29 May 2015

Friday party!

If I had a big floor (and bigger $), then I'd get this...

Speed blogging

  1. Two sides of a drought: California farmers forfeit their water to protect themselves from future political seizures of water and Colorado farmers lease water to each other to maximize benefits under scarcity

  2. Daily Kos et al, meanwhile, go sixpack-stupid in petitioning to "punish Nestle" for unpermitted water use (as predicted) when much water use in California is not even measured, let alone paid for

  3. Metropolitan is thinking of spending $350 million on more lawn removal in the LA area. That money will come from "fixed charges" in Met's system, not from heavy water users. I think it would be more clever to raise the price of water (generating revenue!), thereby giving people a REASON to use less water

  4. Why should San Diego recycle its water? It's cheaper than desal and their existing water supplies have already gone through 200 wastewater treatment plants people's toilets

  5. I gave a talk last week at the Society for Environmental Law and Economics: "When worlds collide: Business meets bureaucracy in the water sector" (PDF slides and 30m MP3). I need to revise the paper
H/Ts to BB, EF, NM and RM

28 May 2015

A thought on Bjorn Lomborg

In a comment to this post on climate change, David Foster asks if I agree with Bjorn Lomborg's method of using cost-benefit analysis to evaluate and rank "priorities" for government action.

(The relevant fact is that Lomborg's "consensus" methods tend to prioritize vitamin supplements and water supplies over action on climate change. I was paid as an outside reviewer at Lomborg's Copenhagen Consensus Center and found their work to be valuable and credible.)

I have three observations to offer on this "controversy"


Second, people have different opinions on priorities. Some rich people worry about climate change because they play a big role in its arrival and it represents -- relative to their daily lives -- a pretty scary future. Other rich people don't want to interrupt their party for anything as crass as consuming less "for the planet (or the poor)". These two groups have divided opinions on Bjorn's research.

Third, I agree that we need to apply cost-benefit analysis to government policies -- such as the $5.6 trillion (!) cost of energy subsidies -- but we also need to order those policies by priority and politics.

Over six years ago, I said "divide [Lomborg's] list into projects the developed world should address -- climate change -- and the developing world should address -- water sanitation." This matches Bjorn's findings in terms of actions to help humanity, but I would apply "lexicographic preferences" to his list, i.e., divide it into two lists of priorities for poor and rich governments (rather than focussing on foreign-aid priorities).

Poorer governments need more "development" -- not more tanks, vanity stadiums, or corrupt cronies chopping down forests. They certainly do not need "low carbon programs" when people cannot even drink the water. Governments of rich countries, OTOH, can raise their sights by aiming at climate change (both mitigation and adaptation), with the goal of (1) "turning down the heat" in terms of carbon consumption (recall that BC's revenue neutral carbon tax has accomplished a lot; the EU's cap and trade is slowly coming back to life) and (2) developing new policies and technologies that LDCs can later adapt.

Bottom Line: Cost-benefit analysis is great when you use it in the right context.

27 May 2015

The best damn legislature money can buy

Watch this.

(I deleted the embedded video b/c I couldn't turn off auto-play. Click above to see it.)

The plague of innumeracy

Nothing like outrage to get me to photoshop...
A loyal reader writes:
People seem to think that desalination is the solution. I attempted to explain – using rough costs to recycle wastewater versus desalination ($800-1200 versus $1200-1800 per acre-foot) x 100,000 acre-feet. These folks couldn’t follow the calculation and still thought desal was the way to go. I bought another pint and laughed.
...and that may be all you can do, except cry, when you realize that the larger the share of people with weak critical thinking (all they've got is gut), the larger the probability that you will suffer from stupid ideas.

26 May 2015

Anything but water

  1. Why the Dutch work part time (tongue-in-cheek, but insightful)

  2. US taxpayers are subsidizing oil and gas companies -- and getting poor value

  3. "The Marketplace of Ideas for Policy Change report examines the influence of over 100 external assessments of government performance -- from cross-country benchmarking exercises and watchlists to country-specific diagnostics and conditional aid programs -- on the policymaking process in low and middle income countries."

