21 Dec 2013

The start of something new

This post appears just as we leave the old year and turn to the new. The winter solstice (at 9:11 am in Vancouver) marks the minimal point of daylight. From now, the days will get longer (even if we call it "winter"), and rebirth will occur.

All cultures celebrate this change in some way. Most of them also deal with the darkness (in the northern hemisphere) by holding parties, lighting candles, and other ways of coping with the shrinking light. Christmas trees, lights, santas and church visits are used in many countries, but those traditions are only one means of coping and hoping.

Christmas tree and bike in Isla Isabella, Galapagos, Ecuador

Bottom Line: A Dios to the past; time to grow again.

16 Dec 2013

Aguanomics is on vacation!

I'll be traveling in Ecuador and Colombia until the end of the year, so go waste some time outside, wondering around with your kids, friends, partners, random strangers -- or just yourself...

Vancouver view from Kits

Enjoy the holidays. See you on 2 Jan 2014!

13 Dec 2013

Friday party!

I watched this years ago and still love it, for people's enthusiasm (and flexibility).

Do you have any "fan remakes" of videos that are fun?

The cost of (not) adapting

I'm writing this from home on 7 Dec because our flight to Dallas was cancelled (hopefully, we'll make Ecuador via Miami) because "record" cold has cancelled 900 flights out of DFW.

The temperatures were just below freezing, but that was too much for Dallas's infrastructure (wires breaking and roofs sagging). Interestingly, it was also too much for Dallas's trees, which appear to have been suited for warmer temperatures (or, more foolishly, imported from warmer origins).

900 flights with about 150 people per flight means 140,000 interrupted trips. Residents in the area are experiencing power cuts, car damage, hospitalizations, piled up garbage, and other impacts from this "unfortunate" weather.

Many cities run perfectly well at lower temperatures (Buffalo!), so why is Dallas reeling?

Because Dallas's systems (and trees!) were built to withstand a more moderate variation in weather. Extra cold causes damage because there was no preparation for extra cold.

This vignette (and some extra time) helps me see how climate change is going to cause damage, slowly and mercilessly, to our human systems.* It also bodes poorly for the ecosystems that have not experienced these extremes, which is why climate change impacts will be worse in tropical areas.

We're hoping that Miami doesn't experience "record" floods :-|

Bottom Line: Spend money on adaptation now and prepare to pay more in the future, as our environment shifts onto an unknown path. Happy Friday the 13th.

*I wrote this in TEoA 1.2:
Scientists talk about a move from stationarity to non-stationarity, or a move from a pattern that’s repeating or predictable to no pattern at all. Non-stationarity means our understanding of climate is going to be less accurate, with more randomness and fewer patterns. Hundred-year floods will happen more or less often than once per century. Temperatures will vary in a greater range, even as average temperatures increase; droughts will get longer; floods grow stronger; and so on. These changes will be inconvenient and/or dangerous. At best, we will have to spend time and money on robust defenses and better responses to dangerous variation. At worst, we will face more conflict, suffering and death.

11 Dec 2013

Amsterdam versus Vancouver

I've been keeping a list of criteria that matter to me.

By these measures, Amsterdam > Vancouver.

(Tell me if you have others)

Urban feel
Canals > mountains
Vondelpark (center of town) > Stanley park (edge of town)
Walk up > high rise
Red light > east Hastings
Drizzle ~ downpour

Parties and such
Coffee shops < dispensaries (only after you've been found "disabled")
MDMA > cocaine ("people use coke b/c it's cheap")
Take bike > stolen bike (why you need to drive to parties)
Heineken < microbrews
Cheap liquor > BC liquor
Day parties < Burner parties
Slow friends < Fast friends

Metric > imperial (arg!)
Mayo > ketchup
Artists > hipsters
1928 > 2010 (perhaps a summary indicator of "with it")
Mandatory personal health insurance > subsidy wars
Douwe egberts < baristas (way better coffee in VanC)

Bikes > cars
Flow > Traffic jams (people need 40% more $ to sit in traffic)
No car > free parking
Ring road > grid
Schiphol > Vancouver International

Traffic near Portland
I grew up in an urban area (San Francisco) and always felt that cars were normal, until I got to Amsterdam and learned how a "people centric" city can feel.* It's amazing, the way that Amsterdam is so calm and relaxed. Amsterdam has spoiled North America for me. Since I can work anywhere (and lots of people can, if they're flexible on their goals), I've decided to move back there :)

* My girlfriend, Cornelia, started Sustainable Amsterdam and Sustainable Vancouver. The first was an attempt to explain why it's great; the second was to try to get Vancouver to reach a little higher than "best city in North America." Here's her talk on how Vancouver can be more bike friendly, Dutch style :)

10 Dec 2013

Green taxes that are not so green

After several years, we've finally published our paper

Schuerhoff, Marianne, David Zetland and Hans-Peter Weikard (2013). "The life and death of the Dutch groundwater tax" Water Policy 15(6):1064-1077. [pdf]

Abstract: We examine the Dutch national groundwater tax (GWT) --- a "win-win-win green tax" that promised to simultaneously provide revenue to government, reduce the relative burden of other taxes on productive behaviour (e.g., income tax), and improve environmental outcomes. We find that the GWT generated revenue without having a noticeable impact on production incentives or environmental health. Although the GWT is often cited as an example of environmental economics in action, it was neither designed, implemented nor operated in accordance with environmental goals. In many ways, the GWT was just another source of revenue --- and one that bothered special interests. The Dutch government revoked the "inefficient" GWT on December 31 2011.

