23 Dec 2011

Aguanomics is on vacation

I am in Egypt right now, but I'm taking the next week off -- to give both of us some free time from blog writing/reading.

I'll be back on January 2 2012.

Until then, contemplate this interesting, funny, and sad perspective on freedom and democracy:

I'm not, btw, saying that Egyptian democracy is perfect, but I am definitely saying that "our democracy" is imperfect enough to recommend that we leave others to find their own path -- something we've often failed to do, with poor results. Here's the Dilbert version:

See you in 2012!

Friday party

This is just ridiculous (mind the volume when you play it).

Speed blogging

  • I discuss sharing trans-boundary rivers (wrt China, in particular) during this BBC segment [MP3]. I follow Dan Ariely (review of his Predictably Irrational coming soon!), so pay attention after 8:18.

  • Jamie Workman's ode to a dam breach'd.

  • A VERY GOOD video (8 min) explaining why the Kyoto Agreement failed.

  • News from Australia: "Irrigators are employing increasingly sophisticated strategies to meet their changing water requirements and generate income from their water rights assets."

  • What's the world going to be like in 2050? Watch this video (and buy land in Canada and Siberia!)
H/Ts to NP and AT

22 Dec 2011

Anything but water

  • Digital retouching of photos is not only getting out of control ("unreal" humans) but contributing to people's anxieties (self image, etc.) Want to scare yourself? Look at the before and after photos here (seems Ms. Jolie is dong pretty well). Speaking of weird perceptions, read the straight dope on being "black."

  • Personal assistants by the task. This, combined with peer-to-peer banking, is going to undermine the taxation system. Time to look again at property taxes?

  • Oh snap! bioplastics are not always biodegradable, good for oceans, petroleum-free, good for the environment, or the solution to the "plastic" problem.

  • The five best toys of all time. Seriously.

  • Economists have thought, since Hotelling's 1931 paper, that energy extraction activities would balance between current prices and future prices, in an effort to maximize current and future "rents" from the resource. This paper [PDF] (via KP) shows that's not the way the industry works. The implication is that we may not be efficiently managing resources with free market price signals. That's not a silly idea where energy is concerned -- taxes on consumption of this resource can slow down consumption to keep energy cheaper tomorrow. Think about it.

21 Dec 2011

Water efficiency or propaganda?

This article from the Jerusalem Post compares water use patterns between Israel and Arizona/Nevada. On Israel's side, we hear:
As natural water sources in countries such as Israel continually decrease every year, they must learn to create sustainable and reliable supplies using new techniques, many of which Israel has already undertaken, according to Tenne [chairman of the Israeli Water Authority’s Water Desalination Administration].
Sharon Megdal (director of the Water Resources Research Center at the University of Arizona in Tucson Arizona) then added:
In Arizona, about 40% of the water used comes from groundwater, 3% from recycled water and the remainder from the Colorado River, whose basin Arizona shares with six other states, as well as Mexico and Native American reservations inside Arizona that have independent water authorities.

“They have sovereignty when it comes to water management, so we share water with a lot of different entities,” Megdal said.
Then Pat Mulroy (president of the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies in America and general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority) weighed in:
"This is a place where innovation and technology, but most importantly diplomacy, is all-important. Our solutions are not ones we can find within our own boundary," she said. “What do you do the day that there’s nothing left in the Colorado River to exchange? That’s the challenge. How do we face a reservoir that has less than one year’s supply left in it?”

In Mulroy’s opinion, you work with your neighbors – to go so far as to invest in financing desalination plants in Mexico’s vast open space, and then sharing the end result.

“We seven, very different, disparate states have to agree,” she said, adding that “Mexico has to be a full participant.”
I don't quite agree with these comments. Israel has invaded countries to get water (Syria's Golan Heights and the Sea of Galilee/Kinneret) and takes water from the West Bank that belongs to Palestinians. Arizona "shares" water with a lot of states, but its groundwater use is unsustainable (mining), its surface water comes from a stressed river, and most of that water goes to irrigation. Las Vegas? Where do I start? Let's just say that Pat Mulroy is just about the last person I'd call a diplomat (power-player is more correct), and her venture into Mexico has nothing to do with "working with neighbors" (remember they are paying $170 million for the Drop 2 reservoir on the Mexican border that's ONLY purpose is to prevent ANY excess water from accidentally making it to Mexico) and a lot more to do with regulatory arbitrage -- hoping that a little less environmental regulation will help her get a desalination plant in Mexico more easily than a US plant.

Bottom Line: Sounds like there was a lot of self-congratulation going on in Israel. I'd be happier to have the opinions of a few (involuntary) participants in these management "successes."

20 Dec 2011

Internal performance insurance markets

Here's an addition to my idea of improving utility performance by "importing" competition via insurance companies that compete to write policies:*

This insurance idea can be run inside a company with many operating locations (e.g., Veolia with water treatment plants all over the world).
  • It would treat each plant as a separate business, with a policy that might target water quality and a premium based on existing management.
  • The premium would rise or fall, depending on the inspections of outsiders (former water quality managers still working for the company).
  • All premia would go towards a fund to pay for lapses in quality. 
  • It would be important to consider the objectivity of inspectors and their premium reputations, since mistakes would be harder to overcome without some competition from another insurance company.
  • It may even be possible to allow OTHER managers to travel to "expensive" locations to recommend ways to improve operations and reduce premiums.
  • The complications of these overlapping roles are only possible if a company has enough staff and locations to keep them busy year-round. (These people already work on these problems, so it's a transformation of their work structure.)
This system would create higher-powered incentives that may improve performance over the current system of "informal" inspections and guarantees from the center to various divisions.

Bottom Line: Companies can use internal markets to improve their performance.

* They compete to offer low premiums on policies (to cover loss of service, poor quality, etc.) to water utilities but still need premiums to be high enough so they can stay in business. The resulting rate to customers (tariff + premium) reveals the overall quality of water management.

19 Dec 2011

Monday funnies

This 2008 video (via MG) is funny, yet painfully true:

Paying for floods

RM sent me this article discussing the release of new FEMA flood maps that will show some areas to be under a greater threat of floods.

The responses to this sensible, scientific exercise -- and the resulting changes in flood insurance policies -- are funny (sad):
Rice grower Tara Brocker, who lives and farms south of Nicolaus at the confluence of the Sacramento and Feather rivers, said the floodplain restrictions will likely convert agricultural communities like hers into ghost towns.
Yes, that's because it's not a good idea to live in a place that's likely to be underwater.
"For a lot of farmers, they might have financing on their operation and when they get remapped, their lender will say, 'You are in an A zone now; you have to purchase flood insurance.' This can increase one's insurance costs four to six times," Gallagher said.
Yes, because the objective measure of your risk went UP. That's how insurance works.
"We believe most people will agree that agriculture makes sense as the best use for floodplains," said Elisa Noble, director of livestock, public lands and natural resources for the California Farm Bureau Federation. "However, agricultural and rural communities need to be compensated somehow for bearing this increased risk."
No, you have to STOP building facilities on flood plains, plant annual crops, take the free fertility that comes from a flood, and move on. You can't just keep asking for more money. (Well, I guess you can, but don't moan if you don't get it.)

