Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Real Trickle-Down Economic Facts

We have pretty definitive proof that that “give rich people lower taxes and they will spend money creating wonderful new jobs for all those down the economic ladder” – trickle-down economics – is a vapid mythology that never happens. But there is another trickle-down reality that is hitting both rich and poor hard in a very, very bad way. And it will cost us all some real money.
The trickle comes during the worst drought this nation has experienced since its founding. Global warming is drying out water sources in the West, even as rains pour down and flood in the East. Farmers facing drought are drawing down exhaustible water supplies from underground, nearby reservoirs and lakes, some of it legally and some of it… well… in defiance of water restrictions. Many of these pockets of clear gold will simply not replenish any time soon. And when you look at some of the traditional surface sources of water, the seriousness of the issue become exceptionally apparent.
For all those climate change deniers in Texas, the bad news is that they are getting slammed by the effective impact of that climate change a whole lot harder than most Americans. North Texas faces a completely dry Ogallala Aquifer and South Texas is watching the Rio Grande become… well… not so grand, and perhaps even becoming a walkway for drug traffickers seeking an easier path across the border.
“On maps, the mighty Rio Grande meanders 1,900 miles, from southern Colorado’s San Juan Mountains to the Gulf of Mexico. But on the ground, farms and cities drink all but a trickle before it reaches the canal that irrigates Bobby Skov’s farm outside El Paso, hundreds of miles from the gulf.
“Now, shriveled by the historic drought that has consumed California and most of the Southwest, that trickle has become a moist breath… ‘It’s been progressively worse’ since the early 2000s, Mr. Skov said during a pickup-truck tour of his spread last week, but he said his farm would muddle through — if the trend did not continue. ‘The jury’s out on that,’ he said.
“Drought’s grip on California grabs all the headlines. But from Texas to Arizona to Colorado, the entire West is under siege by changing weather patterns that have shrunk snowpacks, raised temperatures, spurred evaporation and reduced reservoirs to record lows.” New York Times, April 12th.
In a special report that describes how eight major river systems around the world are slowly running dry, the National Geographic tells us about another vital American river in the West: “The Colorado River supplies water for 30 million people. It is one of the most contested, recreated-upon, and carefully controlled rivers on Earth. Diverted under peaks, utilized by turbines that create hydropower, and stored by enormous reservoirs, the 1,450-mile-long Colorado faces growing challenges associated with increasing population, declining ecosystems, drought, and expected climate change.” By the time that river hits the Mexican border, it is already just a trickle, and projections of future water realities tell us that it is going to get a whole lot worse.
This isn’t a little issue that time will erase within my lifetime; as of now, it is an indefinite but prolonged part of our future. “Many scientists say this is the harbinger of the permanently drier and hotter West that global warming will deliver later this century. If so, the water-rationing order issued this month by Gov. Jerry Brown of California could be merely a sign of things to come.” NY Times. OMG, it’s going to get a whole lot worse?!
Indeed, Lake Mead (pictured above; note how far the water level has dropped) is fed by the Colorado River, a wonderful body of water that hovers outside that City-in-the-Desert, Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s hard to describe the desperation that defines Western-states’ agriculture today. How important are such states to America as a whole? Let’s just look at what California alone represents:
California has been the number one food and agricultural producer in the United States for more than 50 consecutive years.
 More than half the nation's fruit, nuts, and vegetables come from here.
California is the nation's number one dairy state.
California's leading commodity is milk and cream. Grapes are second.
California's leading export crop is almonds.
Nationally, products exclusively grown (99% or more) in California include almonds, artichokes, dates, figs, kiwifruit, olives, persimmons, pistachios, prunes, raisins, clovers, and walnuts.
From 70 to 80% of all ripe olives are grown in California.
California is the nation's leading producer of strawberries, averaging 1.4 billion pounds of strawberries or 83% of the country's total fresh and frozen strawberry production. Approximately 12% of the crop is exported to Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom, Hong Kong and Japan primarily. The value of the California strawberry crop is approximately $700 million with related employment of more than 48,000 people.
California produces 25% of the nation's onions and 43% of the nation's green onions.

Red alert, America, red alert! This is not a drill, and Californians are not cutting back nearly enough. Farmers are siphoning off water from any source they can find, much of such efforts in open defiance of mandatory rationing. Additionally, ugly politics has cast an undue influence on water allocation in California, but if we can stifle those raspy and malevolent voices, there is a viable path:
“It won’t be easy to rationalize water use in the face of powerful water-dependent interests; though agriculture is a surprisingly minuscule part of the state’s gross domestic product [around 2%], it’s a big political force. But Gov. Jerry Brown and the State Water Resources Control Board have the authority to do what it takes, as the constitution says ‘waste or unreasonable use’ are to be prevented.
The system is arcane, allowing some people and entities to get surface water nearly free. (This system, involving ‘senior,’ as in inherited, water rights, has never been successfully challenged.) Others, sometimes including cities, can pay 100 times more.
“In most areas, groundwater for landowners is ‘free,’ as long as you can dig a well that’s deep enough. This has led to a race to the bottom: New, super-deep wells, usually drilled at great expense, are causing existing shallower wells, often owned by people with less money, to run dry.
“That’s more than unfair: Groundwater that’s built up over a millennium is being removed too rapidly to be recharged, and in some cases the land is sinking as the water-saturated layers beneath it go dry. Those layers will most likely never be replenished, making this a form of environmental suicide.” Mark Bittman writing an Op-Ed piece for the April 13thNew York Times.
What we can no longer tolerate is business as usual. We are going to have to move some forms of high-water-consumption agriculture out of California to areas that can support that type of crop cultivation, and if that aggravates some rich farmers, we’re going to have to press the point anyway. Likewise, there are forms of lighter use farming that are sustainable even under expected conditions. We have to press a lot harder than we have… NOW!
I’m Peter Dekom, and people all across this land better understand exactly how our failed efforts to contain greenhouse gasses are going to impact each and every one of us for as long as we can imagine.

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