  4. Economic growth will stop tracking environmental degradation... because the environment will fall into terminal decline. Related: It's time to recognize people's atmospheric rights -- and charge polluters for damaging OUR property

  5. Summary blog posts on “Agroecology, Small Scale Farming and Regional Development” articles

25 May 2015

Monday funnies


What are the root causes of Calfornia's problems?

(A guest post from BB)

IMHO, I believe CA’s current water issues can be most meaningfully understood in terms of the following:
  • Analysis of the CA ag industry’s private profits and their associated, insanely disproportionate, redistributed public costs - in terms of their relative water use. For example.
  • Analysis of the long history of reckless mismanagement of water and land use by the CA ag industry/State and their direct role in causing CA’s current water issues. For example.
  • Meaningful and appropriate solutions that serve the broadest public good. For example.
The remainder of the discussion is just noise

22 May 2015

Friday party!

This guy's got a promising career...

(I love the toilet paper drop)

How much water do you use?

The March activity for the 2015 Water Smarts Calendar is to enter your water use and cost over at the California Water Atlas (description from last year), which is -- it seems -- off line.

Given that fail, all I can say here is that people sometimes have a problem understanding the relation between the price they pay per unit of water, the water they use and scarcity.

That's because water tariffs can be very complicated (a mix of fixed and variable charges that often take time to understand), because many uses (e.g., lawn watering) are "out of sight, out of mind", and because charges often reflect system costs -- not the cost of water, which is usually free to those with permits.

What I advocate is simple prices that reflect scarcity and cover costs. The only reasons I can see for NOT charging those prices are politicians' fear of raising costs (or making them clear) and an industry consensus to use old (or fashionable) methods that are too complex to understand.


21 May 2015

Censor this, bitches.

The Brookings Institution (Quality. Control. Independence. Echo-chamber. Impact. Misdirection.) keeps rejecting my comment on Pat Mulroy's blog post, so here it is for you all:
Too bad Pat left off the part about people in Las Vegas using over 200 gallons/each/day (that's 4x the use of people in Sydney or Amsterdam or Monterey California) as well as the part about the Colorado River Compact's overclaim on the river (17.5MAF when average flows are closer to 14MAF), thereby ensuring that people -- using their "rights" -- kill the river every year. Oh, and is it worth $1billion to build that "last straw" when Vegas -- and the region -- is on the path to doom?

I expect rational discussion from Brookings, not self-aggrandizement from a ex-water manager who put citizens' future at risk.
Bottom Line: You can't hide fail, especially when it echoes

H/T to NM

How to save two million gallons per year

BB has a well -- and thus the right to use as much water as he wants -- on his Northern California property. He sent this report:
I just cut back from 70 4.5 gpm heads [irrigation hoses] run three times a week for 45 minutes per time (more in summer) to 5 heads three times a week for 30 minutes. Also do manual watering on 15 trees as needed as I’ve done in the past.

Near as I can figure, I’ve gone from about 2.3 million gallons/year to about 250,000. (Realistically my target is now 250,000 because the pond will require about 49,000 gallons a year to maintain the fish and provide water for the animals that come to drink.)

Just got a water probe, so I might be able to get it even lower by measuring penetration depth on the trees rather than using time. Fortunately [our area] is a swamp, and I have mostly native plants and trees and drought resistant plants, so I don’t anticipate heavy plant loss. Maintenance costs will be way down with lower water use. Kind of interesting that we are now down to about the same amount of water that a two-person Sacramento household uses.

I let the grasses grow until the fields are brown, then mow the grass long to give the seeds a place to hide until next rainy season. Right now the tall grass is catching a ton of dew at night, and that is keeping things green a lot longer than I thought it would.

