28 Apr 2017

Friday party!

I've been paying more attention as China moves from "fast follower" to "fast innovator." This video fits that theme.

25 Apr 2017

My piece on water rights versus duties

I wrote this piece on the request of Learn Liberty. It's certainly worth a read if you're interested in how California -- and other places in the world with "rigid institutions" -- is vulnerable to paralysis in the face of changing political, social and environmental conditions.
Blame outdated rights for California’s water woes.

Most water policies reflect some balance of rights and duties. Farmers have right to use water but a duty to leave remaining waters intact for their neighbors. Urban dwellers have the right to receive drinking and wastewater services but a duty to pay for them.

[snip]

We can apply these ideas to water, where the right to use it coexists with the duty to avoid harm; and government plays a role in giving rights and enforcing duties. Although some people assume that “the government” will manage the process in the public interest, there are many ways that this process can go wrong.
Continue reading here
Addendum: Here's a recent paper discussing reform of water rights LAWS

24 Apr 2017

Monday funnies

If this productivity was normal (it's an excerpt from a commercial) then the Japanese wouldn't work so many hours!

Dayum Japan, work it.

22 Apr 2017

Flashback to April 2010

These posts are still relevant after 7 years!
  1. Earth Day according to George Carlin (but We can learn from savages)
  2. Blind bureaucracy (thank you TSA), Polling the Tea Baggers and Tax Day
  3. Futuristic plastic is present-day pollutionMy talk on oil and water in SoCal and The Story of Bottled Water (is wrong)
  4. Food Inc -- The Review. Plus Travelblog: Unsustainable agriculture in NZWater Policy in Spain -- The (mini) Review and Floral externalities (true, even though the carbon footprint of growing flowers in Africa and flying them to the Netherlands is lower)
  5. Tolerance - The Dutch are not the same as Californians (and vice versa!)
  6. I'm in the right club (i.e., water MDGs are poorly defined and hard to achieve). Related (a human right to water): Forbes and the market for ideasBureaucratic goals and others obligations and Clean water for Nigerians
  7. Co-equal fiction -- and realistic solutions (my solution to California's "Delta problem"). Related: MWD says pricy water is cheap and 20x2020 is wrongheaded and doomed to fail
  8. Anti-Westlands hysteria and Westlands is lying
  9. The US can improve -- still true, in so many small ways
  10. Water managers don't look for bargains probably b/c they don't pay attention to Poll Results -- Water Solutions which leads to California desalination costs over $2,000/af*. Better to restrict demand: Bolinas Water Meters to prevent Cheap water for the rich means less water for the poor (due to Water is scarce because ideas are scarce, e.g., Politics, lies and opportunism)
  11. The sorrow of West Virginia -- seems to be ongoing, qua Trump and opiate deaths
  12. My talk to the environmental engineers
  13. A Modest Proposal for Carbon (Chinese hunger and US obesity). Related (the children!): Dear Pope -- It's a Catholic problem
I've changed my mind on these

  1. Hail James! A great way to price water -- nope. Just set one price. My water use leaves less for you.

20 Apr 2017

Happy 4/20 from the Netherlands

Where it's legal to grow some flowers but illegal to grow the ones you smoke.

A view from my commute (train between Amsterdam and Den Haag)

How badly will I flood?

I always tell visitors that our Amsterdam flat is safe from floods if the dikes should break because we are on the second floor. Luckily the ministry managing water levels has a slightly more scientific approach on the "Overstroom ik" site.


The site (the name translates as "Will I be flooded?") is in Dutch but take a look. The message on the bottom translates (roughly) as "you have less than a 1% chance of facing this 0.5m flood in your life, but it might happen tomorrow." On the right side, it says I'd lose water, internet, etc., but says stay in the house for a few days, as the roads would be a mess.

Does your government provide such information on an ongoing -- and climate-change-changed -- basis?

18 Apr 2017

How Airbnb can help communities

I got a few ideas on how to address Airbnb's main problem of disrupting communities while talking to a reporter* about my post ("Airbnb is harming Amsterdam's communities").

First, Airbnb should require that any owner get the permission of their neighbors before they can list their apartment or condominium on Airbnb. In most cases, this will happen via a home-owners association (it's verenigingen van eigenaren or VVE in Dutch, meaning "association of owners"). The requirement for permission will force neighbors to agree on who, how and when Airbnb should be used.

Second, Airbnb should allow the neighbors to see who is staying in a place at any given time, to reduce (our normal) fear of strangers. In most cases, neighbors and guests will not interact, but the knowledge that they can see each others' profiles and have each others' contact information will make it easier to say "hi" (or "hola") and harder to be mean.

Airbnb can connect each host with neighbors' Airbnb accounts or new "neighbor" accounts. The neighbors would then check the "I-approve-my-neighbor's-participation" box to let the flat appear. Those neighbours would then see who is coming and when.

Neighbors who have bad experiences with guests (or their neighbor/host) could withdraw their permission at any time, for any reason. Is this too much power to give neighbors? I think not if Airbnb actually wants to strengthen communities. This system would also help Airbnb avoid lawsuits, bad press and bans by various city governments upset by Airbnb's impact on communities.

