such as soybeans and wheat, analysts surveyed by Bloomberg said.

Increased planting has caused costs of some fertilizer to double. Diammonium phosphate, a nutrient used on corn fields, reached $792.50 a ton on Feb. 15 from $297 a year earlier, USDA data show.

Researchers led by Timothy Searchinger at Princeton University said their study showed greenhouse-gas emissions will rise with ethanol demand. U.S. farmers will use more of their cropland for fuel, forcing poorer countries to cut down rainforests and use other undeveloped land for farms, the study said. Searchinger's team determined that corn-based ethanol almost doubles greenhouse-gas output over 30 years when considering land-use changes.

While ethanol is contributing to inflation, the impact is limited, Leibtag said. A 50 percent jump in corn prices in 2007 from the 20-year average only added 1.6 cents to the cost of an 18-ounce box of Kellogg Co. Corn Flakes cereal, said Leibtag, who is speaking at today's forum. The cost is less than 2 percent per box, JPMorgan Chase & Co. estimates.

The ethanol boom helps restrain government spending on farm subsidies, said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat. The USDA expects taxpayers to spend $941 million on the two main subsidy programs tied to price this year, down from $9.1 billion in 2006.
Bottom Line:I hate to say repeat it, but Bush's method of making policy is just about as stupid as I've ever seen. Has this guy (or his staff) ever thought of what happens when people respond to their actions? Most Bush-admin analysis is one-degree deep: "Let's dump Saddam 'cause that's good" Okay, George, then what happens? "Dunno. God's takes care of the rest."

Thanks to AG for the pointer

20 Feb 2008

Global Warming NOT!

Speaking of six degrees of global catastrophe, Alexander Cockburn talks about his reception as a blasphemer for his desire to debate the "fact" of global warming:
Here in the West, the so-called ‘war on global warming’ is reminiscent of medieval madness. You can now buy Indulgences to offset your carbon guilt. If you fly, you give an extra 10 quid to British Airways; BA hands it on to some non-profit carbon-offsetting company which sticks the money in its pocket and goes off for lunch. This kind of behaviour is demented.
Bottom Line: He's right -- we need more debate. All I ask for is the end to ideas (e.g., coal subsidies) that are stupid -- global warming or not.

19 Feb 2008

Metropolitan Raises Water Prices

...by 14%! Alas, they are still way way too low to "help" people conserve water.

Since tap water prices reflect cost and not value, the prices are very cheap: The impact of this 14% increase is likely to be an extra $1.50/month per household. Ouch So what?

Bottom Line: If water utilities want people to use less water, they should raise their prices by a lot. (I mean 500% -- water bills have got to be as big as the mobile phone bill or car payment before people will stop watering the sidewalks.)

Don't worry about monopoly profits -- "excess revenue" from those fat water bills could be redistributed back to everyone on a per capita basis, i.e., function as a progressive tax. Beverly Hills lawyers who water their driveways will pay through the nose, and Compton grandmothers with 10 kids will get cash back to take care of business.

18 Feb 2008

Six Degrees

I just watched videos showing scientific projections of the world's climate after one, two... six degrees of global warming. It's scary -- like "don't have kids" scary.

Watch it, stop drinking bottled water, and overthrow the politicians who not only refuse to address global warming, but continue to subside activities that do (e.g., ethanol). That's your homework today (...and don't forget to honor the good presidents!)

16 Feb 2008

No Water No Foundations

Sometimes water is for more than drinking:
A group of La Quinta homeowners took the first step to suing the Coachella Valley Water District on Friday, claiming the agency’s overuse of groundwater and the resulting sinking of the valley is damaging their homes.

Officials predict it will not be the last lawsuit the water district faces related to subsidence – the sinking of the valley floor caused when more groundwater is used than returned.
Bottom Line: Mismanage something (using more than you should) will be costly -- one way or another. Lawsuits won't make things better, but they may end the mismanagement. (In this case it may not be possible; the houses may not have access to a sustainable water supply.)

15 Feb 2008

The Jury's Verdict

In San Diego, a grand Jury (!) says
the city of San Diego isn't being aggressive enough pushing water cuts in the face of looming water shortages.

Wednesday's report recommends increasing water rates to dampen consumption, controlling population growth, bolstering enforcement of water-use laws and replacing voluntary water restrictions with mandatory ones.

"The citizens of San Diego believe the water party will go on forever," the report says. "The public regularly ignores water conservation."

For months, city officials have said conservation mandates are confusing and unnecessary.

The grand jury also urged San Diego to augment reservoirs with recycled wastewater. Mayor Jerry Sanders recently vetoed a pilot repurification program.
It's good t o see some common sense (higher prices, recycled water) -- even from such an unusual source!

14 Feb 2008

Indiana and the Dead Zone

The Mississippi drains much of the Midwest into the Gulf of Mexico. The trouble is that agricultural runoff from these states (now running at full steam to grow as much government pork ecological disaster life-affirming, lovely ethanol-enhancing corn as possible) ends up going down river, where it kills fish -- and everything else. This story discusses the role that Indiana and other states play maintaining and increasing the Dead Zone:
Animal manure and fertilizer flowing from Indiana and nine other states into the Mississippi River has significantly contributed to a seasonal "dead zone" -- an area that is so depleted of oxygen that most aquatic life cannot survive.

