30 Sep 2013

Monday funnies

Speed blogging

  1. A nice slide deck on water in Australia (emphasis on markets and Victoria), which is facing yet another drought

  2. Speaking of drought (now happening in many US states), here are two posts on drought (overview and planning) from some USGS folks. The economic plan is to keep water in aquifers for when you need it. That's not happening in California, which leads Fleck to ask if social scientists can help. They can if bailouts (e.g., Delta exports) are taken off the table and water users are forced to cooperate with limited resources instead of pretending they can carry on!

  3. Someone made an interesting point with respect to water footprinting. It's not just silent on the problem of water scarcity in the area where water is being used; its method of calculating NET water used in production also ignores potential problems with losses in the system of delivering water (let alone what happens to "used" water). Footprinting is a misleading waste of money

  4. The insurance industry is changing its models to integrate climate change risks, mostly by throwing out historical data it has used for decades. Prices are going to rise, to capture the uncertainty (not risk!). Insurance policies are going to have far more surprises

  5. Speaking of which, a new project has launched to use natural infrastructure to adapt to climate change

  6. Articles on Minoan and Etruscan water technologies, expanding and using smart metering, and pharmaceuticals in drinking water
H/Ts to GC and MC

28 Sep 2013

Flashback: 23-30 Sep 2012

A year later and still worth reading...

Did you bring your cup? Incentives matter, even for hippies

Anyone out there? Help please! I keep trying to find ways to communicate water issues to people. The blog, like email, works for asynchronous communication. I've tried webinars (no good) and will still do "video chats" because they make it easy for people to follow the nuances of water topics. I'll keep live events to my talks (see the sidebar on the blog homepage for future events)

Blocking change by arguing that solutions are perverse, futile or risky

Are subsidies more efficient than price signals? No. Usually because the subsidies are misdirected or captured. That's why we've seen so many failures with renewable and biofuel energy

27 Sep 2013

Friday party!

I forgot how well MC Hammer dances...

If you want more, funnier (and slightly controversial, due to his admiration for big butts), then watch this

Anything but water

  1. "When Evil Was a Social System: The moral burdens of living under communist rule in Eastern Europe" offers some insights on manipulation of people's loyalties and beliefs that hold in some parts of the US (and Canada!)

  2. An excellent primer: "How to read and understand a scientific paper: a guide for non-scientists"

  3. "Bring Back Flophouses, Rooming Houses, and Microapartments," i.e., how middle class zoning killed affordable housing

  4. The Economist has an excellent survey on biodiversity, corruption and economic growth

  5. The price of beer at Oktoberfest is rising BUT people are drinking more? Irrational? Not if either (1) people would drink EVEN MORE if it wasn't rising or (2) people go to Munich for the fun and drinking, not to save money on beer.

26 Sep 2013

What do I lose with the shutdown?

Jobs create costs and sometimes create benefits

I've said this many times, but I'm going to elaborate a few reasons for this statement.

First, you have to consider perspective. Everyone benefits from THEIR job, given that they are willing to trade their time (and some risk) for the cash and other benefits from a job.

Second, you have to consider basic economics. "Something" is good if its benefit exceeds its cost. Remember that costs include opportunity cost, or the cost of NOT using resources in another way. As an example, note that you can turn a "free tree" into a toothpick, but you can also turn it into some firewood, lumber, or even a place for animals to live. If the benefit of these are $0.05, $10, $200 and $50, respectively, then using a "free" tree for lumber has an opportunity cost of $50 (firewood) and net benefit of $200-$50-$0 (free) = $150.

Third, you have to separate voluntary from bureaucratic. Lots of businesses hire workers because their production is worth more than their wages. It's usually governments that will tell you to work for free (conscripted army) or tell others to hire you (various quotas).

Taking these ideas together, we can see that private sector jobs create benefits for both sides (employer and worker), which is the definition of benefits to society.

In contrast to this, you can have public-sector jobs that do that (air traffic controllers), jobs that create costs without benefits (DEA officials), and regulations that create jobs that would not exist in a free market, i.e., "green jobs" that are subsidized into existence,* jobs to meet a regulatory obligation (staff to file paperwork), or jobs that create benefits by destroying others wealth (lobbyists).