Bottom Line A neighborhood is made of connections, rights and duties among its neighbors. Airbnb can protect neighbors and preserve neighborhoods with a few simple changes to its platform and contracts. If Airbnb prefers instead to make profits by damaging communities, then it should be banned as an anti-social vandal.
*Addendum: Here's the article (in Dutch). The title is "Why drug dealers run their business better than Airbnb."

16 Apr 2017

Flashback to April 2009

These posts are still relevant after 8 years!
  1. Running for Office -- Trump isn't fit for a water board in the same way Devin Nunes is an idiot (he appears in Man-made Drought)
  2. LADWP Raises Rates -- a massive fail I discuss further here.
  3. Perception vs. Reality on water use in Canada. Related: Behavior Modification (not!), Read This Paper on Demand Management!Dangerous Consultants (fail), Water is Too Cheap! vs The Value of WaterHow to Live on LessMehan Speaks Truth!Misleading Headlines (demand down, $/unit up?!)
  4. Two good films: Thirst and Water First
  5. The Black Swan -- The Review -- we don't understand risk. Neither do Water Buffaloes
  6. Water for Sale -- The Review -- if 90% of utilities are public and many of their customers without safe water, then shouldn't we consider the private alternative? Related: Why Nobody Listens to (Some) Enviros and Give Rob Davis a Pulitzer
  7. Hype vs. Reality -- the Delta "thing" has been debated for awhile. Related: Latinos Marching for Capitalists (amazing astroturfing example), My Talk on the Peripheral CanalStrangling the Water BankThe Delta's Levees Will Fail and Whose Money for the Salton Sea? (Farmers!)
  8. One More Thing -- the politics of water and special interests. Leshy on Water (laws)
  9. What Good Are Economists? They can tell you that Human Rights and Water is BS and that Why Markets Are FairCan Water Be Severed from Land? Maybe.
  10. Something for the Deep Ecologists -- should California use desal for ALL its water, leaving natural flows for the environment? Related: Monopolistic Conservation and Economy vs. Environment 2
  11. Over-capitalization and SustainabilityWe are Unequal -- and Staying that Way and Shantytowns and Growth
  12. Where's the Beef? Floating on 12,000 gallons of water
  13. Innovation is HARD ... but I keep trying!
... but I've changed my mind on these
  1. Picture of the Year -- low exports from the Delta do not mean harmless, which is why Sustainable SoCal would import ZERO water,
  2. Water Budgets make no sense when water in aggregate is scarce

13 Apr 2017

Getting a job is like dating

I spoke on "Career opportunities after a Bachelor's degree" yesterday [39 min MP3].*

In the talk, I made a lot of analogies between finding a job/working and finding a date/relationships.

Most important: You'll survive. Your first job like your first date (or relationship) is unlikely to be your last. Don't worry about mistakes. This is not marriage. Take a job that looks good, learn from it and move on if it's not working for you or you have a better offer. You're unlikely to marry the first person you date, so don't marry your first job either.

Your value in your eyes is not the same as your value in the eyes of others (for better or for worse), so it takes times to find the right "match."

When supply and demand are unbalanced, it takes even longer to make a match. One girl choosing between 10 guys is like one employer choosing among 10 candidates. Those are "buyer's markets." When it's a seller's market, then that girl may be competing with lots of other girls to get a guy's attention or that firm may be competing with other firms to get employees. In the last 10 years or so, it's been a buyer's market but that's changing recently. That said, you can't just assume you'll get a date. Put in the time to show your value.

Dating is a multi-dimensional pairing process that takes time and luck. Keep you options open, look for deal breakers, and give it some time. Some people are not as good or bad as they might immediately appear. Tinder is terrible for finding a good match in the same way as the CV/resume is a terrible summary of who you are as a worker and colleague.

Don't forget that you may be fooling yourself in terms of your value or looking for matches in the wrong place. University graduates who refuse jobs that are "below them" lose out on experiences and opportunities. That's often why "get 'er done" graduates from polytechnical schools (HBO's in the Netherlands) get jobs faster, make more money and advance more quickly in their careers. Don't be a wall-flower. Get into the mix! Use your creativity.

Not all dates work out but some are fun and others are "learning experiences." Make sure that each time you switch partners you do better for yourself

When you're older you will see younger people making lots of dating mistakes. They won't understand what your trying to tell them half the time because they need to learn for themselves. Your experience might help them get over their immediate panic if you can show them how their dating setbacks are not exactly unique innovations. We've all been there.

By the way: Dating is about mutual exchange. Prostitution is buying affection. If you're in the job market, you're dating. If you're in a masters program you're paying. Make sure you get your money's worth because many masters programs only see you as a revenue source.

Bottom Line It's really great to have a nice romantic relationship like it's really nice to have a fun and interesting job, but neither just appear on demand. You need to be patient, take risks, and communicate well if you are going to succeed in either.

*I started the recording late, so it's missing a few minutes.

11 Apr 2017

Economics terms everyone should know

This piece on "5 economic terms we should all use" got me thinking on what I think people should know. Here are a few to get started.