Along with Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio and Mississippi were the worst contributors to the dead zone.
Bottom Line: There's no free lunch. Pay farmers to grow something and they will. Besides the direct costs (fuel, machinery, etc), there are indirect costs (externalities) that others (people, fish) bear. If the farmers do not bear these costs, they grow too much and we all suffer.

Rainwater Thieves!

In the water world, the case of Cochabamba, Bolivia is notorious as an example of privatization gone wrong. The most galling part of the deal was (beside raising prices to pay for crumbling infrastructure) was an alleged ban on harvesting rainwater for use. The idea, I suppose, was that the new water supplier would need rainfall runoff for its own supplies and would sell the water back. Yes, it sounds stupid, and yes it was, but don't think stupidity is limited to foreign places.

This article reports on a similar ban on rainwater harvesting in Denver:
Some of the water, of course, gets soaked up by the ground and never makes it to streams. However, if a lot of people in the Denver area, for example, starting catching and saving water that fell on their homes, Kemper said it could lower the amount of water flowing in the South Platte River to farmers on the state's plains and beyond. Since most of the state's rivers and streams have more water rights than water, often people with newer rights don't get all the water they're entitled to, Kemper said.
There are other, funny zingers in the piece that help you understand how convoluted and surreal western water laws can be.

13 Feb 2008

Lake Mead in Trouble

The drought and higher water consumption is lowering the level of the lake behind Hoover Dam. A study released today
gave a 10 percent chance that functional storage in Mead and Powell reservoirs will be gone by 2013 and a 50 percent chance that it will disappear by 2021. They said there's a 50 percent chance that the minimum power-production levels in both lakes will be reached in 2017, based on current trends.
I was amazed and depressed to see NO MENTION of raising the price of water. Advertising, yes; rationing, yes; desalination, yes. When are they going to raise prices! ARG!

Risk and Levees

The Army Corps of Engineers has a new method to estimate levee height:
The levee height required for certification must be enough to provide at least "90 percent assurance" of containing this range of flows. In other words, the corps is stating that 90 percent of the possible 100-year floods will fall below this elevation.

The corps does not require freeboard above this measurement.

Davis said the traditional approach requires 3 feet of freeboard everywhere, essentially ignoring the unique uncertainties at each location. But risk analysis sets heights based on calculations of risks at each location measured.

Because of that, 3 feet of freeboard may be overkill on a river reach with gradual and predictable behavior. But it might be too little on a more "flashy" and unpredictable river.
This idea is more accurate -- in theory. My question is how much better (cost/benefit) it will be in practice. How much longer will projects take when every 100m of levee must be calibrated against historical water levels? Are we losing safety in that delay? Buying false assurances if the modeling is inaccurate?

12 Feb 2008

30 Percent Water Cuts to SoCal Farmers

This NPR story details the mandatory 30 percent cuts that farmers face. There's a nice irony to this bit:
"The price of water is bad enough, but then when they tell us we've got to cut by 30 percent, then you stop and say, 'OK, what will I do?'" says Gary Broomell, who has been growing oranges and grapefruits in Valley Center for almost 50 years.

"We had no choice," he says. "We can't pay the full price. That's a given, especially in citrus. If we were paying the full price the last 10 years, we wouldn't be here anymore."

Broomell blames environmentalists for stopping projects that would bring more water to the region, and for pushing a lawsuit to protect a tiny endangered fish, called the Delta smelt, that lives hundreds of miles away. He says he's in an untenable situation.

"I honestly think it's more manmade than Mother Nature," Broomell says of the farmers' water crisis.
Man made? You bet! The man-made part came when farmers like Broomell started growing fruit in the desert. When the water disappears (or gets too expensive -- funny how that matters), they are out of business.

Bottom Line: Water has been too cheap for years. Since the price does not reflect the cost of scarcity, people have wasted it and overbuilt to the point of over-dependency. Now that water is short, they have little choice but to reverse years of "progress" built on foundations of sand.

Thanks to SS for the tip.

11 Feb 2008

Water shortages on global agenda?

The UN Secretary General called for solutions to looming water crises.
"Too often, where we need water we find guns instead," Ban said. "Population growth will make the problem worse. So will climate change. As the global economy grows, so will its thirst. Many more conflicts lie just over the horizon."

He said a recent report identified 46 countries with 2.7 billion people where climate change and water-related crises create "a high risk of violent conflict" and a further 56 countries, with 1.2 billion people "are at high risk of violent conflict." The report was by International Alert, an independent peacebuilding organization based in London.

Ban told the VIP audience that he spent 2007 "banging my drum on climate change," an issue the Forum also had as one of its main themes last year. He welcomed the focus on water this year saying the session should be named: "Water is running out."

"We need to adapt to this reality, just as we do to climate change," he said. "There is still enough water for all of us — but only so long as we can keep it clean, use it more wisely, and share it fairly."
Good -- now can we get to proper allocation of rights and pricing of water?