Not Australia yet, but going from 1.50 gpm to 0.09 gpm ain’t bad progress. Hopefully, there will also be more water for our local farmers.

Golden is beautiful.
DZ's Bottom Line: "The end of abundance" means that you need to change habits, to live with water scarcity. Simple actions can save a lot of water at a low cost.

20 May 2015

Speed blogging

  1. Greedy Environment Steals California's Water -- a nice discussion of WHAT water "the environment" is using. Related: How, What, When and Where of Aquatic Thermalscapes [pdf] will help folks trying to understand the temperature side of environmental water quality

  2. People freak out that Nestle has been pumping water "without a permit" but (1) it's not much water (vs ag water use) and (2) maybe the bureaucracy failed to issue the permit

  3. How the Saudis depleted their groundwater

  4. This 2013 story about Bakersfield families facing outrageous water bills is interesting for three reasons. First, it shows how different utilities (with different costs, regulators and operating methods) result in "unfair" prices. Second, it shows how people use less water when prices are high. Third, it shows how powerless people feel when the (monopoly) utility insists it's not wrong. (The meter reader was not subtracting the previous month's reading to get the month's usage. Those who asked for refunds got them; those who didn't lost a lot of money.)

  5. Why isn't there a "water corps" like the Peace Corps, to help young professionals get started, help underserved communities get help, and help older managers learn/teach others on different ways of doing things? It's not just engineers without borders
H/Ts to BB and RM

19 May 2015

More propaganda from Leiden University College

This is where I work :)

Good staff trump everything

Some people may mistake my criticism of failures in water management as failures of ALL water managers.

They would be wrong.

No factor is more important for water utility performance than the dedication of staff.

They have the position, knowledge and opportunity to take the right actions to ensure that citizens get reliable water at a fair price.

But some staff are not as public oriented as we'd like [pdf], which is where we need to introduce competition, benchmarking, transparency, insurance etc

Bottom Line: It's great to live in a first best world. Those who do not need to take corrective action.

18 May 2015

Monday funnies

These guys really did a great job with confusion.

And here's "who's on first?"

Anything but water

  1. The Asshole Factory (or life in a modern corporation)

  2. Will Americans make the deep changes necessary to "all men are created equal"? From Ferguson to Baltimore: The consequences of government-sponsored segregation and David Simon on Baltimore's Anguish (i.e., community replaced by distance)

  3. Atul Gawande looks into unnecessary medical care in the US and finds hope in organizations paid to deliver health

  4. In "Test drive of a petrol car," we might see the drawbacks of fossil fuels. Once you go there, then look into 11 truths about bicycles

  5. Illegal logging in Romania (due to government corruption or incompetence) transfers wealth from poor Romanians to rich Austrians and Germans :(

H/T to RM

15 May 2015

Friday party!

This, via SS, is fun...

A thought on capitalism

Some people on Facebook were blaming "capitalism" for exploitation of workers. I disagreed with this:
Capitalism is a system in which people compete for profits in markets. Capitalism can be distorted by rules that favor some over others (on the production or consumption side). Capitalism is unhelpful when (negative) externalities are significant.

Capitalism is NOT about fairness of inputs, outputs or outcomes. Fairness is best addressed via politics (sharing, rather than competing).

Corruption can be "measured" by the degree with which politics is influenced by money AND vice-versa (e.g., the Natural State vs. the Open Access State, North et al).

Alternatives to capitalism (more command, less competition) can be better or worse, but they can also be poisoned by corruption.

14 May 2015

Davis runs into trouble, as predicted

Last year, I argued that Davis, California, should not replace its excellent tariff design with one that went "easy on lawns," due to the risk that conservation messages would be muddied and finances destabilized.

Well, their new tariffs are, indeed, causing the utility financial and political problems.

Sad, but maybe an opportunity for them to adopt a better system?