Opportunity cost: The cost of doing something in terms of time and money.

Examples: If you watch one movie, you cannot watch another. If you date one person, you cannot date another. If you go to one school, you cannot attend another. If you spend money today, you don't have it tomorrow (and may need to work more to get it!)

Risk versus uncertainty: Risk can be described in probabilities. Uncertainty cannot.

Examples: Life or car insurance fit risk models, so it's easy to find "fair" prices that reflect your risk and therefore insure you against premature death or accident. When it comes to climate change (or going on a blind date!), there are possibilities rather than probability, so you need to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. That's why there's no insurance for bad dates -- or climate change!

Average fixed cost: The upfront cost of a good or service divided across its useful life.

Examples: My phone costs $600, but that's less than $1/day if I use it for 2 years. If I spend 10 hours learning how to do my taxes when I am 25, I can use that knowledge for the rest of my life to save on accountant fees (as well as having a much better idea of how the government "thinks" and how to track my finances).

Value vs price: The value is what it's worth to me. If that's greater than the price cost to me in time, money, etc., then I should buy it -- assuming there are no better things to buy (opportunity cost!)

Examples: This bike is worth $400 to me but it's priced $200. The seller may only value it at $100. We bargain and agree on $150. Both of us are better off. The bike cost me $150 but I value it at $400, so that's how sad I'd be if it was stolen.

What do you think of these words, definitions and examples? Got any more to discuss?

9 Apr 2017

Flashback to April 2008

These posts are still relevant after 9 years!
  1. Dissertation Done! It's still a good read on water mismanagement in Southern California and free to download (over 2,000 people already have!)
  2. Water Games? Go play... and learn
  3. Voting Rules and Results -- one man one vote may be inefficient (Imperial to Split? Didn't but should), but Poverty IS Different -- especially when Rice at Twice the Price (due to politics), World Food Prices Up and Arbitrage Failure? threatens food security
  4. Private versus Public utilities. Neither is better as regulation is what matters most
  5. Dams will NOT fix water problems for farmers, who do NOT Benefit from Ethanol. Related: Kill Biofuels and Bush Acknowledges CO2 (from The Onion) and Save a Tree for Who?
  6. Cost and Benefit of Dams and why Hetch Hetchy dam (storing San Francisco's water) should stay but Local Burdens and Clean Tap Water (i.e., MOST water infrastructure) should be funded by locals (not others). That's why IID farmers should pay for Toilet Restoration
  7. More Reactionaries Compromise is necessary! Coachella Reactionaries (to Revolution in Coachella) are wrong as are farmers who want to Eat Your Cake and Have It or farmers who Beggar Thy Neighbor via "competitive well drilling"
  8. Property Rights and Takings -- there's a place for eminent domain in taking over land and water, but the Public Trust should always take priority for some water (Related: Hijacking the Everglades? Ecosystem Services under Strain and protect Rivers in Danger not jobs). For the rest, Water Markets (and Water Markets 2) have a role in balancing Demand and Supply of Water and making farmers $$ via Water Trades (like this one From Farms to Cities)
  9. Two Opinions -- water managers getting climate change wrong. Native Americans, OTOH, know How to Manage a River
  10. Conservation RatesVegas on the MoneyWater in California, and Conservation Rates 2 -- price water for scarcity! Then Gallons per LightbulbState, Market and ToiletsGreen Power and Water, and other energy-water nexus ideas wouldn't matter. Related: Decisions Have Consequences
  11. Nicely Nestle? and McCloud or McD's? How NOT to negotiate with Nestle
  12. Sustainable Development is worth understanding. The Death of a Salmon Run has come to pass (April 2017)
  13. Antisocial Punishment across Societies -- fascinating research
I've changed my mind on these
  1. Why Bother? Yes, act correctly, but also pursue policies that will "help" others do the same
  2. Desalination Sometime Poseidon's desalination plant in San Diego is merely an excuse for more growth (previewed here in Desalination in the LA Times and in total contradiction of so-called "Smart Growth")
  3. Saving a Sacred River (India's Ganges) may now be possible since (2 weeks ago!) India's courts awarded its rivers (and a number of other environmental locations) "personhood"
  4. Water in Israel is like water in California, except that I forgot to emphasize how the Palestinians are screwed in the same way as the Mexicans are screwed

6 Apr 2017

Fracked natural gas is dirtier than coal? Yes.

Jan, a student in my environmental economics class, expanded on his blog post in his class paper [pdf] on the costs and benefits of hydraulic fracking of shale to free natural gas (aka, methane). The main issue is leakage of natural gas during the production and transportation of gas. This result is driven by the far stronger impact of unburned (compared to burned) methane on climate change and the high cost of trying to control leaks in the many steps between the well and final user.

This figure tells the story:


Cornelia used to work for Alberta's oil/gas regulator so she was familiar with this situation (she told me about it years ago). In these guidelines [pdf backup], you can read how industry is only required to control leaks etc. when they are "losing" more than C$55,000 per year in value based on the market price of the gas and cost of capturing it.