This last list may give you an idea of jobs that are not only costly, but value destroying. (Note that I have said that there are some good government jobs; this is why I think government can be part of the solution :)

Bottom Line: All jobs come with costs; some create value in excess of costs, but only the government can force jobs into existence that destroy value.
* I tell people who say "we need more jobs" that we can do that very easily. Just hire another 5-10 people to sit behind the counter at Starbucks, at desks at Merrill Lynch, or behind the controls of an airplane. You can CREATE as many jobs (and costs) as you want, but they won't make sense unless they create value.

25 Sep 2013

Local priorities

This is from the front page of the Dawson Creek Daily News; Dawson Creek is right in the middle of Alberta/BC's oil and gas producing region, so you'd best be pro-drilling if you're in the area...

Balancing between economy and the environment

PL emailed this excellent comment:
I like the way you can see both sides of an often polarizing discussion. Too often the debate is a simplistic good versus evil ie- big greedy capitalists versus Mother Nature. We need both – economic development and a respect for the environment. I think there is a clear correlation between middle class and environmental concern. When people have acquired something to care about – they do. They care about their children’s health, their home, their yard, and their community. Capitalism and free markets foster the development of a middle class. But it has also created a consumer-driven marketplace, where products that are neither wholesome nor necessary are created, packaged and relentlessly advertised to an unsuspecting public. I think the fast food industry in North America has a lot to answer for.

I believe that markets are natural human creations and will arise whenever and wherever there are goods and services to be traded. Unfortunately greed, corruption and fraud are also common human behaviors and markets need to be regulated to protect the consumer, investor or environment from criminals, fraudsters and greedy profit-oriented corporations or individuals. Having said that, I believe that markets should be allowed to exist with the minimum amount of regulation required to protect most people from the avarice of a few. Generally regulators get it wrong and focus on the form – making sure a plethora of documentation is created so that the filing of an improper document becomes the focus of the bureaucracy and the improper behavior is neglected. All the regulation that existed to protect American investors didn’t stop Bernie Madoff.

Anyway the intersection of the economy and the environment is a crucial study since both are equally important. Finding a middle ground amidst the environmentalists running around with their hair on fire and large corporations like McDonalds whose trash was prominently inventoried today is a challenge.

24 Sep 2013

Who can replace Pat?

Pat Mulroy is retiring as General Manager of SNWA Self-Appointed Leader of the Western US.

Although Pat did not enjoy absolute power -- neighbors did not always give her the water she knew Vegas deserved -- she was instrumental in building a path of prosperity for the land developers who wanted more subdivisions, more pools, and more infrastructure. Her "third straw" will be forever known as the straw that made it possible to really drain Lake Mead, even as it could not be used without stealing from others.

Although we do not know Pat's future plans, we hope that she does not take to the road, to give talks, as such an evangelical approach towards sprawl and unrestrained demand would not only put communities at risk from over expansion and over spending, it would also raise the possibility of civil war breaking out among numerous claimants to the title of "entitled to grow because we're better than you (and you really don't know how to manage you water as well as we know how to manage your water)."

Pat's retirement puts Las Vegas at a crossroads. Should Vegas continue to struggle to sprawl against the bounds of reason, respectability and economic logic, or should Vegas take the humble road of mere existence and prosperity, concentrating on using its resources to improve the lives of people who already  live there, the people whose dreams have been shattered by bond issues, carpetbagger land speculators, and imperialist-derived conflict.

We wait with baited breath, to find who will fill her big, shitkicking boots.. Will Clark County, the Southern Nevada Water Authority, and the people of Las Vegas find a replacement who wants to strap them on and abuse the neighbors, or will they opt for a new leader who can build a community of consensus and concern, to manage the region's water in a future in which cooperation will keep communities thriving, despite the impacts of climate change, political volatility and diverse attitudes towards the Good Life in the Southwest.

Stay tuned.