H/T to RM

Speed blogging

  1. A nonagenarian professor tells it like it is: Water and Drought in the Valley. This post gives an excellent overview of California's (non-)markets for water

  2. Fresno wastes water compared to Santa Fe. Why? Higher prices. (Oh, and don't forget that my conservation pricing scheme is better for fiscal stability)

  3. A very interesting article on water charities (I'm quoted, but it's more than just me :)

  4. Morocco's water situation and strategy (I understand that they are filling a "service deficit," thus it's too early to worry about demand controls). Related: Water in New Zealand is under stress due to (guess what!) dairy farmers claiming they cannot give up any water to the Maori or environment :(

  5. Jerry Brown doesn't care about democracy when he wants tunnels to finish the project he started in the 70s. Does he have supporters? Sure, how about all of those who will benefit from spending $25 billion of other people's money?
H/Ts to BB and RM

13 May 2015

¡Vivir con la escasez de agua esta aquí!

After months of volunteer effort, I am very happy to announce that the Spanish translation of Living with Water Scarcity is now available in paperback ($10) and PDF (free).

Here's the book's website

I'd like to thank Rafael Seiz for his work as primary translator and Ignacio Urrutia, Dolores Rey and Macarena Dagnino for their help on proofreading.

I am very grateful that Carlos Mario Gomez was able to write a prologue to the book.

It's great to have such a considerate community of people willing to put their time behind an effort to improve the way we use water.

[via Google translate] Después de meses de esfuerzo voluntario, estoy muy feliz de anunciar que Vivir con la escasez de agua (la traducción española de Living with Water Scarcity) ya está disponible en edición de bolsillo ($ 10) y PDF (gratis).

Aquí está la página web del libro

Me gustaría dar las gracias a Rafael Seiz por su trabajo como traductor principal e Ignacio Urrutia, Dolores Rey y Macarena Dagnino por su ayuda en la corrección de pruebas.

Estoy muy agradecido de que Carlos Mario Gómez fue capaz de escribir un prólogo para el libro.

Es genial tener una comunidad tan considerado con personas dispuestas a poner su tiempo detrás de un esfuerzo para mejorar la forma en que usamos el agua.

Your reservoir is better than a low flush toilet

While I was based in Vancouver, I worked on selling WaterSavr in California. WaterSavr is a safe compound that reduces evaporation on reservoirs (think "oil on water") by about 20-30 percent, at a cost of about $150/acre foot (about $185/ML).

What bothers me is seeing California sink deeper and deeper into doom without managers adopting products like watersavr that deliver way more bang for the buck.**

I blame three factors for this zombie response from water managers:
  1. They are terrified of making a mistake on a "new" idea. It's easier to watch reservoirs drop and say "it's a drought."
  2. They do not understand a technology that does not involve pipes and pumps.
  3. They do not need to worry about failure because no water managers have ever been fired for incompetence in California.***
Bottom Line: Water managers should think about WaterSavr as the "low flush toilet" response to their shortage concerns. The Pacific Institute reports (PDF, table 4) that low flush toilets will save water at a cost of $1,500/af. That "solution" was just made mandatory across the State. Then water managers should think of all the praise they will get if use WaterSavr to save water at a much lower price (and hassle). Or they should think of the alternative: getting fired for gross negligence for allowing their customers water to evaporate.****

* And takes 10+ years to put into operation. WaterSavr takes a a day (after less than a month to deliver) to put into use. It can be stopped --- with all product biodegrading -- in three days

** Wichita Falls, TX put it into use last year

*** Send me ANY story to this effect. Fraud and theft do not count.

**** OTPR has a simple rule: farmers (and corporations) need to share out the value of the water IF they're taking it from others

12 May 2015

A thought on pricing water for evaporation

JD emails:
As I was contemplating data in a water conservation plan, it dawned on me that it should be possible to charge more for water used for irrigating landscape. As since it is actually lost to the atmosphere, consumptively used (in large part), and therefore not (locally) recyclable like most indoor water use is, it does pose a higher cost on the local water supply. Higher costs could also be attributed to salinization, since consumptive water drives that problem.