Bottom Line: Don't expect special favors when you live in a flood plain -- even if you have a past experience of special favors. Stupidity cannot go on forever.

17 Dec 2011

Flashback: 12 - 18 Dec

A year later and still worth a read...

Local weather -- lots of snow in A'dam last December. I leave for Cairo on 11 Dec (some snow came on 18 Dec).

Ecosystem services -- the debate on their value -- and who should pay for them -- is ongoing, but we DO get value from ecosytems!

Flood zones in the Netherlands -- their MINIMUM safety standard is one flood in 1250 years. What's Sacramento? One flood in 50 years? Damn.

Living below sea level -- one year later and I am still impressed by the Dutch dedication to solving this problem AND how little work it takes once people agree that flooding is not cool.

Deceptive numbers -- READ this if you rely on statistical significance for your work!

16 Dec 2011

Friday party!

"It's the first follower who transforms a nut into a leader."

Watch how to start a movement

(I forgot who told me about this. Sorry!)

Notes from AWRA -- future visions

While at AWRA in Albuquerque, I was able to attend a talk by Bill McKibben (founder of 350.org and active participant in OWS) at a neighboring conference (The Quivira Coalition for 21st Century agriculture).

I asked if he had bought the domain "450.org" (we are now at 390 ppm and emitting record volumes of GHGs).

He was simultaneously defiant ("we must work hard") and pessimistic ("we're gonna see temperatures jump by 7 degrees F"). In a well-practiced rant, he attacked overconsumption ("people are living in starter castles for entry-level monarchs") and geoengineering ("geoengineering is junkie-economics. Desperate for a fix, people make up any story -- no matter how implausible -- to keep up their habit."), but he didn't go where his co-speaker (Bill DeBuys, author of A Great Aridness) had already ventured: prepare for a Southwest emptied by high temperatures.

Bottom Line: McKibben says "never give up!" I say be prepared!

15 Dec 2011

Notes from the Nexus

Here are a few notes from the Bonn Rio+20 conference on water-energy-food nexus:

Bad news: we will continue to do what we are already doing, i.e., more conferences:
  • 1972: Stockholm "on environment"
  • 1992: Rio was "environment & development" in the North but "development & environment" in the South. Huh.
  • 2002: Johannesburg on "sustainable development"
  • 2012: Rio "sustainable development (+ 20)"
One speaker claimed "if you cannot solve the problem, enlarge the problem." Presumably that's why we added food to the water and energy nexus (others have already added "climate"). I'm not sure that's a great idea in terms of solving problems. I'd prefer Hayek's view that appropriate pricing in each activity will lead to efficient interactions between activities. (None of these activities NEED government involvement -- they are ALL related to resources!)

Along the same lines, there was a discussion on whether it makes sense to merge separate ministries of food and water (say) into one super ministry. On the one hand, that makes it easier to manage interdependencies; on the other, it risks subsuming one topic (food!) to another (water!), without anyone noticing. Given my experience of bureaucracies, dropping a ball between cracks of merged ministries seems more dangerous than worrying about coordinating efforts (assuming that's even necessary -- see above).*

The background document [PDF] was weak in its discussion of the biggest problem in "managing the nexus" -- government bureaucrats who are too incompetent or corrupt to do so. In my paper on international aid (Save the poor, shoot some bankers), I spent a LOT of time discussing incentives to perform. This conference -- attended by MANY of the usual suspects -- took strong intrinsic incentives to perform for granted -- contradicting facts on the ground.** People are either ignoring or glossing over the magnitude of this BIG problem.

They started the conference with draft policy recommendations, and I didn't see the main speakers (or organizers) go far off that script. There was some anger among delegates on the silly practice of following scripts instead of engaging in serious debate over hard choices. I shared that anger (but spent most of my time talking to people in the atrium). Even sillier were time schedules that allowed people 10 minutes to present something but no time for questions or discussion!

While I was there, I had many discussions on zero-value carbon and the water data hub. Both ideas were well-received, even as the people I spoke to said they had no time/money to deviate from their organizations' missions. This is a BIG problem if you are trying to address issues of global magnitude. It's also a problem that most businesses do NOT have. They have an incentive to change -- and do change -- their path when actions are going to produce better results.

Bottom Line: It was interesting to see world leaders continue to promise that they can "manage" its biggest problems -- while failing to show any sign that they know what they are doing. Why are many terrorists engineers? Because they think they can make the world a perfect place! I worry about the same with these kumbaya bureaucrats.
* That reminds me to remind you that most government ministries of water, agriculture and energy are not only a waste of time and money -- they actively ruin citizens' lives in service to the industries that have captured them. This is a BIG problem. Read this and this.

** I was pleased to hear the head of the Indonesian association of farmers and fishermen say that "corruption is a problem" in Indonesia (in response to my question).

14 Dec 2011

Cutting edge regulation at Ofwat

Ofwat has regulated investor-owned water companies in England and Wales since privatization in 1989. These regulations have often been on the frontier of performance incentives, which means that Ofwat is often the first regulator (worldwide) to attempt to put new incentives into place.

One such scheme -- "common carriage rates" for one water company to use another company's network for serving a customer -- was a good idea that has failed in practice: only one customer out of 2,200 eligible customers signed up.

I spent two days in London recently, learning about Ofwat's latest ideas on regulation.

On Monday evening, I participated in a panel discussion on big strategic questions regarding sustainable water. Many of my answers to questions involved more pricing (less regulation) and more markets (less management), which may not be news to readers of this blog, but was more often news to the audience.

On Tuesday, I participated in workshops on water trading and breaking the vertical monopoly, i.e., separating the monopoly wholesale monopoly on sourcing, treating and distributing water from the (potentially) competitive business of administering customer services and billing (post to come).

Most water trading proposals involve long term sales from water companies in surplus areas to other companies in shortage areas. Participants wanted to find the "right price" for a this bi-lateral monopoly structure, but that price is hard to know. Some suggested that the regulator should set the price; others worried that prices and deals might come unstuck in year 22, say, which would upset financial markets.* Even worse, there was no clear indication of how profits from trades (on both sides) would be treated against regulated returns. It's clear that profits could not be used to lower prices, but also clear that prices SHOULD move in response to rising/falling revenues. These discussions were even premature -- given the importance of quantifying water rights that were both over-issued (familiar problem!) as well as badly specified. I suggested that participants look to existing water markets in Australia for success (and California for failure), while attempting to bring in as many ideas as possible from competitive markets. We'll see how this project develops.