Speed blogging

  1. China has lost 28,000 rivers, probably due to diversions and development, and that's just the start of its water problems

  2. GREAT water-related photos ...like this one:

  3. The US Government is raising flood insurance rates, to remove subsidies that encourage people to live taxpayer's dime. Now they will have to pay for their risk, and they are mad

  4. Companies are just starting to understand how to use smart meter data; customers may be better off

  5. David Suzuki says that the IPCC is too conservative in discussing impacts from climate change. That may please businesses and politicians who don't want change from business as usual, but it may also lull us asleep in the face of a freight train of problems -- food and commodity shortages, for instance.
H/T to DL

23 Sep 2013

Monday funnies

Via my dad...

A man in London walked into the produce section of his local Tesco's supermarket and asked to buy half a head of lettuce. The boy working in that department told him that they only sold whole heads of lettuce. The man was insistent that the boy ask the manager about the matter.

Walking into the back room, the boy said to the manager, "Some old bastard wants to buy a half a head of lettuce."

As he finished his sentence, he turned around to find that the man was standing right behind him, so he quickly added, "and this gentleman kindly offered to buy the other half."

The manager approved the deal and the man went on his way.

Later, the manager said to the boy, "I was impressed with the way you got yourself out of that situation earlier, we like people who can think on their feet here, where are you from son?"

"New Zealand, sir," the boy replied.

"Why did you leave New Zealand?" the manager asked.

The boy said, "Sir, there's nothing but prostitutes and rugby players there."

"Is that right?" replied the manager, "My wife is from New Zealand!"

"Really?" replied the boy, "Who'd she play for?"

Anything but water

  1. These Canadians love their oil terminal, but Alberta has no sense of humor about its pollution :(

  2. Who will win in the automated future? Those who listen, engage and motivate. The losers? Read on...

  3. Politicians who ignore good advice get bad (predicted) results, e.g., US oil policy in the 1970s. On a related fail, check out how the feds created then screwed up the ethanol "market"* and how the British government destroyed a valuable fishery while wasting money on photogenic sheep

  4. A thoughtful perspective on community food (for the people) versus commodity food (for the traders), and how American agriculture innovates (don't need subsidies for that!)

  5. Incineration vs recycling. Each has a place, but environmental-disaster tropical plantations are good only for corrupt politicians and thieves. Such practices may change if enough people realize that we're "committing suicide by planet"
* Addendum: Not surprising that this Indiana biofuels company stole $100 million by relabeling fuel or that this German firm evaded $180 million in tariffs to bring in cheap Chinese honey. You may be pleased that they got caught, but what about the firms that are not caught? What about all the money wasted chasing traders. We wouldn't have these problems, we'd have cheaper fuel and food, and we'd save tax money on enforcement if we just had free markets

21 Sep 2013

Flashback: 16-22 Sep 2012

A year later and still worth reading...

The changing economics of Burning Man -- is rather philosophical.* When you're done, reward yourself with girls hula hooping with a GoCam

Bottled water vs fountains -- Now I am seeing "bottle filling stations" on water fountains. Beats bending your bottle over, I guess

The Sahara is not in a drought -- and Colorado is a mountainous state without climate worries, right?

* I didn't go this year. I may go next year. I realized that it's easier to see BM as a party with lots of cool people instead of a community or vision of the future. Hm.

20 Sep 2013

Bikes, drugs, the Dutch and Vancouver

The Dutch have used bikes for years, but they really got serious about putting bikes ahead of cars in the 1960s (due to the Provos). Watch these videos of how to Dutch design bike-friendly junctions and how seriously they take bike safety -- they are so serious that you don't have to wear a helmet.

Vancouver, we've learned, is experiencing a "bike revolution" in which bike lanes are being widened, streets are being blocked off, and lights are being re-jigged for bikers. I totally applaud these efforts, but it's slightly surreal to have other bikers chat with you at intersections. I've never had a Dutch biker ask me "where are you going?"

Last weekend, we went out on a bike-u-brew-crawl that was silly and fun. It was a mobile party of 150+ people (hipsters/burners*/geeks) who rode from one house to another, blaring dance music on the way.**

One sign that there's still some way to go before bikes are normal in Vancouver? People were VERY careful about locking their bikes (nice article reviewing bike locks)

I took this photo at a roundabout.