Accounting for outdoor use could happen with separate landscape meters, or wet weather billings ["winter use"] to establish the indoor baseline above which use is considered irrigation. In fact, separate metering may not even be needed, as remote sensing can measure consumptive use down to the square meter (with drone technology these days).

So, given that the base water rates must remain non-tiered (i.e., constitutional), this surcharge would apply to all in theory, but practically only on large consumptive users.

Of course the drone replacement cost (as people shoot them down) will need to be figured J
I agree with JD's ideas: California ALL utilities can apply a scarcity surcharge based on outdoor water use (use above baseline set in winter) to reflect the "cost" of water lost to evaporation that cannot be collected and recycled.

Anything but water

Truth on top, lies on the bottom (52% apple/orange juice)
  1. Here's a thought: Eastern Europe and other countries too dependent on Russia's natural gas should incinerate their rubbish. "Clean" incineration will produce less pollution than landfills and about the same (or less) carbon from combustion, while reducing dependence on a country that doesn't mind destabilizing neighbors. Greens claim that incineration "takes away" rubbish from recycling, but their numbers are terrible: the countries with the highest recycling are also keen incinerators. Eastern european countries landfill over 75 percent of their waste

  2. John Oliver points out that the IRS is not the enemy -- Congress is responsible for tax complexity. Speaking of corrupt laws serving corporations over citizens: Copyright prevents farmers from using (or repairing) their tractors

  3. Detroit is back: tough, cheap and real

  4. Yoram Bauman (author of The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change) is one of the organizers for a carbon tax in Washington State. Go help out! Related: The EU moves to reduce the oversupply of carbon permits (due to political shenanigans) that had crashed prices... and thus the incentive reduce carbon use

  5. This guy picked up trash, cleaning a riverbank, on the way to work. If your city is incompetent, then you've got to take care of your environment

11 May 2015

Monday funnies

What would a woman say in that position -- and would it be with respect to men or women?

Supply-side solutions waste your money

Better for oil or milk than water...
Some people are suggesting that California's drought be "solved" by building a pipeline to Alaska or shipping water in by rail. These ideas, while feasible from a technical perspective, are a terrible idea economically.

First, let's ignore the environmental cost of pumping water up and down hills or fueling trains.

Now, let's just consider cost, i.e., 100 tanker cars carrying about 34,500 gallons (each) would bring just over 10 acre-feet of water. Under normal conditions, farmers would be willing to pay about $50/af or $500 in total for the water. But there's a drought, so let's assume they would pay $1,000/af, or $10,000.

Now, the cost of shipping water from a wet place to California is about 3 cents/ton/mile by tanker and 0.4 cents/ton/mile for a pipeline.[1] Using a distance of 750 miles from Seattle to Sacramento and a weight of 8 pounds/gallon,[2] we're taking about a cost of $324,000 for the train and only $43,000 for a pipeline delivery.

So, that's a pretty heavy cost for delivery of something "worth" far less.

Besides the other alternative -- dragging bags of water behind barges[3] -- it seems that the cheaper supply-side alternative is desalination, which only costs about $2,000/af. Given California's dire need for water now and the 20 year process of getting a desalination plant built, it seems that bags are the way to go -- from a supply perspective.

On the demand side, of course, you can get water "for free" by raising prices so that people use less outside on lawns, leaving more for indoor use. When it comes to agricultural irrigation, you can "free up" water by facilitating markets where buyers can pay sellers $1,000/af  (delivery included when they share canals, groundwater or rivers).

Bottom Line: Most "solutions" to drought and shortage fail the basics of economics. Hopefully politicians check their real facts before spending YOUR money.

