Monday, December 7, 2009
By Mark Christensen
Water allocation in California has become an important issue, with increases in demand from urban, agricultural, and environmental water-use sectors. While demand is increasing, California’s water supply has decreased due to an ongoing drought and a snowpack that is 39% below normal (Pickoff-White, 2009). Deciding how much water goes to each sector requires an understanding of how water supplies affect each sector. Urban growth has increased the demand for water, requiring aqueducts to redistribute water from far away, like Owens Valley to the Los Angeles area, which has caused environmental damage to Owens Valley. Aqueducts that transport water into the Central Valley have also caused environmental problems by endangering various species, like the Delta Smelt. Efforts to prevent this endangerment has affected agriculture, which requires the highest percentage of California’s water supply (52%) (Pickoff-White, 2009). Since choices in water allocation for one water-use sector affects other sectors, the debate over what should be done with California’s water supply is complex and controversial.
With the average California household requiring 162,924.7 gallons of water a year (Pickoff-White, 2009), and with an increase in population, the need to supply enough water in urban areas, so people can continue to live, becomes vital. Still, I would choose to allocate the least amount of water (14%) for urban areas because this is where I believe the most water waste occurs. As urban areas continue to demand more water, the natural ecosystem, which benefits us with natural resources and processes, faces the danger of becoming damaged, like the air pollution that resulted from the draining of Owens Lake by Los Angeles. The importance of maintaining critical ecosystems is why I think the environment should get 40% of California’s water supply. The greatest amount of water is allocated for agriculture, which provides food and jobs for many Californians. Without enough water for agriculture, as much as 37,000 Californian workers will be out of work, nearly 50% in some communities (Freking, 2009). The importance of food and the potential for unemployment in Californian agriculture is why I find it appropriate to allocate the largest amount of water for agriculture (46%).
With each sector demanding more water from a decreasing water supply, it is clear why there are shortages. However, Joel Kotkin, executive director at newgeography.com, blames water scarcity in the Central Valley on the environmental sector by referring to the shortages as a “direct result of conscious actions by environmental activists to usher in a new era of scarcity” (Kotkin, 2009, p. 1). Kotkin fails to mention the reason that California originally began redistributing water into the Central Valley: the Valley was overusing its ground water, its own water source. The scarcity of water in the Central Valley has more to do with the farmers’ decision to expand an industry that required more water from the environment than was locally available. Kotkin narrowly focuses on negative effects to people, like unemployment, but he fails to mention how environmental damage can also affect people negatively. According to an economic report by the National Marine Fisheries Service, commercial and recreational fishing made more than $185 billion in sales and supported more than 2 million jobs in 2006 (Bacher, 2009). Diverting water from the Delta hurts the fish population, which hurts the Recreational and commercial fishing, which are businesses that rely on the health of the Delta. (Bacher, 2009). Protecting these fish is part of an effort to preserve natural systems that provide us with a variety of goods and services, so Kotkin should not be outraged when water is allowed to “flow untapped into San Francisco Bay,” for the sake of protecting Delta fish (Kotkin, 2009, p. 1).
In order to adequately provide a comprehensive presentation of water issues in California it is important to understand how the scarcity of water affects each water use sector and how the allocation of water to one sector over another has profound effects. Deciding who gets how much of California’s limited water supply is a complex task, as agriculture needs water to provide food and jobs for Californians, urban areas need water to maintain a growing population, and the environment needs water to ensure that natural systems, that we rely on for resources and healthy surroundings, are not ruined.
Bacher, D. (2009, March 6). The California Water Wars: Not a Conflict Between Fish and People. truthout.org. Retrieved November 4, 2009, from www.truthout.org/030609EA
Freking, K. (2009, April 1). Central Valley leaders seek more delta water. San Francisco Bay Area. Retrieved November 4, 2009, from http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/04/01/BA6916QCC8.DTL&hw=California+agriculture+water&sn=004&sc=334#ixzz0Vlg7scNp
Kotkin, J. (2009, March 17). How Elite Environmentalists Impoverish Blue-Collar Americans. Forbes.com. Retrieved November 4, 2009, from http://www.forbes.com/2009/03/16/california-environmentalists-water-agriculture-opinions-columnists-scarcity_print.html
Pickoff-White, L. (2009, April 9). You decide who gets California's water. San Francisco Bay Area News, Sports, Business, Entertainment, Classifieds: SFGate. Retrieved November 4, 2009, from http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2009/04/09/water.DTL&type=green
Saturday, October 24, 2009
What's Your Consumption Factor?
