Changing Approach to Water

Not that we can sneak up on it, but getting used to dealing with the implications of its scarcity. Even if not directly, though every region will have its bouts with drought and flirtations with conservation, fallout from water shortages range far and wide, as the situations in Kenya and Mexico attest. And voila, it’s not just a shortage of rainfall but a dynamic mixture of poor planning and short-sightedness that builds in non-trivial amounts of waste into our concepts of ‘use’:

Mexico’s hurricane season has been mild, with no major hits so far this summer, though a weak Hurricane Jimena dropped plenty of rain on parts of Baja California and the northwestern state of Sonora last week. The sparse rainfall nationwide has made 2009 the driest in 69 years of government record-keeping, Arreguin said.

Even before the drought, managing water was one of the most vexing issues for Mexico City, which 500 years ago was a big lake. Now paved in asphalt and concrete, the city pipes in much of its water (then, through separate plumbing, expels wastewater to prevent flooding during rainy times).

Since most rainwater pours down storm drains into the sewer network, it is not absorbed into the underground aquifers that are the city’s main source of water. Decades of over-pumping is emptying those deposits and causing Mexico City to sink, in some places by more than a foot a year.

So… just so you know, there’s no sitting back and feeling bad for those poor people in a “but for the Grace of God… ” kind of way. Sorry, all out of isolated, unconnected events. Come back next… time? To recap, we are subject to not just immediate, local effects but larger pressures on surrounding ecosystems and political systems which emerge, gain strength and ripple outward. How do we study, learn about and prepare for how these things work together? Do we? Perhaps a better question would be how can we understand these kinds of long-term phenomena when we’re more concerned with fanning debates about evolution, gay marriage, presidential birth certificates and other ‘issues’ I largely ignore on this site in favor of more problematic, actual problems? Alas, there’s a short answer.

Update: as I wanted or needed further evidence.

Showing Initiative

Excellent rant at Grist on how sustainability conferences are ubiquitous and incredibly boring. More grave than the ennui, however, is the other ‘how green saves you green’ schmack that is really the dumbing of the smarter part of such klaches, and reveals, again, how doing anything for money gets you to a place where you’ll only do anything if its for money. Pathetic and sad.

Seems like every single conference just HAMMERS on the idea that sustainability is a good idea but it’s also green both ways, and affordable. But it’s not. It’s friggin’ difficult, more like trench warfare than surgery, and sometimes ROI doesn’t exist. We still need to do it, but let’s not delude people about the on the ground reality. (One of the reasons lots of consultants think it’s cheap and easy and fun is that … they haven’t actually ever done the work!) This has been my consistent message, but this green is green thing is so much the sterotype that someone recently blurbed one of my talks as “Schendler talks about how sustainability is easy, simple, and cost effective,” even though my message is actually the exact opposite!

And the conferences’ issues with conflicts of interest from presenters is actually just as problematic. But this cheap and easy thing, that’s the major issue that obfuscates some of the real possibilities with the subject, especially if the connection to saving money could otherwise be an intro to or expansion on the triple bottom line concept.

Granted, watering down the profit stream is not a welcome idea; but neither is the fact that sustainability is not just about saving money. In fact – it’s not about saving money, right now, at all. It’s about saving your ass and that of your grand kids, which is usually cost prohibitive. The cba will tell you it’s not worth it – and in these terms, it’s not! But this is exactly the thinking that landed us in the place of having to discuss the dread prospect of sustainability in the first place! Onward! No. Just stay right here! Yay? That’s sustainability. And it’s… really not the word or theory we should be attempting to enshrine.

Relatedly, it reminds me of the general phenomenon of sustainability initiatives – which largely amount to discovering innovative methods for saving money at the corporate or institutional level within the guise of saving energy. There’s nothing wrong with saving money, and the case for energy efficiency can be made in exactly these terms. But many such measures could be much more effective as diktats to turn off half the lights in your office or work four ten-hour days, e.g., they don’t require in-depth conceptualizing. Retro-fitting buildings to be more energy efficient would be a lot less problematic if innovative elements of original, late-model designs (skylighting, cisterns) were not allowed to be stripped from the buildings plans, usually by outside consultants, to cut expenses. This happens everywhere as much as you probably imagine. And then, said institution concocts an initiative to find ways to do what the initial, supposedly more expensive design would have done (which, ex post facto, usually turn out to be way more expensive and in need of conceptualizing).