Free speech and the internet

This rant from Reddit (profanity and all) serves as an effective declaration of rights:

I'm getting so tired of this shit.*

It's just an internet comment, a small string of 1's and 0's somebody bashed together in half a second on a virtual world that doesn't really exist. Words can't describe how meaningless it is. It's like walking down the street and seeing a little strip of paper with "Fuck you, cunt" written on it. It shouldn't make you cry. Are you really such a weak minded person that an anonymous comment collapses your world? Come on.

If you don't like it, don't read it. Especially on Twitter, you don't have to follow the cunt.. it's not like he's on a plynth outside the bloody pub. Or write an equally meaningless comment back. None of it matters. Not only that but wishing for something doesn't actually effect reality you precious fuckwits. If I hope all the children die in fires tomorrow it doesn't make it more likely, I'm not actually causing anything.. you're just a fucking idiot.

You can block him, you can get Twitter to ban him or you can take the most effective route and stop letting the stupid meaningless shit other people say have such a dramatic effect on your life because that's the reason they do it. You're just making it worse for yourself, you're painting a big target on your back and telling the world that if they say nasty things on t'internet you'll go off the bloody rails. "I'm a bear and I'll go mental if you poke me with a stick". What the fuck do you think is about to happen? poke.
"Don't feed the trolls" was correct in 1993 and it's correct now, they exist because you completely over-react to the things they say. They find it funny that you let it bother you, they understand how uncontrollable and lawless the internet is, they understand how all information on it is treated equally and how you need to be your own content filter.

Also, his message might be offensive but it's just as fucking pointless as all the people in all the places who type "My condolences". It's just fucking babble to make us feel better, do we really need to all get together and tell each other just how tragic a helicopter crashing into a pub is? I'm sure we all fucking know, call it instinct. He's just not joining in on the national circlejerk of sadness, instead he's attacking it. Boo fucking hoo. You don't get to be right just because you claim you are more honest, solemn, charitable or polite than other people that's fucking stupid.

"I'm really nice to my granny and you're not, therefor my stance on healthcare is correct. I really honestly deep in my heart of hearts believe it to be true also, so that that makes me double correct!". That's not how it works shitstain.

Call him an arse, shun him from society, spread rumors that he's got nasty diseases.. fine.. He's a cunt but I will defend his right to be a cunt until the day I die because at some point all this moral majority shite will turn on something you like, you'll have the minority opinion, you'll be the 'horrible' one and I hope someone will stand up for your right to be different from everyone else.

I could place a link right here in this comment to imgur and until you click it and you see the contents you won't know if it's cute or disgusting. That's powerful, it's the first time in human history we can really do that. Newspapers, TV shows, Books, Music.. they all have editors. They all have people smoothing the edges off reality to make it palatable. Not anymore. We have accidentally invented near absolute free speech, I can almost literally beam an idea from my brain to yours, with no interruptions, no judgements, no filters and with no information lost.. how amazing is that? Yet these fuckers want it taken away because "that man said a nasty thing"? Fuck them.

* A Scottish kid was arrested for this tweet

9 Dec 2013

Monday funnies

Men have contests; women just get on with it.

In search of stupidity

I enjoy learning because I was not told that I was as good as my grades in my early years (Montessori school); I knew it was okay to be wrong.

It seems that many people would benefit from that environment, as this one page essay [pdf] points out:
Productive stupidity means being ignorant by choice. Focusing on important questions puts us in the awkward position of being ignorant. One of the beautiful things about science is that it allows us to bumble along, getting it wrong time after time, and feel perfectly fine as long as we learn something each time. No doubt, this can be difficult for students who are accustomed to getting the answers right. No doubt, reasonable levels of confidence and emotional resilience help, but I think scientific education might do more to ease what is a very big transition: from learning what other people once discovered to making your own discoveries. The more comfortable we become with being stupid, the deeper we will wade into the unknown and the more likely we are to make big discoveries.
Note that the author distinguishes between relative stupidity (laziness) and absolute stupidity (inquiry). Don't mix them up!

H/T to RM

Addendum: Read "the great forgetting" on how computerized assistance can make us weaker and "in praise of the polymath" (See my comment for links)

5 Dec 2013

Too much civil obedience?