Given that 1,000 cubic feet (MCF) of natural gas weighs 62 pounds and 1 MCF sells for about US$4 (C$5 or so), the simplest rule would be to, for example, close an open valve (cost = $0) that's leaking more than 11,000 MCF per year as that's worth about C$55,000.

That decision makes sense from a company perspective, but it doesn't from a social perspective, as the GHG impact of 1 MCF is the same as 0.7 tons of CO2, which has the equivalent "social cost" of about 0.7 tons * $36/ton, or $25.

Going back to that "open valve", we're talking about a leak that would have a social cost of $277,000 (C$370,000), which is nearly 7 times higher than its market (lost opportunity to sell) cost. Alberta's regulator, in other words, is allowing far more leakage and venting based on private costs and benefits than it would if it used social actual costs and benefits.

This result doesn't surprise me, since the regulator works for industry, but it should help you see how mismanaged the natural gas industry is. (Don't even get me started about "voluntary data reporting" etc.!)

Bottom line: Years ago I suggested that the natural gas/fracking industry should "take the high road" to setting tough regulatory and performance standards as that would allow them to make greater profits and keep the public on their side. They have failed to do this in a rush to make profits... and hasten climate change.
Addendum (23 April): Dutch methane emissions have not fallen by as much as the government claims [in Dutch]. The difference is explained by the government's use of models of emissions that are too optimistic compared to (far more expensive to conduct) physical measurements of emissions.

4 Apr 2017

Sorry burger flippers, the bots are taking your jobs

Even a Fox News host can understand why this technology is displacing workers.*



  • Time to upgrade your skills or downgrade your future plans?
  • FYI, a basic income is certainly a better "solution" than a minimum (or "living") wage when it comes to helping poorer people or younger people get by financially. That's because wages are based on productivity, not someone's target lifestyle.

* The old joke is that even someone with no skills can go flip burgers for a living. No more.

3 Apr 2017

Who's the real April Fool?

Via MV (NOT The Onion):
H&M, IKEA, Filippa K and 20 other Nordic brands saved more than 6.7 billion liters of water, or the daily water supply for 134 million people, in less than seven years. Under the guidance of the Sweden Textile Water Initiative (STWI), a programme driving global change towards sustainable textile and leather production, the factories have reduced water consumption and pollution while also improving their profits. Since joining the programme, participating factories have seen a return on investment of more than 240 percent over three years.
Let's, as they say, unpack this.
  1. They "saved" water by not using it as if they had some right to use it. This is not just false but stupid, as these companies sell products to consumers who probably have plenty of clothes. The disappearance of those companies (and a permanent reduction in consumption) would not go noticed. Additional water supplies would.
  2. Let's call it 1 billion liters per year and convert that amount into per year per person instead of per day (using their 50 liters/capita/day). Now we have "enough water" for 54,975 people for a year.
  3. Let's remember that people usually lack not water but access to clean drinking water. Thus, the entire press release is rubbish, as it's not as if 55,000 people suddenly got 50 liters per day delivered to their door. Water services take money and good management.
  4. Their 240 percent return on investment shows that this project is not about helping people get access to drinking water but saving money. I agree that's a good goal, but they tack it on the end.
Bottom line: H&M et al. saved money by using less water. People without drinking water are still without drinking water. Anyone who thinks otherwise must be joking.

30 Mar 2017

If you want to be useful... go metric

I just got off the phone with a US-based scientific organization.

We were talking about how to make their data more useful to others.

I said "make it push-button-easy to convert all your data into metric values."

"Oh no, that's way beyond our boundaries." :(

Bottom Line: The lingua franca of the scientific world is English and metric. Get with the program, USA.

29 Mar 2017

Coffee and footprints

Paul over at Daily Coffee News emailed me asking what I have to say about water and coffee, i.e., "do we have to worry about the water necessary to grow our coffee?" (my words)

The short answer is No. Coffee is no different from any source of demand on water sources. The real question is how large those demands are compared to available (sustainable) supplies.

The long answer is that water needs to be managed into two buckets: water for all of us ("social/environmental water") and water for some of us ("private/economic water").

This starting point means that "we" need to decide how much water to leave in the environment first. That quantity will be lower in poorer places where people want to turn water into money. In richer places, people are willing to pay more for food, landscaping, etc. because they value a healthy environment more than people in poorer places who would rather eat.

Once you decide how much to set aside for social uses, then the rest of the water is devoted to producing private value via drinking, washing, producing goods, growing crops, etc.

Coffee is higher in that priority list in the places where coffee is grown because water for coffee produces more value (income) than, say, water for potatoes or corn. That means that water use in coffee growing regions may remain high in times of water scarcity because farmers prefer to use water for coffee (after drinking and washing) while leaving less for the environment or for growing food crops. That's because they can sell the coffee for money to buy food, rather than growing the food directly. Is this a dumb idea when they can grow food? No. It's better to grow coffee for money in some places and food for money in others.

What's this have to do with footprinting? Not much. As Paul points out, footprinting is not useful in many dimensions.

Bottom Line The footprint is irrelevant compared to social priorities and getting the most value out of the water you have.