But it’s our nibbling-at-the-edges way of doing things. And now something’s nibbling at our edges. Ah, prophetic capitalism.

Untoward Digression into the Politics

As though a more graceful straying was at all an option. This little tidbit stuck out in an argument on the optimal number of Americans, which sounds loaded enough, but then:

Without more of a focus on the implications of immigration policy for population, there could be 600 million Americans by 2100, he writes. Depending on whom you talk to, that is a boon or a disaster. Mr. Chamie notes that the relatively enormous thirst for energy, food and other resources from Americans, when compared with that of the average world citizen, gives outsize importance to issues like global warming and to American trends.

Emphasis mine. Isn’t that the whole point of green, cloaking our climbdown in euphemism as though we want to curb our appetites for resources and are not doing it because of shame or peak stupid related to the “while supplies last” ironicality? Next up, discovered deep in the programmer sub-species of the Amazonian Huarani, startling new emoticons for “shrug.”

Then, just for kicks and speaking of idiotic discussions, extend the logical implications of the resistance to big-government takeovers to firefighting:

Yet if we had to have the “conversation” about the firefighting industry today, we’d have socialism-phobic South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint on the TV every chance he could get saying things like, “Do you want a government bureaucrat between you and the safety of your home?”

Rep. John Boehner of Ohio would hold press conferences and ask, “Do you want your firefighting to be like going to the DMV? Do you want Uncle Sam to come breaking down your door every time some Washington fat cat says there’s a fire?”

Oh the pain. via.

And then there’s the sedition network. It’s becoming increasingly difficult, if you were so inclined, to argue that Fox News was not created to destroy the Republican Party, and hence the two-party system. I guess we should always wonder whether we are and could be sufficiently virtuous to resist what seems like help but is actually designed to quicken our demise. Oh, maybe that’s what… Rrrgh. Hate. Lessons.

Dow Climbs on News of Harvard Professor’s Detention

Be sure and watch for signals of a stock market recovery in order to be ready to attribute or discount the effect to your favorite pet cause. Try it with a friend!

Seriously, it would be just as irresponsible to say that the market is up because we’re seriously considering tackling healthcare reform. Or, we’re saving the financial system via recapitalization through profit-taking. Wait a minute… that’s ugly because it’s TRUE. Which is something altogether different. A guy getting arrested breaking into his own house? That’s a rejected plot line on Lost. Not nearly unbelievable enough.

Some things we’d rather see, while for others we might do anything in exchange for the power to look away. Taken together or separately, what would any of these developments mean? They’re actually worth going into on their own merits, but that might unfold too slowly and allow us to miss the forest when the trees are SO pretty.

Meanwhile… Electricite de France and an American solar panel company are building the largest solar manufacturing plant in France.

EDF Energies Nouvelles (EDF EN) and First Solar, Inc. (Nasdaq: FSLR) today announced a venture to build France’s largest solar panel manufacturing plant. With an initial annual capacity of more than 100MWp, the plant will produce solar panels made with First Solar’s advanced, thin-film photovoltaic technology. This new venture will support the recently announced goal of the French government to become a leader in sustainable energy technologies including solar electricity. At full production, projected for the second half of 2011, the plant will employ more than 300 people.

Under the terms of the arrangement, First Solar will build and operate the plant in France. The plant represents an expected investment of more than €90 million. The initial annualized capacity of the plant is expected to exceed 100MWp, making it the largest manufacturing facility for solar panels in France. EDF Energies Nouvelles has agreed to finance half of the capital expense and plant start-up costs and will benefit from the plant’s entire output for the first 10 years. First Solar and EDF EN intend to announce their decision on the site location within the next few months.


No Ideas

That seems to be the case with this almost-unbelievable-except-for-everything-we-know-about-Republicans editorial on Cap and Trade by Sarah Palin in today’s Washington Post. Really. I mean a lot of people are concerned that newspapers are dying, but the dynamic changes when you realize that they may be killing themselves.