Despite all of these problems, Ofwat can move towards wholesale markets for water (abstraction permits and flows) by starting trade among homogenous groups:
  1. quantify rights, 
  2. set a simple transaction structure, and
  3. ensure access to conveyance.
Problems of bi-lateral monopoly, price discovery and trading volume can be addressed via my all-in-auctions idea. Start with short-term trades before moving to long-term trades. Also note that robust market institutions will be useful in coping with changes in environmental flows, adapting to climate change, and maximizing flexibility among different water users. They should NOT be used to increase water consumption, since such "optimization" will remove buffers from systems that will need them in case of big disruptions (everything from infrastructure failure to drought).

For deeper thoughts on these issues, I recommend Jon Stern's papers on reforming and improving water company performance. Begin with this short overview of the industry [PDF], then read Jon's proposal for including scarcity charges in water prices [PDF]. (Are you folks in the "water crisis" areas listening?). You can also browse most of his papers here. HIGHLY recommended.

Bottom Line: Ofwat's process of inviting discussion from industry, interested parties (consultants, consumer groups, other ministries) and outsiders (me!) is a brave and useful way to explore and design innovations in water regulation that will keep water companies in business while benefitting consumers.

* Water companies are far too coddled by regulators, which is why financial markets love them (guaranteed returns!). It would be better to put more emphasis on company performance -- including taking more risks -- than on stable cash flows.

13 Dec 2011

Death to pennies!

I totally agree with this (it's a transactions costs thang).

Speed blogging

  • This paper (PDF in French but try Google translate) describes how people in France decide among multiple water sources (municipal, untreated groundwater, stormwater and greywater) based upon the water quality they need and the relative cost of each type of supply.

  • Pesky academics: "Although the Groundwater Management Act was designed to end groundwater overdraft by 2025, in part through progressively more efficient water-use standards, our findings [PDF] reveal that the Arizona Department of Water Resources, the state legislature, and the municipal water providers in metropolitan Phoenix have steadily eroded conservation standards and made woefully inadequate progress toward reducing urban water demand."

  • "On the Water Front vol. 2 offers a collection of the most innovative and important insights on water and water quality presented at the 2010 World Water Week in Stockholm... on how the public health sector will be impacted by climate change, the most potent policy cocktails to protect coastal waters, the best-practice solutions to wastewater reclamation and reuse, what the potential onset of peak water and peak phosphorus could mean to humanity, new ideas to mitigate the growing dangers of chemical and agricultural pollution to human and environmental health, and much more."

  • An interesting overview of water markets [PDF] from 2006, with an emphasis on Texas.

  • Apartheid in Israel: "Under the 1995 Oslo II agreement, he explained, the Palestinians had agreed to an inequitable distribution of the Jordan River’s water. Roughly 90 percent of the water supply was allotted to Israel and 10 percent to the Palestinians, he said, and the Israelis had veto power over even the simplest rainwater catchments projects in the territories. All water-related projects required technical, political and military approval by the Israelis...the Palestinians’ consent to inequitable use of the Jordan and transboundary aquifers shows that hydro-hegemony can be attained by coercion rather than force."
H/Ts to AL and GM

12 Dec 2011

Monday funnies

Engineers may see the world in simple terms, but economists know that tape and spray can fight back.
H/T to TV

Regulatory fail in the making

The California Public Utilities Commission is contemplating imposing postage stamp rates (PSPs mean same price, no matter where you live) across ANY AND ALL districts run by the same investor owned (IOU or "private") utility. PSP were a big theme in my PhD dissertation on the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, i.e., unsustainable sprawl and inefficiency down there is due to PSP.

(This webpage has links to Word and PDF files detailing the proposed rule, but I can barely understand the bureaucratic gibberish.)

This idea means that ALL customers in districts operated by the same company will face the same price of water, i.e.,
Multi-District Water Utilities
California-American Water Company
California Water Service Company
Del Oro Water Company
Golden State Water Company
San Gabriel Water Company

PSP is a stupid idea because it:
  1. Creates cross-subsidies from "cheap to run" to "expensive to run" areas. Want a desal plant in Monterey (a CalAm territory)? No problem! Have customers in Sacramento and Ventura pay for it!
  2. Does nothing to address water scarcity. They may even increase water consumption by lowering the "cost" of water below its actual cost (via a subsidy from elsewhere).
  3. Makes it easier for water companies to spread wasteful capital spending and the cost of inefficient operations across many customers, leading to a deterioration of overall quality and value for money.
  4. Shifts costs from heavy to light water users and from established neighborhoods (rich, rural or dilapidated) to new neighborhoods (first time homeowners).
  5. Increases sprawl by lowering the price of system expansion to new customers.
There are only two advantages to PSP that I can find: IOUs can use them to make more money and regulators like them because they can do less paperwork (and get paid the same!).

There's nothing good in them for customers, and who's speaking for customers here if the regulators are pushing a policy that suits them?

(Some people claim that PSP make it easier to make "expensive" repairs in areas where customers cannot afford the improvements. THAT problem should be addressed by regulatory relief and/or income transfers, NOT excess taxes/charges on other customers who've paid their way. PSP subsidies to "poor" customers are neither sustainable nor financially responsible and those customers will pay more in the end...)

I'm sending these comments to the CPUC via email. You can too, if you send them before 15 December (in three days!). Be sure to cite "OIR 11-11-008."

Bottom Line: Postage stamp/average cost pricing is neither fair, efficient or sustainable.

10 Dec 2011

Flashback: 5 -- 11 Dec

A year later and still worth a read...

More corruption in the Central Valley (aka, that silly rail project). AFAIK, politicians still clamor for that pork.

Silent Spring -- The Review. Five stars. Read it.

Gasland -- The Review -- a year later, and I think I was pretty accurate (caveats provide wiggle room, but they also make it easier to carry on a nuanced conversation).

Users should pay for water and infrastructure. Seriously -- if we took care of this problem, we'd solve 80% of the water "problems" worldwide.

Spam from me?

Did anyone get this email from "me"?

9 Dec 2011

Friday party!


Anything but water

H/Ts to AG, RM and HZ

8 Dec 2011

Buy The End of Abundance for $202.95!

Well, that's the price that you might pay if you look for that book on the Barnes & Noble website, e.g.,

On the one hand, this is the result of me restricting B&N from my sales channels. (I had signed up for it, but their discounted price -- $13 -- was only possible because they cut my royalty.)

On the other, it's a "bad shopper" tax, if someone can't find TEoA at its normal $20 price. (How is it possible that someone has NOT heard of TEoA yet! :)

Do you know anyone who is so lazy as to not look for a lower price on a book?

TANSTAAFL -- the review

It's generally true that writing gets better with each draft, but at some point a writer must stop, as his cost of re-drafting exceeds his benefit (the benefit to readers is a different story).

But sometimes we get the chance to re-write an earlier work, not just to finesse the original perspective but to add wisdom and highlight important points.

Edwin G. Dolan has taken this second path with his "Version 40.0" 2011 update of his 1971 book, TANSTAAFL (There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch) - A Libertarian Perspective on Environmental Policy.*

Now some readers may be tempted to stop reading this review, since they are not interested in a "libertarian" book on environmental policy. Don't libertarians, after all, think that money should determine who gets what, in some kind of Darwinist struggle to allocate rainforest to the richest?

