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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Yes, It's The Department of Short-Sighted Unintended Consequences

Yesterday's L.A. Times had an instructive story by Deborah Schoch, "Water cuts taking a lsice out of avocado groves." Seems that years ago, farmers in the Fallbrook area, for example, "signed up for a program that gave them discounted water in return for their willingness to be the first in line for a water cutback.

"This winter is payback time."

So the farmers are either "stumping" (cutting down to stumps, painting them white to protect from the sun, all of which puts them into a long sleep/slow regrowth mode, thereby allowing them to preserve what water they have left for the trees that remain once the 30% cut back starts.

Translation? While the city dwellers are watering their non-edible lawns and filling their non-drinkable swimming pools with their allottments, the farmers, who are growing the food crops (avacados, oranges, whatever) eaten by the lawn-growing, pool-swimming city-folks, are being forced to cut back on their production. Or, if they've recently started farming and bought land at a dear price, will lose the farm altogether, meaning further food production loss.

"People need to know that in Southern California, water is a precious resource. But they'd rather water their laws and cut off the farmers." said Laura Blank, executive director of the LosAngeles County Farm Bureau. . . .

"Bob Polito, 57, who grows oranges in Valley Center, near Fallbrook, plans to take down as many as 1,500 trees, many with unripened fruit still on them. . . .

"Polito sells oranges, tangerines and lemons at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market and other area markets, where many shoppers haven't heard of the 30% cutback.
"That does not surprise him, since the water crunch is not being felt in the city, he said. "As long as they have enough water to put on their lawn and wash their dishes, they're happy."

Which Brings Us To Part Duh Of The Same Problem

The February 25, 2008 edition of The New Yorker, story by Michael Specter titled "Big Foot -- In measuring carbon emissions, it's easy to confuse morality and science."

Excellent article outlining some key elements of capitalism that might just save this planet IF the folks running the show behave in a smart, often seeingly counter-intuitive way. Consider the fashionable notion of "buying local" being better i.e. "greener" than buying stuff imported from vast distances.

Consider the work being done by "Adrian Williams, agricultural researcher in the Natural Resources Department of Cranfield University, England, commissioned bythe British government to analyze the ralative environmental impacts of a number of foods. 'The idea that a product travels a certain distance and is therefore worse than one you raised nearby -- well, it's just idiotic,' he said. 'It doesn't take into consideration the land use, the type of transportation, the weather, or even the season. "

"Many factors influence the carbon footprint of a product: water use, cultivation and harvesting methods, quanity and type of fertilizer, even the type of fuel used to make the package. Sea-freight emissions are less than a sixtieth of those associated with airplanes, and you don't have to build highways to berth a ship. Last year, a study of the carbon cost of the global wine trade found that it is actually more 'green' for New Yorkers to drink wine from Bordeaux, which is shipped by sea, than wine from California, sent by truck. That is largely because shipping wine is mostly shipping glass. The study found that 'the efficiences of shipping drive a 'green line' all the way to Columbus, Ohio, the point where a wine from Bordaux and Napa has the same carbon intensity."

And on it goes, counter-intuitive all the way, with the bottom line really being the bottom line: "No effort to control greenhouse-gas emissions or to lower the carbon footprint - of an individual, a nation, or even the planet -- can succeed unless those emissions are priced properly."

In other words, exactly what is "green," and what's it worth to you, bottom line? Put a price on the value to you to breathe clean air, drink clean water? It's an issue that really needs a very, very smart, real, on- the- ground, practical, consider- all- the- issues, often counter-intuitive approach.

And that's where the beauty of capitalism comes into play: "The lesson is important; price stimulates inventive activity. Even if you think the price is too low or ridiculous. Carbon has to be rationed, like water and clean air. But I absolutely promise that if you design a law and a trading scheme properly you are going to find everyone from professors at M.I.T to the guys in Silicone Valley coming out of the woodwork. That is what we need, and we need it now." . . . said Isaac Berzin, researcher at M.I.T. after hearing from a smarty-pants who's planning on putting a power plant next to an algae farm and using the algae to absorb, hence offset, the CO2 from power the plant while using the dried algae to power the plant -- closed loop.

Clever? Yep. Workable? Yep. Why? Because carbon is now a commodity and worth $$. And $$, as everyone knows, makes the world go 'round. It's something Amory Lovins, from his Rocky Mountain Institute, has been preaching for years. Is the world finally ready to listen to him? Let's hope so.