8 Feb 2008

Fewer Fish, More Fish Problems

There's a new endanged smelt in the Delta, and yesterday's regulations will impose further reductions on water exports to Southern California:
The pumping restrictions adopted Thursday for the longfin smelt could mean additional stoppages because longfin smelt move into the delta and spawn earlier than the delta smelt, according to a Department of Fish and Game memo.

Surveys by the Department of Fish and Game show the population of the longfin smelt in the of fall 2007 reached their lowest since the surveys began in 1967.
More bad (or inevitable) news for the agricultural interests of the Central Valley.

Corn Ethanol is Dumb

Marginal Revolution has a good post (and comments!) on the net, negative impact of corn ethanol. Looks like the folks that brought you the War on Terror™, Mess in Iraq™ and Spending outa Control™ have done it again!

7 Feb 2008

Fish versus Farmers

Farmers and environmentalists are at war over water. They are arguing over whether fish or water exports are destroying the Delta ecology; see also my prior post on bureaucratic destruction of same.
Farmers in arid Kern County last week sued the state for protecting the striper as a sportfish. They allege the nonnative striper has been allowed to damage the Delta, preying on endangered native fish, including salmon and the ghostly Delta smelt.

The new lawsuit shows that this war's front has moved beyond the traditional realm of environmentalists versus government. Rhetoric has also hardened between interest groups that have spent the past 10 years trying to cooperate on water issues.

"They're executioners," Roger Mammon said, bluntly labeling water exporters.

Mammon is a board member of the West Delta Chapter of the California Striped Bass Association. "They don't care about the Delta except that it's water and money in their pocket. I think they're full of it."

Instead, they blame water exporters – including the Kern farmers – for a bottomless thirst that has pumped Delta water to millions of homes and farm fields at a record pace over the past seven years.
Bottom Line: The environment is stressed and many things have a bad impact. I have to blame the farmers, however, since a lot more water in the area would have a much bigger impact than an invasive species (that we have little control over). The farmers, it seems, are throwing up legal barriers between now and their eventual loss of water rights. It's a long fight to restore sensible water policy (e.g., farmers pay full price for water -- perhaps in an auction for limited rights.)

6 Feb 2008

Law and Environment

The Economist reports that rule of laws matters more than income when comparing countries on their environmental quality:
A mixture of factors related to good government—accurate data, transparent administration, lack of corruption, checks and balances—all show a clear statistical relationship with environmental performance. Among countries of comparable income, Mr Esty concludes, tough regulations and above all, enforcement are the key factors in keeping things green.
Bottom Line: Laws mean nothing unless they are enforced (Remember the Soviet Constitution?), and rich people are less likely than poor people to care about breaking the law -- they can drive away from approaching hurricanes. The best defense of the environment is a set of clear, simple goals, morals and laws that everyone must obey. If people feel that others are supporting the collective action, their voluntary adherence to the letter and spirit of laws makes things even better. (Ever picked up trash, even though it was "someone's job"? Ever do that when there is trash everywhere?)

5 Feb 2008

Water Water Everywhere...

....and not a drop for irrigators. The Department of Water Resources has increased delivery estimates to SWP contractors from 25 to 35 percent of contracted quantities. (This is the water that's exported from NorCal to SoCal from the Sacramento Delta.) Without court orders limiting exports, DWR may have agreed to 50 percent fulfillment. With good rainfall (120% of average), these numbers should be higher, but uncertainty from climate fluctuations and legal constraints are making it hard to enjoy all the water.

Bottom Line: Water supplies have permanently shifted to a lower level from the good ol' days of the 1970s and 1980s. Southern Californians are in for a shock unless they get their heads around the status quo of scarcity. Time to limit the demand side: Time to raise prices.

4 Feb 2008

Bush's Legacy

In the State of the Union, he claimed to care about global warming. Look at his record, retorts the NY Times. Bush sucks at science.

Tyranny of Science

This interesting opinion piece describes how science have be overreaching its authority to claim "moral" authority over controversial matters.
The slippage between a scientific fact and moral exhortation is accomplished with remarkable ease in a world where people lack the confidence to speak in the language of right and wrong. But turning science into an arbiter of policy and behaviour only serves to confuse matters. Science can provide facts about the way the world works, but it cannot say very much about what it all means and what we should do about it. Yes, the search for truth requires scientific experimentation and the discovery of new facts; but it also demands answers about the meaning of those facts, and those answers can only be clarified through moral, philosophical investigation and debate.

If science is turned into a moralising project, its ability to develop human knowledge will be compromised....

1 Feb 2008

Deep Snow Good Water Supply

California does not appear to be entering a second year of drought. Recent measurements by the Department of Water Resources find
The average depth of the snow was 73.1 inches and the water content was 23.6 inches. That's 23 percent above average for the site. Last year at this time, the depth was 23.2 and the water content was 7.3 inches at Phillips, only 38 percent of the average.
Global warming may turn a lot of snow into a problem -- by melting the snow faster than usual so that runoff comes too fast for reservoirs to handle -- but that's a problem that we all want to have. Speaking of that, here's a story on the exact same topic. And here's another one from the Washington Post.

Way too cool...

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