Bottom Line: The Provos have come to Vancouver :)

* Here are some amazing photos from past Burning Men

** Way more people were smoking pot in Vancouver than smoke in the Netherlands. On that topic, check out Rolling Stone's pot issue and a Dutcher's views on why ecstasy needs to be legalized

19 Sep 2013

Speed blogging

  1. Water in Canada: Some Canadian Environmental Indicators are getting better [see the comments], and a paper estimates the impact of abstraction charges on use. I bet you didn't know that Canada has both quality (oil, gas, mining pollution) and quantity (most of the water goes north, away from people) problems with water.*

  2. Perhaps New Orleans can persist by adopting Dutch-style canals and "flood-friendliness"? It will take years decades to restore the bayou, but some in the state are fighting back against the iron triangle of oilmen, politicians and engineers. Colorado, meanwhile, is facing an existential crisis that may change minds in a hurry.

  3. A Congressional Research Service Report on Hydraulic Fracturing and the Environmental Protection Act [pdf]

  4. TheWaterChannel has a webinar on "Salinization, Water Scarcity and Future Agriculture" on 24 Sep

  5. The IWRM ToolBox is a free library of background papers, policy briefs, case studies and references aimed at improving water management

  6. You probably know that 19 percent of California's electricity goes to treating and pumping water. Did you know that 8 percent of residential electricity goes to growing pot indoors? Legalization would reduce electricity use, carbon emissions, water pollution and (obviously) crime. Maybe Imperial Valley could REALLY switch to high value crops? That's a California I'd like to see!

* In a recent email exchange with a representative of IPIECA, I asked how they were implementing their goal of "promoting consistent freshwater reporting." The rep's responses was
IPIECA does not collect any data from its members, however our sister organisation OGP collects data which it publishes in its environmental performance indicators report [pdf]. The latest report does not include fresh water, however OGP is now collecting this information which will be included in future reports.

18 Sep 2013

Which cover for the next End of Abundance?

A few people submitted designs for the cover contest for my new book (subtitle: "Common Sense Solutions to Water Scarcity")

I'd like to know if you have any comments on how to improve these designs (or if you have a better one!)

Cover 1

Cover 2

Cover 3

Cover 4

Desalination: Why Not

The Water Channel just released this video. Yes, it's me talking, but it's damned good :)

17 Sep 2013

Units of confusion

I love the metric system for its obvious simplicity (1 meter = 100 centimeters) and elegance (one liter of water weighs one kilogram; one cubic meter of water weights one ton, or 1,000 kg).

In the Netherlands, I enjoyed the metric system in its full glory, and I thought I was going to have the same experience in Canada, but I am not.

Before Canada started switching to the metric system in the 1970s, it had a system that borrowed elements from the UK and the US. That system was confusing (e.g., an imperial gallon is 4.55 liters; a US gallon is 3.78 liters), and so it made sense to move to a single, logical system such as the metric system.

But the switch didn't exactly occur, and Canadians today use pounds and feet, alongside kilograms and meters. In some ways, Canadians are in an even worse situation than Americans, who've firmly rejected the metric system (except for kilos of cocaine and two liter bottles of coca cola). This confusion increases transaction costs, as people need to find or convert to a common unit of measure (I'm trying to sell a backpack that has 65L/4,000 in3 of capacity, telling people that I am 1.78m/5'10").

Transaction costs do not just affect communication among people; they also slow down our internal thinking, by forcing us to convert measures or -- worse -- ignore measures in our everyday affairs.* I blame some share of American innumeracy on our chaotic system of measures, which means that Americans make more gratuitous mistakes. It seems that Canadians are handicapping themselves in the same way. That's a pity.

Bottom Line: The metric system makes it easier to measure and relate different objects and ideas. Those who do not use it cannot think as clearly as those who do.

* The same holds for tipping and sales taxes here. In the Netherlands, people do not tip. Service is still good since servers are paid a good wage. Taxes are included in the price (e.g., €1.99 means €1.99) but you can see them on the receipt. It's silly to sell something for $9.99, then ask someone for $11.20 here (12% tax). Just tell me the price; don't make me THINK even more about something I already decided to buy!