Not really, and definitely not in this book.

That said, Dolan doesn't shy away from highlighting the dangers of government failure and command and control myopia. In fact, he does an excellent job of exploring the tradeoffs between individual liberty and government guidance when it comes to managing our environment -- saying things I've said in the past, but adding more discussion that I wish I had and explaining more clearly than I ever did.

In other words, I like this book. I like it in the same way as I like "Economics in One Lesson" [free download], which I assigned to my Environmental Economics and Policy class at UC Berkeley, and I'd definitely assign this book to ANY class with "environment" in the title. It's important to note that the book is written in clear prose, with no equations and only a few simple tables and figures. Fantastic.

And here's the coolest thing about this book: Each chapter has two parts -- the 1971 original and the 2011 update on "what's changed" and "what hasn't changed." I really liked this structure, as it revealed how much economists had to say so long ago (the first Earth Day was in 1970!) as well as bringing the reader up to speed on current events.

The book starts with its awkward title, i.e., every decision involves tradeoffs. I make this point to environmentalists when I talk about water. For example:
The only way to leave the environment intact is to take ZERO water; that action would result in a 90% population shrinkage as we returned to a life of hunter gatherers. If you want that, fine, but if you want a modern life, then you must agree that SOME water is going to be "taken" from Nature. The only question is "how much?"
Let's go over the chapters:
  1. A comparison of "throughput" and "closed loop" economies in which Dolan points out how the throughput basis of GDP distorts policies and decisions. In his 2011 addendum, Dolan points out the silly nature of policies designed around "willingness to pay" that do not actually involve payment. This paragraph alone should get about half the environmental economists in trouble (hear me guys?). He then goes on to demolish the "affordable energy" lobby (oil companies that like subsidies).
  2. A nice explanation of basic economics (in 9 pages!), i.e., how the law of decreasing marginal benefit and diminishing returns result, respectively, in the laws of demand and supply. His 2011 addendum demolishes crony capitalism ("Drill baby drill") and silly regulations, e.g., CAFE fuel standards dedicated to protecting America's dinosaur car companies.
  3. A move from market distortions to market failures and a discussion of pollution (negative externalities), property rights, tort laws and regulation. Dolan (like me in my book) points out that regulation can not only interfere with the discovery of "efficient" levels of pollution, but it can also fail to compensate those who are harmed by pollution AND result in far more pollution. In his update, he writes out the 20/80 rule (p. 77):
    Putting a price on pollution is by far the best way to affect the behavior of people who are neither environmental activists nor environmental skeptics, but are simply indifferent.
    That said, he also supports government and non-government involvement when it's too difficult to use price signals.
  4. Dolan covers "political economy" (oh boy!) and my favorite topic: who gets the costs and who gets the benefits from policies and how are we to organize collective action to make sure that the majority are not over-run by special interests (aka governments do not impose regulations ON industry; governments provide services TO industry via regulations). Wow. Every environmentalist should keep this chapter on the bedside table.
  5. Ehrlich, Malthus, The Limits to Growth [my review] and steady-state ideas. Dolan's discussion of anti-population (Ehrlich) vs. pro-population (the Pentagon) views is still timely, but he falls (surprise!) firmly on the side of individual choice AND an end to "pro-child" ideas like welfare payments for children, etc. In his update (7 billion people!), Dolan is neither optimistic (per Julian Simon) nor pessimistic (per Population Council); he ends with a plea for a woman's informed right to choose how many children she wants. (Read, via AW, Herman Daly's comment on how we've passed the limits to net-positive growth.)
  6. A discussion of economic development and the environment in which Dolan brings up one of my favorite taboos: if we find the way to feed the poor, then what do we do when they have children who are hungry? This awkward question should be debated every day in every aid agency that delivers superficial help (the fish) without deeper solutions (teaching the poor how to fish). He goes on to discuss the demographic transition and environmental Kuznets curve. In his 2011 update, he compares the good news (most people's lives are improving) to the bad news (massive corruption still harms many).
  7. A discussion of government intervention -- for better or for worse -- and the special interests (from oil to greens) who profess to speak for the People. Dolan wishes that government would get out of the business of destroying the environment (e.g., USACE and their silly cost-benefit) but also that environmentalists would support non-elitist outdoors (hear that Restore Hetch Hetchy?)
  8. A discussion of the steady state economy (don't) and plea for individual decisions instead of delegation to a "Central Environmental Administration" (the EPA was founded in 1970, so this is a funny term) in the move towards a sustainable macro-economy. In his 2011 update, Dolan reaffirms the power of prices over regulations (e.g., lightbulb prices vs bans).
That's where the 1971/2011 update ends, but Dolan adds a fascinating chapter on climate change and climate policy (reprinted from a 2006 CATO Journal article) in which he says that there's too much risk to wait for iron-clad proof of climate change AND that those who have committed the harm (more the US than China) need to pay the costs of mitigation and (Dolan also emphasizes) adaptation. These arguments are firmly grounded in libertarian economic theory (Coase, Hayek, Locke, et al.)

Bottom Line: I give this book a very firm FIVE STARS. Anyone interested in the environment (science, policy, economics, life) should read it -- and then go out and tell some emperors that they are naked!

* Searching Finance, the publisher, sent me a review copy and offered to pay me a commission on purchases from their website (paperback or PDF). You can also buy the paperback or Kindle version at Amazon. I don't care about the commissions (I wrote the review based on my real thoughts on the book), so click for convenience.

7 Dec 2011

The Riverview Project

This is cool (I met Jared a few months ago in San Diego).

"Jared Criscuolo and Kristian Gustavson are building a visual database of America’s most imperiled rivers and crowdsourcing their restoration online...Beginning in spring 2012, they’ll start with the Sacramento, San Joaquin, and Colorado rivers. After capturing the necessary footage, they’ll post 360-degree panoramic views of each river, from source to sea, online." Read more at Outside Magazine.

Here's the website. Fantastic application of technology, to let you virtually tour a river.

Donate $50 to the project and get a free subscription to Outside.

MS Word update

After 15 years of updates, Microsoft Word STILL sucks so badly.

Just crashed while trying to run spell check (lost work, of course!)

MS needs more rocket-scientists (they appear to work for most other software companies).

Speed blogging

  • From the UK: "Untapped Potential identifies reforms to regulatory arrangements for abstraction and water supply, to better protect rivers and natural environments at lower costs."

  • I just heard about this depressing problem:
    A lawsuit... accuses the U.S. Department of Energy of withholding a crucial study on how to solve the national confrontation between water supply and energy demand that was ordered up by Congress in 2005 and never made public.
  • More of a complement than substitute for IBNET: "The European Benchmarking Co-operation is an industry-based, not-for-profit benchmarking initiative for water services. It aims to facilitate water utilities in improving their performance and raising transparency."

  • Use this! "OpenEarth is a free and open source initiative to deal with Data, Models and Tools in marine & coastal engineering projects."