By Jared Diamond
The New York Times
Wednesday 02 January 2008
To mathematicians, 32 is an interesting number: it's 2 raised to the fifth power, 2 times 2 times 2 times 2 times 2. To economists, 32 is even more special, because it measures the difference in lifestyles between the first world and the developing world. The average rates at which people consume resources like oil and metals, and produce wastes like plastics and greenhouse gases, are about 32 times higher in North America, Western Europe, Japan and Australia than they are in the developing world. That factor of 32 has big consequences.
To understand them, consider our concern with world population. Today, there are more than 6.5 billion people, and that number may grow to around 9 billion within this half-century. Several decades ago, many people considered rising population to be the main challenge facing humanity. Now we realize that it matters only insofar as people consume and produce.
If most of the world's 6.5 billion people were in cold storage and not metabolizing or consuming, they would create no resource problem. What really matters is total world consumption, the sum of all local consumptions, which is the product of local population times the local per capita consumption rate.
The estimated one billion people who live in developed countries have a relative per capita consumption rate of 32. Most of the world's other 5.5 billion people constitute the developing world, with relative per capita consumption rates below 32, mostly down toward 1.
The population especially of the developing world is growing, and some people remain fixated on this. They note that populations of countries like Kenya are growing rapidly, and they say that's a big problem. Yes, it is a problem for Kenya's more than 30 million people, but it's not a burden on the whole world, because Kenyans consume so little. (Their relative per capita rate is 1.) A real problem for the world is that each of us 300 million Americans consumes as much as 32 Kenyans. With 10 times the population, the United States consumes 320 times more resources than Kenya does.
People in the third world are aware of this difference in per capita consumption, although most of them couldn't specify that it's by a factor of 32. When they believe their chances of catching up to be hopeless, they sometimes get frustrated and angry, and some become terrorists, or tolerate or support terrorists. Since Sept. 11, 2001, it has become clear that the oceans that once protected the United States no longer do so. There will be more terrorist attacks against us and Europe, and perhaps against Japan and Australia, as long as that factorial difference of 32 in consumption rates persists.
People who consume little want to enjoy the high-consumption lifestyle. Governments of developing countries make an increase in living standards a primary goal of national policy. And tens of millions of people in the developing world seek the first-world lifestyle on their own, by emigrating, especially to the United States and Western Europe, Japan and Australia. Each such transfer of a person to a high-consumption country raises world consumption rates, even though most immigrants don't succeed immediately in multiplying their consumption by 32.
Among the developing countries that are seeking to increase per capita consumption rates at home, China stands out. It has the world's fastest growing economy, and there are 1.3 billion Chinese, four times the United States population. The world is already running out of resources, and it will do so even sooner if China achieves American-level consumption rates. Already, China is competing with us for oil and metals on world markets.
Per capita consumption rates in China are still about 11 times below ours, but let's suppose they rise to our level. Let's also make things easy by imagining that nothing else happens to increase world consumption - that is, no other country increases its consumption, all national populations (including China's) remain unchanged and immigration ceases. China's catching up alone would roughly double world consumption rates. Oil consumption would increase by 106 percent, for instance, and world metal consumption by 94 percent.
If India as well as China were to catch up, world consumption rates would triple. If the whole developing world were suddenly to catch up, world rates would increase elevenfold. It would be as if the world population ballooned to 72 billion people (retaining present consumption rates).
Some optimists claim that we could support a world with nine billion people. But I haven't met anyone crazy enough to claim that we could support 72 billion. Yet we often promise developing countries that if they will only adopt good policies - for example, institute honest government and a free-market economy - they, too, will be able to enjoy a first-world lifestyle. This promise is impossible, a cruel hoax: we are having difficulty supporting a first-world lifestyle even now for only one billion people.
We Americans may think of China's growing consumption as a problem. But the Chinese are only reaching for the consumption rate we already have. To tell them not to try would be futile.
The only approach that China and other developing countries will accept is to aim to make consumption rates and living standards more equal around the world. But the world doesn't have enough resources to allow for raising China's consumption rates, let alone those of the rest of the world, to our levels. Does this mean we're headed for disaster?
No, we could have a stable outcome in which all countries converge on consumption rates considerably below the current highest levels. Americans might object: there is no way we would sacrifice our living standards for the benefit of people in the rest of the world. Nevertheless, whether we get there willingly or not, we shall soon have lower consumption rates, because our present rates are unsustainable.