Matt Damon reads Howard Zinn's 1970 speech very well. It's a pity that he's recycling, as that indicates (1) not much progress and (2) no new thinkers leading on these issues

Related: I finished the first season of House of Cards (the US edition) as a demonstration of political manipulation in the service of power (over the good of the people, to be sure). I hadn't recognized that it was based on the brilliant BBC version made over 20 years ago (I ran into it, late one night in Zagreb, and was transfixed by the cynical manipulation). Some things never change, and that's why civil obedience is so troubling. For a clear view on how business and capitalism can overcome the flaws of politics, read this interview with Marc Andreessen; for a clear view on how aid and political management can destroy the dynamism read this essay on Africa by Paul Theroux (H/T to BE).

Applying for a masters degree in water studies?

An anonymous candidate sent me this useful feedback:
I thought I'd give you an update on my progress with this "Water Masters" application process.

I have finalized my school list to Duke, Yale, Michigan Ann Arbor, and Oxford. From what I have gathered throughout this process, all of the above schools are extremely competitive and the grad cafe website certainly makes it seem as though acceptance rates are lower than I initially imagined they would be.

Some findings:

Duke and Yale refer to themselves as the "Big 2" and share yearly recruiting events that bring in some of the biggest firms hiring environmental studies students. These two schools are investing large amounts of money and actively recruiting professors in order to create various the leading academic program related to water study. Duke's Nicholas School, in particular, has started a "Water Initiative" and recently brough on a new Water Resource Management Director from UNC. When I spoke with Duke, they told me that their curriculum would allow for large amounts of freedom; as I am interested more in large-scale water infrastructure work, I was told that I would be able to manage my coursework to include work on finance and water engineering to counteract my liberal arts undergraduate degree. Yale professors never responded to any of my emails to speak but I ended up applying there anyways because of Duke's praise for the school. I will most likely have to visit Yale in person before I make any decision.

Michigan, on the other hand, is very proud of its Sustainable Systems concentration in which they focus on systems, rather than simply water studies. Interestingly, Michigan claims to have a large percentage of its graduate study body co-enroll with Ann Arbor's business school, which I take to mean it is slightly less environmental science focused and more environmental business focused. While the number of courses geared exclusively towards water study isn't large, I think that this graduate coursework may actually make more career sense as it would allow me to get into water or continue my current work with energy, clean tech, etc.

Oxford, with its Masters in Coursework of Water Science, Policy, and Management, seems to be far more theory-based and its one year length makes me hesitate as to its equivalence with some of the money drain 1-year Masters programs in the US. While I know that UK Masters programs are 1-year in length almost uniformly, I'm still debating the benefits of cost (1-year vs. 2-year) and academic experience that will come in choosing over versus the other. Oxford's release of jobs taken by recent graduates also shows a heavier weight towards policy and environmental research positions.

The other two water programs that I heard receive almost universal praise were UCB and Oregon State. UCB is considered by some to have the strongest environmental science program (despite what Duke and Yale might say) but seems to be very much research/field-work oriented. Oregon State, on the other hand, received praise due to its strong team of professors rather than its academic reputation. These two schools, again though, seemed to be more research focused rather than business focused, which convinced me to leave them out of my final application list.
Do you readers have more information, opinions or experiences to add?

3 Dec 2013

A day of loss -- and find?

I love the expression "first world problems" (OMG! My internet is slowing down!), but there's something to be said about temporary discomfort as a means of understanding what you need, what you want, and why you're lucky.

I travel a lot (and I've moved about a dozen times in 5 years), so I've lost and found a lot of good and bad things, people and ideas, but I wonder if others wouldn't benefit from a little appreciation.

What if, for example, you lost access to your car on a random day? Your phone? Your internet?

Do you think that it would change the way you used these items?

What about losing your partner? Your kids? Your best friend?

Do you think it would change the way you appreciate, relate and interact with them?

What if you lost your hand? Your vision? Your appetite?

How would your grip on life change?

I'm just asking, but I'm curious to know if you've tried this thought exercise or if you're bold enough to do it for real.

If so, what would you "target" for loss? Or would you rather be surprised?

2 Dec 2013

Monday funnies

This is painfully funny...

That's just a snapshot of an artist who's about to get VERY upset...

Anything but water

  1. An interesting podcast on why "reason" is only one of several ways of viewing the world (consider, e.g., ethics, common sense, etc.). Want more? Read Tracy Mehan's post on conservation, markets and ethics. Want a deeper discussion of why "we seem designed to twist moral discourse to selfish or tribal ends? Read this (it's also how lots of economists -- including me -- think)

  2. Under the streets of NYC -- a fascinating web of human engineering

  3. Want to drop corruption and gridlock in DC by 50 percent? End corporate taxes

  4. After some thought, I've come 'round to my friend's rationale for the poor standard of living in the UK: people are used to getting screwed. From the enclosure movement to the Industrial Revolution to WWI, the British middle class has been squeezed. Ex-Brits (US, Canada, Australia), in contrast, were able to "take lots of space" and got used to a higher quality of living that's persisted

  5. This history (one of several articles) of tar oil sands in Alberta is long on "brave pioneers" and short on details of how much the government paid (or looked the other way).
H/T to DG