  • And this! "The SWITCH project looked towards water management in the 'city of the future' aimed to challenge existing paradigms and to find and promote more sustainable alternatives to the conventional ways of managing urban water." Here's a really great presentation [PDF] by Kalanithy Vairavamoorthy, the director of SWITCH, on future urban water use that takes energy, transport, etc. into consideration (from this session at Bonn Rio+20).

  • (via Aquadoc), the National Water Commission Report of 1973 [PDF] had the answers, e.g.,
    The Commission addressed the important role of full cost pricing and user charges in the delivery of water and sewer services to customers. It noted that proper pricing would conserve scarce water supplies, discourage or delay investment in water infrastructure projects, and make the use of resources more efficient. The Commission recognized that utility regulation may be aimed at accomplishing multiple objectives, and only incidentally be concerned with conserving and efficiently using water supplies. Still, it recommended that water and sewerage charges should be based on the costs that users impose upon the system and the costs imposed on society from the loss of the use of the resource for other purposes.
    Shall we just print it out and get to work -- or do we need more studies?

6 Dec 2011

Should water companies self-regulate their risks?

This white paper [PDF] from Ofwat proposes a move from output- to outcome-based regulation of water companies in England, i.e.,
The first change is to the current system of regulatory reporting. This would move Ofwat away from detailed regulatory monitoring of compliance. This change puts the companies firmly in charge of managing their risks, and redefines our role as holding them to account for the results, not the processes they adopt to ensure compliance.

Second, we propose that Ofwat itself adopts a risk-based framework. This will not only include a systematic assessment of risk and opportunity but will also allow us to focus the allocation of our own resources. This will demonstrate that we intend to conserve resources and target our efforts, so we have the capability to act swiftly and decisively where there is a real risk to outcomes for water consumers. And the companies and we would be freed from regulatory burden where there are no material risks to consumers.
This project, while admirable, suffers from three fatal flaws:

First is the emphasis on self-reporting and regulation of risk by companies that have little incentive to provide accurate reports on risk. Mistakes, after all, can be plausibly blamed on "unexpected, outside" factors beyond the companies' control, i.e., "can we increase our prices to fix the problem please?"

Second, "self regulation of risk" does not instill confidence in people after the fiasco of self regulation of risk by financial companies that have absorbed $ trillions in bail out money, world-wide.

Third, Ofwat faces information and incentive problems in terms of monitoring risk inside companies. What questions should be asked? Who wins or loses if the wrong questions are asked or the wrong weights (in terms of risk) are applied to the answers? How will outsiders know if Ofwat is doing a good job at monitoring one company, let alone 20+ companies with very different institutional and physical characteristics.

Luckily, I have an answer to these flaws:
  1. Rebrand this effort as "delivering sustainable services" instead of "managing risk." 
  2. Require that water companies take out performance insurance with companies that will compete for business (minimizing the cost of insurance), watch water companies (providing oversight), pay for accidents (relieving customers of higher bills for mistakes), and provide a transparent view on performance (facilitating comparisons and benchmarking). All of these ideas are spelled out in this paper.
Bottom Line: It's difficult to balance between over-investment that taxes customers and under-investment that puts their water services at risk, but regulators can facilitate that balance by importing a competitive industry that will take responsibility for failure while getting paid for success.

5 Dec 2011

Monday funnies

I'm not sure if this is funny or just a sad indictment of American "culture":

Water stimulus stupid

(via RM links) The only thing I hate more than hearing about "stimulus spending" is "green jobs" rhetoric.*

That's why I dislike seeing "A UC Berkeley economist says one of the rewards for repairing California's broken water-delivery system could be 130,000 jobs."

Some of those jobs would involve construction of infrastructure for unsustainable water diversions;** others would result from unsustainable agricultural practices. Many of them, of course, would not be "net" jobs, but jobs for people who quit work in one place to work in another.

But most of the jobs would probably go to lawyers,*** consultants and economists lobbying to get a piece of all of the money that would be thrown at such a boondoggle.

Bottom Line: Make good polices for sustainable water management FIRST and then let the jobs flow where they may (or may not).
* Read about fraud in stimulus jobs and stimulated groundwater overdrafting, then read about why recessions are good (not recognized) and how to productively spend stimulus money (not tried).

** This community is fighting to "save its dam" because of all the jobs created when a reservoir replaced an ecosystem. By that logic, I recommend turning Central Park (or Golden Gate Park) into a Magic Mountain fun zone -- cut down the trees (logger stimulus!) and replace them with roller coasters, golf carts, and Coca Cola vending opportunities!

*** Like this ridiculous example of a lawyer trying to lead Peter Gleick to agree with the silly ideas that Las Vegas promotes in its attempts to grow via water imports instead of live within its (already way-over-extended) means.

3 Dec 2011

Flashback: 28 Nov -- 4 Dec

A year later and still worth a read...

The Economist calls it quits... ...on mitigating climate change -- as I did.

Failure as usual in India -- how is groundwater looking in UP?

BEST: A few words on footprinting (as in, bad idea).

BEST: Investing in Water -- still a lot of interest and a very few deals

Water auctions in Arizona that have not gone anywhere (right Taylor?)

Westlands takes its toys home -- from the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan. What happened since then?

2 Dec 2011

Friday party!

This video is fantastic (one of several filmed as part of a promotion of Basilicata, Italy)

Speed blogging

  • Thanks to my hosts at University of Reading, I was able to give a talk about The End of Abundance. Most of the 80 minutes [MP3] was spent discussing (very good) questions from the audience (as I prefer). If you want to attend one of these talks, try to get to Den Haag on 8 Dec or San Francisco on 1 Feb (see right sidebar).

  • "Can we fight global warming with artificial global cooling?" Don't be silly, put your time and money into reading this report on adaptation strategies!

  • THIS is sustainable: "Creating local capacity for improved rural living standards through affordable and sustainable energy and sanitation solutions" [more on the project in Kyrgyzstan]

  • Jay Famiglietti (UC Irvine), as the Birdsall-Dreiss Distinguished Lecturer for 2012, will be delivering 50 lectures in 50 weeks around the world on water cycle change and freshwater availability [his stuff is in TEoA]. He's blogging here. You can see lecture dates here AND request that he come talk in your city!

  • A great article on water leakage in Canada (it's more expensive than just a little lost water!)
H/T to MF

1 Dec 2011

The Eurozone crisis

Tyler Cowen nails it. A must read for anyone interested in macroeconomics, politics, culture and cooperation. Good news: There's hope.

A national vision for water management?

While at the AWRA, I participated in several discussion on this topic [PDFs of session 1 session 2]

Many people wondered if we should even use the words "national", "water" or "vision" in the same sentence, for fear that these "sensitive" words would provoke a political backlash.

I suggested that the US could have a "national water vision" modeled on the EU's Water Framework Directive, i.e., that governments on all levels agree to bring their surface- and groundwaters up to "good status" on environmental (quantity) and chemical (quality) measures that, together, would be considered "sustainable."

That said, locals would be allowed to find their own ways to reach good status.