Excellent article. Far too long to do more there than just suggest you get a copy and read it.

10 comments:

*PG-13 said...

> "People need to know that in Southern California, water is a precious resource.

That seems so obvious. But it is not reflected at all in any of the city or regional planning in southern California. Lot's of talk but no commitment. San Diego county is a disaster looking to happen. Its just a matter of time (sooner rather than later) and circumstance. How any body sucking water out of a straw so tenuous can ignore the reality of their situation is a unique aspect of the human psyche. And a failure of our social and governmental systems. Go figure. Our trust in god (or whatever) is so great that we believe our fate is not connected to that of the world around us. Yes Ann, you are correct in connecting these two stories. Although different topics they are, ultimately, about the same thing: Denial.

Curiously, there is more serious attention and action being given to water conservation in Colorado than there is in California. And they sit directly under the spigot. Boulder gets some of its water from a city owned glacier. And the rest from snow melt and mountain run-off from a large mountain range just outside the city limits. As do Denver and many of the other front range cities. And most of them have far more committed water conservation programs than anything I've seen in California. There are designated days and times to water lawns. You get a ticket if you break those laws. There is much more emphasis on less water-consuming grasses and xeriscape. Global warming not-withstanding, they're always gonna have water! All while California and Arizona continue throwing it away as if there was no end to it.

Why is conservation such a bad thing? Some how we've got to get over our aversion to conservation and effective resource management or its all going come down in a big crash. And its not going to be pretty.

> And that's where the beauty of capitalism comes into play ....

Spoken as only Ayn Rand could say it. Yes, its true. Capitalism as a philosophy and a pure economic system provides counter-balances for wasteful practices. Unfortunately we don't live in a capitalistic system. The only such system that ever existed is in Ayn Rand's book. Not gonna happen. Still, carbon as a commodity at least provides a means for free market forces to play. Assuming we don't tilt the scales as they are currently tilted to subsidize and reward waste and poor practices. Does anybody really think that's gonna happen? Still, its better than nothing I suppose.

> It's something Amory Lovins, from his Rocky Mountain Institute, has been preaching for years. Is the world finally ready to listen to him? Let's hope so.

Ahh yes. Amory Lovins. I love that guy. I hung with Amory and Hunter back in the day long, long ago. He's been preaching the same Soft Path story for what? 30+ years? His approach makes perfect sense. Absolutely perfect sense. It would work if there was any commitment to just give it a chance. But, to use your oft used phrase, there are too many fingers on the scales. It didn't happen during the energy crisis of the 70's. And it hasn't gotten any traction since. So what makes us think it will be given a chance to succeed now? Stepping out from under this cloud of pessimism the only glimmer of hope I can see - and it is just a glimmer - is if Barak Obama's Change and Hope campaign wins the field and then continues to work changes in D.C. As I said, its barely a glimmer.

But since you mentioned Amory Lovins I should also encourage anybody and everybody who is not already familiar with him to run, don't walk, but run out and hear the man speak. His books are great too. But if you want the full effect you've got to hear the man talk. As I said, I love the guy. Even if he is a bit of a drone. But to hear him toss numbers and facts in support of his positions is a unique experience and not one you will soon forget. He is a brilliant polymath who can really make sense of the usual seemingly insolvable quagmires.

*PG-13 said...

Here's a good, short (20 min) and informative introduction to Amory Lovins. This presentation covers oil utilization and vehicular transport. Amory can talk like this for hours. And hours. And hours. Without notes. About just about anything to do with energy. Be it oil, coal, nuclear, solar, wind, utilities, new technologies, economics, ...... All thoroughly back-up'ed and footnoted with facts, analysis and calculations. And every one of these lectures show how simple the solutions really could be. Staggeringly simple. But not easy. It does take commitment. And a willingness to give it a chance.

Churadogs said...

PG-13 sez:"Still, carbon as a commodity at least provides a means for free market forces to play. Assuming we don't tilt the scales as they are currently tilted to subsidize and reward waste and poor practices. Does anybody really think that's gonna happen? Still, its better than nothing I suppose."

amen, PG, amen. "Capitalism" in it's purest philosophical form is Darwinian in its savagery. But, as the New Yorker article points out, accurate pricing, true pricing, true value (no thunbs on the scale)can work wonders, including "conservation." Once a comoditiey is valuable, our self interest sees to it we "conserve" it.