  1. Lots of people are saying "if we can waste $80 billion on a high speed rail, why not build a pipeline to Washington State." That's false logic if you step back and consider that both projects are a terrible idea.
  2. It's around here that we are reminded how great the metric system is, i.e., one car with 131,000 liters (131 m^3, each weighing one ton) means each train that weighs 13,100 131 tons.
  3. The cost from Humboldt to SF or SD ranges from $550 to $2500/af. The cost on a train or trucks is probably lower (but getting a train over the coastal range?)
H/T to RM

8 May 2015

Friday party!

Wondering around at a party during Kingsday in Amsterdam

What's your class?

The February question for the 2015 Water Smarts Calender asked people to find their service class and compare the prices they paid (as homeowners) to the prices other classes (government, commercial) paid.

Note that farmers are NOT usually included in these comparisons because they do not usually buy (treated) water from utilities (they usually self-supply or get water from a irrigation district).

The answers from the few people who filled in this poll are interesting.

How do classes compare?
In Colombia the official name to an user is "subscriber." There are six residential subscriber classes (from 1 poorest to 6 richest, according to the quality of the house and neighborhood) and 3 non-residential classes: government, industrial and commercial. There are cross-subsidies with lower classes paying less than "economic cost." Residential class 4 and government pay cost.

I get water from a small semi-rural water district west of xx. There are 500+ homes and only a few commercial users. Base rate for water is $39.83/month plus $4.15/thousand gallons for the first 10,000 for residential and 38,000 for commercial. Rates escalate after that.
Do you pay more/less than non-residential classes?
  • Higher
  • Same
  • Much higher
  • Lower
  • Lower
These answers are not just interesting in revealing policy choices that favor one "class" over another. They also explain why users may use more or less water -- their water use is somehow special, in a political way.

Although some people think it's a good idea to subsidize poor people, I disagree. On theoretical grounds, I think it's better to give money to poor people.

On practical grounds, I worry that subsidies often go to the well-connected over the poor, especially when the REAL poor (in slums, favelas, etc.) are not even connected to the network. They may be willing to pay the full cost of service, but there's no legal way to charge them, and thus no financial reason to extend the network to their neighborhoods, leaving them at the mercy of tanker water sellers or dirty, self-collected water.

Bottom Line: All water users should be treated equally in getting access to and paying for utility water. The alternatives (subsidies to some, paid by others) just confuse people, invite corruption and encourage water waste.

7 May 2015

A thought on everyday water markets

Waterfind (Australia) continues to show what water market data look like:

Here's the whole PDF

Your relations on multiple levels

I sent an email to my students explaining how I understood this figure:

Think of the concentric ovals (Individual in the middle, Societal on the outside) and relate those to the "scale" of the institutional structures we've been exploring, i.e.,
  • A society (like the market) contains many people who may not know each other or interact often. We coordinate via laws and traditions (or prices) but cannot "depend" on each other too much.
  • A community (like a collective) contains fewer people who can know each other and depend on each other. We coordinate via feedback, promises, communications, shame because we're "stuck with each other"
  • A relation (like a principal-agent) involves a few people who help and depend on each other in varying degrees. Relations work better when we care about each other, but they can be tragic if one side does not.
  • Individuals face and make choices that affect themselves. These choices must be made and sometimes (bounded rationality; limited "capabilities") they can be worse than we'd like.
The important thing is to remember that we operate within all these structures -- and all those ovals -- simultaneously. We cannot easily isolate ourselves from collective actions, just as we cannot isolate ourselves from our communities.