16 Sep 2013

Monday funnies

From The New Yorker

Anything but water

Did this glacier shrink due to humans?
  1. What happens to "promising" start ups? Most fail -- as they should. Semi-related: how our valuation of children has changed

  2. Coyote deconstructs a biased article (on train traffic) by a journalist. Fail

  3. Although there's lots of evidence that climate change is melting glaciers at a faster pace than before, there's also some confusions as to the "natural" vs. anthropogenic rate of advance and retreat of glaciers. Recent research claims that the Industrial Revolution was shrinking glaciers (via soot on the ice) as far back as 1860.

  4. The "true material" cost of development is much higher because earlier estimates counted raw materials that were traded and forgot (!) those that originated within a country. This result matters most in places where raw materials are supplied below cost as a means of increasing exports (e.g., China, Russia)

  5. I participated in the quarterly survey of economics bloggers [pdf], which revealed that "we" don't think the economy is going anywhere fast or that the government is that competent.** The interesting questions related to micro issues (read the survey*), and here's mine:

    I welcome their replies, but note that they already blog. I reckon that 80 percent of academics do NOT participate in public debates, which is a pity.

* Many more bloggers answered math or physics than biology to "what science affected your understanding of economics?" That answer worries me, since people do not behave in patterns that match physics.

** Addendum: Here's a survey of what environmental and resource academics think about markets, policies and the environment. (They do worry about water issues.)

14 Sep 2013

Flashback: 9-15 Sep 2012

A year later and still worth reading...

Occupy and the tea party failed ...because they both embraced big government

Is government better at R & D? No, but it's useful for funding R(esearch). Speaking of D, Charles Fishman has moved on from water -- here he tells how a company went from bagels to rockets by listening to what its hardest customers were asking for.

13 Sep 2013

Friday party!

Sometimes nature needs to move with you...

Some first impressions on Canada

Coffee worth queuing for
After driving 10,000km from Vancouver to Alaska (Chicken!) to Dawson City to Calgary and back, we moved into a place in Vancouver.

That trip gave us time to see the country, visit with lots of people, and see how they live.

My first impression is that western Canada is very similar to the western US. People are more polite (and perhaps more friendly, in a meaningful way), but there's still that overwhelming emphasis on cars, sprawl and careers.

I am thankful for the good coffee, two public pools within a kilometer of our place, and the nice water-front bike paths.*

I find it interesting that Canadians (sauf les Quebecois) consider themselves successful when they do better than America, rather than the rest of the world. Canada thus has a myopic "small country" perspective.

After several years in the Netherlands, I'm surprised to run into policies that are NOT economic, i.e., they produce anti-social results. For example:
  • The Canadian government taxes bike imports, even though it has no domestic bike industry

  • Vancouver is the bike-theft capital of Canada. The police tell people to "log" their possessions, but it would be better to set up a centralized registry for owners

  • Canada is officially a metric country, but people use feet and pounds all the time, so it helps to be biunital as well as bilingual (see post next week)

  • Provincial governments regulate alcohol sales and set minimum prices. Prices appear to be based on alcohol content (e.g., all rums and vodkas sell for a minimum of 3.17 cents/ml) instead of supply and demand. This means that beer and wine cost more, relatively, than hard liquor. In BC, where we are, government-run BC Liquors has the same prices everywhere. The combination of these policies means that beer and wine drinkers in Vancouver subsidize vodka drinkers 800km to the north. There's at least one group calling for reform

  • Alberta is run by the oil/gas industries, which results in oxymorons like this:
    “We estimate the recent flood [in Calgary] was a 1-in-250-year event and the plan is to build the berms big enough and strong enough to withstand that sort of flow,” McKerracher said.

    “There’s an urgency to this because we’re worried the river could flood again next spring
Bottom Line: Vancouver is, so far, a very nice North American city that we're enjoying (it's not raining yet!). The people here are very friendly, and we're happy to meet them and enjoy all the goodies around here (Commercial Drive).

* Vancouver has recently implemented a number of bike-friendly paths and policies, but it has a LONG way to go before it gets to Dutch quality.