Thnaks for the link to Lovins. His method, if you can call it that, will only work if we understand the hidden thumbs on our scales that is actually costing us money. Put a "real" value on a gallon of gas and ka-zoom! you'd see everyone on bicyles. Part of needs to happen is to elect an Educator in Chief as Prez who will see to it the "real" cost of things is vouchedsafe to us in the form of "real" prices, and you'll see magical change. So far, we've only elected Liars & Big Crony Thumbs On Scales Chiefs, not Educators in Chief. The clock is ticking and we fail to "get" this at our and our children's peril. One of the observations ending the New Yorker article was the speaker didn't think democratic forms of government could survive what's coming. That choice wildepend on what each of us start doing NOW. I won't hold my breath, but I will say a prayer.

*PG-13 said...

Least I monopolize this thread ....
I finally got around to reading the New Yorker article you cited: Big Foot, In measuring carbon emissions, it’s easy to confuse morality and science by Michael Specter. Its truly Great Stuff! Which is why I'm supplying the direct link. Like so many good New Yorker articles its a bit long but is definitely worth the effort. Here are a few of my favorite pieces:

Terry Leahy, CEO of Tesco (a huge food chain) said > ...in an effort to help consumers understand the environmental impact of the choices they make every day, he told the forum that Tesco would develop a system of carbon labels and put them on each of its seventy thousand products. Customers want us to develop ways to take complicated carbon calculations and present them simply, he said. We will therefore begin the search for a universally accepted and commonly understood measure of the carbon footprint of every product we sell looking at its complete life cycle, from production through distribution to consumption. It will enable us to label all our products so that customers can compare their carbon footprint as easily as they can currently compare their price or their nutritional profile.... given a choice, people prefer to buy products that are environmentally benign..... That choice, however, is almost never easy. A carbon label will put the power in the hands of consumers to choose how they want to be green,.... It will empower us all to make informed choices and in turn drive a market for low-carbon products.

I'll shop there!

> A few months ago, scientists at the Stockholm Environment Institute reported that the carbon footprint of Christmas including food, travel, lighting, and gifts was six hundred and fifty kilograms per person.

The carbon footprint of Christmas? Very scary.

> Have a quick rifle through your cupboards and fridge and jot down a note of the countries of origin for each food product, Mark Lynas wrote in his popular handbook Carbon Counter, The further the distance it has travelled, the bigger the carbon penalty. Each glass of orange juice, for example, contains the equivalent of two glasses of petrol once the transport costs are included. Worse still are highly perishable fresh foods that have been flown in from far away.... They may be worth several times their weight in jet fuel once the transport costs are factored in."

I rue the day Old Bushmills, from Ireland, get's a carbon label. (sigh)

> American produce travels an average of nearly fifteen hundred miles before we eat it.

Followed by ....

> People should stop talking about food miles. It’s a foolish concept: provincial, damaging, and simplistic.... Many factors influence the carbon footprint of a product: water use, cultivation and harvesting methods, quantity and type of fertilizer, even the type of fuel used to make the package.... The environmental burden imposed by importing apples from New Zealand to Northern Europe or New York can be lower than if the apples were raised fifty miles away. In New Zealand, they have more sunshine than in the U.K., which helps productivity. That means the yield of New Zealand apples far exceeds the yield of those grown in northern climates, so the energy required for farmers to grow the crop is correspondingly lower. It also helps that the electricity in New Zealand is mostly generated by renewable sources, none of which emit large amounts of CO2. Researchers at Lincoln University, in Christchurch, found that lamb raised in New Zealand and shipped eleven thousand miles by boat to England produced six hundred and eighty-eight kilograms of carbon-dioxide emissions per ton, about a fourth the amount produced by British lamb. In part, that is because pastures in New Zealand need far less fertilizer than most grazing land in Britain (or in many parts of the United States). Similarly, importing beans from Uganda or Kenya where the farms are small, tractor use is limited, and the fertilizer is almost always manure tends to be more efficient than growing beans in Europe, with its reliance on energy-dependent irrigation systems.

Cool! Maybe the label on my bottle of Old Bushmills won't be so bad after all.

> Everyone always wants to make ethical choices about the food they eat and the things they buy. And they should. It’s just that what seems obvious often is not. And we need to make sure people understand that before they make decisions on how they ought to live.