27 Mar 2017

Monday funnies

I stole this from John and Tim. I'm not sure if they get out enough, but I am pleased to say that you won't catch me coding when there's an interesting conversation nearby.


26 Mar 2017

Nine years of aguanomics!

Foz do Iguacu (Aug 2016)
So here we are again, another anniversary of blogging, another year of same-same but different (last year's edition).

I still love it and for the same reasons: I like contemplating and sharing ideas. I like learning from others. I don't care if anybody pays attention in this "attention starved" world, but I love it when readers learn something, email suggestions or questions, and recommend aguanomics :)

From numbers to community

Every year I look at the number of visitors, how long they stay, where they come from, and so on. Google analytics tracks these variables (and many more), but I don't try to manipulate or anticipate them. I'm not sure if these statistics [pdf] reflect actual people or bots (why does this post still get about 1,000 views per day? Maybe I should advertise viagra?), but the annual count of unique visitors has stayed about 50,000 for several years now.

People visit for reasons unlikely to show up in statistics, but visits rise when water is in the news. My ask-me-anything on reddit got over 5,000 upvotes when "drought" was news, but a later one I did on adaptation to climate change only got 48 upvotes. I don't mind this "market test" on my ideas' importance, but I worry when the public (i.e., people unlike you) ignore the climate or water issues affecting their communities. Perhaps those topics can be left to the experts, but I am pretty sure that such delegation is (a) failing where we see so many problems and (b) not resolving an urgent need for  citizens to understand what's going on, what needs to change, and how change might occur.

That's why I'm blogging a lot more about politics and community. In some ways that reflects the greater importance of politics when populists are promising everything (while lacking the capability or even a concern about delivering anything) and communities are under increasing threats from climate, migration pressures, economic uncertainty, and so on. The success of homo sapiens rests on our ability to work together (homo neanderthal had a larger brain and was probably more clever than us, individually). We risk greater suffering and despair when we fail to cooperate or fight with each other.

Besides blogging more on those topics, I also started two projects in the past year that each aim to  help communities help themselves. With the Life Plus 2 Meters project, I have asked authors to offer their visions of a world in which climate change impacts are visible (sea levels are "2 meters higher") and people are adapting -- or not -- to these changes. That project resulted in a fantastic book (free to download or buy paperback/kindle at cost) with "visions" from 27 authors. I plan to ask for donations to support prizes for the best contributions to a second volume in that series next month, so (a) read the book, (b) think of whether or not you have a story to tell (the deadline will be in June) and (c) think about donating to the campaign when it comes. If you want to stay updated on this project, then subscribe to its newsletter.

The second project concerns local communities today. The City Water Project "aims to improve people’s access to clean drinking water by promoting consumption where water is already clean and improving quality where it is not." I am engaged in this project with help from (a changing list of) LUC students. We have made slow but steady progress at understanding public perceptions of water quality and working with local organizers in communities affected by (perceived) water quality problems. This work has taught me how hard it is to get traction with utilities as well as with people "who should care." After a pilot in Den Haag (The Hague), we are launching campaigns in Galway (Ireland), Flint (Michigan), and Toledo (Ohio) -- each one dependent on the abilities and determination of our local partners. If you want to stay updated on this project, then subscribe to its newsletter.

Blogging, teaching and further research

I reversed course 6-months ago from a decision to "blog less, tweet more" as I found that clickbait ecosystem to be ineffective (indeed, it seems to me that Facebook is losing people's attention for its force-feed, ad-driven, hyperfluid spew of "updates"). Although some people may like to get their "news" in tiny bites, I find it easier to communicate in a format that allows as many words as needed (no more!) as well as archives, links, discussion, etc. Although I do not have as much time to blog as I did 7-8 years ago (100+ posts per month!), I still enjoy writing posts that help me (and maybe you) think more clearly.

Although I love blogging, I still have my obligations of teaching and research -- let alone enjoying all that Amsterdam and the Dutch have to offer. I often blog about bits and pieces of those activities, but I cannot (and shouldn't) write about everything. Even so, I hope that you enjoy those occasional updates here (for more, subscribe to my general newsletter). The one thing that I can see "trending" in my life is less of a worry about engaging with every topic or rushing to put out more material. I'm sure that nobody ever "runs out of stuff" at aguanomics, just as I am sure that other people out there are capable of thinking about their own solutions to topics -- especially when those topics are local to them. (Hear that Californians?) That said, I absolutely love learning about new topics, places or ideas, so please do email me when you've got something interesting to share!

Bottom Line: We will always have something to talk about on aguanomics!