About climate change, like economic recessions and health care, the Republican party has no ideas beyond tax cuts and “drill, baby, drill”. And it’s a throughway to understanding how we got to the present predicament in which all three are intertwined and strangling us, if not a purgative toward transcending it.

I won’t detail how one party bent on resentment and victimization is unhealthy for our politics. But for the planet, time’s a wastin’ and the stakes are high. The thing is, as I have tried to outline here from time to time, a sustainable economy and a healthy ecology are very closely related. Having no ideas for how to make them work together with some degree of harmony is simply not an option. That’s what we’re here to figure out. We do politics as a means to solving problems based on mutual consent and the public good. A nefarious strain of anti-public has infested the party with the (R). They lionize the private sector without even acknowledging its significant other – and after a while, there are few routes back to a healthy respect for the public sector. Unwilling to defend it in certain instances, they forget how to do it all. And here they are, with no idea.

Again, as with newspapers, are they dying or killing themselves?

Back at the Front, part MCMLXXVII

This could go without saying, but because it is within the purview of our chosen subject matter, and because it contributes in small order to the larger, if inelegant, semantic question, I should point out the several entries in the dictionary dedicated to green, which state

5. not fully developed or perfected in growth or condition; unripe; not properly aged: This peach is still green.
6. unseasoned; not dried or cured: green lumber.
7. immature in age or judgment; untrained; inexperienced: a green worker.
8. simple; unsophisticated; gullible; easily fooled

This will, of course, come as no surprise to most. But much of the very valuable print real estate devoted to the resignation of the governor of Alaska, not least of which is an op-ed in today’s NYT, seems to misunderestimate the most salient aspect of her disqualifications, the one which made her pick as VP the greatest political blunder in a history littered with them. Primarily, she was in no way ready. Though this is tripe, it may be instructive. For not the first time, entries 5-8 above seem to apply to writer and subject. He waxes:

In a recent Pew poll, 44 percent of Americans regarded Palin unfavorably. But slightly more had a favorable impression of her. That number included 46 percent of independents, and 48 percent of Americans without a college education.

That last statistic is a crucial one. Palin’s popularity has as much to do with class as it does with ideology. In this sense, she really is the perfect foil for Barack Obama. Our president represents the meritocratic ideal — that anyone, from any background, can grow up to attend Columbia and Harvard Law School and become a great American success story. But Sarah Palin represents the democratic ideal — that anyone can grow up to be a great success story without graduating from Columbia and Harvard.

What matters a free education if one learns the wrong lessons? More:

Here are lessons of the Sarah Palin experience, for any aspiring politician who shares her background and her sex. Your children will go through the tabloid wringer. Your religion will be mocked and misrepresented. Your political record will be distorted, to better parody your family and your faith. (And no, gentle reader, Palin did not insist on abstinence-only sex education, slash funds for special-needs children or inject creationism into public schools.)

None of that is right, and you condescend to address me as ‘dear reader’ at your peril. Reminds me of someone continually addressing all of us “my friends”.  Anyway, these are decidedly not the lessons of the Palin experience, such as it was. She should have never accepted the offer of VP for all of the reasons Douthat gives above but misapprehends with startling precision: she was not ready. Green in the worst way. We seemingly learned this from the 2001-2009 fiasco, but we need to pick the very smartest possible person who is available to be president. [.] That ‘s not different for women or men, black, white, red or yellow, with kids or without, religious or not. It’s an impossible job for the very best among us – and he’s saying it would have been more dispiriting to American democracy if she had somehow managed to make it into office? It’s hairless logic from Plan 9 all over again.

But if you venture out among small-town papers and cable news shows, this is the right-side victimology that greets you: Palin proves a regular person can’t be president. Under attack, all the time, beseiged by elites… what’s happening to this country? I think the question answers itself. Only in a children’s book would Palin be a credible foil to Obama. Her nomination was demeaning to her gender and social class, but only because her ostensible comrades tried to use them as a route to power above the interests of the country. Hey, there’s a story, Mr. conservative op-ed guy.

Okay. Back to your regularly-scheduled Eco meltdown.