12 Sep 2013

Some thoughts on water conservation

KK sent these comments on the entry on "water conservation" that I wrote for an encyclopedia [pdf]. It's in press, so I cannot make corrections/changes, but here are my responses:
  1. First sentence – you note that conservation can be encouraged with price or non-price instruments and then go on to delve into prices, but what I wanted to know is what is Water Conservation? California’s 20x2020 plan describes Water Conservation as “a reduction in water loss, waste, or use” I would suggest starting with something as basic as that.

    Conservation can mean using less or not wasting. These are not the same, since the cost of using less may exceed the benefits (e.g., installing conservation equipment that costs more than the value of water conserved). A larger problem with conservation (one that I did not discuss in the entry) is that conservation in one place may not matter in another. A low flush toilet, for example, may "use" less water in terms of a household meter, but that "efficiency" [I'm using quotation marks here to make it clear that labels do not always represent reality] may not play out. Low flush toilets may lower sewerage system efficiency (clogs, treatment, etc.); "wasted" water can also be treated and returned to the water system or the environment (i.e., no waste).

    My discussion in the entry deals only with reducing water use, not with the bigger problem of when that makes sense.

  2. I’d ask for a more clear distinction regarding discussion of price and non-price instruments (i.e., describe some non-price conservation programs) in the subsequent paragraphs that you distinguish in the first sentence.

    Price mechanisms work with the "slope" of the demand curve, i.e., holding taste constant, they will reduce quantity demanded in accordance with each person's demand elasticity. Some people have inelastic demand because they use water for essentials (drinking, bathing and so on) or because the price of water is so low that it does not register in their use decisions. Non-price mechanisms shift usually try to shift demand in, i.e., lowering demand for water even when the price is the same. These mechanisms include a change in tastes (deciding that short showers are good), changes in technology (low flow shower heads) or changes in habits (wanting a green lawn). Most of these mechanisms take the form of "consumer education" that's delivered in booklets to people who often ignore them. They tend to fail because they are misdirected (i.e., installing low flow showerheads in the guest bathroom) or because the utility doesn't like them (customers who use a lot of water pay more money, which helps cover fixed costs). It's also useful to remember that a higher price can trigger inward shifts in demand by making water use decisions relevant.

  3. My reading of the draft is that it is to largely dismissive of non-price strategies despite the fact the such measures are what nearly all utilities use and very few utilities have the smart meters necessary for demand strategies. Perhaps the encyclopedia entry should be re-titled “Water Meters and Pricing”?

    I'm not reading it as you are. I say "Greater 'awareness' or education can lead people to shut off faucets while brushing teeth or replace water-thirsty lawns with non-irrigated local plants" and "Water meters ... trigger a behavioral response to measurement of use" as well as discussing the interaction of price and non-price factors.

    What's more important (to me) is that utilities have control over water prices and water meters; they have very little control over people's psychology and behavior, which are more strongly affected by news, social media and education. I'd say that the largest force for non-price water conservation is environmentalism, which leads to more recycling, less meat consumption, less driving, and so on. Few utilities are responsible for those attitudes although all of them benefit from customers who have them.

  4. The first sentence of the last paragraph - “People often want examples of success and failures in water pricing and conservation” - gave me the impression that conservation and pricing were two different things, which brought me back to my earlier confusion regarding what is ‘water conservation’.

    They are different things. Success in water pricing means mostly that the price goes up and/or reflects costs. Those changes are more about accounting and fiscal stability than water conservation. I don't know of many utilities that set prices to encourage conservation. Summer prices are one example; tiered prices are sometimes presented with this in mind, but they are also used to subsidize basic consumption in lower blocks (i.e., people who use less water pay less than cost).
Bottom Line: "Water conservation" means different things to different people, and it's hard to be clear and balanced in a limited space. That's why I prefer blogging (with comments!) and public talks with Q&A, to make it easier to match and mesh different experiences and beliefs.