25 Mar 2017

Flashback to March 2010

These posts are still relevant after 7 years!
  1. Aging infrastructure and beauty contests. Bigly true. Related: The fascist two-step (Venezuela gets a mention!)
  2. Farm Water Success Stories and Free water and Father Christmas
  3. Economic oxymorons -- you're not forced to work... unless you want to consume. Related: Does a latte cost a few trees? and Minimizing individual water consumption
  4. Collective action at home -- this seems to be the start of what's turned into a paper on "teaching the commons". Also read Self-interest and community
  5. Who are beggars? They are not who you think they are. Related: Poll Results -- Love your neighbors
  6. Carbon additionality is stupid
  7. Water and human rights -- overview -- this topic is STILL badly understood or abused (Politicians extending their monopoly)
  8. Feinstein's special special interests -- when she cared about farmer subsidies (does she still?). Related: Speaking of Other People's MoneyBill to Stop Farmers from Selling Water and Water is money is politics
  9. Speed blogging -- drought edition -- same old stuff: dams farmers can't pay for, "emergency aid" and Australia as an inspiration (listen to Water chat with Adam LochWater chat with Tom Rooney and Water chat with Mike Young)
  10. Humans have things to learn from dogs and Who is responsible? A moral question

24 Mar 2017

Friday party

Some people seem to be losing their ability to pay attention to the people and issues in the world around them. This video should help you understand the problem.



How can you make a difference? Read this post (by a friend of mine) of how she "gave a voice" to a Vietnam Vet facing poverty and eviction in Pittsburgh -- and how people stepped up to help him out [link to come!]

23 Mar 2017

History never repeats but it rhymes

Foreign Affairs (1930):
Hitler's adversaries are right in charging that such an audience can easily be misused. Hitler's utterances on the subject of propaganda, both from the platform and in print, show in fact that he is willing to use any means which he judges serviceable in winning adherents to his cause. He fans the flames of hatred just as unscrupulously as he arouses the most exaggerated hopes.

However, let us keep to his audiences. What is it that stirs them? What keys can Hitler strike with such effect that he can drag millions of people whithersoever he chooses?

Fundamentally it is a question of the hard times which have settled over Germany ever since the war. Great fortunes have come into being, though they are probably more apparent than real. Meantime, statistics show that as regards the middle classes, which used to be Germany's backbone, the standard of living is far below the pre-war level. Since 1929 it has sunk to unprecedented depths. Hitler turns his guns against those people who have increased their fortunes disproportionately to the general average of wealth accumulation in Germany, and especially against the anonymous wealth of the trusts — "coupon slavery."
Read the whole article [pdf]

22 Mar 2017

Links of interest

  1. "The contemporary shadow of the Scramble for Africa", i.e., colonialism has enduring, negative impacts
  2. Competition! "From April most businesses and organisations in England will be able to choose which company will supply their retail water services"
  3. What Do Economists Actually Know?, few useful details but many promising ideas
  4. "In one generation, the Internet went from opening up new free markets to creating a series of Fake Markets that exploit society, without most media or politicians even noticing."
  5. Using serious games to manage water in Kenya
  6. "The US has a lot of money, but it does not look like a developed country." These data don't lie.
  7. Dams were a bad idea when overbuilt. Now we have to deal with their collapse.
  8. A really interesting conversation with Malcolm Gladwell
  9. A Dutch couple sold all their possessions and jumped into a VW van to see the world
  10. UC Berkeley will remove 20,000 lectures from public access due to a complaint that they violated the rights of deaf people because they lacked subtitles as it was cheaper to remove them than add subtitles (curiously, it seems that computer generated subtitles may be banned by new video standards). Luckily, a start up has copied the archive with a promise to host them for free. Even more luckily, my UC Berkeley lectures are still up -- and they have subtitles!
  11. An analysis of how the Clean Water Act failed Flint and will fail the rest of the US -- assuming Trump doesn't destroy the EPA!
  12. Bad regulation on water pollution is worse than none at all
  13. Join the International Summer School on Regulation of Local Public Services (Sep, Turin, Italy)
H/Ts to RM and MV

21 Mar 2017

A thought on bitcoin and the blockchain

Happy Spring!

Bitcoin (and other crypto-currencies) have the potential to replace gold as a store of value that cannot be debased by government interventions and replace dollars ("hard currencies") as a medium of exchange that cannot be regulated by governments.

The Blockchain (and other crypto-registries) has the potential to replace banks and other registries as a means of confirming ownership and method for transferring ownership. Just 10 days ago, the SEC declined to certify a bitcoin-based ETF, which sounded like bad news to some but not to others:

I have some money in bitcoin (market data), and I think they will only grow in value and importance in the coming years. With so many examples of poor economic governance, there is sure to be a huge demand from people in developing countries who are looking to secure their wealth from corruption and incompetence.

(I also say these things because some people are losing long-term perspective over short-term concerns over various programming choices. I think these will be resolved because $billions will be lost by failure to agree on fixes to known issues.)

20 Mar 2017

Monday funnies

Trevor Noah nails the Dutch elections (i.e., Wilders isn't #1 but he's #2...)



If you're feeling better about the retreat from stupid in the Netherlands, then don't forget that it's full steam ahead on stupid (evil?) in the US, with the proposed replacement of #Obamacare (helps people!) with #Trumpcare (fuck those people!)



NB: If you agree that journalism provides a valuable service, then subscribe or donate to make sure they have the $$ they need to get the job done! Public Radio International is one such outlet (I've also donated to EFF, ALCU, and Propublica), but choose anyone. In these days of #MakeAmericaFailAgain, we need reporting and analysis of Trump's idiotic short-sighted policies.