In the same conversation, confusion over "bottom up" and "bottoms up" led me to anther recommendation on reaching good status:

First, make sure that most water management occurs locally, from the bottom up. Second, reconcile overlapping and conflicting jurisdictions, spillovers, and goals by locking politicians and bureaucrats in a room with a lot of alcohol, until their "bottoms up" negotiations produced a result -- an idea I proposed for ending deadlock in the Delta long ago.

As a first step in these negotiations, it would make sense to cede control to management teams that function on a watershed level (as is the case with the EU's WFD).

What do you think?

Bottom Line: We can have a national vision for water management, but it needs to be a vision that makes it easy to reconcile many different values over water, not a vision from above that forces a certain perspective or value.

30 Nov 2011

Meanwhile, in Westlands the Twilight Zone

RM and JM sent me the news that former Judge Wanger, who ruled on many cases affecting Westlands Water District (WWD), would be "joining" WWD as legal council of some sort.

(Coverage from Fresno, Los Angeles, and Sacramento)

On the one hand, this is a serious WTF move for a guy who recently ruled that federal environmental employees exaggerated their facts to defend the environment (i.e., that WWD deserved more water).

On the other hand, Wanger is merely moving from one branch of government (judicial) to another (WWD is a "public corporation").*

But forget that. This is just about as crazy as former German Chancellor Schroeder going to work for the Russians, i.e., a spectacular violation of any man's idea of "conflict of interest."

But that never kept WWD from hiring the best and the brightest connected. WWD, after all, is a corporation whose sole purpose is NOT farming, but sucking the largest volume of cash out of various government branches.

The only thing sadder than the bureaucrats who dump cash on WWD is the so-called "public servants" who join WWD to get more of that cash.

Bottom Line: Money talks, and Westlands is hiring.
* Need more info on WWD? Listen to my five hours of conversation with WWD's chief, Tom Birmingham.

Notes from AWRA -- water marketing

I was pleased participate in sessions (37 and 42A) on water markets in the Western US at the ARWA.*

"Turning Blue into Green" [MP3] and [web] by Chris Corbin

"Developing a Price Index for Water Rights in the American West" [MP3] and [PDF] by Matthew Payne (with Mark Griffin Smith and Clay J. Landry)

"Suggestions for Enhancing Water Markets in New Mexico" [MP3] and [PPTX] by Scott Armstrong

"Stakeholder Perspectives on Allocating Water by Auction in Arizona" [MP3] and [PDF presentation and notes] by Taylor Shipman (with Mark Myers)

Here's an MP3 of the Q & A with that panel.

"A Tale of Marketing Irrigation Water: California's PVID and IID" [MP3] and [PDF] by me!

Bottom Line: A lot of great insights on the different institutions affecting water marketing!

* Speaking of markets, here's a great post on all-in-auctions written by Abraham Abhishek (Program Coordinator at MetaMeta).

Speed blogging

  • "A federal advisory body has recommended that the Canadian government put a price on water used by industry... the report said that creating a water permitting system could create distortions to economic activity, while voluntary water conservation efforts have proven to be largely ineffective. The roundtable found that the natural resource sectors make up 86 percent of Canada’s overall water consumption. But the study urged government to do a better job of tracking water usage, including who the end users are, how much each is using, and what they’re using the water for."

  • "Contribute to the 6th World Water Forum and present your solutions." I have NO idea how these [thousands of] "solutions" are ever going to be presented in a useful way, but it's good to have "voice," right?

  • Not good: Foreign hackers disrupt operations at a water treatment plant. Homeland security denies the report, but others disagree. Fail.

  • If you think I do too much self-promotion, then you ain't seen NOTHING yet!

  • "Lodi votes against privatizing water treatment plant" because city managers "know and trust" the municipal staff. Sounds more like they care more about jobs for their friends than what's best for citizens.
H/T to RD

29 Nov 2011

Stupid fail

Some recent examples:
  1. Pens made out of recycled materials (eco pen!) that don't write, so I throw them away. The irony? My most-recent broken pen came from the London offices of the Institution of Civil Engineers!

  2. Airlines (like KLM) that will not put you on an earlier flight -- when they have empty seats -- unless you pay a $50 change fee (one reason to LOVE Southwest Airlines).

  3. Speaking of that -- just changed plans on an EasyJet flight. $200 gone.

  4. A conference that hands out a list of participants without emails!
What are yours?

The big impacts of zero value carbon

This is long but it's about your future. So read it.

In July 2008, I wrote that we need to work to prevent climate change by reducing our carbon outputs (I favored a carbon tax). Later that year (three years ago!), I clarified that developed countries should concentrate on reducing carbon while developing countries concentrated on more pressing problems, i.e., water supply and sanitation.

In May 2009, I ran an experiment with experts involved in the theory and exercise of climate change negotiations. The results -- teams from "China" and "America" totally failed to agree on mitigation strategies -- gave me a strong signal that attempts to solve "the greatest collective action problem we've ever seen" would fail, as they did in Copenhagen that December. (Interestingly, the summiteers did not put much focus on water or adaptation.)

In November 2010, the Economist declared that mitigation efforts were doomed and that it was time to concentrate on adaptation. In August 2011, I said this:
It's increasingly obvious to me that no human or natural actions are going to limit climate change. The question then is what adaptation steps to take to minimize personal and social harm.
And in October, I reflected on those implications, e.g., many people -- mostly poor -- are going to die. In that post, I also said:
Mitigation-focused investments (solar, biofuels, zero-emissions stuff) are wasted if there's no "carbon reduction payback" -- this means that a lot of projects are going to turn instantly unprofitable.
This post -- after that long introduction -- is about THAT fact. Let's lay it out:
  1. The value per ton of "carbon avoided" is positive only if that carbon does not end up in the atmosphere via some other channel, i.e., carbon reductions via solar panels in Germany are worthless if Americans emit more carbon.
  2. A net reduction in global carbon emissions, therefore, depends on global limits on climate emissions, which are nowhere in sight.*
  3. Investments that included "benefits" from avoided carbon as a justification for higher costs may no longer produce those benefits. This means that the $90 billion in low-carbon FDI investments made in 2009 [pdf] may not give the return promised; many more billions in other low-carbon investments are similarly "upside down."
  4. It also means that adaptation investments that assumed a positive value of carbon (and thus a degree of mitigation and lower impacts from reduced carbon in the atmosphere) may UNDERESTIMATE the benefits from adaptation. They are not aggressive enough for a high-GHG world.
  5. Projections of $2 trillion per year investments in the "low carbon economy" are unlikely to materialize when there is no low-carbon economy.
In sum, a lot of money invested in low-carbon, renewable energy, carbon capture, carbon offsets (and so on) is going to give a lower return, result in more "stranded assets," and leave less money for more important projects -- such as preparing for the damages that will result in a world that's 5C/9F hotter (on average) and has MUCH MORE variable weather (i.e., "civilization collapses" scenario).