6 May 2015

A thought on measuring water

Tom Swihart throws down the gauntlet:
Under pain of ridicule, all future water numbers must be expressed in Standard Units and in scientific notation. The only acceptable units for volume will be liters. The only acceptable units for flow will be liters per day. The only acceptable units for cost will be dollars per thousand liters. The exponent must always be displayed in red to draw attention to relative magnitudes. Like this:
The average volume of Lake Okeechobee is 5.2E12 liters. (Fie with cubic miles, acre-feet, cubic yards, cubic feet, Olympic swimming pools, Great Lakes, Grand Canyons, icebergs, water bottles, gallons, quarts, cups, pints, etc., etc.)
The average flow of Volusia Blue Spring is 3.84E8 liters per day. (Fie again to cubic feet per second, million gallons per year, Mississippi River flows, Amazon River flows, football stadium volumes per day, shot glasses, etc., etc.)
The fee for water withdrawals in Florida is 0.0E0 dollars per thousand liters. (Or is that zero, zero, zero?) (Not dollars per gallon, or thousand gallons, or CCF (thousand cubic feet), or acre-feet, or bottle, etc., etc.)
I see a day in the near future when all water comparisons begin by asking, “What is the Red Number?” Confusion will be defeated. You all are welcome.
Related: How Many People per AF?

Speed blogging

  1. Fascinating insights to water management (and mismangement) in Ghana, Ethiopia (desert wells and drying rivers) and Spain, which is nearly identical to California in infrastructure overreach, groundwater theft and impending shortages

  2. There's an academic workshop on managing water demand in London on 16-17 Sep. Deadline for paper submission is 15 June. I'm planning to go...

  3. Aquadoc summarizes the OECD's report on water governance

  4. Yesterday, Karen Bakken (UBC) started teaching a FREE edX course on "innovative urban solutions to the global water crisis, with inspiring real-life examples from architects, engineers, planners, ecologists, and artists." Hurry up and join!

  5. A beautiful essay from 1979 on the interconnected flows of water in California

  6. I'm quoted in articles on farms vs fishes, almonds as a scapegoat (in Dutch), and how water markets can help farmers. I also gave a talk on "Pricing water for fiscal and environmental sustainability" (PDF slides and 21m MP3) in London. Oh, and I wrote an op-ed against desalination as a "first stop" solution for the LA Times.
H/T to DL

5 May 2015

In memory of freedom

Today, the Dutch celebrate Liberation Day, on the anniversary of the end of German occupation during World War II.

Americans have similar celebrations (Memorial Day, Veterans Day), but the relevance to Americans, I think, is not as strong.

The Netherlands declared itself neutral during World War II. The Nazis invaded in 1940 and tried to enlist the Dutch to their Aryan cause. Some Dutch collaborated, but many resisted. The toll on the country was grievous: 95 percent of Jews died, entire villages were shipped off to labor camps where 90 percent died, houses were demolished for military fortifications, 30,000 people starved in the "hunger winter" when the Germans cut off food supplies. Overall, the Dutch lost over 200,000 citizens (2.4 percent of the population), and their country was in ruins.

The Americans lost roughly 400,000 soldiers in World War II, or 0.3 percent of the population, but the impact was far lighter in two other respects: the Americans entered the war "voluntarily" and the war was fought on foreign soil.

"On the 7th of May 1945, [four men, aged 27-42 years]
fell here, for the freedom of our country."
It's hard to understand the magnitudes of these differences until you think about them. I took the photo at right less than a kilometer from my house. It's a solid reminder that people nearby were living in fear of being shot on sight, robbed at will, raped without warning.

I am new to the "old world," but I am starting to understand something that many Europeans know at a deeper level: war is brutal. It was this reality that the Nobel Commission recognized when they awarded the Peace Prize to the European Union, and it is this reality that underpins many European peace missions around the world. Yes, there are exceptions to "giving peace a chance" in European minds and actions, but peace is taken more seriously in Europe than in the US.

The United States is the world's largest arms dealer. US support for Israel maintains the status quo of apartheid in Palestine. The US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq (let alone the numerous invasions since World War II) have not only destabilized many countries, but subjected them to the tyranny of an occupying power that shoots, robs and rapes innocent people.

But I don't think Americans see it that way. Many see the US as a protector of freedom in the world. In some cases, that may be true. In many others, "protection" is worse than neglect.

Bottom Line: Those who have lost their freedom know how valuable it is as well as how cruel it is to take the freedom of others.