11 Sep 2013

Anything but water

Interesting data
  1. Wow. Spiegel (a German magazine) explores how Germany's transformation to renewables is costly ($20 billion "wasted"), inefficient (4,000 different subsidies) and hurts the poor

  2. A view into a subculture: "not all wool sweaters are the equivalent of a Mona Lisa"

  3. The AntiCorruption Internet Database

  4. The story of the Europeans behind Skype and how Microsoft may kill its culture

  5. Fail: The World Bank is spending $millions on climate insurance while it gives $billions in subsidies to fossil fuels. On the other end of mitigation, here are details on the Canadian company that dumped iron dust into the ocean to geoengineer a reduction in CO2.

10 Sep 2013

Has my blog or book had any impact?

I've been blogging for over five years. Aguanomics has had over a million page views for 4,500+ posts.

I've also sold over 1,700 copies of The End of Abundance, which is based on material on the blog.

I wrote both because I want to help improve water management, but improvements are hard to measure or see.*

So I'd like to know of any stories of how either has done so and how those changes worked out.

If you have any, feel free to email me or leave a comment here. Thanks!

* I also enjoy blogging -- and sometimes post non-water related stuff, just to keep things interesting.

9 Sep 2013

Monday funnies

This is me -- and I'm starting work on End of Abundance 2.0 this week!

Speed blogging

  1. I've got a chapter ("Economists owe ecology an apology") in Green growth and water allocation, a new book published by UNESCO and available for free download. Check it out

  2. How to survive (a little longer) without water and how NOT to store water in a managed aquifer -- especially when that means losing $50 million!

  3. A good discussion of (manmade) water scarcity versus (natural) drought

  4. "Disruptive conservation" may be more effective at protecting watersheds while improving crop yields because it looks at outcomes instead of the costs and processes of implementing conservation practices

  5. What happens when people cannot be penalized for not paying their water bills? Those who do not pay shift the burden onto those who do. (I'd resolve this problem with renters by making landlords liable. Note also that the average water bill in Wales -- where water is abundant but infrastructure costly -- is about $675 per year)
H/T to DL

7 Sep 2013

Flashback: 2-8 Sep 2012

A year later and still worth reading...

In honor of Labor Day, i.e., my financial hints on how to maximize the benefits from your labor

Open access is not free access -- academics are still wasting their time -- and others' money! -- on journals

Waiting for a Dutch Armageddon -- a quick summary of where the Dutch are better than North Americans

6 Sep 2013

Friday party!

Robin Thicke bailed out Colbert when Daft Punk cancelled. I forgot what a mesmorizing video he had for this song, the words to which I seem to keep missing ;-)

This is the NSFW version. Click here for the one where the girls wear clothes.

Happiness at internet speed?

Recall the last time that you got good news and wanted to share it with others.

Did you email people? Call them? Post it on Facebook or tweet it?

Now think about how you conveyed good news long ago, when you told people in letters, by calling them at home, or face-to-face.

Compare the two dissemination methods. The internet makes it easier and faster to share news with more people, but the internet also reduces the time for thoughts of "I have good news" in your brain, perhaps reducing the happiness that you feel from that news.

I've found, for example, that I am happier when I keep a nice email in my inbox for longer, before replying or archiving it, compared to immediately hitting reply and moving on, filing away those happy thoughts.

On a more profound level, I can say that the internet puts us into a "one-night stand" cycle of excitement-fulfillment-emptiness that needs constant attention. During the pre-internet era, we were more likely to walk around for days with the same story, telling different people of how happy we were -- a version of enduring romance where you can appreciate and return to the topic, like you would to a lover who stays around.

I'm not sure if we are "hard coded" to feel emotions at pre-internet "wetware" speeds, but I have a feeling. Do you?

Bottom Line: Leave bad news to the internet (get it over with); enjoy good news face-to-face.

5 Sep 2013

Baptists and Bootleggers

Speaking of food labeling that deceives customers, Bruce Yandle describes the phenomenon of Baptists and Bootleggers, i.e., an unholy alliance in which a righteous group supports a policy that helps a dirty group without helping regular folks.

For an example of B & B, consider the way that some anti-Keystone activists will make more money from a lack of competition from Canadian oil.