But what do other people think? While in Bonn,** I asked many people:
Would you invest $1 billion in adaptation or mitigation?
People working for environmental agencies and renewable energy said "mitigation -- because we MUST," but people from corporations said "adaptation, because governments have failed to do anything about reducing carbon outputs."***

And reality is not exactly matching promises, e.g., this slide showing actual carbon emissions for UK water utilities (doing what they must do) compared to their promised low-carbon targets [from this PDF]:
I reckon that this slide is a microcosm of what's happening all over the world. Even China -- the last great hope of broke governments and solar-power enthusiasts -- is putting a MUCH larger share of its money (energy, infrastructure, cars, etc.) into "dirty but cheap" investments that deliver goodies to citizens who care more about consumption than a small carbon footprint (and a government VERY interested in keeping those citizens fat and happy -- much like the US government).****

Bottom Line: Trillions of dollars invested in a "low carbon" economy have gone to waste; future investments in adaptation will need to be higher if we want to reduce the harm that climate change will inflict on human settlements, agriculture (and the environment we indirectly depend upon). Damages in poorer countries are going to be very dramatic; damages in most "rich" countries are going to be painful. Most of these impacts will be felt via the "water vector." Be prepared.

* It's quite sad to hear that global "GHG emissions are way above projections" from Europe, where governments really did take (mostly) right actions towards mitigation.***** Their actions are futile, however, without partnership from Americans, Canadians, Chinese, Indians, Japanese, et al. (let alone LDC governments that have every right to follow the lead of high carbon countries). Americans cannot say "I told you so" for failure when they took the lead in causing that failure.

** The Rio+20 pre-conference on the water-energy-food nexus conspicuously avoided an open discussion of climate change. Durban looks to be a huge failure.

*** From the Economist:
In a recent survey of Carbon Disclosure Project companies, 68% claimed to have made their global-warming strategy part of their core strategy, up from 48% last year. Given a surfeit of green PR bunkum, it is not easy to know whether they mean what they say. But if they are sincere, it is probably because they believe they must plan for a world in which water and other natural resources are increasingly scarce. Commodity prices are rising, and droughts seem increasingly common in fast-growing developing countries, including China and India. According to a recent survey by PwC, most bosses believe that resource scarcity is a bigger threat to their medium-term prospects than climate change more broadly.
**** From my book:  "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard." -- HL Mencken.

***** Ministers made a spirited defense of their disastrous biofuels policies. Many EU governments have failed to adequately implement low-carbon policies.

28 Nov 2011

Monday funnies

Way too true

The Goldman Sachs reality distortion field

If you've been following the "European debt crisis," then you've heard more than once about "voluntary" debt reductions that would lower payments to creditors WITHOUT triggering credit default swaps (insurance policies against default).

Why has it been so important to claim that the emperors are wearing clothes?* Perhaps this:
The grave danger is that, if Italy stops paying its debts, creditor banks could be made insolvent. Goldman Sachs, which has written over $2trn of insurance, including an undisclosed amount on eurozone countries' debt, would not escape unharmed, especially if some of the $2trn of insurance it has purchased on that insurance turns out to be with a bank that has gone under. No bank – and especially not the Vampire Squid – can easily untangle its tentacles from the tentacles of its peers. This is the rationale for the bailouts and the austerity, the reason we are getting more Goldman, not less.
Default, in other words, would require GS to pay $2 trillion of claims (or pay something against losses on $2 trillion of policies; not clear) at the same time as GS may not be able to lay off those claims on other companies banks that sold CDS re-insurance to GS.

That's why Goldman Sachs -- as the article makes clear -- has got its people working overtime to make sure that European politicians and bureaucrats (many of them Friends of GS) do not formally announce default -- something I recommend as the first step in recognizing reality.

Bottom Line: Goldman's attempts to protect its terrible decisions are dragging EU countries and citizens into a lifetime of debt -- all to make sure that traders keep bonuses awarded when times were "bubbly" (while still taking home a bonus when the company loses money!)

* When a creditor says he will repay 50% of the money he owes you, he's defaulting on that debt, whether or not you "voluntarily" accept that fact!
Addendum: A semi-relevant discussion of CDSs on Marginal Revolution.
Addendum 2: Paulson (ex-GS) gave insider information on FannieMae/FreddieMac.

26 Nov 2011

Flashback: 21 -- 27 Nov

A year later and still worth a read...

Do smaller water footprints lead to bigger profits? (No). Just got this idea accepted as an abstract for a journal article. Great.

Change is hard until you Free your mind from the "traditional" way of doing things. At a minimum, reassess WHY you do them.

That post reminds me of an old, but insightful, joke:
A guy is at his in-laws for Thanksgiving. His wife takes the ham out of the package, cuts off one end and tosses it in the garbage and then puts the rest into the pan for baking.

He asks his wife, "why did you throw away that end? Looks good to me."

She says "well, that's the way my mom prepared the ham. Go ask her why."

He goes to the mom and asks her. She says "well, that's what my mom used to do. Go ask her."

Luckily, grandma is in the living room, watching all the kids run around.

"Hey grandma, why is it that you always cut the end off the ham?"

Grandma says...

25 Nov 2011

Friday party!

Funny (not ha ha funny) priorities...

Not thankful

I blame the police -- like I blame Abu Ghraib for an increase in torture -- for this:
A woman who pepper-sprayed other shoppers Thursday night at the Wal-Mart in Porter Ranch had armed herself with the caustic spray to gain an advantage in the fight for merchandise at the Black Friday sale, a fire captain said.

The woman, who is still being sought, used the spray in more than one area of the Wal-Mart "to gain preferred access to a variety of locations in the store," said Los Angeles Fire Capt. James Carson.

"She was competitive shopping," he said.
Bottom Line: Pepper spray is the new "excuse me."

Anything but water

Good question!
H/T to JW

24 Nov 2011

Defending that for which we are thankful

While most of us are very happy for the freedoms we enjoy, others are not contributing to those freedoms (from a morbidly funny Amazon pepper spray review, via RM):
Remember what these paintings represented? The Four Freedoms, which included freedom from fear.*

Bottom Line: Sometimes you need to fight for your freedom, so get up from the table and take some action.
*Wow -- UC Davis Chancellor Katehi had a strong role in removing GREEK students' right to protest economic austerity IN GREECE. Seems that she's indeed the enemy of free speech. be sure to watch her walk of shame video at that link.

Speed blogging

H/Ts to DL and RM

23 Nov 2011

Bleg: Land use in Europe?

DW asks an interesting question:
I've always wondered what is different about the land use planning and zoning practices of european countries, that kept them from being paved over with new housing subdivisions and shopping malls as far as the eye can see. Since you're now living over there, perhaps you can do some digging and let your readers know how Europe is different from California in these areas.
Can anyone describe how land use decisions are made for ANY European country? The big questions are conversions of use among agricultural, residential, industrial AND "natural."

Notes from AWRA -- fracking

The American Water Resources Association's annual meeting in Albuquerque was great.