What's your water quality?

The May activity for the 2015 Water Smarts Calendar (free download!) is to get a water quality report from your utility to find the levels of allowed and measured contaminants in water leaving the treatment plant.

Extra credit: compare the quality of water from your tap to the utility's results. (Some utilities will test your tap water for free, or you can pay for a test kit or lab test.)

Aside: I met a guy from Hach that says they have a portable, fast water quality tester. It's too expensive for most households, but $4,000 is not too much for someone who wants to go into the business of inspecting tap water. At $50 per test, it pays for itself in only 80 tests. People are willing to pay for accuracy and speed.

After you read the report, feel free to tell me what you understood, what was confusing, and anything else. Just go here.

4 May 2015

Monday funnies!

Related: 8 Scientific Reasons You Should Never Smoke Weed

Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change -- the review

I just read this 200pp book by Yoram Bauman (writer) and Grady Klein (illustrator) in one two-hour sitting. It's a great book: funny, balanced, beautiful, logical. I got my copy over a year ago, after its successful Kickstarter campaign, but lost it until today. I regret the delay, in terms of writing this review in support of the book, but it's not too late for you and yours to benefit from its entertaining information.

NB: I read the paperback. I am not sure the Kindle-version will give the same experience.

The book is divided into three parts: Observations, Predictions and Actions.

Observations starts with earth's history and the roles of carbon and energy. It ends with a discussion of climate science and the scientific method, which will be helpful to people who have a hard time with "theories" (like the theory of gravity) or low-probability events. The most impressive thing I learned in this section is how we should be heading to a stage of global cooling except that we are emitting so many GHGs (green house gases, often shortened to "carbon") that we are headed towards warming.

Predictions goes from global warming to its impacts on the water cycle (well done!), life on earth, and long-term impacts. This section points out that rich people are less vulnerable than poor people to the impacts of climate change (a prediction that some people feels relieves them of the need to think about these issues) while clarifying that impacts are likely to be pretty bad -- especially for those living in Florida.

Actions explains why action is hard (tragedy of the commons), how technical fixes (everything from wind power to toilet regulations) might work, and why economists recommend carbon taxes as a better solution that subsidies to clean energy.

Bauman is extremely generous (in my mind) in allowing for a successful cap and trade regime (many have been distorted by corruption) as well as acknowledging that many solutions can be tried simultaneously, as long as people keep their eye on the goal of reducing atmospheric GHGs. He explains how British Columbia's carbon tax has reduced emissions at the same time as it generates revenue that makes lower income taxes possible.

Bottom Line: The illustrations, clever wording and memorable characters make this book a delight to read. Given the heavy science and policy that it explains, this is truly a masterpiece. I give this book FIVE STARS.

1 May 2015

Friday party!

JD sent this

Anything but water

  1. RGGI's cap and trade system for carbon continues to reduce emissions without lowering economic output. Yes, this system is running in the US, not far from the capitals of the US and Canada. If your politicians are not noticing, then maybe help them? Related: Dutch citizens sue their government to force action on climate change. This may speed up EU-action, as the Dutch are sure to insist on EU-wide actions if they risk losing competitiveness to, e.g., Polish firms using dirty coal

  2. Micro 101: Rent control has screwed up San Francisco's housing market

  3. Insightful: Why You Should Stop Caring What Other People Think

  4. A few years ago, Californians passed a law requiring that laying hens get more space to move (up from an 8 inch (21 cm) square each) and farmers declared that was the end of the egg industry. UC Davis researchers explore how it's not the end of the industry. One reason is that ALL eggs sold in California need to be produced under the same conditions. The other is that the price is not that much higher: 2.4 cents per egg. Reality > hysteria

  5. Development in the middle ages: "The pressure of competition [among Bruges, Antwerp, and Amsterdam] prompted municipal authorities to support trade and to do so in a manner that did not simply privilege home traders."
H/T to BB