Real sacrifice wouldn't be required, however, because living standards are not tightly coupled to consumption rates. Much American consumption is wasteful and contributes little or nothing to quality of life. For example, per capita oil consumption in Western Europe is about half of ours, yet Western Europe's standard of living is higher by any reasonable criterion, including life expectancy, health, infant mortality, access to medical care, financial security after retirement, vacation time, quality of public schools and support for the arts. Ask yourself whether Americans' wasteful use of gasoline contributes positively to any of those measures.
Other aspects of our consumption are wasteful, too. Most of the world's fisheries are still operated non-sustainably, and many have already collapsed or fallen to low yields - even though we know how to manage them in such a way as to preserve the environment and the fish supply. If we were to operate all fisheries sustainably, we could extract fish from the oceans at maximum historical rates and carry on indefinitely.
The same is true of forests: we already know how to log them sustainably, and if we did so worldwide, we could extract enough timber to meet the world's wood and paper needs. Yet most forests are managed non-sustainably, with decreasing yields.
Just as it is certain that within most of our lifetimes we'll be consuming less than we do now, it is also certain that per capita consumption rates in many developing countries will one day be more nearly equal to ours. These are desirable trends, not horrible prospects. In fact, we already know how to encourage the trends; the main thing lacking has been political will.
Fortunately, in the last year there have been encouraging signs. Australia held a recent election in which a large majority of voters reversed the head-in-the-sand political course their government had followed for a decade; the new government immediately supported the Kyoto Protocol on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
Also in the last year, concern about climate change has increased greatly in the United States. Even in China, vigorous arguments about environmental policy are taking place, and public protests recently halted construction of a huge chemical plant near the center of Xiamen. Hence I am cautiously optimistic. The world has serious consumption problems, but we can solve them if we choose to do so.
Jared Diamond, a professor of geography at the University of California, Los Angeles, is the author of "Collapse" and "Guns, Germs and Steel."
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Friday, July 10, 2009
Friday, May 15, 2009
My Review: The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy
Last week I made a brief trip with mum to the local library, which I pointed out to her was an institution verging on the edge of communism—a government sponsored system where people share books, and, increasingly more popular these days, movies, all for free—such outrage! Actually, libraries are very beneficial, and are one good example of how communist-like approaches aren’t all doomed to failure. Screw you Barnes & Noble, Borders Books, and Blockbuster! (such alliteration!)
Anyways, I’m glad I went because I happened to see a book there that I had wanted to read for quite some time. The book is called “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.” Needless to say it’s the kind of big thick book that everyone picks up to look at, but then sets back down--in order to prevent any serious muscle strain (or thinking strain, for that matter). The book is based on a shorter paper that was originally supposed to appear in the Atlantic Monthly (but they thought the subject was too controversial and scrapped it). Still, the paper appeared online and created immense buzz. In order to both expand on ideas presented in the paper, and at the same time address certain criticisms, the authors went on to write an entire book. I had heard of the paper when it first came out, and I was interested in reading it, but I never got around to it. Once the book was published, I put it in my head that it was a book I intended on reading, but I was busy with school, so I put it on the back burner.
The basic premise of the book is to explain how the influence of the pro-Israel lobby (which includes organizations like AIPAC and the ADL, political pundits, Neoconservatives, and Christian Zionists) in American foreign policy has, over the last 40 or so years (especially in the last 10), made things worse (security-wise) in the Middle East for both the United States and Israel. The authors address the U.S. policy of unconditional support to Israel, when Israel’s actions often go against America’s own interest (As Israel’s national interest does not always coincide with America’s national interest). They also explain how this unconditional support cannot be justified through strategic or moralistic claims. They also go into the affect the Lobby has on American discourse—how any form of criticism of Israel’s actions is labeled as anti-Semitic. This has led to the situation where it is more taboo in the U.S. than it is in Israel to question the policies of Israel’s government. This stunting of discourse is something I have seen myself; for years I have paid attention to Middle East issues and have always been open to hearing thoughts from all sides, and I have found that anyone who even has a little sympathy for the Palestinians is at risk of being labeled anti-Semitic. Ridiculous!