Regarding the CCX exchange in Chicago > In most respects, the exchange operates like any other market. Instead of pork-belly futures or gold, however, CCX members buy and sell the right to pollute. Each makes a voluntary (but legally binding) commitment to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide and hydrofluorocarbons. Four hundred corporations now belong to the exchange, including a growing percentage of America’s largest manufacturers. The members agree to reduce their emissions by a certain amount every year, a system commonly known as cap and trade..... Suddenly, a string of blue numbers slid across the monitor. There is our 2008 price. Somebody had just bid two dollars and fifteen cents per ton for carbon futures.... why not offer people the right to buy and sell shares in the value of reduced emissions? At first, people laughed... when it came to pollution rights many people just thought it was wrong to take a business approach to environmental protection.

These excerpts are from the first four pages. .... four more pages to go. Definitely worth the read.

Shark Inlet said...

Another interesting idea ... Thermal Depolymerization. See the video at
libertyfromoil.com.

Spectator said...

Ann states:

"Capitalism" in it's purest philosophical form is Darwinian in its savagery.

Spectator states: Savagery? I
guess it depends on the viewpoint of the consumer. Or the victim. Is this a sign of a victim mentality?
Or is it the viewpoint of a dyed in the wool socialist?

I guess that humans and animals eat others who cannot take care of themselves. The genes of the consumed are not passed on.

History of civilization and the basis of reproduction.

You are NOT what you eat. Nor are animals, you and they are what they are. They simply eat.

The big fish eat the little fish: "E sardi se futano la leche." Of course the little fish don't like it. Change it: Fat chance. It has always been this way. Reality.

However, Obama brings hope! Nothing like hope! Sort of like our sewer system. Hope rules!

Give me the "reclamator"! I got hope!

*PG-13 said...

Ann said > "Capitalism" in it's purest philosophical form is Darwinian in its savagery.

That is great wordsmithing!

Like Spectator I am immediately drawn to that phrase. I find it a perfectly descriptive (and beautiful) phrase. I have no problem with it. In this context savage is good. A market-driven system of Darwinian savagery would perform better than the half-baked heavily-compromised hybrid-capitalist semi-socialist system we live in. Our pain is the splinters we collect straddling the fence which Ann describes as fingers on the scales. Recognizing the real and full cost of any commodity (or service) is not a bad thing. It is a good thing. Anything else is denial. Denial is seldom a good thing.

> Give me the "reclamator"! I got hope!

Me too! I believe hope is a good thing. I wouldn't want to live without hope. Or desire. Or dreams. Or .....

And I'd love to dump in a Reclamator. Every day. Sometimes more. If it works. Truth is, I'm looking forward to it. Just thinking about it brings a grin to my face ;-)

Mike Green said...

PG!!!!

I'm sure the Old Bushmill's will help with the de-nitrification in that reclamator, I'm going to try for a tax break on tequila and wine as a water purification expense. extra carbon source in the wastewater is good? no?
I enjoyed all the posts in this thread, but I'm wondering about the esoteric inevitability here, if carbon is to be the base of capitalism, what will the poor have to trade? Their heath? Their community?
To whose profit?

Mike Green said...

Shark, (oops, I'm posting three in a row, is that a faux pas?)
I have a friend that has been in the biodiesel loop since the beginning, I asked him what would happen if Tyson Foods started producing fuel from chicken leftovers, he said the effect would be huge, especially to corn farmers that are trying to get subsidies for ethanol production.
As usual, I see the biggest impediment to true capitalist funded advancement in ecology is the government itself.
Maybe we need a carbon cost estimate on legislation first.

*PG-13 said...

> I'm going to try for a tax break on tequila and wine as a water purification expense. extra carbon source in the wastewater is good? no?

Don't forget the limes! Citric Acid is a key ingredient in many bio-chemical molecular reactions.

> but I'm wondering about the esoteric inevitability here, if carbon is to be the base of capitalism, what will the poor have to trade? Their heath? Their community? To whose profit?

Ahhhh, yes, the age old problem of the poor. With problems come opportunity. Wih challenges come solutions. The poor are poor because they have no coin or goods to trade. Not because they have no value. Somebody once said "The poor will always be with us." So, does God in her infinite wisdom provide us an infinite supply of something with no value? Perhaps the poor do have value. I'm reminded of the honey pots I saw being hauled around on bicyles in China. Not too very many years ago farmers in China used to build elaborate out-houses beside the roadway to entice passers-by to stop and use it. Thereby leaving behind product of some value. Value is where you find it. Maybe the poor do have value - beyond serving as fodder for a system with limited vision.

(BTW, for an interesting perspective on the poor-will-always-be-with-us quote check here.)