Anything but water

  1. Ag-gag laws make it illegal to discuss factory farming, so now you need to rely on the USDA to keep your food safe. I wouldn't, as their system serves industrial farmers. That's why small farmers are certifying themselves as Natural instead of Organic

  2. Speaking of helping customers, click here to get an update on radical social entrepreneurs (i.e., the traditional sort). Then read this case study of rescuing success from failure... in calendar design

  3. The Straight Dope on bitcoins, a history of Silk Road (the black market on the internet where bitcoins are used), and a newbies guide to accessing Silk Road

  4. Back in 2006, there was a great piece of investigative journalism on overpriced, semi-fraudulent Noka Chocolate -- of Plano Texas! Read it

  5. The Great Internet Land Grab (i.e., URL grab, part 2)

4 Sep 2013

Fracking, oil and pollution

This may not be the best business model
Last week, I said that the problem with oil and (natural) gas is not the way that it's conveyed to market, but demand (leading to GHG emissions) and pollution related to production.

It's economically easy to reduce demand by taxing oil/gas consumption. It's not politically easy because most people prefer cheaper energy today to a viable environment tomorrow. (Alternatively, politicians take bribes from oil/gas companies and ignore people's wishes.)

Now let's talk about pollution from "unconventional" sources such shale oil and gas that's produced from oil sands and/or fracking. I am talking about these methods because:
  • We're pretty familiar with pollution from conventional production methods
  • Unconventional production has a disproportionate impact on water (groundwater in particular)
  • Canada (where I'm living) has a lot of activity in oil/tar sands shale gas/oil
So here's my take on what's happening:

First of all, oil and gas companies are making lots of mistakes
Second, we see that they are doing this with permission of regulators and politicians
This is not happening in a vacuum -- people can see -- so industry seems to care
But it doesn't seem that they do in reality
The sad thing is that it's not impossible to improve
So, what I'm seeing here is a backlash against oil/gas firms for their abuse of regulations, communities and the environment. Industry may think that it can insulate itself with royalties, bribes and jobs, while ignoring best practices. I don't think so, and neither does the former president of Shell.

Bottom line: As I said before, oil and gas companies need to clean up after themselves. It may cost a little money now, but it will save a LOT of money later.

3 Sep 2013

Tuesday funnies

Colbert has done some dancing in the past, but this segment spoofing Daft Punk (context) is awesome!

UNited in confusion?

Global bureaucrats and stakeholders are writing a post-MDG 2015 development agenda.

They've released a "water thematic consultation report" [pdf] that claims that 2 billion people have "access to an improved water supply" yet "1.8 billion of those who gained an improved source still use water known to be unsafe to drink" [p. 12] -- a failure that I noted long ago.

They also make this strange statement on a human right to water (which I oppose):
Indeed, to endure and reach everyone – especially the weakest, most remote, impoverished or unborn members in society – on an equal basis, parties felt reluctant to force water access unilaterally from above. Nor can rights take shape without due respect for local cultural, gender, political or natural context. Rather, it became clear through the consultation that secure access to water must be recognized as a fundamental right for all, which can’t be taken away. [p.5]
It's strange to me that their bold text contradicts the statements above about "unilaterally from above" and "local... context." Did someone forget to run the logic checker?

Bottom line: The UN and other bureaucrats cannot help people if they are too confused to see their own failings and contradictions.

2 Sep 2013

Speed blogging

  1. I've used the LifeStraw while camping (not drinking from the toilet). Recommended

  2. A short summary on water "challenges" in different US regions and a recap on how farmers use conserved water to grow more crops (markets would solve that problem)

  3. This article says that cities will incur $1 trillion in flood damage per year in 2100 due to climate change. I laughed when a Canadian professor of science says "Municipalities don't have that kind of money" for protection [$10 billion for Vancouver, over 100 years]. I'm guessing that they will find the money if they want to keep collecting property taxes :)

  4. Another story of how Israel denies water to Palestinians

  5. Choke-point India has lots of stories on water in India. One area of concern is sand mining, which disturbs river flows in ways that increase pollution, harms downstream users, and disrupts environmental flows. Corruption makes it easier for harmful sand mining to continue
H/T to GC and DL