Why does this subject even matter to me? Why am I interested in the book? Well, I am a history buff, and what is happening right now in the Middle East is history in the making—important things are going on now that will be in history books in the future and will be widely studied, because they will greatly affect our future. At the moment, however, only a small amount of Americans actually pay attention to what is going on, which is unfortunate because I’m sure if more Americans paid attention, there would be more opposition to what is being done in our name in the Middle East. In addition to history, I am also interested in international politics, geography, demographics, religion, other cultures—all those things come into factor with what is happening in the Middle East. I also care because I see the ongoing injustice that has occurred and is occurring in the Middle East. I am sympathetic to the sufferings of the Palestinian people. I believe that the Palestinians have as much right as the Israelis to enjoy the right of self-determination, and that the Israelis right shouldn’t come at the expense of another nation’s. Because of this, I support a two-state solution. I’d love to go into more specifics, but I don’t have the time, so I may later if I get the impression that someone might actually read it. (in Cultural geography I have learned a lot about political geography, nations, states, and the past history of conflict that has arisen due to nations without self-determination, and multi-nation states where certain nations within a region have resorted to ethnic cleansing, in order to preserve their own right to national security—this information I intend to use later on).
What can I say about the book? I think that this book is extremely important; it is well written, easy to read, with extensive research to support evidence, and it makes it point well. I agree with many of the points that were raised in the book. While reading, I often found myself exclaiming, “I couldn’t have said it better myself!” or “That’s exactly what I’ve been thinking!” I think the information provided in the book is essential to understanding what is currently going on the in Middle East. I would recommend that you all (anyone who even would consider having an informed opinion on Middle East issues) should read this book. I think this book is one of the most important books of this decade.
What will you get out of reading this book? You will learn more about the history behind the conflicts in the Middle East. You will better understand the demographic makeup and how that affects the actions and motivations of different people in the region. You will better understand how much influence special interest groups can have in American politics, and how that whole process works. You will better understand much of what was going on behind the scenes in the lead-up to the Iraq war. And you will also better understand how international geopolitics works in a post-cold war era. With these understandings, you will gain a wider perspective of the world and be able to have more of an informed opinion about foreign issues.
After reading this book, I certainly won’t lay the issue to rest and declare a state of understanding for myself. I intend to continue my studies into Middle East affairs; next week I will be starting a class on American Military History, and I will be required to study and write a paper on the Iraq war. So that should be interesting. Also, I will be taking American political science, which will hopefully give me more insight into how special interest groups can become so influential.
To end my blog today, I would like to share something interesting I have found, which is related to the content of the book I just read. A few years ago Israel occupied the Gaza strip and had great sway over its Palestinian population. Israel did pull out of Gaza, but kept up a secure border around Gaza, so Israel controlled everything that went in or out. When those in Gaza acted out, Israel retaliated by punishing all the residents of Gaza. Israel did this in 2007 specifically by cutting off electricity to the residents. This act has resulted in great international criticism as a violation of human rights (but not from the U.S. [see the book]). In November 2007, Israel announced that it planned on launching a “massive military operation in the Gaza Strip.” This, in response to Israel not getting what it wanted with the Annapolis conference, and because Israel wants to stunt the control of Hamas in Gaza. The justification used for the operation was the retaliation to rockets fired into “Israel territory,” (which I should remind you, rarely kill anyone). In February 2008, Ehud Barak, Israel’s deputy war minister threatened the Palestinians with a holocaust of their own; he said that the Palestinians “will bring upon themselves a bigger holocaust because we (Israel) will use all our might to defend ourselves.” They did so in December 2008 and January 2009, where they used a disproportionate amount of force on Gaza, wish resulted in the deaths of 1,417 Palestinians (926 civilians) and 13 Israelis (3 civilians). Obviously there is something wrong with this situation. In response to this outrageous operation, William Robinson, professor of sociology at University of California at Santa Barbara, “likened the three-week Israeli war on Gaza to the Holocaust.” He had sent an email that showed pictures of both concentration camp inmates and of Palestinians in blockaded Gaza. (which was a comparison I made myself during the three-week war). In response to his email, he was hit with intense criticism, with many people labeling him an “Israel bashing anti-Semite,” and the ADL (anti-defamation league) is trying to have him prosecuted for alleged unprofessional conduct. The backlash against him just goes to show how powerful the Lobby can be to any criticism of Israel’s actions. And the allegation of likening what happened to the holocaust as being anti-Semitic is unjustified especially when Ehud Barak, who is also former prime minister if Israel, made the claim in Feb 2008 that the operation would be a “bigger holocaust.”
Even though there’s plenty more I can say concerning this issue, I have probably said enough. Perhaps if anyone actually read this whole thing, and actually cares about anything I have said, then I might write more concerning the issue. Until then, go check out that book, you might just find it at your library!