18 Mar 2017

Flashback to March 2009

These posts are still relevant after 8 years!

16 Mar 2017

Don't be a sucker

First watch this 1947 film on the American Way (aka, not the Trump way)



Then watch this video on the technology (data from social media and other databases) Trump's campaign used to find and target manipulate people's fears and votes



The watch this video of how Trump's spokesperson (Kellyanne Conway) lies and deceives



Bottom Line: Don't be a sucker.

14 Mar 2017

Dutch elections are tomorrow

Dutch politics are complicated due to institutions that (a) allow people to vote for any party in a national "jurisdiction", (b) the ease at which small (one member) parties can enter the popular chamber (de Tweede Kamer), and (c) the near-certainty that several parties must join into a "ruling coalition" to collect enough seats to support a prime minister (Minister President).

I cannot vote in the election tomorrow since I am not a Dutch citizen, but I am very hopeful that Geert Wilders's (populist, nationalist, racist) Freedom Party will (despite receiving donations from American conservatives) have weak results.

To help you learn more about the election, I recommend this video by LUC students. If you want to see the connections between Wilders and Trump, then watch this:



To learn what's at stake for young Dutch citizens, I recommend this one:



13 Mar 2017

Monday funnies

Read this more-scary-than-funny "Short History of the Trump Family" (featuring mafia, disco sex and an overwrought id) after you watch this video on how Trump actually makes ruins foreign policy. Sad!

11 Mar 2017

Flashback to March 2008

These posts are still relevant after 9 years!
  1. Local Heat -- climate change is coming! much closer!
  2. Posner on Water -- he gets it wrong
  3. Crushing the Galapagos (via tourism and excess migration)
  4. Burning Money to Save Water in San Diego
  5. How Many Bottles? Too many. Put a deposit on plastic bottles!
  6. Water and Public Trust -- legal battles have prevented reform in California
  7. Virtual Water -- how to do it right (here's my chat with Allen)
  8. Robbing Peter to Pay Paul, i.e., government lobbying
  9. Dean Kamen's Water Machine did indeed fail due to high costs
  10. Arctic Meltdown will be bad... yes.
  11. The Economist Has No Clothes (= missing economics of the environment)
  12. Dirty Food Can the market protect you better than the regulator?
  13. China and Resources -- they are SLOWLY dialing back from waste
  14. You Want Lox wit Dat? The Feds must reconcile fishing and farming claims on water
  15. Water Prices up 14% but not enough
  16. Fighting for Labels of Nothing -- Monsanto's deception
  17. Conversation with My Dad (part one), i.e., "peak humanity" may be near
  18. Water Wisdom from Kenneth Boulding
  19. Drugs in Water won't help you
  20. Your Stuff -- and Terrorism -- and we're still not out of Iraq! :(
  21. Lease a Forest, Save a Tree -- gotta pay to protect!
  22. Developers Drive SD off a Cliff (and San Diego is still growing!)
  23. The Farm Bill Must Die -- one of my favorite posts ever
  24. China Exports Dams = not good for the environment or locals
I'd write these posts differently today:
  1. Ethanol Solution is a Lie -- Renewables became competitive very quickly!
  2. The Long Emergency Energy is not the issue, but climate change
  3. Vegas versus Imperial -- I thought that Imperial ID would have sold (some of) its water to Vegas long ago, but I underestimate the stopping power of lawyers and power-hunger of politicians standing in the way of mutually beneficial trades.
  4. Six cheap ways to save the Earth -- I'd add go vegan, no kids and carbon taxes!
  5. NorCal Called -- Wants Its Water Back -- well, that didn't work!
  6. Bush the Genius -- $4/gallon gas was bad for the people, but Obama lowered it to $2?

9 Mar 2017

What can I, as a young graduate, do about water scarcity?

C writes:
Hey David,
I really enjoyed your AMA on water shortages in California and the problems with our water management system in the US. I am recently out of college, studied mechanical engineering, and am finding the water scarcity issue (in the western US & the rest of the world) a scary, but inspiring issue to get involved in. I am currently in the middle of reading Cadillac Desert, which led me to searching reddit and finding your AMA.

My question is: From your expertise, how can I as someone motivated and new in the work force get involved in and help make a difference in these issues? I am not fixed on staying with careers directly linked to my college major. I would appreciate any advice you are willing to part with.
Thank you,

C
Dear C,

You've made the first step, admitting that WE have a problem :)

As for the next steps, I think there are two ways to go.

The first way is to "address the symptoms," i.e., using your skills [engineering for you; other things for others] to help increase supplies or reduce demand for water -- and thus try to reduce scarcity.

The second way is to "address the disease," i.e., get involved in the organisations responsible for making policies that drive water scarcity. There are many potential organisations to choose from, from the local drinking water utility, to a state board on water resources, to a chamber of commerce interested in protecting its members water reliability.

I gave my first book the title of End of Abundance to highlight the need for us to change the ways we manage water in a new world where abundance cannot be taken for granted. That book (as well as Living with Water Scarcity) suggest new ways to think about water, and YOU can play a useful role in helping people understand that the situation is neither inevitable nor hopeless. The good news is that water scarcity is a local issue that's solvable by local, concerned citizens.