I had the opportunity to meet people in person that I'd "talked" to for several years: Michael Campana (President of the AWRA, aka Aquadoc @ WaterWired), Cynthia Barnett (author of Blue Revolution), John Fleck (journalist and blogger @ Inkstain), Charlie Fishman (author of The Big Thirst).

I also caught up with or met several guys active in water markets: Chris Corbin, Matt Payne, Taylor Shipman, and Scott Armstrong (post to come).

Most of the AWRA program was technical and scientific, devoted to river morphology, water treatment, models of climate change impacts, etc., so I had the opportunity to learn from the scientists and give some economist opinions.

I was very interested in the panel on hydraulic fracturing [search for "Session 35 PANEL"], in which several experts gave "the real scoop" on the situation in the country, with a particular emphasis on fracking near the Marcellus Shale. My take-away from that event was that the regulators were indeed on top of the industry. Everyone wanted fracking to happen (yielding energy) but nobody wanted accidents to happen.

A few facts: The average frack needs about 5-8 million gallons (92+ 15-24 af) and produces about 5-12% return flows (the rest of the water/fracking fluid stays underground). Frackers recycle water in to their next injection or sometimes pay to dispose of it by injection elsewhere, but they minimize water use because it's so expensive to procure, bring to the site and remove later. So far, there have been no big "pollution events" and there are water quality monitors all over the place.*

The biggest problems/confusion appear to come from the various overlapping regulations and jurisdictions -- some of them badly constructed by legislators. Regulators are trying to get the best results in these circumstances, but sometimes (e.g., "the Halliburton exemption" from the Clean Water Act) the regulations that politicians hand down -- and regulators are required to follow -- are not very useful. That said, regulations are changing as fast as possible, as people learn by doing.

The panel said that they were not worried so much about aquifer contamination (not true in some states) as industrial accidents. The most important goal was to have a good casing around the injection well, to ensure that the high pressure water doesn't go in unexpected directions. The trickiest problems were connected with the set-up and tear-down of drilling operations by crews in a hurry. Some of the sub-sub-sub contractors were cowboys, but their ultimate employers -- the energy majors -- had too much money on the line (via daily expenses, reputation, and fear of fines) to be sloppy.

The regulators said that bonding (financial guarantees against mistakes) was not as effective in promoting discipline as "cease operations" delays that would cost millions in wasted staff time and even greater losses in stock market valuations.

Coming soon: Bill McKibben and America's water vision.

* This article says they may not be measuring pollution correctly, but it's a bit naive. This one claims that fracking causes earthquakes. That's probably true for small ones (~3.0 on Richter Scale), but we are not looking at Fukushima II here.

22 Nov 2011

Bleg: Drupal programmer?

Does anyone have some time to help me set up a database behind Step 1 of the water data hub? I'd love to do it, but fear the learning curve!

Is political fail redundant?

I've had many conversations in the past few months regarding political failure on both sides of the Atlantic. (I watch the €/$ exchange rate for signs of who's doing better.) Although some may claim that politicians are facing difficult policy issues, I just think that they are poor leaders.

Watch this:
We'll see tomorrow -- the deadline for the Super Committee's "solution".

21 Nov 2011

Monday Funnies

Hard time at the office? Listen to Freud :)

Torture and social decay

I spent 2002-2008 at UC Davis, studying for my PhD.
Casual policy brutality
I was horrified to see the campus police pepper spraying students taking part of a peaceful "occupy wall street" protest [video]. This behavior -- more suited to jackbooted fascists than the United States or a university campus -- is simultaneously a sign of disasterous failure of leadership as well as the depths to which the US has sunk (remember the Kent State shootings of anti-Vietnam protestors?)

There is a petition calling for the resignation of the chancellor of the university (48,000 signatures), as well as protests from the Academic Senate and a call for another demonstration against brutality at Noon today. Her response to this incident is a case study in ridiculous wording.*

This HuffPo article has over 50,000 comments. Here's another.

I wrote the following email:
Dear Chancellor Katehi and Police Chief Spicuzza,

You have failed as leaders. This recent incident of torture in the name of "safety" reveals a complete lack of discipline and humanity. It disrespects the Davis community and the rule of law.

Chief Spicuzza -- please charge officer Pike with criminal assault and battery, as well as abuse of rank. Then fire him.

Chancellor Kathehi -- please fire Chief Spicuzza for failure to "protect and serve" the UC Davis community. Then resign immediately. You clearly lack judgment with respect to the students you supposedly serve.

I have cc'd as many current and past Davis students and professors as I could find. They need to know of your failures and take action to restore our school's safety, community and spirit.

I write with disgust,

David Zetland (UCD PhD, 2008)
Bottom Line: Ben Franklin said "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety," and we are reaping the harvest of a police state formed out of the fear built in response to 9/11. Is this the beginning of the reversal or merely a step off a cliff in which the 99% are slaves of the 1%?
* November 18, 2011

To UC Davis Campus Community,

I am writing to tell you about events that occurred Friday afternoon at UC Davis relating to a group of protestors who chose to set up an encampment on the quad Thursday as part of a week of peaceful demonstrations on our campus that coincided with many other occupy movements at universities throughout the country.

The group did not respond to requests from administration and campus police to comply with campus rules that exist to protect the health and safety of our campus community. The group was informed in writing this morning that the encampment violated regulations designed to protect the health and safety of students, staff and faculty. The group was further informed that if they did not dismantle the encampment, it would have to be removed.

Following our requests, several of the group chose to dismantle their tents this afternoon and we are grateful for their actions. However a number of protestors refused our warning, offering us no option but to ask the police to assist in their removal. We are saddened to report that during this activity, 10 protestors were arrested and pepper spray was used. We will be reviewing the details of the incident.

We appreciate and strongly defend the rights of all our students, faculty and staff to robust and respectful dialogue as a fundamental tenet of our great academic institution. At the same time, we have a responsibility to our entire campus community, including the parents who have entrusted their students to us, to ensure that all can live, learn and work in a safe and secure environment. We were aware that some of those involved in the recent demonstrations on campus were not members of the UC Davis community and this required us to be even more vigilant about the safety of our students, faculty and staff. We take this responsibility very seriously.

While we have appreciated the peaceful and respectful tone of the demonstrations during the week, the encampment raised serious health and safety concerns, and the resources required to supervise this encampment could not be sustained, especially in these very tight economic times when our resources must support our core academic mission. We deeply regret that many of the protestors today chose not to work with our campus staff and police to remove the encampment as requested. We are even more saddened by the events that subsequently transpired to facilitate their removal.

We appreciate the substantive dialogue the students have begun here on campus as part of this week.s activities, and we want to offer appropriate opportunities to express opinions, advance the discussion and suggest solutions as part of the time-honored university tradition. We invite our entire campus community to consider the topics related to the occupy movement you would like to discuss and we pledge to work with you to develop a series of discussion forums throughout our campus.

I ask all members of the campus community for their support in ensuring a safe environment for all members of our campus community. We hope you will actively support us in accomplishing this objective.

Linda P.B. Katehi