31 Aug 2016

Corporations vs kids

I got this press release:
WAC Announces 2016 Water-Wise Landscape Design Competition Winners

The Water Awareness Committee of Monterey County, Inc. is pleased to announce the winners of the 12th Annual Water-Wise Landscape Design Competition as judged at the Monterey County Fairgrounds Aug. 30, 2016.

The staff from California American Water Company took home the first-place award with their outstanding low water use garden display that includes both visual and written tips and advice about many water conservation topics including; rain water harvesting, use of drip irrigation, mulching, limiting lawn area, and installing plants appropriate for Monterey County’s climate. Each plant species used in the Garden display was clearly labeled.

Awarded second place was the landscape display created by the water conservation staff at The Monterey Peninsula Water Management District. Their well-crafted display shows fairgoers how to save water by diverting laundry rinse water to landscape trees and shrubs. Their display also showed fairgoers how to replace lawn by the popular sheet mulching method.

The third place award went to the Hilltown 4-H Club members. They created a relaxing, colorful display highlighting a variety of attractive, low water use landscape plant species appropriate for the local region.
So you're telling me that the salaried staff from two corporations were allowed to compete with the 4H kids? And that they won? And that -- wait for it -- the prize was NOT for the landscape that needed NO watering?

Bottom Line: This is not water conservation... this is corporate PR for business as usual!

30 Aug 2016

Libertarian communism

We professors were talking over a "mental map" to help students see the different characteristics of the power structures that affect our lives. Although there are many elements that one might focus on (religious? formalized?), we wanted to compare and contrast centralized to decentralized and coercive to free. We agreed that "the state" is a centralized and coercive (i.e., possessing a monopoly on violence) and that the opposite would be markets, which are characterized by competition and voluntary trade.

Taking those two anchors as given, we got into the harder off-diagonals. Yes, it does make sense that a community would be decentralized and coercive (otherwise you're thrown out), but what would be decentralized AND non-coercive?

Those two terms imply voluntary as well as centralized, which makes no sense when you think of any example combining two or more people. How can you centralize AND be free? Although my peers were not exactly pleased with my answer (the individual), I think it fits the definitions as well as provoking the correct philosophical questions: An individual is free to act according to their whim and capable of motivating action ("eat that carrot!") by command and control.

Indeed, we spend most of our days obeying these whims, and we certainly notice when we are coerced (forced to do other than our first choice) or when we are exchanging with others on a voluntary basis.

Bottom Line No man is an island, but we all live on reefs.

26 Aug 2016

Friday party!

The graffiti street art in Valparaiso, Chile, is really great. These are two of many photos I took.

Want more? These before/afters are not mine, but they're excellent!

23 Aug 2016

Public spaces, community disgraces

[I wrote this after yet another hour dodging dog shit and honking cars on the not-charming streets of Buenos Aires]

I sometimes introduce myself not as a water economist but as someone who "works on the commons," i.e., non-excludable goods that are shared (or exploited) by all but must be created (or funded) by some. The commons are, by definition, not amenable to market or price solutions because those solutions require exclusion to limit exploitation or encourage production.

It's thus clear that the commons will not be provided at adequate or desired levels unless the community (or a political mechanism) is strong enough to impose order on its members or unless someone decides to "irrationally" sacrifice on behalf of others.

That requirement helps explain why you can simultaneously see a robust market for, say, food or drinks or clothing but an absolute failure when it comes to clean and secure streets.

One of the main reasons that I moved from the US to the Netherlands was my admiration for the Dutch people's (relative) success in providing and protecting the commons. The streets are clean and safe. A much smaller share of people are vulnerable to poverty or poor health. Politicians tend to serve the common good.

The case in other countries depends on a mix of history, circumstance and personalities. I'm writing this from Argentina, which just celebrated its 200th anniversary of independence (its 200th anniversary of rebellion passed in 2010), but the celebration was a lot more subdued than I would have expected. I asked a local about this -- telling him that many Americans are enthusiastic about (and willing to die for) their country. He said that was not the case in Argentina, where people are not so proud of their country -- unless it is winning at football.

Argentina has a complex history characterized by migration, exploitation, rebellion and class antagonism. The people are proud and very loyal to their families and friends, but you cannot find many who speaks on behalf of their communities or cities -- except in contrast with another community or city.

All of these thoughts lead to my main realization, point and complaint: the commons in Argentina are poorly provided or maintained. The pavements are broken. Stray dogs -- and dog shit -- are everywhere. Garbage makes its way to cans that are not emptied. Buildings are abandoned, graffiti'd and tripled locked. Streets are dominated by car noise and pollution rather than neighborly activities.

There are many points of warmth to reduce the pain of these blights, but those do not overwhelm the realization that the people here enjoy and protect their personal spaces while avoiding public ones.

Argentina, of course, suffers from the knowledge that it has been great (world's fifth largest economy in 1910) whereas most countries with weak commons (e.g., Saudi Arabia or India) have never know any different. (Even America has experienced a rise in "bowling alone" that has hit new lows with its red/blue, 1%/99%, evangelical/secular schisms)

It's depressing to go from a strong to weak commons country just as it's depressing to switch from steak to McDonalds or high-speed to dial-up internet, and I was compelled to write this to counter my depression at spending a long cold day walking cold, dog-shitted, empty ugly streets in this Argentinean town. I hope that they will, someday, see enough in each other to build communities as strong as their families.

Bottom Line: We all gain from a robust and expansive commons, but we must all do our share to provide and protect it.

19 Aug 2016

Friday party!

We're back from South America. Lots of posts to come, mostly related to "the commons," but here are a few cool videos (first second) from Iguazu Falls.

1 Aug 2016

Aguanomics is on holiday

Until I get back at the end of August, I suggest that you:

  • Read those books you've been thinking about, except for all those incoming emails
  • Read my book (free download), if you've always wanted to get a 100pp overview of the private and social benefits of water.
  • Check out my project -- Life plus 2 meters -- if you want to contribute a vision on living in a world where climate change is happening and requires adaptation. Posts will start "going live" on Sep 1st.
We are traveling in S America for 6 weeks :)