Bottom Line: Everyone can reduce water scarcity (and the risks it brings) by doing their part. It's not that complicated, but it takes time and community interest.

7 Mar 2017

Airbnb is harming Amsterdam's communities

Originally published on the Waag Society's blog [English] and [Dutch], but they don't allow comments -- so comment here!

Airbnb is a popular service for connecting tourists who want a cheaper place to stay in a city with "hosts" willing to give them a room or a flat to stay in.

Oh, did I say "give"? Sorry, I meant "rent." Like Facebook with its claims of helping you communicate with "friends," Airbnb uses "share" in a way that replaces a child's use of that word with an alt-truth definition that means "rent." That distortion of reality is not a bug but a feature: Airbnb co-founder (and billionaire) Nathan Blecharczyk made his first millions spamming people's inboxes while claiming "there were frankly no rules around it" in 2002.

I don't know about you, but I knew that spam was a plague well before 2002, and I'm going to spend the rest of this post talking about how Airbnb's founders need to stop spamming and start helping the cities that are making them rich.

By the way, let me clarify that I love Airbnb's service, which I am happy to use as a host and guest. What I am not happy about is how Airbnb seems to be taking the greedy route towards doing business by focussing more on short-stays than strong (and attractive) communities.

I say this as someone who studies communities and how their "common spaces" are built on an intangible web of relations among neighbors more than a common postal code.

I'm from San Francisco (where Airbnb is based), but I live in Amsterdam, which may be Airbnb's most popular city. According to this Dutch source, 2-3 percent of all Amsterdam residences (and perhaps 7 percent in popular neighborhoods) are listed on Airbnb. In many cases, Airbnb is driving a trend to replace affordable housing with illegal hotels owned by investors.

In most of Amsterdam's neighborhoods, residents share common stairways, garbage bins and personal space. It's not unusual to hear each other through floors and walls as we go about our business. In many cases, these noises are comforting because they represent the "metabolism" of the building's inhabitants, some of whom have shared stories, assistance and common challenges for decades.

AirBnB's site and philosophy say very little about the neighbors (the "community page" is for hosts to swap tips). Their focus on making deals may be appropriate for San Francisco but not for Amsterdam, a city that has worked for centuries to balance the needs of art and commerce, private and public, rich and poor.

In 2014, Amsterdam and Airbnb signed a memorandum of understanding [pdf] in which Airbnb agreed to "notify hosts in a powerful manner that they are obliged to offer homes for rent in compliance with applicable rules." This MOU mentioned 60-day limits on hosting, encouraged hosts to "download the notice card for neighbors," and clarified that the municipality was responsible for reinforcing its own rules. Not included in the MOU, but mentioned, was an agreement for Airbnb to collect and pay the city's 5 percent tourist tax, which amounted to €5.5 million in 2015. That amount implied that Airbnb guests paid over €100 million to hosts, of which about 3 percent (€3 million) went to Airbnb.

Late last year, the city and Airbnb updated their agreement to provide a "more powerful" reminder of the 60-day hosting limit. Now, hosts are notified of their total remaining days and told that they will not be allowed to use Airbnb after the 60-day limit is reached. But that update has omitted two major factors that are undermining Airbnb's benefit to Amsterdam.

First, Airbnb is not reporting host income to the city (or government), data that it possesses and already reports to American authorities for "high volume hosts." If Amsterdam hosts are billing over €100 million in charges, then the tax authorities should be making around €40 million (based on the 42 percent marginal tax rate that many homeowners would face for renting their own place for less than 60 days). That money would come in handy for a city forced to cut €25 million in spending on garbage collection, public spaces, youth programs, and so on.

Second, Airbnb is not doing very much to help the neighborhoods that make its service so popular. Hosts and visitors give each other ratings and feedback, but the neighbors are the ones who must deal with banging bags, morning departures, and strangers who contribute nothing to the neighborhood. Airbnb can address this problem by allowing neighbors to leave feedback on guests. Although this system might take a little white to set up, it's obvious that Airbnb's very clever staff could help Amsterdam's city staff with notifying neighbors and ensuring that strangers would, in the words of Airbnb, "belong."

Bottom Line: Airbnb's license to operate in Amsterdam depends on whether it helps or harms the city. Airbnb can help Amsterdam collect its fair share of taxes and guests fit into the community, but it can also resist and damage Amsterdam's quality of life. Let's hope that Airbnb invests in Amsterdam for the long run.

I thank Kim Zwitserloot and Joes Natris for their help on earlier drafts of this post.

Addendum (2 Mar): The city of Amsterdam has fined homeowners and "concierge" businesses over €500,000 for breaking the short-stay rental rules that Airbnb has just started to follow.

Addendum (30 Mar): Lubach (Dutch "John Oliver") covers Airbnb and Fairbnb has the right idea [pdf].

Addendum (4 Apr): "Taxation Beats Regulation for Amsterdam’s Tourist Dilemma"